Monday, September 28, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Defensemen: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik

“You must become an old man in good time if you wish to be an old man long.”
-- Marcus Aurelius

When the 2014-2015 season ended, only 26 active defensemen had appeared in more career regular season games than Brooks Orpik (781); only 13 appeared in more postseason games (106).  Orpik played in 78 of those regular season games and 14 of those playoff games with the Caps last year.  He acquitted himself fairly well for a man whose free agent contract signed with the Caps in the summer of 2014 was called a “bad signing,” a “puzzler,” and “the worst July 1 free agent signing.” 

At a high level, it was a decent year for Orpik.  His 19 points (all assists) tied his second highest point total for a season in his career, his 168 total shot attempts was a career best, as was his total shots on goal (66), and his 1,700 total minutes played set a career high.  For the ninth time in 10 full seasons (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) he appeared in 70 or more games.  And, a certain orneriness was still evident in his game.  Orpik finished third (first among defensemen) in credited hits last season – 306, a number that was 85 more than he was credited with in Pittsburgh the previous season and only three fewer than his career best, set in 2008-2009.

What he did not have – does not yet have with the Capitals – was a goal scored.  In fact, although Orpik is hardly considered an “offensive” defenseman (13 goals in 703 games coming into last season), his first year with the Capitals was the first in his career in which he appeared in more than 70 games and did not register a goal.  He is now at 91 regular season games and counting without a goal. 

And here is another odd fact with respect to Orpik and goals.  No active player in the NHL has played as many regular season games as Orpik (781) without having scored a game-winning goal in his career.  Oddly enough, the next player on that active list is former Capital (if briefly) defenseman Tim Gleason – no game-winners in 727 career regular season games.

Fearless’ Take…

Time on ice was a pretty good indicator of success with respect to Orpik.  In games in which he skated more than 25 minutes, the Caps were 4-0-2.  In those instances in which he skated between 20 and 25 minutes, they were 35-13-7.  Less than 20 minutes on Orpik’s time on ice record, and the Caps were 4-11-2.  There is likely a chicken and egg effect here, Orpik, being a defensive defenseman with little offensive impact, might very well have been getting less ice time in games in which the Caps trailed late.  And, the Caps were 15-1-1 in games in which Orpik recorded a point, the only loss in regulation coming in his last game of the regular season.  Score one (or 19, as in “assists”) for secondary scoring.

Cheerless’ Take…

I’ll take “Words that Start with the Letters “Po,’ Alex.”  “Po,” as in “possession” and “poor.”  On a personal basis, Orpik finished with a better Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.6) than he did in either of his last two seasons in Pittsburgh (44.4 in 2012-2013, 46.2 in 2013-2014), but on a higher level – Corsi-for/relative – he finished in minus territory (minus-2.4) for the fifth straight season.  Orpik skated the bulk of his 5-on-5 ice time (1,151 minutes) with John Carlson on the Capitals’ first defense pairing.  The difference between Carlson’s Corsi-for percentage with Orpik (49.7) and when apart (59.1) was stunning (numbers from, and not in a good way (note: Carlson skated only 216 5-on-5 minutes apart from Orpik last season).  It was similar with the other defenseman logging more than 100 minutes at 5-on-5 with Orpik, Matt Niskanen (42.7 with, 52.8 apart from Orpik).  At a more granular level (did I use that word right, cuz?), Orpik had a challenging season.

The Big Question… How serious are Orpik’s possession issues going forward?

There is an interesting, even hopeful fact about Orpik’s possession numbers in 2014-2015.  In each of his first four ten-game segments, he was below 50 percent Corsi-for.  In his last four segments, including an eight-game segment to close the season, he was over 50 percent.  He was also marginally better overall in close-score situations, just under 50 percent for the season (49.8/minus-7 overall).  There is also his Fenwick profile (shot attempts less those attempts that are blocked).  Orpik was over 50 percent – barely – for the season in all situations (50.1) and was a bit better in close score situations (50.4; numbers from

Last season being Year 1 in what is a five-year contract with Washington, the numbers serve as a baseline for evaluating his performance going forward.  There is some concern about this.  Orpik turned 35 this past weekend, and he does have those 886 regular season and playoff games on his resume.  They have not been an easy 886 games, either. 

In the end…

No one is asking Brooks Orpik to score goals, game-winners or otherwise (nice as it might be), or do much of anything else one might associate with an offensive defenseman, except move the puck smartly out of his own zone.  He is something of a throwback, an almost exclusively defensive defenseman with a touch of orneriness who can, as much as the current rules allow, keep the front of his net clear.

The further one drills into Orpik’s numbers from last season, the less attractive they become.  Underneath it all, while he improved over the course of the season, there were possession issues, particularly in the manner in which partners improved their possession numbers when apart from him at 5-on-5. 

However, looking in the other direction – upward through the numbers toward those “intangibles” – his impacts are a little different.  He does have his name on the Stanley Cup.  He does have more than 800 games of regular season and playoff experience.  He does deliver a certain durability and consistency on the ice (his status after off-season wrist surgery notwithstanding).  He is, in a sense, comparable on the blue line to what Mike Knuble was five years ago – a veteran who can deliver solid minutes on the ice and leadership in the locker room.  He is about to enter his second year as the old man of the defense.  Caps fans will be hoping he can be that “old man long” of which the ancient emperor spoke.

Projection: 73 games, 1-13-14, plus-4

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”
-- Leonardo da Vinci

Assuming Dmitry Orlov is on the Opening Night roster for the Washington Capitals, it will have been 545 days between NHL games for the young defenseman.  Since he appeared in 60 games in his rookie season in 2011-2012, one in which he went 3-16-19 and finished fourth among rookie defensemen in scoring, Orlov has missed 153 of the Caps’ last 212 games over three seasons, including the entire 2014-2015 season to a broken wrist.  It is hard to remember that Orlov, as a rookie, was third among Caps’ defensemen in scoring despite being only sixth in average ice time and appearing in only those 60 games.

After missing all that time trying to comeback from a broken wrist, and before that the after effects of a concussion suffered in November 2012, Orlov has to demonstrate he is durable enough to shoulder the load of an 82-game season.  He will come into the 2015-2016 season penciled in on the third pair for the Caps, where he might be expected to skate 15 minutes or so a night.

