Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009-2010 Previews -- Forwards: Mike Knuble

Mike Knuble

Theme: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Alva Edison was the holder of more than 1,000 U.S. patents… and the author of that quote above. He might be said to be a person who knows the value of hard work and its relationship to opportunity. And the merging of hard work and opportunity is what brings Mike Knuble to the Capitals. On a team that can score the fancy goal, the spellbinding goal, the breathtaking goal, there wasn’t enough of the ugly goal last year to push the Caps past the second round of the playoffs and toward a Stanley Cup.

That will be Knuble’s job, to score the goal from inside of ten feet with bodies ricocheting off of him, to score the goal on a deflection of a shot from an Alex Ovechkin or a Mike Green, to score the goal by sweeping up the trash that collects at the feet of the opposing goaltender.

And here is another thing Knuble will help (as if it needed it) – the power play. Knuble is 66-66-132 on the power play for his career. But 49 of those 66 goals have been scored in the last four years (all with Philadelphia). A top power play of Knuble, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green might be the scariest power play in recent memory. But here is what a top power play like that does. It might bump Brooks Laich to the second unit, but Laich himself was 9-15-24 on the extra man advantage last year. The second unit will pose its own problems for penalty killers.

Knuble has had something of an odd journey in his career. He has played in 12 seasons, but his career breaks down into two pieces. In his first six seasons, he averaged 59 games a year and never finished a season with more than 15 minutes of average ice time a night. In those six seasons he scored a total of only 50 goals. In the last half dozen seasons of his career, he’s averaged 78 games a year (he’s played in all 82 four times) and never finished any of those seasons playing less than 15 minutes a night. And, he’s averaged 28 goals a season over that span.

Fearless: Here’s another interesting number from those last half dozen years – 21. That’s the number of goals Knuble has scored against Pittsburgh in 37 games (a 47-goal full-year pace). He also has 16 game-winning goals in the last four years with the Flyers (three against the Penguins).

Cheerless: Uh-huh. And did you know that Knuble had six goals in 24 games (covering three playoff years) for the Flyers in the playoffs and only two of those (in 11 games) against the Penguins, both series that the Flyers lost?

In the end:

Knuble could be one of the great bargains of 2009 free agency. A player with relatively low mileage, given his early career history, who fills a specific need for the Caps – more scoring from in close. On the other hand (and this is required for a Caps fan – pessimism), Knuble is 37 years old and has not had the brightest of playoff histories.

If the Caps were a picture last year, they’d have been the heartthrob GQ kind of portrait… young, clean shaven, buff, dreamy (we’re supposing as to the last). With the addition of Knuble to a team that has a Chris Clark and a Brooks Laich, the club takes on some sandpapery stubble and wears a hard hat a little more often. It was something the Penguins added in Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin last year. It was something the Detroit Red Wings had (and have) in Tomas Holmstrom in 2008. It was up and down the lineup for Anaheim in 2007. Even Carolina added a Mark Recchi and a Cory Stillman to Rod Brind’Amour in 2006. These are guys who know how to play in tight quarters, who might score a pretty goal once every leap year.

And here is how Knuble can contribute in that regard. In scoring 27 goals last year for Philadelphia, he did so from an average distance of 17 feet. Coincidentally, 17 of his 27 goals were scored from 15 feet and closer. Six of those were tip-ins.

And let’s take that contribution thing one step further. Knuble scored goals in 23 games for the Flyers last year (he had four two-goal games). In those 23 games, the Flyers had a record of 18-5-0. One would think his goal scoring with the Caps – added to that of the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin – would yield similar, if not better, results this year.

Well, this isn’t a leap year, so we won’t expect Knuble to get a pretty goal. But the Caps have an opportunity to make it special nonetheless. And Mike Knuble’s brand of hard-work hockey might be just the thing to allow them to take advantage of it.


80 games: 28-33-61, +6

1 comment:

Usually Frustrated Caps Fan said...

I love this projection - I haven't the foggiest idewa as to how to quatify what I believe will be Knuble's totally positive impact on the Caps but I sure hope you are right!