Thursday, September 28, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- The Kids

The Next Generation

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
-- Alexander Graham Bell

Replace the word “door” with the word “window,” and you might be describing where Capitals Nation stands as training camp moves along.  The two-year window to win a Stanley Cup as it was described by Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has come and gone, slammed shut in each year by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

With the window closing on that Capitals team for good, changes came.  Players departed in free agency, adding to the sense of loss fans might have felt.  But pro sports never stands still, and turnover is a fact of life, more so it seems in the NHL than in other sports.  And the departures from the Caps over the off-season open a new window, that being one of opportunity.  Six of the 18 skaters taking the ice in the Caps’ last game of the 2017 postseason did not return for the 2017-2018 season.

The departures make for a rare opportunity for prospects to stake a claim on a roster spot.  Consider that last season the Caps had six rookies dress for the club, but only two – Jakub Vrana and Zach Sanford – dressed for more than 20 games, and Sanford was traded before year end.  This season it is possible, if not likely, that the Caps could have five or more rookies appear in more than 20 games.  We have already taken a look at Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos on defense, and Jakub Vrana among the forwards.

Bowey, Djoos, and Vrana (still a “rookie” having played in only 21 games last season) will be given every opportunity to claim a jersey on a regular basis in the starting lineup.  To this trio, one might see forwards Riley Barber, and/or Nathan Walker dressing for at least 20 games this season.   And there is the further possibility that rookies further down the developmental ladder will get at least a cup o’ coffee with the club. Forward Travis Boyd, and defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Lucas Johansen might fall into this group.

Only once in the post-2004-2005 lockout period have the Caps had more than four rookie skaters appear in 20 or more games in a season, and that was in the 2005-2006 season when the team employed five rookie skaters as it was coming out of the lockout and at the depths of their rebuild. (Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Nolan Yonkman, Jakub Klepis, and Mike Green).  Only once in the last six seasons have the Caps had as many as four rookies skate in 20 or more games (2013-2014: Tom Wilson, Nate Schmidt, Connor Carrick, and Alexander Urbom).

Odd Rookie Fact…

You might think that the recipe for a Stanley Cup does not include a large portion of rookies, and you would be right, but only to a point.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, four of the 12 Stanley Cup champions employed four or more rookie skaters appearing in at least 20 games in that season: 2006 Carolina Hurricanes (4), 2011 Boston Bruins (5), 2012 Los Angeles Kings (4), and the 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins (5).

Fearless’ Take…

Jakub Vrana has the skill set to be an impact rookie.  He certainly has displayed those skills over his last three seasons (one in Europe, two with Hershey).  Overall, he had 47 goals in 132 games in Sweden and the AHL over the last three seasons.  He had a decent, if uneven, performance in his short, 21-game tour with the Caps last season (3-3-6, three power play goals, two game-winning goals).  Bowey has made steady progress through the developmental channel and displayed a talent for leadership as alternate captain and captain of the Kelowna Rockets in Canadian juniors.  Barber spent three years with a good Miami (Ohio) University program in the NCAA (note: the Penguins had 16 players from last spring’s playoff winning roster spend at least some time in the NCAA  ) and was captain of the 2014 national team for the world junior championship.  If one cannot see the future, one can see the past, and in their past this looks like a crop of prospects that has prepared well for their chances.

Cheerless’ Take…

It just doesn’t pass the sniff test, Fearless.  The Caps lose Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, and Daniel Winnik, and they are going to be as good, let alone better, with Vrana, Bowey, Djoos, and Barber or Walker replacing them?  Maybe down the road (maybe never), but this season?

The Big Question…  Just what is the upside of the rookie crop in 2017-2018?

Vrana has 21 games of experience coming into this season, but Barber has just three games in the NHL, and the others mentioned are true rookies, none with any NHL experience.  This kind of turnover can make for a rocky transition from being on a short list of serious contenders one season to being one of many contenders the following season, and if these prospects are not ready for prime time on a regular basis, the Caps could find themselves fighting for their playoff lives in March and April.

There is every reason to think that the upside for these players is high.  Vrana is a top-six, if not a top line offensive forward.  We compared Vrana to Peter Bondra in our Vrana preview.  Bowey can be a solid, if not elite top-four defenseman.  If there is a comparison to be made there it might be Calle Johansson.  Barber can be a productive bottom-six forward.  Jeff Halpern might the comparable here.  Djoos has potential in the offensive end, and in a league that emphasizes speed more than brawn these days might not be at all that much a disadvantage with his slight build.  But one cannot help but wonder if his comparable is a player like Sami Lepisto.  Nathan Walker is an intriguing player, but harder to predict (or find a comparable) with respect to his upside.

But anything approaching any "upside" for any rookie in this class seems a heavy lift, especially since there could be a substantial number of them that would be integrated into this roster.  

In the end…

At this point, it is all speculation.  But that is what fans do.  And it is always tempting to see the best and be optimistic about the contributions of the incoming rookie class.  But what we feel confident about is that if the Caps are to contend for a championship, it will depend more on the improvement of young veterans like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, and Tom Wilson than it does on the 2017-2018 rookie class.  And in no way should that be considered surprising.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Goaltenders: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby

“I'd like nothing better than to achieve some bold adventure, worthy of our trip.”
-- Aristophanes

When the Washington Capitals defeated the Minnesota Wild in late March last season at Xcel Energy Center, it was not the best of games for goaltender Braden Holtby.  He and the Caps just could not put the Wild away.  They took a 1-0 lead, then gave it back.  They took a 4-2 lead into the last five minutes of regulation, then they gave it back, giving up the game-tying goal with less than 30 seconds left. T.J. Oshie saved the day with a game-winning overtime goal less than two minutes into the extra session, and the Caps had a fifth straight win.

Although Holtby allowed four goals on 26 shots, he got the win – a milestone win.  It was his 40th win of the 2016-2017 season, making him just the third goaltender in NHL history to win 40 or more games in three consecutive seasons, joining Martin Brodeur (2005-2006 through 2007-2008) and Evgeni Nabokov (2007-2008 through 2009-2010) as the only netminders to do it.  Brodeur, who won 40 or more games eight times in his storied career, is the only goaltender with more career 40-win seasons than Holtby (three, tied with Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jacques Plante, and Terry Sawchuk).

