Theme: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
-- George Eliot
Jason Chimera spent parts of nine seasons toiling in relative obscurity, starting his career in Edmonton in the 2000-2001 season (when he played in one game), then moving to Columbus after the lockout, departing just in time to miss out on the Oilers going to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. Over that span of time, Chimera enjoyed modest success for teams that enjoyed, well, modest success.
Then, just before New Years this past season, he was traded to the Capitals for forward and team captain Chris Clark, and defenseman Milan Jurcina. At the time, Chimera was leaving a team wallowing among the Western Conference also-rans at 14-18-7 and in the midst of a nine-game losing streak (0-7-2), while the team he was joining was 24-8-6 and sprinting toward a President’s Trophy.
Chimera brought two things the Caps needed – an edge to his game and speed off the edge. He provided both right out of the gate. In his first 13 games with the Caps he was 3-6-9, plus-3, and he amassed 28 minutes in penalties, including fights in consecutive games against Florida on January 13th and Toronto on January 15th. It was certainly consistent with the player against whom the Caps played when Washington hosted Columbus on November 1st. It was in that game – a 5-4 overtime win for the Blue Jackets – in which Alex Ovechkin was injured, possibly the result of a scrum at the players’ bench with Chimera. Ovechkin missed six games as a result.
Overall, Chimera displayed a reasonably consistent level of performance, as reflected in his ten-game segments…
It was one that he sustained upon joining the Caps, with one noteworthy exception. Chimera had 28 minutes in penalties in that fourth ten-game segment, then went all squooshy, relatively speaking, getting sent to the penalty box once in his next two segments, covering 16 games, and that one was a delay-of-game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass against the Rangers. He was plenty ornery in the last segment, though, picking up 21 minutes in penalties, including 14 in the regular season finale (a pair of minors and a ten-minute misconduct), largely a product of a game-long feud with Bruin goalie Tim Thomas.
But Chimera didn’t only pick up penalty minutes. He provided something that the Caps were not getting, unfortunately, from the player Chimera replaced – Chris Clark. Chimera did have those seven goals and ten assists over his 39-game stint with the Caps and showed a consistent ability to use speed to put defensemen back on their heels. The shortcoming, however, was that Chimera did not produce against playoff teams the way he did against the also-rans. In 17 games against playoff teams while with the Caps, he was 1-3-4, minus-1. He was 6-7-13, plus-7 in 22 games against non-playoff teams.
In the playoffs, Chimera chipped in a bit of offense – his only goal would be the Caps’ last game-winning goal of the season, coming in Game 4 (it was his first playoff goal in his career) – and managed to get more shots on goal (15) in the seven games than Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison, combined (14), while getting less ice time than either of them. What he did not do, perhaps surprisingly, was provide a physical edge. In the seven games, his seven total hits was fewer than Boyd Gordon, Nicklas Backstrom, and Jeff Schultz, none of whom are generally regarded as physical players.
Chimera was an upgrade over Chris Clark, who was not able to return to the level of production he enjoyed before a series of injuries struck. Whether Chimera is a bargain at his $1.875 million a year compensation for the next two years is an open question. Comparing him to other players at his position, can he be an overachiever, such as an Alex Burrows ($2.0 million this past season while putting up 35 goals and 67 points), or might he be a disappointment, such as a Ruslan Fedotenko (11 goals and minus-17 for a defending Stanley Cup champion while pulling down $1.8 million)?
Chimera has averaged 15-19-34 per 82 games since the lockout. He will now get the chance to improve upon that with a better cast of teammates around him. If he can be a 15-plus goal, 35-plus point player for the Caps next season – including doing some damage against stiffer opposition – and do it with a bit of an attitude, it will be an important ingredient for the Caps to incorporate into what one hopes will not be another season ending in disappointment. It’s not too late to be what he has not yet been in a nine-year career – an important cog in a Stanley Cup winner.