Theme: “Judicious absence is a weapon.”
-- Charles Reade
When Stefan Della Rovere was traded to the St. Louis Blues 11 months ago for D.J. King, the lede in the news report in the Washington Post was as follows:
“The Washington Capitals added a significant amount of toughness to their lineup Wednesday by acquiring rugged right wing D.J. King in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.”
King had a reputation for being a rugged (27 fights in 101 career games) if somewhat brittle (played a total of 74 of 246 games in his last three years in St. Louis) player. On his second shift as a Capital during a pre-season matchup he took on Boston’s Shawn Thornton, which elicited this response from head coach Bruce Boudreau:
"I told him earlier on: ‘You don't have to fight in training camp'... but he wanted to show his new teammates and the fans that he's not bad at his craft. It made the guys feel better on the bench knowing they had a big brother out there...that's the feeling I got. We never really had that tough, physical presence last year."
Well, that was the plan. By the time the 2010-2011 season was over, King dressed for a total of 16 regular season games, was waived once (in February), had as many fights as shots on goal for the season (six), and did not dress for more than four consecutive games at any point in the season. He did not top ten minutes of ice time in any of the 16 games in which he played and topped eight minutes only once. In fact, his 90 minutes of total ice time was about a week’s worth of ice time for the likes of Mike Green. He was 859th among 891 skaters in average ice time per game.
And to the extent you put value in such assessments, the polls at hockeyfights.com did not have him winning any of his six fights for the season (0-4-2). The Caps had a record of 2-2-2 in games in which King recorded a fighting major. He finished his scoring line at 0-2-2, minus-3 for the season. There was, however, a fitting symmetry to his regular season. He had a fight on his first shift in his first game of the season, and he had a fight on his first shift of his last game of the season.
There just aren’t enough games to look at ten-game splits, except to look at his games played per segment:
If the object was to “[make] the guys feel better on the bench knowing they had a big brother out there,” then the guys weren’t feeling better too often, except to the extent Matt Hendricks (14 fights) or Matt Bradley (10) were picking up the slack. And neither of those players could be considered heavyweights as the term is generally understood in the NHL.
The Caps took on King to be more than a fighter. As general manager George McPhee put it:
"What we see in this player is someone who brings grit but looks like he could be a reliable player. I remember Joe Kocur late in his career was a far better player because he gave himself a chance to play and actually held down a fourth line role with Detroit when they won a Cup. If we could add a player to the club who is gritty and can play, that makes us a better team. We think if we get working with this player, he can become a reliable player who can play a little bit more."
Things did not seem to work out that way, and this isn’t King’s fault. When called upon, he answered the bell, and by appearances looked to be giving an honest effort as a player -- not merely a fighter -- in those instances in which he was called upon. It is not as if he was an unknown commodity before he came to Washington. And what’s more, he agreed to a two-year contract extension ($637,500 per season) before the trade that brought him to Washington. Perhaps it was more about moving Stefan Della Rovere. Perhaps it really was an effort to get nastier than the Caps have been. But whatever the reason, the acquisition of King looks to have had almost no benefit to the club, at least in the first year of his contract. One hopes Year Two works out better. Otherwise, one wonders if the Caps are employing judicious absence of a player with King’s skills, or they just badly misread the benefits of the trade.
(Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images North America)