You might think “wins” is a team statistic, and you would have a point, but Holtby is also the only goaltender in the NHL who, in each of the past three seasons, appeared in at least 20 games, posted a goals-against average of less than 2.25, and recorded a save percentage of .920 or better.  He has more shutouts (21) than any other goaltender in that time span (Devan Dubnyk and Marc-Andre Fleury have 16).  He has played more minutes than any other goaltender (11,768 to Tuukka Rask’s 11,421).  If Braden Holtby is not at the top of his profession, he can see the summit from where he stands.

Odd Fact… Braden Holtby was the tenth of 23 goaltenders taken in the 2008 entry draft.  He has more career NHL wins (191) than the combined total of the nine goaltenders taken ahead of him (168):
  • Chet Pickard: 0
  • Thomas McCollum: 1
  • Jacob Markstrom: 36
  • Jake Allen: 90
  • Tyler Beskorowany: 0
  • Peter Delmas: 0
  • Michael Hutchinson: 41
  • Marco Cousineau: 0
  • Jacob Deserres: 0

Fearless’ Take…

On his current arc of performance, it is almost a lead-pipe cinch that Braden Holtby will be the greatest goaltender in the history of this franchise.  Consider this quirk of team history.  Last season Holtby was 27 years old and at its end stood in second place in the all-time franchise rankings in games played (307), wins (191), minutes played (17,610) and shutouts (32).  He is second in each of those categories to Olaf Kolzig.  But here is the thing.  Holtby has accomplished this by the age of 27.  Kolzig was not the Capitals’ full time number one goaltender until he was 27, in the 1997-1998 season (when he appeared in 64 games, almost as many as the total of his first six seasons combined (71)).  Here is how the two compare to the age of 27 in their respective careers (regular season):

Cheerless’ Take…

Holtby had three different seasons in 2016-2017…great, good, and gack!  The great part was the first half of the season.  In his first four ten-game segments, he was 19-8-4, 1.90, .931, with five shutouts.  In the second half of the regular season his win-loss record looked better, but his performance numbers dropped off, going 23-5-2, 2.25, .918, with four shutouts.  Then there was the postseason.  Until last spring, Holtby assembled one of the most impressive postseason set of numbers in NHL history.  Despite a 22-24 win-loss record, his goals against average (1.87) and save percentage (.937) compared favorably to any goaltender in NHL playoff history.  But in the 2017 postseason he started well, if inconsistent in the first round (4-2, 2.36, .925, three times allowing four goals), and then he withered in the second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (3-4, 2.57, .887).  That last image of Holtby in the second round is one that Caps fans hopes does not carry over into the new season.

Potential Milestones in 2017-2018:
  • 300 games started (currently has 299)
  • 200 wins (currently has 191)
  • 20,000 minutes played (currently has 17,610)

The Big Question…  Do three years of Vezina-worthy consideration accompanied by three seasons of postseason disappointment have a consequence?

Braden Holtby has his share of “only’s” in the NHL statistics over the past three seasons.  To that add that he is the only NHL goaltender to finish in the top-four in Vezina Trophy voting in each of the past three seasons.  He and Montreal’s Carey Price are the only two netminders to have been named a Vezina finalist twice.

There is also another “only” that is of no small concern.  Over the past three seasons, only Nashville’s Pekka Rinne has appeared in more postseason games (42) than Holtby (38).  Holtby is the only one of 13 goalies appearing in at least 20 postseason games over that span with a goals-against average of less than 2.00 (1.97) and a save percentage over .930 (.932).  However, since the Caps were eliminated in the second round in each of those three seasons (twice in overtime of the clinching game, twice in Games 7), one could also argue that no goaltender appearing in at least 20 games over those three years has less to show for it, relative to expectations, than Holtby (not unlike the rest of the team, to be fair).

Over at Japers' Rink, we raised the matter of “disappointment fatigue” and wondered if the Caps have enough resolve to grind through an 82-game season after three years of postseason disappointment.  At no position and with no player might this be a more valid question than at goaltender and with Braden Holtby.

In the end…

The one thing that Olaf Kolzig did by age 27 that Braden Holtby did not do was put his team on his back and drag them to a Stanley Cup final, which Kolzig did in his 27th year.  Not that the Caps’ failures to go deep in the playoffs in recent years can be laid at the feet of Holtby alone, given his sterling performance numbers overall (last spring notwithstanding).  Doing as Kolzig did might be the thing that cements Holtby as the greatest goaltender in team history. 

But before that can happen, things are already a bit different in the goaltending ranks this season.  Mitch Korn has been elevated from goaltending coach to Director of Goaltending, thus elevating associate goaltender coach Scott Murray into Korn’s old position.  If you are of a mind that Korn and Holtby were a match blessed by the gods of hockey, it is then a matter of wondering what effect, if any, Murray will have on Holtby.

It is an uncertain road ahead for Braden Holtby and the Caps, one that might be a bit bumpier than it has been in the past few seasons as he contends with recovering from a disappointing finish last season, changes in training camp, and a thinner roster of skaters in front of him.  Consider it a bold adventure worthy of what fans hope is a deeper postseason run for Holtby and the Caps.

Projection: 64 games, 33-20-7, 2.24, .922, five shutouts

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Goaltenders: Philipp Grubauer

Philipp Grubauer

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
-- Leo Tolstoy

When the NHL held its expansion draft on June 21st to fill out the roster of the new entry in the league, the Vegas Golden Knights, Washington Capitals fans were holding their breath to see if the Golden Knights would select defenseman Nate Schmidt or goaltender Philipp Grubauer.  When the Golden Knights selected Pittsburgh Penguin goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and then the Capitals’ Schmidt, Grubauer returned to the fold, the final touches being a one-year/$1.5 million contract that Grubauer signed as a restricted free agent on July 6th.  And with that, what might have been the best goaltender tandem in the NHL was reunited for another season.

Braden Holtby might have received all the attention in 2016-2017 as the defending Vezina Trophy winner, and he would prove no fluke in finishing second in the Vezina voting in 2016-2017.  But Philipp Grubauer put together a superb season of his own, posting career highs in games (24), games started (19), wins (13), save percentage (.926), shutouts (three), and total minutes played (1,265).

