A little while ago we posted about the Washington Capitals record book and the manner of chasing records in it. Our look at the club record for longevity was the first of what we intended to be a periodic look back at some of those records and the possibilities that any of the current Capitals might take their place among the franchise’s record holders. In the second installment we take a look at points by defensemen.
On November 22, 2000, the Washington Capitals defeated the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, on a goal by Andrei Nikolishin with 43 seconds left in overtime. In that game, Calle Johansson recorded an assist, his eighth of the young season. More important, the point lifted him out of a tie with Scott Stevens for the franchise record for career points by a defenseman with the Capitals. Johansson would add to his total, compiling a total of 474 points as a Capital before retiring after the 2002-3003 season (then coming out of retirement late in the 2003-2004 season to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs).
Those 474 points still stand as the franchise record for points by a Capitals defenseman. It begs the question, who among the current defensemen on the club might threaten Johansson’s record? For all intents and purposes, this conversation is limited to two players – Mike Green and John Carlson.
Mike Green was, as Caps fans know, the NHL’s top offensive defenseman over a three-year period ending with the completion of the 2009-2010 season. Over those three seasons, only six defensemen recorded more than 150 points, but Mike Green was the only one who would rack up more than 200 points over those three seasons. His 205 points were 27 more than the runner-up over that period, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom.
Had Green been able to maintain that scoring pace since 2010, we might be talking about his breaking the franchise points record in the 2014-2015 season. Here is how that might have unfolded. Over his big-three seasons Green recorded 205 points in 225 games (0.91 points-per-game). Those 225 games represented 91 percent of the games played by the Caps over that period. If he played in 91 percent of the games played and scored at a 0.91 points-per-game pace, he would have entered the 2013-2014 season with 396 points. The 2013-2014 season would leave him close to the record, and he would break the record early in the 2014-2015 season.
Alas, things change. A combination of events conspired to reduce Green’s offensive production profoundly. After the Caps surprising early exit from the 2010 playoffs in the first round and struggles early in the following season, the club changed its philosophy to emphasize more defensive responsibility. Points were not as plentiful for the club as a whole.
Then there were the injuries. Green played only 116 of 212 games the last three seasons owing to a variety of ailments – concussion, ankle, and groin injuries. In those 116 games he recorded 57 points (0.49 points-per-game). While he did come back in 2013 to finish with 26 points in 35 games (0.74 points-per-game), he is not the offensive force he was in those big-three years ending in 2010.
As he heads into the 2013-2014 season, Green has 277 points in 433 games as a Capital, 197 points short of the franchise record for career points by a defenseman. He has two more seasons on his current contract with the club, meaning that he will not break the record under his current deal (unless he channels his inner Paul Coffey).
Contract aside, there is the matter of trying to assess Green’s production going forward. He had lingering groin problems last season but did dress for the last 19 regular season games and all seven playoff games. It would be a stretch to think of him as an ironman, 80-game defenseman, but 65 games per season at this stage of his career (assuming he has worked out his groin problems) would not appear unreasonable. As far as point production is concerned, those days of averaging close to a point a game would appear out of reach, given the league-wide trends in scoring and the game the Capitals play these days. There is the notion that Green is also something of a creature of the power play. He was third among NHL defensemen in power play points per game last season (0.40, behind P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov). However, his even-strength points-per-game was respectable (0.34, 17th overall among NHL defensemen). What is tantalizing, though, is that overall he scored 19 points in 19 games after his last stint on the injured list.
If he can rehabilitate his offensive game to be a consistent version of the 0.74 points-per-game player he was in 2013 and play in 65 games per season, Green would be looking at reaching Johansson’s record early in the 2017-2018 season, by which time he would be turning 33 years old. Injuries could always derail Green’s progress once more, just as it could for any player, but it would appear that the matter of his breaking the club record for career points as a defenseman is at least as much a product of whether the realities of salary caps, contracts, and free agency will allow him to reach that 2017-2018 season as a Capital.
John Carlson is not ever likely to be as prolific as Mike Green at the latter’s peak of production. However, Carlson has improved his offensive output since entering the league in the 2009-2010 season. He is also among the most durable of defensemen. He is one of only five defenseman who dressed for every game over the past three seasons. Over those 212 games he has 91 points (0.43 points-per-game, a little more than half of the productivity of Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson at 0.79 points-per-game over the period).
It is difficult to get a feel for Carlson’s overall upside on offense, given that he is the number-two option on the power play (he averaged barely half of Mike Green’s power play ice time per night). However, Carlson did finish tied for fifth in even strength points last season after finishing tied for 17th in 2011-2012 and tied for fourth in 2010-2011. One gets the feeling that with more power play time, Carlson could deliver.
As it is, at Carlson’s level of production over his last three seasons (0.43 points per game), he would have to set another team record to reach Johansson’s club points record. To get to 474 points Carlson would have to play in more than 1,100 games with the Caps. Johansson currently holds the club record for games played with 983. Even if Carlson’s ironman streak was to continue, he would have to string together more than ten more such seasons to get there.
Carlson’s current contract expires at the end of the 2017-2018 season, meaning that even if he has a chance to reach Johansson, it would have to come under terms of a new contract. Even if Carlson was to ramp up his production (say, to 0.60 points per game), he would need almost eight years’ worth of games to reach the mark, meaning it would come under another contract.
In some ways, Carlson resembles Johansson in that he is more of a two-way defenseman than Green is (or has the reputation for being). He could be more productive, but that would not seem likely so long as Mike Green is the number one option for offense from the blue line. If Green, for whatever reason, was to have his Capitals career interrupted, or if he should move on to another team, Carlson could fulfill the responsibilities for offense from his position, although perhaps not as productively as Green. In any case, if Calle Johansson’s club record for points by a defenseman is to be eclipsed, it is almost certainly going to be Mike Green who has the best chance to do that.