Theme: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."
-- Mark Twain
Matt Bradley has been a Capital for five seasons, during which he has compiled 33 goals and 85 points in 366 regular season games. He also has recorded 37 fights in that time. His win-loss record in those bouts isn’t as important as his willingness to engage in the practice. Bradley is what many might call an “energy” player, the sort who in a 45- second shift might get a couple of good hits, forecheck aggressively, and generally make a nuisance of himself. But he is not, by any definition of the term, an enforcer. But no one in the NHL seems more willing to sacrifice himself by stepping in for a teammate, often against players more practiced or talented in the pugilistic arts than he.
Last season Bradley found himself in five fights, including one noteworthy scrap against Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie when Downie and Alex Ovechkin were about to square off. Bradley was rather clinical in his description of his role in that affair:
"You don't let a guy like that go after your best player, and he's our best player. We can't have that happen."
Well, something else happened during the year that might have been overshadowed by Bradley’s willingness to stand up for his teammates in a physical sense. Bradley was something of a clutch scorer. Not only did he record a career high of ten goals, but five of them were game-winners. Bradley has had a knack for such things in his tenure as a Capital. More than one in four goals he has scored for Washington (10 of 36, regular season and playoffs) have been game-winners. If you need a benchmark for comparison, 44 of Alex Ovechkin’s 289 total career goals (regular season and playoffs) – about one in seven – have been game-winners.
Despite his willingness to drop his gloves when necessary and his reputation as a crash-bang sort of a player, he has made his living largely playing inside the rules. Over the last four seasons Bradley has amassed a total of 31 minor penalties in 292 regular season games. Need another comparison? Alexander Semin had 33 minors in 73 games last season.
It didn’t seem to matter whether he was playing in Verizon Center or on the road last season. He recorded the same 5-7-12 line at home (in 39 games) as he did while on the road (in 38 games). And against Eastern Conference teams that would make the playoffs last season he finished 2-6-8, plus-1 in 27 games.
Fearless: Bradley has been something of an unsung playoff performer. In 28 post season games with the Caps he is 3-8-11, a points pace that on an 82-game basis (32 points) would far eclipse any regular season total he has with the Caps.
Cheerless: The Caps seem to have a lot of this kind of player in or coming through their system – a hard-working, chip in a goal here and there, earnest type. Bradley, Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Steve Pinizzotto, Cody Eakin, Trevor Bruess, Jay Beagle, Andrew Joudrey. What it means going forward is whether this coming season is Matt Bradley’s best chance to win a Stanley Cup. That $1 million a year contract he has expires at the conclusion of the season, and it is likely that the Caps can get equivalent production at a lower price tag (even with Steckel’s more expensive deal running two more years after this season, the Caps would not be doubling up on million dollar deals on the lower half of the forward lines). He is one of the guys you would like to see get that prize for sticking his nose into so many situations in which he might have been overmatched.
In the end…
The Caps have a number of players versatile enough to play either center or wing on the third or fourth line, a versatility that Bradley does not bring to the table. He also does not get much in the way of special teams ice time – less than eight minutes of total power play ice time last season and 1:18 a game in penalty killing ice time (fifth among forwards playing in at least 30 games). What he will provide is 10-12 minutes of honest effort and the occasional goal that is as likely as not to be important to the outcome of that game.
It is a mix of skills and attributes that any team might find valuable as a support role to be filled, but whether that role will merit a raise going forward is an issue that will lurk under the surface this season. In the meantime, Bradley's contributions might be as much or more a matter of chemistry as statistics. It's one thing The Professor should know something about...
76 games, 9-14-23, +5