Grubauer’s 2016-2017 season was a consistent one in an unconventional respect.  Workload did not seem to be an issue.  In the 19 games in which he played the entire contest, he was 12-6-1.  By shots faced, that broke down as follows:
  • 35+ shots: 3-1-0, 2.50, .931, one shutout
  • 30-34: 2-2-0, 2.22, .929
  • 25-29: 3-2-1, 2.01, .925
  • <25: 4-1-0, 1.21, .944, two shutouts

He performed well at any volume of shots, not withering under large shot volumes and not losing focus with low shot volumes faced.

Odd Grubauer Fact… In 24 appearances last season, Philipp Grubauer did not post consecutive games with a save percentage under .900.

Bonus Odd Grubauer Fact… Philipp Grubauer was undefeated on Verizon Center (now Capital One Arena) ice last season, going 5-0-0 in seven appearances, an 0.72 goals-against average, a .973 save percentage, and all three of the shutouts he posted overall.  It was quite an improvement on his 8-6-4 win-loss record at home coming into this season.

Fearless’ Take…

If you think of backup goaltenders as being roughly in the 500-1500 minutes played range, Philipp Grubauer was third in that group last season in save percentage (.926) among 22 such goalies, and he was second in goals against average (2.04; Aaron Dell of the San Jose Sharks topped both lists with .930/2.00).  Grubauer was second in that group in shutouts (three, trailing Nashville’s Carter Hutton by one).  Grubauer is the team’s all-time leader in goals-against average among 24 franchise goalies appearing in at least 50 games (2.25 in 66 games).  He is also the franchise leader in that group in save percentage (.923).

Cheerless’ Take…

Philipp Grubauer had two different seasons that can be divided by that goofy 8-7 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 16th.  Before that game, Grubauer was 8-1-1, 1.96, .927, with two shutouts.  He gave up more than two goals only twice in ten appearances.  Starting with that weird loss to the Pens (he got the overtime loss decision), he wrapped up the regular season with a record of 5-5-1, 2.30, .920, with one shutout.  He allowed more than two goals six times in 14 appearances.

Potential Milestones in 2017-2018:
  • 5,000 career minutes (currently has 3,408)
  • 2,000 saves (currently has 1,533)

The Big Question…  What sort of “contract” year will Philipp Grubauer have?

When he was passed up by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, Philipp Grubauer signed a one-year/$1.5 million contract to remain with the Caps.  When that contract expires, he will be once more a restricted free agent.  It does not set him up for a big payday, at least with the Capitals, but how he performs in this “contract” year could set in motion an interesting sequence of events that have a lot of moving parts that have little to do with Grubauer.  A season like the one he just had (albeit with perhaps a stronger finish) could make him an attractive trading asset for a club that could use some replenishment in the prospect stream.  The club’s willingness to go down that route might depend on how well prospect goaltenders Pheonix Copley, Vitek Vanecek, and Ilya Samsonov perform this season in their respective roles. 

Grubauer has always been in something of an odd situation with this club.  Despite being a more than capable performer as a backup, he has been caught between a franchise goalie in front of him in Braden Holtby and perhaps one behind him in Samsonov, who was the first goalie taken in the 2015 entry draft and who was described in a scouting report as follows: “based on talent and projections, the Russian is viewed by many a foundation piece netminder.”  Where this leaves Grubauer is in a strange sort of limbo as he enters a pivotal season for his career.

In the end…

Having perhaps the best backup goaltender in the NHL (now that the Murray/Fleury combination has been broken up in Pittsburgh) is a luxury that the Capitals have and few, if any teams can hope to match.  It provides the club with the means to give number one goaltender Braden Holtby nights off, even if his preference might be for a heavy workload, without an appreciable drop off in performance.

But the discussion does not do adequate service to Grubauer as a fine goaltender in his own right.  That he enters his sixth NHL season as a backup to Braden Holtby says more about Holtby and his consistently elite level of production more than it says about Grubauer.  He might be a worthy starter in a quarter to a third of the teams in the NHL right now.

Grubauer has been patient, quietly assembling an impressive resume as a backup and giving the Caps dependable minutes in that role.  But time is relentless, and Grubauer will be 26 years old in late November.  When you consider that Ilya Samsonov, who might be the next franchise goaltender in waiting, will not be 21 years old until February, and Pheonix Copley or perhaps Vitek Vanecek are available to assume backup duties if needed after this season (if not this one), it places Grubauer in an uncertain spot with respect to his future with this franchise.  Grubauer has used time and patience as those “powerful warriors,” but neither is in limitless supply.  It might make this season as much an audition for his next team as it will be one trying to get the Capitals to that promised land of a championship.

Projection: 25 games, 12-7-3, 2.30, .923, one shutout

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Monday, September 25, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Defensemen: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
-- Albert Camus

When the puck drops on the 2017-2018 season, Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik will be one of just 10 active defensemen in the NHL to have skated in more than 900 regular season games (he has 901).  He will be one of just four active defensemen in the league to have appeared in at least 125 postseason games (he has 125).

To call him the grand old man of the blue line or a player in the autumn of his career is probably something one might only dare at a distance.  After all, last year he did dress for 79 games with the Caps and, consistent with his reputation as a physical defenseman, was credited with 181 hits, 11th among the league’s defensemen.

Last season was a return to form of sorts for Orpik, who lost half of the 2015-2016 season to a cracked femur.  Not that the extra games mattered much for his offense.  The epitome of the “defensive defenseman,” Orpik went the entire season without a goal, the fifth time in 14 seasons (including his six-game introduction to the NHL win 2002-2003 with the Pittsburgh Penguins) he did so and third time in the last five seasons (oddly enough, he had three goals – a career high – in his 41-game season with the Caps in 2015-2016).

Odd Orpik Fact… Brooks Orpik is one of two defensemen in NHL history to appear in at least 900 regular season games and score fewer than 20 career goals (he has 16).  Mattias Norstrom played in 903 games and recorded 18 career goals in a 14-year career with three teams that spanned from 1993-1994 through 2007-2008.

Bonus Odd Orpik Fact… Brooks Orpik recorded more than a third of his shots on goal last season (32 of 93) in his last 20 games after missing three games to a lower-body injury in late February.

Fearless’ Take…

It is harder to evaluate defensive defensemen than it is two-way or offensive defensemen, if only because offensive numbers are easier to compile and compare.  It is the indirect or underlying numbers that might shed some light on Brooks Orpik’s value in his three years with the Caps.  Plus-minus has its limitations, but it is a blunt object in terms of seeing if more good things than bad happen with an individual player on the ice.  Orpik has seen his plus-minus in three years with the Caps go from plus-5 in 2014-2015 (78 games) to plus-11 in 2015-2016 (41 games) to plus-32 last season.  His shot attempts-for percentage followed a similar path, going from 49.64 percent in 2014-2015 to 52.40 percent in 2015-2016 to 52.56 percent last season.