For the moment, Orlov is what he was back in those days in 2011-2012 – mostly “potential.”  The reason he is not all potential is that despite all the time missed he is still 14th in his 2009 draft class in games played (119) and points (310 among the 70 defensemen selected. 

Fearless’ Take…

If you are an optimist, there still is not much to go on with respect to Orlov and his potential to nail down that third-pair responsibility.  There is this, though.  He had 65 games of experience at Hershey where he was 9-26-35, with another ten games of playoff experience with the Bears, going 1-3-4.  It suggests at least the possibility that he could be a contributor in the offensive end of the ice.  And, he can throw the occasional open-ice hip check, if folks have forgotten…

Cheerless’ Take…

There is the 545 days between games played, there is the fact that two of the five defensemen Orlov played with in his last game for the Caps are no longer in the organization (for the record: Julien Bruoillette and Tyson Strachan) and a third (Connor Carrick) seems unlikely to start the season in Washington.  In fact, only eight skaters with whom Orlov played the last time he dressed for an NHL game are likely to be taking the ice with him on Opening Night.  One might expect that there will be rust.  Not “rust dripping off the bow of the Titanic wreck” thick, but some nonetheless.

The Big Question… Is it reasonable to think Dmitry Orlov can put together a complete season in his first after missing so much time?

The problem for Orlov is that his injury bug hit right in the middle of his early development phase.  He is still just 24 years old, but he is going to be asked to assume a full share of ice time having missed the better part of three seasons in his development.  That could mean that he looks more like a 22-year old rookie for long stretches this season than one might normally expect, especially early in the season.  On the other hand, he does have those 119 games of regular season experience, and that could lead one to think (hope?) that the rust falls off quickly and that he resumes his climb upward on his development arc.

In the end…

Playing teams that have legitimate shots at a championship usually means that one has to find those soft spots to exploit to be successful in defeating them.  Dmitry Orlov could be a soft spot for the Caps, at least in the early going.  He has missed a ton of games over the last three seasons, and he is still a developing player, one with his development stunted by those injuries and time missed.  In a sense, he is, if not starting over, than starting a couple of squares back on the game board.

It is probably not reasonable to think that he is going to come out of the gate prepared to be a consistent performer.  He and Nate Schmidt on that third defensive pair could be a pairing that opponents seek to exploit on a nightly basis.  In an odd way, it makes Orlov a suitable measuring stick for how the Caps are doing as the season progresses.  They are a team than cannot have good work done elsewhere negated by mistakes made by a young defensive pair.  In that respect, the objectives for Orlov’s season as it progresses are durability and improvement.  He exhibited the latter over the early part of his career, but has struggled with the former.  What makes it especially important for Orlov to be more durable is that, for the moment, the Capitals do not have very attractive options at the sixth defenseman position if he is unavailable.

That it has been a long time coming for Orlov to be healthy and in the Caps’ lineup is something of an incentive for Orlov to perform, and there is a danger there of trying to do too much before he has his game legs under him and sturdy once more.  Still, it would be hard to think that Orlov would lack for effort as he assumes a regular spot in the lineup; it is a place he has missed and Caps fans have longed for him to return.  That could help him to a productive season in the end.

Projection: 62 games, 5-13-18, plus-2

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Defensemen: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.”
-- William Makepeace Thackeray

If you compared Matt Niskanen’s first season with the Washington Capitals with the season he had going into free agency – a season that resulted in a seven year/$40.25 million contract with the Caps – you might conclude that he slipped a bit.  His goals scored dropped from ten to four, assists from 36 to 27, points from 46 to 31, power play points from 15 to 10, shooting percentage from 6.2 to 3.4.  And, whereas he earned votes for the NHL all-star team and the Norris Trophy in 2013-2014 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he earned votes for neither in 2014-2015 with the Caps.

Ah, but if you look at that table above, you will see that Niskanen’s first season with the Caps was squarely in line with his career numbers, the shortfall in goals perhaps a product of a shooting percentage that ranks in the lower half of his career results, by season, and was his worst (please note) since his first full season in Pittsburgh (both being 3.4 percent).

As it was, Niskanen still finished third among Caps defensemen in points (31), second in power play goals (2), second in total ice time (22:21), first in even strength ice time per game (19:00), second in hits (143), second in takeaways (34), and he did it playing in every game for the first time in his eight-year career.  It was the profile of a solid all-around season, at least at a high level.

Underneath, it was a bit of an odd season.  Looking at his ten-game segments, there was a strange relationship among his numbers.  Early on, over his first 30 games, when he could score (2-10-12) he had a sluggish plus-minus (minus-6).  Then his scoring tapered a bit over his next 30 games (1-7-8), but his plus-minus soared (plus-13).  In his seventh segment he went dormant in production (0-1-1, plus-2), but then was hot as a firecracker in his last segment (actually, 12 games), going 1-9-10, but there was that pesky plus-minus (minus-2).  What made it stranger was the fact that he was a Corsi plus-32 while going minus-6 in those first 30 games, only a Corsi plus-15 in his next 30 games while going plus-13.  It made for a quirky season on a second-level.

Fearless’ Take…

Matt Niskanen has never been under 50 percent, Corsi-for, at even strength in his eight-year career.  His first season in Washington was no exception, with a 52.0 percent for the year.  On a segment-to-segment basis he was fairly consistent, at 50 percent of better between four and seven times over his eight ten-game segments.  His consistency carried over to his home and road performance.  In the friendly confines of Verizon Center, Niskanen was 3-13-16.  On the road, he was 1-14-15.  It makes sense.  Niskanen skated 1,122 shifts at home, 1,131 shifts on the road.  Consistent would be the adjective to describe his game.

Cheerless’ Take…

Matt Niskanen might want to burn most of the game tapes from the postseason.  Minus-4 in his first contest (Game 1 against the Islanders, a 4-1 loss), was an even or worse player in 10 of 14 games, had one point in his last nine playoff games, no goals in 14 games overall.  Overall it was his worst possession performance in six playoff seasons for Niskanen, the only time (49.0 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5) he finished below 50 percent.  And, he was even worse in close score situations (46.9 percent), also his worst career playoff result (numbers from  Here is an odd Niskanen postseason stat…he does not have a goal in his last 21 road games, dating back to April 18, 2012, when he had one of the ten goals the Penguins scored in Pittsburgh’s 10-3 win in Philadelphia over the Flyers.

