Theme: “On Halloween, the parents sent their kids out looking like me.”
Tyler Sloan is the Rodney Dangerfield among Caps defensemen. Here is a guy who was undrafted and hooked on with three teams by signing free agent contracts (Columbus in 2000, Hershey in 2007, and the Caps in 2008). He didn’t see his first NHL action until he was 27 years old, and in the first period of his first game drew a nine minute power play for the Caps. He hung on to play 26 games that first year and another two in the playoffs in which he averaged more than 18 minutes of ice time and was a plus-1. Last year he had 40 games worth of work and another two in the playoffs, and although he backed up a step or two in his results, he has to get marks for being an indomitable sort. You cannot say he hasn’t worked hard to get his turn in the show.
Unfortunately, the team seems to have eclipsed him in terms of talent. He is the seventh man on a (currently) seven-man defensive squad, and if the Caps manage to add a defenseman between now and the trading deadline, he’s almost a certainty to be moved off the parent roster. Of the seven defensemen on the club (all of whom are returning from last year), Sloan finished fourth in points. That would be nice, but six points isn’t a lot, given that the two players with whom he was tied – Karl Alzner and John Erskine – were a rookie playing in 21 games and a defensive defenseman, respectively. He was one of only two defensemen who finished the year on the minus side of the ledger (Alzner). He had the worst giveaway/takeaway roster on the squad. He had the lowest Corsi value among the defensemen and the second worst Corsi-on ice/Corsi-off ice differential (Alzner). He had the second lowest GVT value, barely distinguishable from that of Karl Alzner (numbers from behindthenet.ca). He might get marks for his having fought hard to earn an NHL sweater, but the numbers are working against him being a regular, or perhaps even a regular substitute.
What 2010-2011 has in store for Sloan is, it would seem, entirely a product of the personnel management behavior of the front office. One has to wonder if the Caps are serious in heading into this season with this seven-man group as its defense, especially given that the defensive replacements in Hershey are either too similar to Sloan in productive potential or in need of additional seasoning. That thinking leads one to believe that sometime – and we would think it sooner rather than later – the Caps are going to make some changes that will impact the defense.
Fearless: Well, cousin, you could say that Sloan is a road warrior. Last year he was 2-3-5, plus-6 in 22 road games. He was 1-3-4, plus-1 in 14 road games the previous season.
Cheerless: Uh-huh… 0-1-1, minus-7 in 18 games last year and 0-1-1, plus-3 in 12 games the year before in Verizon Center. You wanna bet he orders take out instead of cooking, too?
In the end…
Given where he started on his journey to the NHL, you really want to root for a guy like Tyler Sloan. He certainly works hard on the ice, but the question is whether his “skill” is up to his “will.” Sloan might be a passable seventh defenseman on this club but for the fact that there is either a rather significant drop off in production and durability (John Erskine) or a fair amount of uncertainty (Karl Alzner) after the top four. There is too much of a “soft underbelly” question about the defense after the top four to be more than a little uncomfortable with the bottom three, unless you have a 100 percent reliable crystal ball that says Alzner is going to step in and do wonders.
The Caps of five years ago might have employed Sloan for 60-plus games. That team had a just-getting-his-feet-wet Mike Green, Mathieu Biron, Ivan Majesky, and Bryan Muir, among others. He would have in the competitive mix on that club. But this team has come too far since then, certainly further than perhaps Sloan’s skill set will take him. He could be a 50-60-game defenseman in the NHL with the right club. That club, however, is probably not the Capitals. Some might rejoice in that; we are not among them. To the extent he sees playing time, it is likely to be limited, except in the event of injuries.
16 games, 1-2-3, -3