Cheerless’ Take…

Brooks Orpik was plus-32 for the 2016-2017 season, but that might not have been as good as it looked.  He was plus-32 over his first 54 games of the season and “even” over his last 24 games.  It got worse in the postseason where he was minus-7 in 13 games (his lowest career plus-minus for a postseason), despite averaging just 15:56 per contest (his lowest average ice time in a postseason since he averaged 15:43 in five playoff games in 2006-2007).  He averaged just 10:43 in ice time in the last four games of the second-round series against the Penguins.

Potential Milestones in 2017-2018:
  • 200th game as a Capital (currently has 198)
  • 200 points (currently has 175)
  • Plus-100 (currently plus-80)

The Big Question… Are the miles too many on Brooks Orpik’s odometer?

In his three seasons with the Caps, ice time for Brooks Orpik has become a diminishing measure.  In the regular season he averaged 21:48, 19:49, and 17:47 per game, respectively.  In the postseason those numbers were 22:17, 21:05, and 15:56, respectively.  Even on a blueline that could be  breaking in three new regulars, Orpik might be at the point in his career where he is a third-line defenseman.  One thing to watch for is how his shorthanded ice time might change.  In each of his three seasons in Washington, Orpik averaged more than two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game, and he did so in two of the last three postseasons.  He was fourth among Caps defensemen in shorthanded ice time per game last season, but one of those ahead of him – Karl Alzner – has departed.  This might be a season in which Dmitry Orlov is called upon to log more penalty killing ice time (he averaged just 14 seconds per game last year).  How Orpik fits into this rotation bears watching.

In the end…

When Brooks Orpik signed a five-year/$27.5 million contract in July 2014, it was not particularly well-received.  At the time, this was an ominous observation…
“Orpik is 33 years old, and the deal will still be paying him on his 38th birthday. There aren’t too many defensemen that play more than 40 games after the age of 35.”

Going into this season, since the 2005-2006 season, 55 defensemen age 35 or older have appeared in 40 or more games in a season at least twice (Orpik is one of them).  Only 33 of that group did it three of more times.  That Orpik would try to add his name to that list might be a heavy lift for a player who plays with his edge and who has as many games on his resume as he has. 

On the other hand, Orpik is a player who goes to great lengths to protect his asset – his body.  If there is a player in the NHL who has prepared diligently for this phase of his career, Orpik might be that player.  And given the turnover on the Caps’ blueline from last season to this, his durability and reliable contributions in his own end would seem likely to be important ingredients in whatever success the Caps enjoy this season.  It might be autumn of Brooks Orpik’s career, but holding off the winter is what Caps fans will be hoping for.

Projection: 75 games, 1-11-12, plus-23

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Friday, September 22, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
-- Booker T. Washington

It is an example of the turnover on the Washington Capitals blue line that at the age of 26 and having played in more than 60 games in a season twice in five seasons with the club, Dmitry Orlov is now second among current Capitals defensemen in games played with the franchise (283).  Orlov, who appeared in every regular season game of the past two seasons, has developed into a productive offensive player from the blue line.  Orlov (14-48-62, plus-38, over the past two seasons), along with John Carlson (17-59-76, plus-23) and Matt Niskaken (10-61-71, plus-30), provides a trio of reliable offensive contributors on defense.

Orlov also provides a physical dimension in his play that does not get much attention outside of the occasional highlight-worthy hip check…

Over the past two seasons Orlov has 243 credited hits, trailing only Niskanen (304) and Brooks Orpik (306) among Capitals defensemen.

If there was a cloud over his 2016-2017 season, it was in the way his production slipped a bit in the last half of the regular season.  After going 4-22-26, plus-23 over his first 51 games, Orlov was 2-5-7, plus-7 over his last 31 games.  Nevertheless, he was a top-three defensemen for the club in a number of categories:
  • Games :82 (T-1st)
  • Goals: 6 (2nd)
  • Assists: 27 (3rd)
  • Points: 33 (3rd)
  • Plus-Minus: plus-30 (2nd)
  • Penalty Minutes: 51 (1st)
  • Shots on Goal: 125 (3rd)

There are odd facts (below), and there is what might be an odd reflection of his youth and picking his spots in games.  The grittier arts of defense are hitting and blocking shots, and for Orlov the results did not exactly align in terms of outcomes.  In 16 games in which he recorded three or more hits, the Caps were 8-6-2.  Meanwhile, in 23 games in which he blocked more than one shot, the Caps were 17-5-1.

Odd Orlov Fact… Dmitry Orlov is the third defenseman in Capitals history to appear in at least 250 games by the age of 25, score at least 20 goals, record at least 75 points, and post a plus-minus of plus-40 or better.  The others are Mike Green and Scott Stevens.

Bonus Odd Orlov Fact… All six of Orlov’s goals last season were scored at home, and all of them were recorded in wins, and all of them were against Eastern Conference opponents.

Fearless’ Take…

Dmitry Orlov was the 20th defenseman selected in the 2009 entry draft (second round/55th overall).  He has outperformed his draft position in his statistical rankings in his class of defensemen:
  • Games: 283 (10th)
  • Goals: 20 (10th)
  • Assists: 73 (9th)
  • Points: 93 (9th)
  • Plus-Minus: plus-43 (2nd)
  • Penalty Minutes: 114 (13th)

And, even though he has averaged less than 18 minutes per game in his career to date, his per-82 game scoring line of 6-21-27, plus-12, is an impressive scoring line for a defenseman who has been a regular for only two seasons.

Cheerless’ Take…

Two seasons, 24 postseason games…no goals.  He attempted 57 shots in the 2017 postseason last spring without finding the back of the net.  Only six of 75 defensemen with no goals in last year’s playoffs did so with more shots on goal than Orlov (21).  You could call this an odd fact, but Orlov has one point, an assist, in 13 career home playoff games.  Then there is the matter of ice time in the postseason.  The Caps are 5-0 when he skated fewer than 13 minutes, 8-11 in games in which he skated more than 13 minutes.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018...