The Big Question… Was last season merely a “warm-up” for a bigger season in 2015-2016?

In 2013-2014, Matt Niskanen had a career year – ten goals, 46 points, and his 162 shots on goal was more than a third higher than his previous high (118 shots on goal in 2011-2012).  He had as many even strength points (31) as he had in total for the Caps in 2014-2015.  What happened this season?  Deployment?  That might have had something to do with it.  His special teams ice time per game between last year in Pittsburgh (3:41) and this year in Washington (3:20) was almost the same.  However, he averaged almost three times as much power play time with the Penguins (2:59) as he did with the Caps (1:03).

But then there were the teammates.  Last season, Niskanen the largest portion of his 5-on-5 time (1,334 minutes) with forwards skating with Sidney Crosby (434 minutes), Jussi Jokinen (388 minutes), and Chris Kunitz (374 minutes; numbers from  This past season, he spent the bulk of his 5-on-5 ice time (1,440 minutes) with Nicklas Backstrom (473 minutes), Alex Ovechkin (457 minutes), and Marcus Johansson (395 minutes).  It was not exactly a downgrade in teammates.

His was something of a less than expected level of output, especially at evens (2-18-20, compared to that 7-24-31 in 2013-2014).  And, it did not appear tied to either ice time (he averaged more with the Caps at even strength than he did the previous season with Pittsburgh), or teammates.  However, looking back at his early days in Pittsburgh, it might not be that much an unexpected result.  After he was traded from Dallas to the Penguins in February 2011, he finished with just a goal and three assists in 18 games to finish the regular season.  He also struggled in the postseason that year, going 0-1-1, minus-3 in seven games. 

In the end…

Matt Niskanen had a solid year coming off a big signing in the off-season.  Okay, that playoff record needs work, but he did not sink under the weight of a big contract.  His regular season play was consistent in its results, even if he occasionally got there by different paths, looking at his ten-game splits.  Now that he is more familiar with Washington, his teammates, and his coaches, he could experience an improvement in his performance this season, if his experience in Pittsburgh is a guide.  It would be a bit much to think he would return to the level of performance he experienced with the Penguins in his last season there, but it would not be a surprise to find some improvement in Niskanen’s performance.

Projection: 80 games, 6-28-34, plus-7

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
-- Winston Churchill

From highly touted prospect (17th in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters in 2008) to prolific amateur (87 points in 73 regular season and playoff games for the London Knights in the OHL), to skilled apprentice (49 points in 77 games and a Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears), to upstart NHL rookie (first in games played among rookie defensemen in 2010-2011, fourth in points, second in assists, second in plus-minus, first in game-winning goals), to up-and-coming professional (one of eight NHL defensemen with at least 350 games, 40 goals, and 150 points over the last five seasons), Washington Capital defenseman John Carlson’s hockey career to date has been one of almost unbroken achievement.

Oh, and there was that whole World Juniors game-winning, gold medal-clinching goal thing, too (obligatory video follows)…

Last season, his fifth full season in the NHL, Carlson took a great leap forward, both in responsibility and performance.  He led or ranked highly among the team’s defensemen in a number of categories:
  • Games: 82 (1st/T-1st in NHL)
  • Average ice time: 23:04 (1st/34th)
  • Goals: 12 (1st/T-11th)
  • Assists: 43 (1st/T-4th)
  • Points: 55 (1st/T-5th)
  • Power Play Goals: 3 (1st/T-26th)
  • Power Play Assists: 13 (2nd/T-15th)
  • Power Play Points: 16 (2nd/T-20th)
  • Shorthanded Goals: 1 (1st/T-3rd)
  • Shorthanded Time-On-Ice: 2:57 (1st/T-15th)
  • Blocked Shots: 200 (1st/3rd)
  • Takeaways: 41 (1st/T-17th)

It was good enough for Carlson to finish tenth in voting among defensemen for the NHL all-star team and tenth in voting for the Norris Trophy as outstanding defenseman. 

It was something of a transition year for Carlson, less one of “prospect” or “developing youngster” than “top defenseman in waiting.”  With Mike Green’s uncertainty with respect to his contract and whether the Capitals would be able to afford an extension for the free agent to be, Carlson’s role expanded into one in which he took over as a top-pair defenseman (with a new partner, Brooks Orpik, replacing longtime partner Karl Alzner), Green relegated to the third pair.

Fearless’ Take…

Carlson and Karlsson, John and Erik.  Players in their first six seasons, age 25 or younger in season six, having played in at least 375 games, with at least 40 goals and at least 175 points.  Sure, P.K. Subban would be right there, too, but for the fact that he has “only” 366 games played, but it is still a pretty short list on which Carlson finds himself for durability and production.

Last season, Carlson experienced a significant improvement in his possession numbers.  In 2013-2014 his Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 was 48.1 percent, the lowest of his career at that time.  Last season, he raised that number to 51.3, his best since the 2010-2011 season.  Although the result might have been as much a case of a new coaching regime (his Corsi-for/Relative was still in negative territory (-0.2); numbers from, it was still a welcome result, especially for a player getting first pair minutes at 5-on-5.

Cheerless’ Take…

There’s this old saying…”defense wins championships.”  John Carlson had his own demonstration of the importance of defense last season.  On the one hand, his offense was not particularly influential in terms of outcomes.  The Caps were 23-12-5 in games in which he recorded at least one point (51 standings points in 40 games), 22-14-6 in games where he was held off the score sheet (50 points in 42 games).  On the other hand, the Caps were 30-4-7 in games in which no goals were scored when he was on the ice, 15-22-4 in games in which he was on the ice for at least one goal.  Seems he can go into the occasional weird funk in his own end; there were six times last year when he was on ice for a goal in three or more consecutive games.

The Big Question… Is John Carlson ready to step up to “elite” status among NHL defensemen?

The answer to this question needs to be prefaced with, “he will get his chances.”  With the departure of Mike Green, Carlson is the Caps’ number one defenseman.  He will get the number one power play ice time that he did not consistently get last season (he averaged 1:44/game compared to Green’s 2:45).  His even-strength ice time might be distributed a bit differently; the forwards with which he skated the first and fourth most minutes were third-liners Joel Ward (477) and Eric Fehr (424), and his even-strength ice time was reasonable equal among those two, Nicklas Backstrom (469) and Alex Ovechkin (466).

