Monday, July 29, 2013

Washington Capitals -- Chasing Records: Part I, Longevity

We are entering what is the dullest, dreariest month of the hockey calendar – August.  Oh, we can act interested about this or that rumor about this or that free agent who has yet to sign with an NHL team, and we can take notice of the comings and goings of our favorite players on Twitter or other social media as they do this and that over the summer.  But really, what month is slower than August on the hockey calendar?  Even the media are “gone fishin’,” tweeting from their cabins or lakeside homes or other vacation locales since there is little on which to report.

Same thing for bloggers.  Here at Peerless Central, the cousins are keeping busy.  Fearless is at work writing an opera, “Die Zauberschl√§ger,” the story of an impish hockey player who, with the help of his magic hockey stick and his unflappable sidekick centerman, endure unpredictable, rollicking adventures over an entire winter in their pursuit of a silver chalice.  Meanwhile, Cheerless just took delivery of a full set of Rosetta Stone CDs and is busy learning English.

As for yours truly, we’ve been leafing through the Washington Capitals record book, and it got us to thinking, what are the chances any of this generation of Caps (well, those not named “Ovechkin”) will take their place in the Caps’ record book?  We will be doing this from time to time as we wind our way through August

We can start right at the beginning of the individual records, right there on page 248 of the 2012-2013 Media Guide… “Most Seasons.”  Do you think any Capitals will break the record of 16 seasons held by Olaf Kolzig?  Or even reach the second-place record held jointly by Peter Bondra and Calle Johansson?  Well, if Alex Ovechkin completes the terms of his current contract and is not traded to another club, he will complete his 16th season in a Capitals uniform in the last year of his current contract – 2020-2021.

This being the age of the long-term contract (made slightly less long with the latest collective bargaining agreement), Nicklas Backstrom has a shot at that longevity record.  When his current deal expires at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, he will have spent 13 seasons with the Caps, provided he isn’t dealt to another club and serves the full duration of the contract.  He would be only 32 years old at that point, and another contract with the Caps is not beyond reason.

If you are looking for a dark horse here, it might be Mike Green.  Green just completed his eighth season with the club and is under contract for another two seasons to come.  When his current contract expires he will be 29 years old.  If he was to sign a six-year deal that would begin just before his 30th birthday, he could be right there with Kolzig as the longest-tenured of Caps by seasons played.

As for youngsters like Karl Alzner, John Carlson, or Marcus Johansson, it’s possible, but it is way too early to put them in the conversation.

Now, as far as games in a Caps sweater is concerned, no Capitals has ever hit the 1,000 games played mark in the red, white, and blue.  Calle Johansson came closest with 983 and holds the franchise record for games played.  Alex Ovechkin is only 382 games away from that record.  If he was to average 79 games played per season – his average in his first seven full seasons in the league (not counting the abbreviated 2013 season) – he would reach Johansson’s record late in the 2017-2018 season at the age of 32.  Unless he goes all Kovalchuk, he seems a good bet to break this record.

Nicklas Backstrom’s future is a bit murkier.  He was among the most durable players in the league in his first four seasons, playing every game of his first three seasons and missing only five as the result of a hand injury.  Then, in the 2011-2012 season, he missed 40 games to a concussion.  He rebounded to playing in all 48 games of the 2013 season.  If he averages the 73 games played per season in his first five full season (again, discounting the abbreviated 2013 season), he would not reach the 983-game mark under his current contract.  If he was to sign an extension to take effect after the 2019-2020 season, he could hit that mark in the first year of his new deal.

As for Mike Green, it would seem unlikely, given his recent injury history, that he would successfully challenge Calle Johansson’s mark.  Since he played in all 82 games of the 2007-2008 season, Green has participated in 69 percent of the regular season games played by the Caps.  That works out to about 56 games per 82-game season.  Even if Green was to participate in, say, 65 games per season, he would not reach Johansson’s mark until the 2021-2022 season, when he would be 36 years old.

If you are looking down the road, this is where Alzner and Carlson come into play.  Alzner has only 263 regular season games under his belt, but already he is showing himself to be a very durable player.  He has played every game of the past three seasons.  Even if he averages only 72 games per season going forward, he would tie Johansson in the last game he plays in the 2022-2023 season when he would be 34 years old.  Carlson, who has been every bit as durable as Alzner in the last three seasons, would (averaging the same 72 games per season as Alzner) hit that mark half-way through the 2024-2025 season, when he would be reaching his 34th birthday.

Then there is Brooks Laich.  The 2013 season took a bite out of his chances to catch Johansson’s 983-games played mark, but not so big a bite that he doesn’t have a chance to get there.  With 556 games played as a Cap, Laich needs 427 games to tie the franchise record.  If he averages 75 games a season he could get to the 983 games mark in the 2018-2019 season.  He would be 35 years old if he did so.

Those are the longevity records and the players who would seem to have a realistic chance of challenging them.  If depends on a variety of factors – health, production, contract renewals.  But in this age of the longer-term deal, by the time the next decade of the 21st century rolls around, there could very well be new holders of the longevity records of the Capitals franchise.