  • 300 games (currently has 283)
  • 100 assists (currently has 73)
  • 100 points (currently has 93)

The Big Question… Is Dmitry Orlov ready to move up into a more responsible role -- a top pair role -- on a permanent basis?

Unless Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan pulls a rabbit out of his hat and makes a trade for a defenseman, Dmitry Orlov is going to be asked to do more for the Caps this season on a regular basis.  Orlov is already getting a bigger dose of responsibility as a “veteran” skating along with one of the young defensemen the Caps have brought into training camp.  There are other responsibilities that might start showing up on a more regular basis.  For example, last season Karl Alzner averaged 3:03 per game in shorthanded ice time.  Orlov averaged 14 seconds per game.  One might expect that to change. 

One thing unlikely to change much is Orlov’s even strength ice time, since his 18:09 per game average last season led the team.  Orlov has demonstrated an ability to contribute on the power play.  He was 1-5-6 in 93 minutes of power play ice time last season.  However, with Carlson and Niskanen still with the club (they were first and second, respectively, in total power play ice time last season), he would seem unlikely to get much more, if any more ice time on the power play.

In the end…

Last season, with Orlov and Nate Schmidt being young, relatively inexperienced and untested defensmen, the Caps felt the need to go out and secure a bigger, more proven producer for the blue line in Kevin Shattenkirk as part of its “all-in” strategy.  Schmidt is gone, as is Shattenkirk, and Orlov will be working without a net.  In somewhat limited situations, Orlov had demonstrated a certain level of responsibility in terms of his possession numbers.  Last season Orlov was ninth among all NHL defensemen playing at least 1,000 5-on-5 minutes in Corsi-for (54.32 percent; numbers from

Departures create opportunities for prospects.  They also expand the range of responsibilities for players entering the prime years of their careers.  When combined with the investment that the Capitals made in Orlov this past summer – a new six-year/$30.6 million contract for the would-be restricted free agent – he will be asked to take on a broader set of responsibilities.  It is the natural progress of a player of whom Barry Trotz said when he arrived in Washington, “we talked about a young player being patient, allowing him to grow, allowing him to make mistakes, allowing him to get to the next level. And with a good plan and his work ethic and him buying into it, he’s turned himself into a pretty good player, a good piece for us, and he’s getting paid for it.”  Orlov is now a more well-rounded player who has grown into the next level and in whom the Caps are placing a good deal of trust this season.

Projection: 82 games, 9-29-38, plus-24

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Defensemen: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. 'Til your good is better and your better is best.”
-- St. Jerome

When Matt Niskanen signed a seven-year/$40.25 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in July 2014, he was cashing in on what was a perfect example of timing.  After six seasons with Dallas and Pittsburgh in which he never recorded more than seven goals (and that in his rookie season) and never more than 35 points (in his sophomore season), he hit the jackpot with a 10-36-46, plus-33, season with the Penguins in 2013-2014.

When Niskanen fell back to a more career-normal 4-27-31, plus-7, in his first season as a Capital in 2014-2015, it might have been seen by some as a disappointment.   What he gave the Caps was a solid 22 minutes a night in 82 games, he and John Carlson being the only Capitals defensemen averaging over one minute of both power play and shorthanded ice time for the season.

What Niskanen has done in two seasons since is improve his numbers incrementally each season and establish himself as perhaps the Caps’ best all-around defenseman.  In three seasons with Washington, Niskanen is second among Caps defensemen overall in goals (14, tied with Dmitry Orlov), assists (88), and points (102), all to John Carlson (29-102-131). He has averaged 23:04 of ice time over those three seasons (two seconds fewer than Carlson).  He has logged more than 600 more minutes (5,585) than the next Capital in line (Karl Alzner  with 4,969) and missed just four games as a Capital, all of them in 2016-2017.

Last season, his best as a Capital (5-34-39, plus-20, in 78 games), he displayed a certain consistency in his production.  Only once in eight ten-game splits did Niskanen record fewer than four points (three in Games 61-70, which included one of the four games he missed for the season), and he was a “minus” player only in his second segment of the season (minus-2). In his fifth and sixth segments (Games 41-60) he contributed seven power play points as John Carlson missed six games to a lower-body injury.

Odd Niskanen Fact… Of Niskanen’s five highest ice time totals last season, the Caps lost five times, four times in extra time and each of those instances on the road.

Bonus Odd Niskanen Fact… All five of Niskanen’s goals last season were scored against Metropolitan Division teams (one against Columbus, two each against Philadelphia and the New York Islanders).

Fearless’ Take…

Matt Niskanen is one of five defensemen over the past three seasons to play in at least 225 games, record 10 total goals, 100 total points, and post a plus-minus of plus-30 or better.  Despite being a Capital for only three seasons, he is 24th in team history in games played (242), 23rd in goals scored (14), 15th in assists (88), 15th in points (102), 14th in plus-minus (plus-37), and tied for 11th in game-winning goals (11, with Rod Langway).  Last season he demonstrated a certain “road warrior” mentality, going 3-23-26, plus-6, in 39 road games (both of his game-winning goals came on the road) while posting a scoring line of 2-11-13, plus-14, at home.

Cheerless’ Take…

Outside of John Carlson (8-14-22, plus-2), the Caps have not had a lot of offensive numbers put up by defensemen in the postseason over the last three seasons.  Matt Niskanen is no exception, even if he is second in points over that span.  In 39 playoff games over his three seasons with the Caps, he is 1-10-11, plus-1.  And that goal came in a 6-2 thrashing by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of their second-round series last spring (to be fair, it was a power play goal that tied the game in the first period).  In fact, Niskanen’s postseason production has lagged his regular season numbers for most of his career.  The four points he posted with the Caps last spring in 13 games tied his second-highest point total in any playoff year (he had nine points in 13 playoff games in his last season with the Pens in 2013-2014).

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018...

  • 800 games played (currently has 733)
  • 50 goals (currently has 49)
  • 300 points (currently has 269)
  • 500 penalty minutes (currently has 383)

The Big Question… Does Matt Niskanen have another level of improvement to provide?

Losing the likes of Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Nate Schmidt on the blue line; and replacing them with rookies, late training camp signings, or in-season replacements makes for a difficult challenge on defense.  It places a certain pressure on both John Carlson and Matt Niskanen to strike a balance between improving their production and staying within their comfort zones in terms of style and role.  That Carlson slipped a bit last season in terms of per-game production at least suggests the potential for bouncing back.  Niskanen presents a different situation.  While he has improved in each of his three seasons with the Caps, the numbers in each of those seasons are all higher than his career per-82 game averages.  It begs the question of whether he regresses to a personal mean, or he has another 2013-2014 level of production in him.  The answer to that question might signal whether the Caps are a contender or will fight for a playoff spot next spring.