Given the increased responsibility Carlson is likely to shoulder this coming season, it bears noting that he will not turn 26 years of age until January.  It is reasonable to think that he is still on the upward slope of his development curve, that there is more upside to his game.  Given his almost unbroken rise through his development so far, “elite” would be the next stop on the ladder and certainly within reach.

In the end…

John Carlson is not the best defenseman in the league at any one thing.  Erik Karlsson might be a better offensive defenseman, Kris Letang might be a better power play performer, Brooks Orpik might be a bigger hitter, Ryan Suter might be a better defender, Drew Doughty might be a bigger minutes-eater.  Carlson is emerging as an exceptional two-way defenseman, not a finished product, by any means, given some lingering issues with consistency in his own end, but one with a promise of taking his place among the best in the game as that specie of defenseman.

It is precisely that two-way character of his game that is critical to Washington’s success this season.  In a sense, he is the defensemen’s version of Nicklas Backstrom, a player who can more than hold his own in any situation – even strength, power play, or penalty killing.  He could be the defenseman who is on the ice in the last minute of a game, whether the Caps are a goal behind, tied, or a goal in front.  That is one way to answer the question of whether or not a defenseman is or is not among the elite at his position in the NHL.

In that sense, Carlson’s “development” is almost, if not entirely, complete.  It is now a matter of performance, of meeting a standard by which defensemen of the highest caliber might be measured.  More than his numbers, how does he contribute to a winner?  It is a new beginning in John Carlson’s career.

Projection: 82 games, 15-45-60, plus-14

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Defensemen: Karl Alzner

Karl Alzner

“I've spent most of my mature life trying to prove that I'm not irresponsible.”
-- Orson Welles

When the cream of the amateur crop was being evaluated in advance of the 2007 draft, here is what some pundits had to say about Karl Alzner…

“Alzner is clearly the top defender in this year's class because of the completeness of his game and the general assurance he will become a very good NHL defenseman without much "bust" potential. He understands the game and does all things very well, thus should be a very high pick.”
-- Mark Seidel, ESPN 

“A skilled stay-at-home defenseman with good skating ability… is calm under pressure and composed with the puck… has good positioning and reads the play well… has a strong shot from the point… wins battles along the boards and in his own zone…”
-- NHL Central Scouting

“Alzner is described by some a true modern-day defenceman, whose ability to play strong positionally and whose stick-on-puck, stick-on-stick game is good. He also gets shots through from the point. While the odd scout has Alzner outside of the top 10, most have him there solidly…”

These are representative views of Alzner, who at the time was thought to be solid, responsible, not flashy, dependable.  If he was a movie character, he’d have been the upstanding guy, the faithful sidekick whose partner is the flashy one who gets all the attention.

Fast forward to 2015, and Alzner is still the solid, responsible, dependable defenseman, but last season he added more of an offensive dimension to his game.  They were not Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban numbers (or John Carlson, for that matter), but Alzner did set career highs in goals (five), points (21), and shooting percentage (6.9), while tying career highs in assists (16) and plus-minus (plus-14).  He did it by extending his consecutive games played streak to 376.  Alzner is one of just four players in the NHL to have played in every game of the last five seasons with just one team (teammate John Carlson, San Jose’s Patrick Marleau, and Phil Kessel – then of the Toronto Maple Leafs – are the others).

Alzner had his fury unleashed in one respect in 2014-2015.  He set a career high – by a wide margin – in credited hits for a season (120, his second highest being 98 in 2010-2011).   He also set a career high in blocked shots (165).

What was either a surprise or disappointing, depending on your perspective, was that Alzner was second among Caps defensemen in scoring in the 2015 postseason.  His four points in 14 games tied Matt Niskanen behind John Carlson (6).  Nice for Alzner, but one would not expect (or think it a good reflection on the club) to have one of its “stay-at-home” defensemen ranked that highly in scoring.

Fearless’ Take…

Alzner’s offense was not padded against a collection of stiffs.  Of the 19 games in which he recorded points, nine of them were against teams that reached the post season: 1-5-6, plus-5 against the West, 0-3-3, plus-2 against the East.  His points per game have increased steadily over the past five seasons, interrupted only by the drop he experienced in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, from 0.15 in 2010-2011 to 0.26 points per game last year. 

As a “defensive” defenseman, his possession statistics might not tell a detailed tale, but there was a consistency to Alzner’s numbers.  Looking at ten-game segments, Alzner’s Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 was over 50 percent in five segments, under in three (but only once below 48.0 percent), and he was 51.0 percent for the season (numbers from  Not extraordinary, but…well, dependable.

Cheerless’ Take…

Let’s not make too much out of that offensive “improvement,” cuz.  He’s 19th in his draft class in career goals per game (0.03), right between Justin Braun and Keith Aulie, and points per game (0.19), right between Cade Fairchild (ok, only five games played) and Paul Postma.

If he is not an elite offensive defenseman, is he an elite shutdown defenseman?  We could start with the bottom line, how many goals against is he on ice for?  Not that he is to blame for every goal against when he’s out there, but this is about “shutting down” the other side.  Among 99 defensemen appearing in at least 70 games last season, Alzner finished tied for 29th in fewest goals against/on-ice (55).  Is “top-third” a shutdown defenseman?  Marc Staal was on for more (67).  So was Shea Weber (96) and Ryan Suter (100).  So was Duncan Keith (105).  So there is that. 

Then there is shots against.  Among 170 defensemen with 750 or more 5-on-5 minutes, Alzner ranks 124th in Corsi against per 60 minutes and 134th in shots against per 60 minutes (numbers from  Not that he is the primary cause of all, or perhaps even most of those shots, but this is about “shutting down,” too. 

The Big Question… Is Karl Alzner at the top of his development curve?

If one subscribes to the notion that an NHL player does not enter his prime until he reaches 27 years of age, then Karl Alzner’s “prime” starts today (he turns 27 on September 24th).  He has displayed modest improvement in his offensive game over the past several seasons, but it would appear he will never be a consistent contributor at that end.  Twenty points per season might be the benchmark against which his performance can be evaluated (he had 21 last season).  That said, Alzner has been a consistent and dependable defender.  He is not going to do it with thunderous hits (despite his career high in credited hits last season), but with angles and position.  He outperforms his possession numbers in terms of high-quality scoring chances as a share of total scoring chances (85th among 170 defensemen playing at least 750 5-on-5 minutes; numbers from  His approach is more a cerebral one than a physical one.

