Theme: “Slump? I ain’t in no slump; I just ain’t hitting.”
-- Yogi Berra
Matt Bradley spent the first five years of his tenure with the Caps as an “energy” forward. That’s the short form version of a forward who hits, checks, has the occasional fight, and chips in a point or two here or there. A momentum-changer. You could argue that Bradley has fulfilled the “energy” part of the description – you would be hard pressed to find a player who seems to care less about his well-being in service to giving his team an edge. But momentum-changer…well.
The odd thing about Bradley’s tenure with the Caps is the up and down nature of it. His first, third, and fifth years were marked by an average of 76 games player per year and a line of 9-12-21, even. In his even years, though, he averaged 69 games played and a line of 5-7-12, minus-3. The 2010-2011 season being year six in his stay in DC, one might have foreseen what was to come. It was not a great year. Bradley finished 4-7-11, minus-3, in 61 games played, and he missed 19 games to injuries (lower body injury, broken finger).
It’s hard to say if the broken finger sustained against New Jersey on December 21st was the pivotal point in Bradley’s season, numbers-wise, but it certainly marks a dividing line in his production…
Bradley had an especially productive second ten-game split, recording two goals and four assists, while posting a plus-2. He skidded some after that with a goal and two assists over 14 games in his next two splits, during which he sustained the broken finger. After missing 14 games, Bradley returned and went almost silent in his last 32 games, going 1-1-2, minus-6. The drop in production came despite his getting reliable minutes. Over his first 26 games before the injured finger, he skated fewer than ten minutes 13 times (four of those involved fights, which would have depressed his ice time, and in two others he was injured). He skated fewer than ten minutes only eight times in his last 32 games (only one of those included a fight that would have reduced his available minutes).
Another area in which Bradley came up short was in game-winning goals. In 2009-2010 Bradley had five such markers, tied for second on the team with Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble. In 2010-2011 he had none. One could argue that in 2009-2010 he had almost as many game-winners (five) as he had in his entire career to that point (seven in 492 games), but it is also an indicator of how much his production dropped off.
One thing Bradley has developed a reputation for is a certain fearlessness when it came to engaging in fisticuffs. Although not a heavyweight by NHL standards, he wasn’t shy about whom he took on. In 2010-2011 he was involved in ten bouts, and it is worth noting that the Caps were 7-3-0 in games in which he earned a fighting major. It is also worth noting that despite the Caps signing a true heavyweight in D.J. King to fill that role, and signing Matt Hendricks, who like Bradley was not shy about dropping the gloves with anyone who offended his sensibilities, Bradley had twice as many fights (ten) as he had in 2009-2010 (five), in which the Caps had a record of 3-1-1 (and this does not include the fighting major he drew but was not charged with when the Flyers’ Daniel Carcillo jumped him in an 8-2 win). It isn’t an easy way to make a living, but Bradley continued to make himself heard (or at least felt) in this area.
Odd Bradley Fact… Among all Caps forwards appearing in at least 20 games, Bradley faced the stiffest competition in 2010-2011 at 5-on-5; he also suffered the weakest quality of teammates (from behindthenet.ca).
Game to Remember… November 17, 2010. In a 4-2 win over Buffalo, Bradley notched a goal and an assist (his only two-point game of the season), and he led the team with five shots on goal (his best for the season). His assist came on what would be the game-winning goal scored by David Steckel.
Game to Forget… December 11, 2010. Bradley was on his first shift of the night when the Colorado Avalanche scored their first goal of the evening. He was on the ice for his last shift of the first period when Colorado scored again to break a 1-1 tie just before the first intermission. After the Avs posted a power play goal midway through the second period, Bradley skated one abbreviated shift (13 seconds) with nothing eventful, but in his next shift dropped the gloves with Cody McLeod. It did not have as much of the effect as hoped for, as the Caps dropped a 3-2 decision, with Bradley finishing minus-2 (his only minus-2 of the season), a five minute penalty for fighting, and only 6:40 in total ice time.
Post Season… Almost nothing to speak of. No points, minus-3. He was by no means alone in that sparse output, but then again, it was part of the problem, too.
In the end, Bradley suffered a significant drop in his basic numbers. He is not asked to be a critical contributor on offense, but getting so much less from him on offense – and almost nothing in the season’s last 32 games – contributed to the weakness the Caps were burdened with on the bottom two forward lines, which goes a long way in reflecting the problems the Caps had on offense in the second half of the season.
Bradley is now a free agent, and his return hinges on at least a couple of factors. First, does the team think that whatever intangibles he brings merits an offer that approximates what he made this past season ($1.0 million)? Second, do the Caps think they can get similar contributions more cheaply, say, from a player such as Jay Beagle, who is signed for considerably less than Bradley made this past season? Bradley does not have to be “The Professor” to figure out that his tenure with the Caps is on shaky ground. And that is unfortunate, because he has been a player who has offered himself up to do what he can for the club to win. You just wonder if perhaps having just turned 33, if 2010-2011 wasn’t just a slump, that the wear and tear have left the Caps with looking to go younger and Bradley with the Caps in his rear view mirror.