In the end…

Matt Niskanen is not going to show up on a short list of elite defensemen.  He does not have the offensive numbers of an Erik Karlsson, doesn’t have the cannon of a shot of a Shea Weber or a Brent Burns, and he does not have the deep playoff resume or a Duncan Keith or a Drew Doughty.   And even though a Capitals defenseman did receive a vote for the Norris Trophy last season, it was not Niskanen (it was Dmitry Orlov).   His is the profile of an underrated player, one who is very good at a wide range of tasks.  He plays well in all three zones and in all three strength situations. 

That he carries the description of “two-way” defenseman might normally suggest he is not especially skilled in either way, offensively or defensively.   Far from it.  Niskanen might be the best defensemen at both ends on this team, who has been durable, to boot.  His presence lends stability and consistency to a lineup that will need it this season, but if he was better last season than he was in the season before that, and better then than in the season before that one, he might have to be at his best this season for the Caps to make a deep playoff run.

Projection: 79 games, 7-36-43, plus-18

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Defensemen: Christian Djoos

Christian Djoos

“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or secret gate.”
-- J.R.R. Tolkien

The last time that the Washington Capitals dressed two rookie defensemen for at least half of the team’s games in a season was the 1995-1996 season, when Brendan Witt appeared in 48 games, and Ken Klee dressed for 66 games.  Before that you would have to go back to the 1981-1982 season when Timo Blomqvist (44 game) and Greg Theberge (57 games) did so.

The Caps might make it a third season in franchise history with the rise of Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos to the parent roster.  As we described a few days ago, Bowey’s progress has followed a more or less traditional path – second round draft pick, Canadian juniors, AHL, and now a shot at a spot in the top-six on the blue line.  For Djoos, the path was a bit different.

Djoos was taken in the seventh round (195th overall) in the 2012 entry draft.  To show how difficult it is to rise from that selection level to the NHL level, no player from the 2012 draft taken after the 175th pick overall has yet accumulated as much as half a season’s worth of career games in the NHL, and only eight of 36 players taken after the 175th pick have dressed for any NHL games.

However, Djoos climbed the developmental ladder slowly, but surely.  He spent three more seasons with Brynäs IF in the Swedish Hockey League before getting his first taste of pro hockey in North America with one game in a Hershey Bears uniform at the end of the 2014-2015 season.  He appeared in more than 60 games with the Bears in each of the last two seasons.  Last season his 45 assists tied for the AHL lead among AHL defensemen, and his 58 points was third best among AHL blueliners.

Odd Djoos Fact… Since the NHL went to a seven-round draft in 2005, no Capitals draft pick drafted as low as Christian Djoos (195th overall) ever dressed for a game with the Caps (Stefan Della Rovere, taken 204th in the 2008 entry draft, appeared in seven games with the St. Louis Blues in 2010-2011).

Fearless’ Take…

Djoos’ progress through amateur and minor pro hockey has been steady.  His point totals improved in each of his three full seasons with Brynäs, and he improved from season to season with Hershey, almost doubling his goal total from one full season to the other (from eight to 13) and more than doubling his point total (from 22 to 58).  As a defenseman who can contribute offense, it would be hard to argue that Djoos does not show promise.

Cheerless’ Take…

Sure, he shows nice progress with his offensive numbers, but almost from the day he was drafted there was another number that some folks might have paid some attention to.  With the Bears last season he was listed at 161 pounds, and last season no defenseman in the NHL as light or lighter than that dressed for a game (he is listed at 169 pounds on the Capitals’ web site, but 158 pounds on the training camp roster).  Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon, who appeared in 76 games, was listed at 164 pounds.  Skill isn’t as much a concern as Djoos’ ability to endure the punishment in his own end over an 82-game schedule at this level.

The Big Question… In a game increasingly defined by speed and quickness, can Djoos thrive?

If the Capitals have had a generic weakness the past two seasons, despite winning Presidents Trophies with the league’s best regular season record, a lack of speed up and down the lineup might qualify.  Djoos would appear to provide a dimension of skill and speed that they might not have had with, say, Karl Alzner, but it is an open question whether he can flourish in his own end as much as any of the three departed defensemen (Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Nate Schmidt).  It also could be a question some time in finding an answer.  Only three Capitals defensemen since the 2004-2005 lockout appeared in more than half the team’s games as rookies: Mike Green (70 games in 2006-2007), John Carlson (82 games in 2010-2011), and Dmitry Orlov (60 games in 2011-2012).  It has happened only eight times over the last 25 full seasons of Caps hockey (not including the 48-game seasons of 1994-1995 and 2012-2013).  For Djoos to do it, he is going to have to demonstrate the offensive skill he displayed last season without being a liability in defending his own end, even if it is with the modest minutes a third pair defenseman gets.

In the end…

Christian Djoos does not appear to be the prototypical NHL defenseman, even by today’s standards emphasizing skill and speed.  On the other hand, his steady improvement in production in Europe and in Hershey cannot be dismissed.  In those settings he has grown into his position, so to speak.  As he prepares to make the last step up the ladder of development, he has the pedigree (his father, Pär Djoos, played 82 games in the NHL with Detroit ant the New York Rangers), and he has skill.  Now he gets his chance to demonstrate and measure his all-around game against the best the NHL has to offer.  As much as any Capital, his story is among the most intriguing to follow this season. 

Projection: 40 games, 1-5-6, even

Photo: Washington Capitals

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Washington Capitals: What's in a Number?

Sports can be a “numbers” game.  And not just the statistics part of it.  Jersey numbers mean a lot to players and fans alike.  They become one with the identity of the player.  Everyone knows who "The Great 8" is ("Kirk Cousins!"... shut up, Cheerless).  It is also part of what fans identify with in that player.  It brings to mind the interesting assignment of jersey number “91” to Tyler Graovac of the Washington Capitals in training camp.  Not that he has anything to do with its history, or should care, in fact, but that number was worn by only one player in Caps history (regular or postseason), and any Caps fan of even recent vintage will remember it being worn by Sergei Fedorov, a hall of famer for his exploits with other teams, perhaps, but who certainly left his mark on this franchise.