But we are still left with the question, is he at the top of his developmental curve?   The nature of his improvements in performance (incremental), the nature of his game suggest what looks like more of s fully formed game (within the bounds of his potential) than one might find in a player on the cusp of his “prime.”  The player seen over the past few years might be the player we see going forward, and this is where we say “consistent and dependable” again.

In the end…

What you see is what you get with Alzner.  There is not a lot of variation from game to game, month to month.  That’s not flashy, but it is valuable.  That he is a second pair defenseman who could play first pair minutes is no slight, even if he was a fifth overall pick and second defenseman taken in the 2007 draft.  If nothing else, Alzner’s dependability and consistency on the back end is one less potential for drama on a team that would like to avoid any of it in what looks to be their best chance in recent years to compete for a Stanley Cup.

But with this consistency and dependability is the flip side of the coin.  He is not, and probably never will be, an impact player as the term is commonly known.  He is part of the chorus, necessary but perhaps not indispensable.  It does not render him unimportant.  That the Caps employ a player with Alzner’s abilities on it second line speaks to the depth the club has developed on the blue line.  He will have to continue being the responsible player that he has been his entire professional career for the Caps to have a legitimate chance at going deep into the postseason.

Projection: 82 games, 4-15-19, plus-13

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Monday, September 21, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Forwards: Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson

“The past is a stepping stone, not a millstone.”
-- Robert Plant

For a player who will not turn 22 years of age until the 2015-2016 season is winding down next spring, Tom Wilson has already gained a reputation for being, if not quite an “enforcer” in the old meaning of the word in hockey, then certainly one of the NHL’s most physical players.  In his two seasons in the NHL, Wilson has more penalty minutes (323) than all but two players – Steve Downie (344) and Antoine Roussel (357).  Only three players had more fighting majors than Wilson (26) – Cody McLeod (31), Brandon Prust (27), and Derek Dorsett (27).  If he has a signature moment in his young career, it is probably this one, a hit on the New York Islanders’ Lubomir Visnovsky in the second period of Game 4 of the Caps-Islanders first round playoff series last spring.  The Caps went on to win that game, 2-1 in overtime, Visnovsky was lost to the Islanders for the remainder of the series, and the Caps advanced to the second round in a seven-game win:

As to Wilson’s offensive talents, he is a work in progress.  A 16th overall draft pick in 2012, Wilson is fifth in his draft class in regular season games played to date (149).  However, he ranks 14th in goals scored in his draft class (7) and 11th in points (27).  Wilson did improve his point total in 2014-2015 from the previous season, jumping from ten points to 17. 

On the other hand, Wilson spent the largest portion of his 5-on-5 minutes last season (718) with Nicklas Backstrom (326) and Alex Ovechkin (322).  And it was with that pair, either individually or together with Wilson, that Wilson did most of his offensive damage.  He was 2-9-11 when on ice with either Ovechkin or Backstrom (2-8-10 when both were on the ice with him).

Fearless’ Take…

Wilson had a bit of an odd set of outcomes in 2014-2015.  He was one of just ten players in the NHL who had at least 100 penalty minutes and at least 15 points.  He also accomplished that odd double in the fewest on-ice minutes among those in that group.   All those minutes with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom seemed to do wonders for his possession numbers, too. 

Consider this; in 2013-2014, Wilson spent the largest share of his 5-on-5 minutes (639) with Jay Beagle (274) and Aaron Volpatti (248; numbers from  His Corsi-for percentage on ice at 5-on-5 was 45.0 (numbers from  Forward to 2014-2015.  There were those minutes spent with Ovechkin and Backstrom referenced above, and his 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage for the season was 52.6.  Whether it was improvement as a result of having a full season under his belt, better linemates, or a combination of factors, there was that improvement, even if his production numbers (four goals, 17 points) didn’t pop. 

Cheerless’ Take…

Here’s an odd fact.  The Caps were just 1-3-0 in games in which Wilson scored a goal.  However, they were 9-1-2 in games in which he had an assist.  He did not have a goal against a team that reached the playoffs and was 0-6-6 overall against playoff-eligible teams.  The penalties were a problem.  In games in which Wilson took at least five minutes in penalties, the Caps were 7-6-2.  And it was not as if fighting was a consistent momentum changer; the Caps were 6-4-2 in games in which Wilson had a fighting major.

The Big Question… Can Tom Wilson handle a top-six role?

Tom Wilson is not going to be a default option on a scoring line to start the season, if things go as planned.  The first and second right wing spots are penciled in for T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams for the time being.  However, Wilson did skate those large blocks of time with the Backstrom-Ovechkin duo last season, and Wilson was not a possession anchor.  At 5-on-5 Backstrom had a 54.0 Corsi-for percentage with Wilson, 53.9 when apart.  Ovechkin was 53.7 percent with Wilson, 53.6 when apart (numbers from 

Looking at the situation in reverse, Backstrom and Ovechkin spent just over 1,000 minutes together at 5-on-5 last season.  However,  Backstrom skated at least 100 5-on-5 minutes with Marcus Johansson (350), Wilson (326), Andre Burakovsky (213), Troy Brouwer (181), and Jay Beagle (107).  Even with Oshie and Williams slotted to be the scoring wings on the right side, Brouwer’s departure, and Burakovsky perhaps getting time at center as the season wears on could mean Wilson will get some opportunities to fill in on the right side on one of the top two lines.

In the end…

It would be easy to look at Tom Wilson’s year last year and think he started strong (nine points in his first 19 games) and finished less so (eight points in his last 48 games).  But keep in mind that every one of those nine points to start the season was recorded with both Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the ice.  Four of them were recorded with Backstrom and Ovechkin getting the other points on the scoring plays, four of them with either Backstrom or Ovechkin getting a point on the scoring play.  It was not prolific, but it was promising.

