Theme: “In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
In a way, Jason Chimera was the 2011-2012 version of last season’s Troy Brouwer. Long a player of decent, if unremarkable offensive production (a per-82 game career scoring line of 14-17-31), Chimera reached the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career in the 2011-2012 season. Even with the career high in goals, though, dark clouds were gathering over Chimera’s production. After recording 13 goals in his first 33 games of the 2011-2012 season, capped by a two-goal performance that got the Caps to within a goal in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils in the last game before Christmas, he managed only seven goals in his last 49 games of the season, a 12-goal pace over 82 games.
Although he would pick up his pace in the playoffs (four goals in 14 games, a 23-goal pace), Chimera’s production would crater in the abbreviated 2013 season. He did not record his first goal of the season until Game 28, going 0-for-58 in shooting over his first 27 games. That goal in a 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on St. Patrick’s Day did not confer upon him the luck of the Irish. He managed only two goals in his last 19 games, giving him only three goals for the season on 92 shots on goal, tied for 357th among 373 qualifying players in shooting percentage (3.3 percent).
Here is the bright side of last season for Jason Chimera. From 2005-2006 through the 2011-2012 season, only 19 times did a forward play in at least 70 games in a season, average at least 1.0 shots per game, and shoot to a percentage of 3.3 percent or less. Only one forward – Los Angeles’ Trevor Lewis – managed the feat twice. You have to think that Chimera was the victim of profoundly bad luck last season, even if his career shooting percentage is not especially noteworthy.
And, even though he has not been an extraordinary goal-scorer over his career, he has been a consistent one. In every season in which he played in at least 50 games, save one (2003-2004), he finished in double digits in goal scoring. Of course, that leaves out his injury-abbreviated 2008-2009 season (eight goals in 49 games) and last season (three goals in 47 games), but it still leaves seven seasons in the last ten in which he finished with ten or more goals.
About that shooting percentage. Jason Chimera has been in the league for 12 seasons. Over that stretch of years 83 players have played in over 700 regular season games and have a shooting percentage of at least 8.0 percent. Know where Chimera ranks on that list in shooting percentage among those players? 77th (8.8 percent). Even in his 20-goal season two years ago he was under 10 percent (9.8). Put another way, only nine forwards over those 12 seasons have played in more than 700 games and have a shooting percentage lower than Chimera's 8.8 percent (source: hockey-reference.com).
It is not as if Chimera is asked to make contributions on special teams, either. He has nine career power play goals (three with the Caps). He has not averaged as much as a minute of power play time per game since the 2008-2009 season (2:07/game with Columbus). He has not averaged as much as a minute per game on the penalty kill over a full season since that same 2008-2009 season (1:56/game with Columbus).
The Big Question… Does the pendulum of performance have another swing in it for Jason Chimera?
Prior to the 2011-2012 season Jason Chimera averaged 14 goals per 82 games. Then, in 2011-2012 the pendulum swung in his favor with his 20-goal season. It swung the other way with a vengeance last season when he finished with only three goals. Getting back to his 14-goal career average per 82 games would be an improvement and welcome for this team. The chances of his approaching that mark might hinge on where he spends his even-strength time. It is entirely possible that he will be slotted into the left side on the fourth line, behind Marcus Johansson, Martin Erat, and Brooks Laich. If that is the case, it becomes less likely he will get the ice time or the quality of teammates needed to get all the way back to his career norm.
In the end…
When a player is getting into his mid-30’s and suffers as precipitous a decline in production as that which Jason Chimera suffered in the 2013 season, it would be only natural to wonder if it isn’t the start of the decline phase of his career. However, except for a groin problem than caused him to miss 33 games of the 2008-2009 season, he has been a very durable player, missing only nine games over seven other seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout. That his body is breaking down does not seem to be his problem, and he remains one of the fastest skaters in the game.
He is not likely to be as productive as he was in his 20-goal year in 2011-2012. He is not likely to get enough ice time in enough situations to reach those heights. On the other hand, it defies credibility to think that another 3.3 percent shooting effort lies in store. What might be key for him this coming season is a number that lingers from last season: 12:40. That was his average ice time per game in 47 games with the Caps in 2013. It was his lowest ice time per game for a full season since the 2004-2005 lockout. In 12 of his last 19 games he did not reach even that average. In the playoffs, it was slightly higher (13:39), but the Caps also played two overtime games in their first round series against the New York Rangers in which they were eliminated in seven games. And, if not for the injury sustained by Martin Erat in Game 4 of that series, his ice time might have been scarcer. As we move to the 2013-2014 season, his benefit might be in being a better-than-average fourth liner than a less-than average third liner.
Projection: 79 games, 11-15-26, minus-4
Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America