It makes the cousins and I wonder about numbers being worn by prospects, depth players looking for a roster spot, and invitees at training camp and how they compare to those who might have worn the number with distinction (or as the only one to do it) for the Caps.  This is one of those silly “end of the bar” sorts of things guys might argue about after a few beers.  Like…

John Albert…wearing number 16…better or worse than the last owner of that number, Eric Fehr?

And you can go on and on.  Will any of these players among those on the training camp roster make their mark on the Capitals like those who might have worn the number before them?…

  • 1: Pheonix Copley or Pete Peeters
  • 3: Jyrki Jokipakka or Scott Stevens
  • 14: Anthony Peluso or Gaetan Duchesne
  • 21: Lucas Johansen or Dennis Maruk
  • 22: Madison Bowey or Dino Ciccarelli
  • 24: Riley Barber or Mark Tinordi
  • 29: Christian Djoos or Joe Reekie
  • 33: Parker Milner or Don Beaupre
  • 34: Jonas Siegenthaler or Al Iafrate
  • 35: Adam Morrison or Al Jensen
  • 36: Connor Hobbs or Mike Eagles
  • 38: Colby Williams or Jack Hillen
  • 40: Garrett Pilon or Nolan Yonkman
  • 41: Vitek Vanecek or Jaroslav Halak
  • 42: Wayne Simpson or Joel Ward
  • 47: Beck Malenstyn or Mike Farrell
  • 50: Matais Bau or Joe Motzko
  • 51: Kristian Marthinsen or Stephen Peat
  • 53: Hubert Labrie or Sean Collins
  • 54: Mason Mitchell or Quinton Laing
  • 55: Aaron Ness or Jeff Schultz
  • 56: Tommy Hughes or Patrrick Wey
  • 61: Brendan Semchuk or Steve Oleksy
  • 66: Dustin Gazley or Milan Novy
  • 67: Hampus Gustafsson or Chris Brown
  • 75: Tim McCauley or Chris Hajt
  • 76: Garrett Mitchell or Darcy Verot
  • 81: Adam Carlson or Dmitry Orlov
  • 84: Kristofers Bindulis or Mikhail Grabovski
  • 94: Damien Riat or Sergei Berezin
  • 96: Stephen Collins or Phil Housley

And there are those who are wearing a number that has not been worn in the regular season by any Capital.  Think any of these players will stake their claim to being remembered by their number?

  • 71 – Kevin Elgestal
  • 72 – Travis Boyd
  • 73 – Tanner Jeannot
  • 78 – Tyler Lewington
  • 79 – Nathan Walker
  • 82 -- Robbie Baillargeon
  • 93 – Mark Simpson
  • 95 – Dmitri Zaitsev
  • 97 – Jimmy DeVito

Alas, three numbers will wait for their first regular season owner, barring any number changes: “80,” “86,” and “98 (“99” being permanently retired league-wide).”

Whether they will be here only this week or have a long career in the NHL, all of these players now have their place in the history of the Capitals.

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Defensemen: Taylor Chorney

Taylor Chorney

“The man who has the will to undergo all labor may win to any good.”
-- Martin Luther

The headline in the Washington Post story announcing the signing of defenseman Taylor Chorney by the Washington Capitals back in July 2015 was, “Depth defenseman Taylor Chorney signed to one-year deal.”
“Depth defenseman.”  It has the faint whiff of “not good enough to play regularly.”  Perhaps true, but there is no sin in that, either.  Quite the contrary.  No NHL team completes a season dressing only six defensemen all year.  Depth defensemen are a necessary ingredient not just to ice a team but to be successful, too.  While perhaps not quite skilled enough to play 70 or more games, he cannot be a liability when he does get a sweater. 

In two seasons with the Capitals, Taylor Chorney has filled in when a defenseman was injured (he played 55 games in 2015-2016, much of that total when Brooks Orpik missed 40 games with a cracked femur), and he filled in for spot duty (18 games in 2016-2017, his longest stint of consecutive games played being six).  In the 73 games in which he appeared for the Caps to date, the team was 53-13-7, while they were 58-24-9 when he was not in the lineup.

The 73 games for which he dressed as a Capital these past two seasons are more than he dressed with three other clubs (Edmonton, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh) over five seasons (68).  And although his numbers have been modest (2-9-11, plus-16), he has not been a liability in a wins and losses sense.  Now, whether that is the product of an uncommonly deep and talented Caps team on which he played the last two seasons, facing lesser competition, getting shielded third line minutes, or sunspots, results matter, and putting Taylor Chorney in the lineup has not been a drag on the Capitals’ results.

Odd Chorney Fact… Taylor Chorney has never scored an NHL goal on the road.  Sure, he has only three goals in his career (all of them in wins, two of them game-winners), but still.  It is part of a weird split in his home and road numbers, particularly his plus-minus.  Over his career he is plus-7 in home games, minus-23 in road games.

Bonus Odd Chorney Fact… Taylor Chorney has dressed for seven postseason games as a Capital.  The Caps won only one of those games, a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals.  In fact, his teams’ record with him in a postseason lineup is (you might want to sit down for this) 2-10.

Fearless’ Take…

The Caps were 13-3-2 in the games Chorney played last season, and the last two regulation losses came after Game 60, by which time the Caps were already seven points clear of second place in the Eastern Conference standings and five points clear of the second best record in the league.  And, following on that whole results thing, Chorney was a “minus” player in only one of his 18 appearances last season, going minus-1 in a 4-3 loss to Dallas on January 21st.

Cheerless’ Take…

Well, about last season.  The Caps did not lose a game in regulation when Chorney played less than 14 minutes (8-0-2), but they were just 5-3-0 when he did skate more than 14 minutes.  Seems a little bit of Chorney wasn’t bad, but you don’t want too big a helping.  And, his possession numbers were off last year, too.  Sure, a smaller population of games, but his shot attempts-for percentage (45.31) was lower than the previous season (48.57) and was worst on the team for any of the eight defensemen playing in more than ten games.

The Big Question… Is Taylor Chorney going to be a 55-game player, or an 18-game player this season?