As it is, Wilson will likely start the season on the right side of the third or fourth line.  One would think that in this, his third season – especially if he is being given third line minutes with the occasional move up the ladder – he will be less an agitator and more aggressive on offense.  He could get more opportunities all around.  His average ice time was up three minutes from 2013-2014 (7:56) to last season (10:56), all of it at even strength.  He might not get much time on the power play – even though he is a right-handed shot, so are T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams on the right side – but he might get some additional time on the penalty kill. 

So far, Tom Wilson’s progress has been modest and measured.  From a short stint in the 2013 postseason (a little less than seven minutes a game over three contests), to a little less than eight minutes a game two years ago, to just under 11 minutes in the regular season last year and just under eight minutes a game in the playoffs, Wilson has been spoon-fed additional time.  What he has not yet had in any significant measure is additional responsibility.  He comes into this season having built a reputation for being a player not to be trifled with. With 165 regular season and playoff games on his resume, he will be in a position to take the next step in his development, to expand his repertoire, to use his physical past as a stepping stone, not a millstone.

Projection: 78 games, 8-15-23, plus-2

Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Forwards: Justin Williams

Justin Williams

“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
-- Oscar Wilde

Justin Williams finished the 2014-2015 season with 179 goals scored and 449 points since the 2004-2005 lockout.  Those are not bad numbers, but neither are they extraordinary.  Sixty active players had more goals scored over that period, and 54 had more points  But no player had more of what they would want most.  Williams’ name was engraved on the Stanley Cup three times during that period, once with the Carolina Hurricanes (2006) and twice with the Los Angeles Kings (2012, 2014).

Truth be told, Williams has been a good, not a great player over the course of his 14-year career.  Over 918 regular season games, his scoring line per 82 games is 20-32-52, plus-8.  However, after posting two 55-plus point seasons in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, his pace slipped a bit over his last three seasons (a 19-27-46 scoring pace).

What he was, though, was a solid possession player.  His 57.3 Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 was tenth among 362 forwards playing at least 500 5-on-5 minutes last season (numbers from  It was hardly out of the ordinary for Williams.  Over his last 12 seasons he has never been below 50 percent in his Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5, and ten times he was over 55 percent.  In 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 he topped 60 percent (numbers from

Looking at his scoring last season, he was more productive as a goal scorer against stiffer competition.  In 45 games against teams that would reach the postseason he had 12 goals, a 22-goal pace per 82 games.  In 36 games against teams failing to reach the postseason he had six goals, a 14-goal pace.

Williams is one of two acquisitions this summer meant to shore up the right side of the forwards lines (T.J. Oshie being the other), taking over roster spots assumed last season by Troy Brouwer (traded to St. Louis for Oshie) and Joel Ward (signed by San Jose as a free agent).  One way in which Williams differed substantially from both Brouwer and Ward last season was in his ice time profile.  In 2014-2015, both Brouwer and Ward skated significant minutes on special teams.  Brouwer averaged more than two minutes per game on both the power play and penalty kill; Ward averaged more than 1:30 a game on both sides of special teams.  On the other hand, while Williams was a significant cog on the power play for Los Angeles (1:37 per game), he got almost no penalty killing time (0:08 per game).

Fearless’ Take…

Justin Williams is a commodity rarely seen by Caps fans, a player who raises his game in the postseason. In 98 playoff games since the 2004-2005 lockout, he is 29-43-72, plus-33, that plus-minus number being second best over that span (Henrik Zetterberg: plus-42).  Five of those goals were game-winners   He also has a thing about the number “7” in the post season, specifically with respect to Game 7’s.  His teams are 7-0 in Game 7’s, and he is 7-7-14, plus-9 in those games, the point total being an NHL record for Game 7’s.  What is more, Williams either scored the game-winning goal (2) or assisted on the game-winner (3) five times in those seven Game 7 wins.  He is not just a lucky warrior, though.  In 20 playoff series Williams has played in over his career, his teams are 15-5.

Cheerless’ Take…

Last season, Williams finished 18-23-41 for the Kings but did so logging his lowest average ice time per game (15:49) since the 2001-2002 season (14:27), his second in the league.  And, he did not finish particularly well.  He did not record a goal in his last 12 games and had only three in his last 30 contests.  His goals per game has been slowly slipping over the last four seasons.  After averaging 0.30 goals per game in 2010-2011, his numbers since have been: 0.27, 0.23, 0.23, and 0.22.

The Big Question… Is Justin Williams still a scoring line forward?

You might think that the obvious answer to this question is “yes.”  Well, not so fast.  Justin Williams will be 34 years old on Opening Night, and his regular season goal production over the past three seasons (48 in 211 games) did not equal that of either of the two right wings departing the Caps this past summer – Troy Brouwer (65 in 211 games) and Joel Ward (51 in 203 games).  He is likely to get his chances early, either manning the right side on the top line or on the right side of the second line.  Given the skill that the Capitals can deploy on those lines – Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line, Evgeny Kuznetsov and perhaps either Marcus Johansson or Andre Burakovsky on the second line – Williams’ can be a steadying influence, especially if he can continue his career-long trend as a superior possession player.

But all the consideration of lines and combinations and roles is regular season prelude.  Whether Williams is a scoring  line forward in the regular season is less a concern than it is a simplistic formulation.  Folks will be zoned in on his performance in the postseason, wherever he is deployed.  Consider that the player he is nominally replacing – Troy Brouwer – was 3-6-9, minus-5, in his 35 postseason games with the Caps, one goal in his last 30 playoff games for the club.  In his last 35 post season games with the Kings, Williams has 13 goals (22 in 73 playoff games overall with the Kings).  Where Williams plays is less important than when –on the calendar – he produces.

In the end…

Justin Williams comes to the Capitals as an uncommon player in one important respect.  He has appeared in more postseason games over his three stops in the NHL (Philadelphia, Carolina, Los Angeles) – 115 – than any Capital has with the club in team history (Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller: 100).  In the current era of playoff appearances, Alex Ovechkin leads the team in games played with 72.  And, Williams has those three Stanley Cups on his resume.  The only other Caps player with his name on that hardware is Brook Orpik (2009 with Pittsburgh). 

