Theme: “I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life.”
-- Dean Koontz
If age 30 is in your rear-view mirror, and you have only 137 games of NHL experience on your resume (fewer than two full year’s worth of games), it helps to have a special skill in your pocket that sets you apart from other players.
And that brings us to Matt Hendricks. Going into the 2011-2012 season Hendricks had just celebrated his 30th birthday, and he had only those 137 games of experience with 18 goals and 41 points to go along with them. He made himself a fan favorite with the Caps with his utter fearlessness in taking on opponents when they thought they could take liberties with teammates. His 12 fighting majors in the 2010-2011 season tied him for 12th in the league. It made it a difficult way to make a living for a guy topping out at six-feet in height and a shade over 200 pounds.
But in the 2011-2012 season, Hendricks found another way to make fans cheer. Of all NHL players with at least three attempts in The Gimmick, Hendricks tied Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson for the highest shooting percentage (83.3 percent). That’s right, a grinder in 65 minutes of hockey who was last among 13 Caps forwards last season in goals scored for-on ice per 60 minutes turned into Mike Bossy… well, maybe that’s a bit much … in The Gimmick.
Hendricks became so adept at making goalies look foolish in Bettman’s Folly that Caps TV analyst Craig Lauchlin gave Hendricks’ signature move its own name, “The Paralyzer.” It was a move Hendricks picked up as a high-schooler. Caps fans paying close attention might have gotten a clue that this skill would be a feature of Hendricks’ game when he tied for the team lead in shootout attempts (five) in his only season in Hershey in 2006-2007.
He brought “The Paralyzer” to the NHL and might have found its high point when he deked former Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas into the ice in a March 29, 2012 game in Boston against the Bruins. But Thomas was not the only goalie victimized. Dwayne Roloson, Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Peter Budaj were the other four goalies paralyzed by Hendricks. Only Johan Hedberg stopped Hendricks in a 3-2 Gimmick win posted by the New Jersey Devils back in November. Overall the Caps were 4-2 in games in which Hendricks attempted a trick shot (4-1 when he scored, losing only to Philadelphia), 0-2 when he was held off the ice. Hendricks scoring in the après-hockey round and the Caps winning when he did was as reliable an occurrence as anything the Caps had last season.
Back to hockey for a moment. Matt Hendricks was one of a quartet of Caps who finished the regular season with a rather impressive Corsi value relative to quality of competition at 5-on-5. Only Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Jason Chimera were better. And of this group only Laich had a lower offensive zone start value (43.1 percent to 44.2 percent. In fact, only Laich, Jay Beagle, and Jeff Halpern had lower shares of offensive zone starts among the 13 Caps forwards in this group. And, of those 13 Caps forwards, only Halpern, Beagle and Joel Ward had fewer goals scored against-on ice/60 minutes at 5-on-5. One could explain this away by saying that Hendricks was, by and large, a fourth liner, but he finished in the middle of the pack (seventh) in quality of competition faced at 5-on-5 (numbers from behindthenet.ca).
Hendricks had the kind of offensive consistency that the Caps did not need. In the regular season he was 4-5-9 in 78 games. In the playoffs he was 1-1-2 in 14 games, about the same rate of scoring, which is to say "not much." Although Hendricks is not a big scorer, his four goals and nine points for the regular season was by far the lowest in each category for him in his three full seasons in the league. And, in the regular season Hendricks was 1-2-3, minus-6 in 28 games against teams that qualified for the Eastern Conference side of the playoffs. Overall he was one of many on the third and fourth lines who struggled in making contributions on offense.
The Big Question… Can Matt Hendricks translate some of his “paralyzer” game to the 60-minute portion of the game?
As Matt Hendricks enters his fourth full season his offensive production shows a somewhat concerning trend: nine goals in 56 games in 2009-2010 (a 13-goal pace per 82 games), nine in 77 in 2010-2011 (10), and four in 78 games last season (four). And this trend comes in spite of his getting progressively more ice time (9:16/game three seasons ago to 11:28 in 2010-2011 to 12:07 last season). Part of the problem might be that Hendricks’ offensive zone starts dropped from 51.7 percent in 2010-2011 to 44.2 percent last season. Still a 4.1 percent shooting percentage is not something that can be sustained, even from a fourth line forward. That shooting percentage was 449th among 597 forwards dressing in the NHL last season. Only 22 forwards playing more than half their team’s games had lower shooting percentages. That 4.1 shooting percentage would have ranked Hendricks only 131st among defensemen in the NHL last season.
In the end…
The Caps are not expecting Matt Hendricks to be a scorer. If he gets 10-15 points, that is probably sufficient on a team with some of the considerable weapons the Caps can use. His forte is grit, an ability to get under the skin of opponents (he tied for the team lead in penalties drawn at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes last season), and an ability to play adequate defense. Perhaps the drop in offensive production last season was a reflection of the style of hockey the Caps played under head coach Dale Hunter. In a more cautious system, having the third and fourth liners taking risks is not part of the portfolio. One could certainly come away with that watching Hendricks’ offense finding its expression in the Gimmick. Perhaps this season he will find a little of that flair under a new head coach, although if Adam Oates can return some of his teammates to their accustomed level of success, Hendricks can be the pain in the backside – and “The Paralyzer” – that makes him a fan favorite.
Projection: 76 games, 4-4-8, minus-1
Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America