The answer to this question might rely more on what happens with other players than it does on anything Taylor Chorney might do in training camp.  The possibility of injuries always has to make “depth defensemen” ready to serve on a moment’s notice.  But this year is a different one for the Caps and, perhaps, Chorney in other respects.  With three defensemen gone from last year’s squad who might have had top-four roles (Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Nate Schmidt), the Caps would seem to be opening up chances for youngsters to come forward – Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos in particular.  If both of those rookies get sweaters to open the season, Chorney would be relegated to a seventh-defenseman role once more.  However, expecting two rookies to get regular appearances might be a stretch (whether Bowey, Djoos, or surprises among those such as Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, or Jonas Siegenthaler, for example), and even if they do, there might be those stretches when they falter a bit as they continue along their respective development curves. 

In the end…

Taylor Chorney would seem likely to fill a role somewhere in between that which he had two years ago and the one he had last season.  Inconsistency among rookies might replace injuries that would result in him playing a higher number of games, but he would still play the “spot starter” role he filled last season.  In any case, he seems likely to be, at least at the start of this season, something a bit more than a “depth defenseman,” something of an insurance policy in the event things don’t work out as hoped for with other players.

But Chorney can only keep himself ready for those situations as opportunities that present themselves and work to ensure he can contribute on short notice when such occurrences present themselves.  It is out of that work that good can come out of difficult situations.

Projection: 46 games, 1-5-6, plus-6

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Monday, September 18, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
-- Yogi Berra

It seems like the blink of an eye ago, John Carlson was taking the ice for the first time as a Washington Capital.  It was back on November 20, 2009 against the Montreal Canadiens.  In a 3-2 loss to the Habs, Carlson did not record a point in 17 minutes and change of ice time and had only one shot on goal, but he did record what for him would be a season high in hits (five).  Perhaps it was an adrenaline rush.  He would not record that many hits in a game until April 2012 when he had five against those same Canadiens. 

Now, eight years later, Carlson embarks on a season that could put him among the all-time leaders among defensemen in Caps history in a variety of categories.  If he appears in 74 games this season, he would become the eighth defenseman in team history to dress for 600 regular season games.  With 76 games played he would pass Scott Stevens for seventh place on that list.  With 14 goals this season he would pass Sylvain Cote for seventh place among Caps defensemen.  If he gets 45 assists he would pass Mike Green for sixth place on the all-time list.  Six points and he passes Cote for seventh place on that all-time list.  If he finished with a plus-20, he would pass Jeff Schultz for fourth best in team history.

Why are these numbers important?  John Carlson is entering the final year of a six-year/$23.8 million contract.  Come next July 1st, he could be the biggest prize available among free agent defensemen, and climbing the all-time rankings among Caps defensemen will only boost his value.

One thing that might help is more consistency.  Looking at his ten-game splits from last season, the thing that one notices is inconsistency of production from segment to segment.  Part of that was due to injury (he missed six games of his fifth ten-game segment and posted only three points), but the production also withered a bit as the season was winding down.  He was 4-8-12, minus-3, in his last 30 games despite averaging almost 22 minutes a game in ice time.  In his last 15 games he was 3-2-5, minus-6.

Odd Carlson Fact… In the eight years he has been in the league, John Carlson is one of only nine defensemen in the league so score 50 or more goals, record 200 or more assists, and post a plus-50 or better.  It is an impressive list, indeed.  

Fearless’ Take…

John Carlson has had a certain consistency over his career that places him in the upper echelon of Caps’ defensemen.  Only four Capital defensemen in club history have more 30-point seasons than Carlson (six).  No Capitals defenseman has more seasons with three or more game-winning goals than Carlson (four), and he has 10 such goals over the last three seasons.  He was among the top-20 defensemen in the league in power play points last season (16) despite ranking 31st in power play ice time per game.

Cheerless’ Take…

It will take something better than last season to make Carlson a big free agent prize next summer, it would seem.  Although he played in 16 more games in 2016-2017 (72) than he did in 2015-2016 (56), he had just one more goal (from eight to nine) and dropped a couple of points (from 39 to 37).  His plus-7 was the worst among any of the six Caps defensemen appearing in at least 20 games, and his shor attempts-for percentage (SAT) was second worst among that group (49.55).

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018:
  • 600 games (currently has 526)
  • 300 points (currently has 265)
  • 100 power play points (currently has 86)

The Big Question… Would a 14-45-59, plus-20 season – one that would allow him to move up in all those all-time team rankings – fall under the category of “possible” for Carlson?

The short answer to that question is, “yes.”  It would not be much of a stretch above what is, statistically, his best season.  In 2014-2015, Carlson was 12-43-55, plus-11, in 82 games.  That last number gets to the longer answer that follows, “it depends.”  After playing in each and every regular season game in his first five full seasons in the league, Carlson has missed 26 games over the past two seasons to injury.  If he misses upward of a dozen games, he will not hit those marks.  Then there is the matter of his baseline.  Over more than 500 regular season games, Carlson has averaged 10 goals and 41 points per 82 games.  A career season would be, by definition, above the baseline, but hitting those marks would be considerably above his career 82-game averages. 

One factor that argues for the possibility is that Carlson is the defenseman on the top power play unit.  He led the Caps’ blue line with an average of 2:38 per game last season.  It was off his career highs for that statistic (he averaged over three minutes per game in both the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 seasons), but it would appear for the time being he will continue in that role.  There is also the very matter of his contract status.  Not that Carlson (or just about any player, for that matter) is going to put personal numbers over team goals, but the fact that this is likely to be his biggest career payday might be the sort of thing that focuses the mind and effort to produce within that team concept.  In that respect, seeing Carlson perform more consistently that he did last season would be a welcome sign.

In the end…

With the departure of long time teammate Karl Alzner, Carlson is now the dean of the Washington defense in terms of games played in the organization (526 games with the Caps to 283 for…get this…Dmitry Orlov).  With that comes a certain responsibility that is not limited to numbers.  Being a moderating influence when things are not going well, being grounded when there is the temptation to get to high on success.  Playing the game consistency and, dare one say it, the “right” way. 

It is a lot to ask for a player who will not be 28 years old until January, but then again, John Carlson has more than 600 regular and postseason games on his resume, not to mention some international experience sprinkled in as well.  If the Caps have a very successful postseason – an uncommonly successful one – he could become the team’s all-time leader in postseason games played by a defenseman (he would have to play in 20 games next spring to pass Calle Johansson’s 95 playoff game appearances).  It is all part of the path Carlson is taking as he approaches that fork in the road of unrestricted free agency.

Projection: 75 games, 13-35-48, plus-9

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America