It would be tempting, given his playoff pedigree, to think of Justin Williams as a savior of sorts.  He isn’t.  He is no longer a 30-goal scorer, as he was with Carolina for two seasons almost a decade ago.  But he has displayed a persistent sense of timing, of being a consequential player in the sport’s biggest games.  It is a mystery how it is any one player can be good, but not extraordinary, over the long march of a regular season, and then stand out – consistently – in the game’s ultimate test, the Game 7 of a Stanley Cup playoff series.  It is no less a mystery how it is a team can play well enough to reach a Game 7 in the postseason, as the Caps have done 14 times in club history, and fail to cross the threshold as often as they do (4-10 in those games, 3-6 in the current playoff era).  Perhaps this season we will see which of these conflicting mysteries will live on.

Projection: 81 games, 19-27-46, plus-12

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images North America

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
-- C. S. Lewis

It is odd to associate the word “failure” with the career of Alex Ovechkin, but this has been a subtext to his professional career in hockey, the gaudy goal scorer who comes up empty-handed in the games that matter. Hockey is a team sport, but its superstars are called to account for their achievements and their disappointments, more credit bestowed on them than is warranted for the former, and bearing more blame for the latter than they deserve.

What is not in question is that Ovechkin is the premier goal-scorer of his generation, and it is not close.  Since he came into the league in 2005-2006 he has 475 goals, 136 more than the runner-up over that period, Jarome Iginla.  In fact, Ovechkin’s dominance in goal scoring has been so complete over his ten years in the league that he could have sat out the last three complete seasons – 207 games in all that he played – and still had precisely as many goals as does Iginla over the last ten seasons (339).

Last season Ovechkin topped the league in goals once more with 53, the fifth time he did so in ten seasons and the third season in a row he captured the Maurice Richard Trophy as top goal scorer.  While he has those five Richard Trophies in ten years, no other NHL player has won it on his own more than once in that span of years (Steven Stamkos, who won the trophy in 2012, shared it with Sidney Crosby in 2010).  His third goal-scoring title in succession was the first time that feat has been accomplished since Brett Hull did it from 1989-1992, and it was just the seventh time in NHL history a player led the league three or more consecutive years in goals scored. 

Ovechkin hardly padded his goal total in 2014-2015 with goals in blowouts or with empty net goals.  Of his 53 goals scored, 44 of them came with the Caps down a goal, tied, or up a goal.  He had only two empty net goals for the season, tied for 32nd in the league (by contrast, Joe Thornton, who had 16 goals for the season, finished tied for first with five empty-netters).

What was noteworthy about his sixth season of 50 or more goals was as much the "when" as the "how many."  He started a bit slowly, by his standards, recording 14 goals in his first 31 games (a 37-goal pace over 82 games).  However, starting with a five-game goal scoring streak to end the 2014 portion of the season and begin the 2015 portion, Ovechkin finished the season with 39 goals in 50 games (a 64-goal pace).

Fearless’ Take…

Ovechkin did not shirk from stiff competition.  In 38 games against teams that reached the postseason, he was 26-13-39 (a 56-goal scoring pace).  That included going 16-6-22 in 23 games against Eastern Conference playoff eligible and 10-7-17 in 15 games against Western Conference playoff eligible.  The only team among the 15 clubs against which he did not record a point was Vancouver (no points in two games).

Further, while he does score often on the power play, he has not been delinquent in his possession game.  His Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 was 53.7, his best such finish since 2010-2011 (53.9), and his Corsi-for/relative of plus-3.4 was also his best since that 2010-2011 season (plus-4.0; numbers from  Looking at linemates, Ovechkin skated more than 200 minutes at 5-on-5 with four other forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky.  For each of them, except Burakovsky, their Corsi-for percentage apart from Ovechkin was lower than when they skated with him (numbers from

Cheerless’ Take…

Alex Ovechkin had five goals in 14 playoff games, an improvement over his last postseason appearance (one goal in a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in 2013), but he still has just 11 goals in his last 36 playoff games dating back to Game 4 of the 2011 series against Tampa Bay (a 25-goal pace over 82 games).  This season he had four goals in his first nine games of the post season, but he was held to one goal (his only point) over his last five games against the Rangers in the second round.  And here is a troubling fact.  The Caps’ last five postseason series have gone seven games. In Games 5-7 of those series, 15 games in all, Ovechkin has only three goals, and the Caps are 6-9 in those games, losing three of the five series.  He has only one goal in his last ten of those Games 5-7.

The Big Question… Can Ovechkin find that last push to get to the top?

It is frustrating for the fan to see a player like Alex Ovechkin sprint to within sight of the summit of Everest and not be able to negotiate the last few hundred feet.  In ten seasons he has been the most lethal offensive force in the league…until the spring.  Then, either because of an ill-timed slump, lack of secondary support when he is on his game, or just bad luck (usually in the form of Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose teams have come out on top the last three times they met, all in seven-game series).

The burden has weighed most heavily on Ovechkin to propel the Caps deeper into the playoffs, and whether one thinks this is fair or not, this is the price one pays for being on a very short list of best players in the league.  What he has not had in this quest for the past three or four seasons, if ever, is a team around him as deep as the 2015-2016 version on paper, on both sides of the puck and in goal.  The 2009-2010 Presidents Trophy team was an offensive juggernaut, but it had issues on defense and in goal that were exposed in the post season.  The last few editions of the club were not especially deep, nor did they have stability behind the bench.

And this gets to something that gets less attention than it deserves.  Last season, Barry Trotz became the fifth coach Ovechkin played for over the span of eight seasons, his fourth coach in less than four seasons.  He did remarkably well in performing under first year coaches – 52 goals in his rookie season under Glen Hanlon, 65 goals in 2007-2008 (51 of them in 61 games under in-season replacement Bruce Boudreau), 38 goals in 2011-2012 (30 of them in 55 games under in-season replacement Dale Hunter), 32 goals in just 48 games under Adam Oates, and 53 goals last season under Trotz.  It speaks to an ability to adapt to different approaches, a willingness to pay a price (even to changing positions, as he did for Oates) for success.  In other words, incentive and effort do not seem to be issues with respect to Ovechkin.  The difference is that now, the team around him is deeper and more rounded. 

In the end…

Alex Ovechkin turned 30 years of age on Thursday.  The truth of the matter is, there are probably more elite years behind him than in front of him.  That kind of truth focuses one’s attention as one realizes that the opportunities to realize a championship are dwindling.  However, until Ovechkin’s production drops, there is little basis for predicting it.  He has been called all but washed up as an elite player in the not too distant past and plowed right through it with three goal-scoring titles in a row and counting.  While there will be that year when age creeps into his game, and his production starts its inevitable decline, there is little reason to suspect that this is that year. 

