Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- D.J. King

D.J. King

Theme: "This is ill-advised my friend, ill-advised."

The quote comes from Mike Rowe, the host of a television show, “Dirty Jobs,” and it might be what one thinks if any opponent takes liberties with any of the Caps on nights when D.J. King is dressed. This is the mantle D.J. King inherits as he comes to the Caps, holder of the “Dirty Jobs” portfolio. King performs one of the most difficult jobs in any sport. He fights. In four NHL seasons and 101 games played, King has spent 553 minutes on the ice. He also has spent 135 minutes in the penalty box as a result of having engaged in 27 fights. And it isn’t as if he takes on lesser mortals. Of the five fights he had last year, none of his opponents had fewer than nine fights of their own last season.

It is a hard way to make a living.

In King’s case, it has been a harder way to make a living in that he has played in more than 27 games once in four seasons (61 games in 2007-2008 with St. Louis). He has had to contend with some major injury issues in his brief NHL career, losing 39 games to a right hand injury last season, losing 81 games to wrist and a shoulder injuries in 2008-2009.

It is a bit hard to tell just what the Caps have here in terms of the player as he plays within the rules. He hasn’t scored a goal in the NHL since March 23, 2008. He doesn’t have a point since October 16, 2008. He hasn’t played as many as ten minutes in a game since April 1, 2008 (one of only two career games in which he topped that mark). The odd fact is that he has more fighting majors in his career (27) than he has minor penalties (25).

Fearless: What the Caps did, cousin, was trade up when they obtained King. They swapped out an “agitator” (Stefan Della Rovere) for an “enforcer.” And they swapped out “someday” (Rovere would likely have spent another year or two – at least – in the farm system) for “now.”

Cheerless: If he can stay upright, cuz. In the last three seasons he dressed for 74 of 246 games. That works out to about 25 games a year. How much enforcing is going on if he’s not on the ice?

In the end: One of the problems the Caps have had since the lockout (more early on than now) is that players have played at one rung too high on the position ladder than their comfort or talent level would suggest. Defensemen better suited to a third pairing pushed into first or second pair minutes and responsibilities, third line forwards asked to score. The acquisition of King repairs a similar situation in the policing function. Matt Bradley is a tough, gutsy individual. He has shown often enough his willingness to stick his nose into situations in defense of a teammate. But he is ill suited to the task on a regular basis. He just cannot compete with the heavyweights in the league, and even when paired off against “players” who take liberties, he has taken a lot of punishment.

Upon getting the news of King’s acquisition, Bradley said:

"He's obviously in a way higher weight class than I'm in, so it's great to have a guy like him here. He's a great character guy and definitely one of the toughest guys in the league, so hopefully he can put some fear in the other teams, where we didn't really have a lot of that the last couple of years."

That’s not a declaration of surrender, but a sigh of relief and a statement of fact. Bradley can do what he does without having to take on enforcement responsibilities, and King can take care of the policing function. At least that’s the theory. In practice King isn’t a sure bet to win a sweater every night. Bradley, David Steckel, and Boyd Gordon appear likely to start the season as the fourth line. King’s talents might be used intermittently, depending on the opponent. But he does bring a dimension to the Caps that was not on the roster last year. Whether that will translate into wins, or at least keeping other teams honest (and keeping his teammates healthy and upright) is the question.


44 games, 1-4-5, even