“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
-- Lawrence “Yogi” Berra
Appearances can be deceiving. Yogi Berra was the malapropist of his time, a gusher of odd quotes over a long career in sports that have endured over time. They are viewed as funny in a quirky way, but they make sense upon further inspection, too. And this is where you, dear reader, ask, “what does this have to do with Christian Djoos?” Fair enough. At first blush, there seems little to connect a deceased Hall of Fame baseball player from St. Louis with a 25 year old hockey defenseman from Gothenburg, Sweden. That is, until you think, as Yogi did, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Christian Djoos rose steadily, if unspectacularly through the Washington Capitals system after being taken in the seventh round of the 2012 entry draft (195th overall). He worked his way from Sweden to Hershey in the AHL and, finally, to the Caps as a rookie in 2017-2018. He appeared in 63 games, posting a scoring line of 3-11-14, plus-13. Only one rookie defenseman had more goals, more points, and a better plus-minus than Djoos (Charlie McAvoy went 7-25-32, plus-20, with the Boston Bruins). Djoos went on to dress for 22 postseason games for the Caps on their way to the Stanley Cup. Since 2005-2006, only one rookie defenseman dressed for more postseason games in a single season (Adam McQuaid dressed for 23 games in 2011 for Boston). From that solid beginning, much was expected, or at least hoped for, when Djoos returned for his sophomore season.
It would be a disappointment. Djoos dressed for only 45 games, going 1-9-10, plus-9, season interrupted with an injury in December that resulted in compartment syndrome, requiring surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation before returning to the lineup in February. He dressed for only three postseason games, going without a point and with a minus-3 rating. From a promising rookie season, he went to a sophomore season of equal parts misfortune and disappointment. And, with the emergence of Jonas Siegnthaler on the third defensive pairing, it brought his future role with the club into question, a matter complicated by Washington’s difficult salary cap situation and Djoos’ salary cap hit of $1.25 million in what is the last year of his contract, after which he would be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. But again, as Yogi said, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Odd Djoos Fact…
Christian Djoos is a member of an odd club. A seventh-round draft pick in 2012, he was one of 15 defensemen taken in that round among 30 picks. He is one of five of those 15 picks to dress for an NHL game, and he is the career games-played leader among all 30 picks from that round (108).
Bonus Odd Djoos Fact…
Christian Djoos is one of 12 defensemen born in Sweden who finished their rookie season in the NHL with at least 50 games, at least ten points, and a plus-minus of plus-10 or better. It is a rather impressive group.
Extra Bonus Odd Djoos Fact...
Christian Djoos is only the second defenseman drafted by the Caps born in Sweden who played for them. Peter Andersson, a ninth-round draft pick of the Caps in 1980 (173rd overall), was born in Federtalve, Sweden. Andersson played 160 games with the Caps over three seasons in the mid-1980’s.
Christian Djoos is not the biggest of defensemen at six-feet, 169 pounds, but he is of a sort that has flourished in this era of the NHL. He is a superior stickhandler and passer, and he does have good instincts in the offensive end of the ice. He does fit a certain recent pattern with this team as well. Only six Capitals defensemen, Djoos among them, played fewer than 125 games over their first two seasons and had as good or better goals/points/plus-minus total than Djoos. It is evidence of his solid development and his potential to improve. He suffered a setback with injuries, but he has climbed this mountain before, fighting for playing time, and succeeded. For him, in this case, it might be as Yogi put it… “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Those setbacks have come at a price for Djoos. Not only will he still have to make progress recovering from a serious injury, the blue line is getting crowded. Not only has Jonas Siegenthaler drawn even (at least) with Djoos on the depth chart, Djoos has to contend with a prospect the team seems very high on (Martin Fehervary), another prospect that is being watched closely (Alexander Alexeyev), and players who have been putting their time in and paying their dues in Hershey (for example, Tyler Lewington). In terms of depth, it’s like those establishments Yogi spoke of when he said, “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.” The position might be too crowded, and given the Caps’ salary situation, might have enough depth where Djoos’ cap hit might be looked at for movement elsewhere.
- Top-50 in franchise history in games played by a defenseman (108; he needs 12 to tie Jason Doig for 50th place)
- Top-50 in franchise history in career points as a Capital defenseman (24; he needs six to tie Bryan Watson for 50th place)
The Big Question… Can Christian Djoos resume his career development arc as a Capital?
This is really two questions: can he put the setback behind him and resume the progress he showed as a rookie two seasons ago? And, given the Caps’ salary cap situation, can he do it here? The first worrisome part in considering these questions is the start he had to last season leading up to his injury. In 28 games, Djoos was 0-4-4, although he was plus-6, which was third best at the time among Caps defensemen (Michal Kempny was plus-19, and John Carlson was plus-17). On the other hand, his shooting dried up. He had 18 shots in those 28 games, converting none of them. Compare that to his having recorded 25 shots on goal (two goals) in his first 28 games in his rookie season in 2017-2018. And it was not as if he was getting significantly less ice time – 13:13 a game in his first 28 games last season compared with 13:53 per game in his first 28 games the previous season. He did go 1-5-6, plus-3, in 17 games after returning from injury with 15 shots on goal, an encouraging development. But there is, perhaps, more uncertainty as to what Djoos’ performance ceiling is than might have been the case after his rookie season. Or, as Yogi might put it, “the future ain’t what it used to be.”
There is also the matter of his contract and the Capitals salary cap situation. The matter has become a bit more complicated with the suspension of Evgeny Kuznetsov and that action’s effect on the salary cap, but the team will still have to shed more than a million dollars to come into compliance with the upper salary limit. Djoos’ cap hit of $1.25 million, significantly more than that of defensemen with whom he is competing -- Jonas Siegenthaler ($714,166), Martin Fehervary ($805,833), and Alexander Alexeyev ($894,167; according to capfriendly.com) – is something the team might be inclined to explore for movement to get cap relief.
In the end…
The matter of Christian Djoos bears watching, and not only for what he does on the ice in the preseason. There are the defensemen against whom he is competing and the jigsaw puzzle of the salary cap that the Capitals’ front office must piece together. It is one of the most intriguing stories of training camp, one that has an uncertain end. It isn't over 'till it's over, but on the other hand, we’ll just have to be satisfied with how Yogi so succinctly put it… “you can observe a lot by just watching.”
Projection: 20 games, 2-3-5, plus-2
Photo: Geoff Burke/NHLI