Quite the contrary, he is entering a season in which he is still in possession of his elite skills, and the club around him can provide the support even a superstar needs in a team sport where “20 men pulling together” every night is not just a cliché.  Ten years of success, disappointment, and (at least in the eyes of some) failure, are perhaps prelude to his moving forward – finally – to that success hoped for and expected of him ten years ago.

Projection: 80 games, 51-37-88, plus-12

Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-2016 Previews -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“Change in all things is sweet.”
-- Aristotle

“The Champ” is a 1979 remake of a 1931 film about an alcoholic boxer who reforms for the sake of his young son.  In the 1979 telling of the story, the alcoholic boxer is a former champion scraping together a living to support his young son, “T.J.”  It was a movie – and the young boy a character – that appealed to a young mother in Washington state.  “T.J.” became the name by which her son – Timothy Leif Oshie – would be known.

T.J. grew up to be a quite a hockey player – a high-school standout and a three-year star for the University of North Dakota.  He would be the 24th overall pick of the 2005 NHL entry draft, selected by the St. Louis Blues, the only professional hockey organization for which he would play, the last seven of which were spent playing for the parent club in St. Louis.

In those seven seasons in St. Louis, Oshie appeared in 443 regular season games, tied for 22nd in Blues franchise history.  His 110 goals ranks 23rd in Blues history, and his 310 points ranks 16th.  He is one of a dozen players in Blues history to record at least 100 goals and at least 200 assists.  While it is a considerable body of work, Oshie, who will turn 29 in December, is still in the prime of his career.

Despite that body of work, Oshie was the subject of trade rumors, part of a general feeling that a shakeup was needed for the club at the end of the 2014-2015 season as well as a need to get more size into the lineup.   It was not an especially spectacular season for Oshie, either by his career standards or in the context of his rankings with the club.  His 19 goals slipped a bit from his career high (21) set the previous year, as did his 55 points (five less than his career high in 2013-2014).  He was fifth on last year’s Blues team in goals and points.

He was, however, a versatile player, the only Blues forward to average at least 15 minutes of even strength ice time, two minutes of power play ice time, and a minute of penalty killing time per game.  He also had a knack for success in the freestyle competition.  His 4-for-11 performance in the shootout was not his best over his seven-year career (he finished tied for 18th in goals scored and tied for 12th (minimum: 10 attempts) in shooting percentage), but it continued a remarkable run.  Among players with at least 30 attempts over the last seven seasons, Oshie is fourth in goals (31) and second in shooting percentage (52.5 percent).

While the shootout statistics carry less weight going forward with changes in the overtime format for 2015-2016, there was enough in Oshie’s game to make him attractive to a club in similar circumstances.  The Blues found that club in the Washington Capitals, whose recent playoff history of “one and done” or “two and through” was jeopardizing their chances of winning a championship in the Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom era of the club.  The Caps traded Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley, and a 2016 third-round draft pick to the Blues for Oshie, who has two more years on his current contract with a $4.5 million average annual value.

Fearless’ Take…

Scoring line forwards are supposed to be difference makers, and Oshie was that for the Blues last season.  St. Louis was 14-3-0 when Oshie scored a goal (37-21-7 when he did not), 26-6-1 when he recorded a point (25-18-6 when he did not).  As a possession player, Oshie has never been below 50 percent, Corsi-for at even strength, in any of his seven seasons.  He was over 53 percent in close-score situations in four of his seven seasons and never below 49 percent (numbers from

Cheerless’ Take…

Since 2009, when he made his first appearance for the Blues in the postseason, Oshie is 11th in points per game for the club (minimum: 15 games), behind the decent, if unspectacular, Vladimir Sobotka, and Chris Porter, who has a grand total of 27 career points in 173 regular season games.  Among players appearing in at least 15 postseason games over that span, only Barrett Jackman (minus-17) had a worse plus-minus for the Blues than Oshie (minus-12).  It would be fair to think Oshie’s playoff performance left something to be desired.

The Big Question… Will he be “TJFO?”

Folks who followed Caps fans reactions to Troy "TFB" Brouwer’s misfirings in the postseason will likely figure out what “TJFO” means in short order.  Whether Oshie plays on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, or on the second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and (perhaps) Marcus Johansson, it seems possible, if not likely, that he will approach career bests in his offensive numbers (21-39-60, plus-19, in 2013-2014).  That is not why he is a Capital.  Well, not the only reason. 

Oshie is expected to perform better in the postseason than he has to date (5-4-9, minus-12, in 30 career playoff games), or Capitals right wingers of recent vintage, for that matter.  Last season the Caps got four goals out of right wingers in 14 post season games, three of them from the since departed Joel Ward.  In 2013 the Caps got three goals from right wings in seven games.  In 2012 it was five in 14 games.  They year before that, it was three in nine games.  You get the idea. 

In the end…

The Capitals have not had as much production out of the right wing position as they might have liked in recent years (the Alex Ovechkin right wing experiment notwithstanding), particularly in the postseason.  Joel Ward departed in free agency, to be replaced by Justin Williams, and Troy Brouwer was sent to St. Louis for Oshie.  The acquisitions of Williams and Oshie reflect a certain amount of urgency to make a deep postseason run while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are still in their prime. 

The Oshie for Brouwer trade can be one of those win-win kinds of deals.  St. Louis felt the need to add some size to their forward squad, while the Caps felt the need to add a deeper skill set on the right side.  Last season Oshie spent the vast majority of his 5-on-5 ice time (1,038 minutes) with David Backes (746 minutes) and Alexander Steen (565 minutes), two very good players (numbers from  They helped Oshie to 16 even strength goals and 26 even strength assists.  In Washington he could start the season with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin on the top line, with Nicklas Backstrom sliding into the middle when he is ready to go.  It could be an upgrade in terms of production opportunities, but the object of the exercise is ultimately how Oshie and his linemates mesh in the postseason.  Success would make the change of scenery this summer sweet, indeed, and give Oshie the opportunity to fashion a happier ending as “The Champ.”

Projection: 80 games, 21-39-60, plus-14

Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports