Friday, September 08, 2017

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Previews -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“Your black cards can make you money
So you hide them when you're able
In the land of milk and honey
You must put them on the table

You go back Jack do it again
Wheel turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back Jack do it again”
-- Walter Becker/Donald Fagen

When T.J. Oshie scored his 30th goal last season (he finished with a career-high 33) he became the 24th player in Washington Capitals history to hit the 30-goal mark for a single season.  It is a group that includes the best-of-the-best in goal scoring such as Peter Bondra and Alex Ovechkin.  It also includes some one-hit wonders such as Tom Rowe (who never scored more than 16 in any of the other six seasons in which he played in the NHL) and Chris Valentine (who scored a total of only 13 goals in his other two NHL seasons).  

Oshie came about his goal scoring last season by finishing with a rush.  Through the first half of the season, he was scoring goals at what was a career pace.  Thirteen goals in the Caps’ first 41 games put him on a pace for 26 goals, the same total he had in 2015-2016 with the Caps to establish that career high.  He was also dressing for games at a pace that was consistent with his history, and not in a good way.  He missed eight of those first 41 games, including a seven-game stretch, which was the sixth time in his career he missed seven or more games at a stretch due to injury.  Over his last 41 games, though, he dressed for 35 (still missing six contests, one fpor personal reasons), but he scored 20 goals, a 40-goal pace.

Odd Oshie Fact…  T.J. Oshie is the only player in the post-2004-2005 lockout era to record as many as 33 goals and do it with a shooting percentage over 23 percent (his 23.1 percent led the league last season; minimum: 25 shots on goal).

Fearless’ Take…

In just two seasons as a Washington Capital, T.J. Oshie is in the top-50 among all-time goal scorers in franchise history (59, tied for 49th with Mike Knuble).  Nine of them have been game-winning goals, placing him in a tie for 45th in club history.  His shooting percentage (18.0) is tied with Craig Laughlin for third all-time among 60 Capitals players with 50 or more goals with the club.  His 0.49 goals per game last season was rounding error behind the likes of Patrik Laine, Brad Marchand, and Auston Matthews for fourth place in the league (minimum: 41 games played) and ahead of Vladimir Tarasenko and Max Pacioretty, among others.  Oshie has revealed himself to be a consistent and reliable goal scorer in his two seasons in Washington.

Cheerless’ Take…

More about that seven-game absence to injury.  Including last year’s seven-game absence, Oshie has had at least one such absence in five of his nine seasons (he had two in his rookie year in 2008-2009).  He has dressed in 83.9 percent of scheduled regular season games in his nine seasons, which works out to missing about 13 games per year (his 68 games last season was just about on that average).  Last season, the Caps had depth on the right side to get through the absences.  This season, the right side is not nearly as deep, unless some young guys really step up (Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly).  Oshie plays like a 6’3”, 220 pound winger but inhabits a 6’, 189 pound body, and sometimes, much as one admires his willingness to stick his nose into difficult places, the two visions just aren’t compatible.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018:
  • 600 games (currently has 591)
  • 200 goals (currently has 169)

The Big Question… Can T.J.Oshie approximate last year’s goal scoring output?

Underneath the 33 total goals Oshie scored last year was his 25 even strength goals, which obliterated his previous career best (16, accomplished twice).   A 56 percent improvement in that number is not what one would consider normal.  Even his seven power play goals, which four fewer than the previous season, was his second-highest season total in that category.  He gets more opportunities on the power play because he occupies the middle of the 1-3-1 set-up, and he’s got one of, if not the best power play quarterbacks in the NHL in Nicklas Backstrom feeing him.  If Evgeny Kuznetsov slides into the spot Marcus Johansson occupied last season (low on the goal line to the goaltender’s left), he could maintain that level of power play goal scoring, if not improve upon it.  But that even-strength goal scoring production would seem to be a reach in terms of matching last year’s total.

In the end…

With a brand new eight-year/$46 million contract and a 30-goal season preceding this one, there is a heightened sense of expectations with T. J. Oshie.  Given last season’s production, it would be a high bar to clear.  He might have been, along with Nicklas Backstrom, the best two-way forward on the club (both finished in the top-20 in Selke Trophy voting for best defensive forward).

Those expectations should be tempered.  Setting a career high in goals that is more than 25 percent greater than the previous high is one thing.  It is quite another to do it at the age of 30 and expect it to be matched or surpassed the next season, especially this late in Oshie’ career (he is entering his tenth season).

But there is also the elephant in the locker room, and that is Oshie’s eight-year contract signed this past June.  That contract will take him to the end of the 2024-2025 season, when he will be 38 years old.  It is reasonable to have concerns that Oshie’s production in the last half of that contract is a gamble owing to age and his hard-nosed style of play.  And it might be reasonable to wonder whether signing Oshie for eight years was a good idea if it came at the expense of retaining the services of Marcus Johansson, who will not be 27 until the first week of October and whose cap hit on the last two years of his current contract is almost $1.2 million less than Oshie’s average annual value.

Another way to look at this, though, is over the next two years (using Johansson’s contract term as a timeframe), who provides the Caps with more production?  We dare say that most folks would choose Oshie, and that is no small consideration given that other elements of the roster (most notably Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom) are in or entering the late-prime of their most productive years.  To the extent the Caps extended their “window” of competitiveness, they might have given themselves a better chance to do so with Oshie than Johansson.

Provided, that is, that Oshie can “do it again.”

Projection: 72 games, 28-28-56, plus-19

Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America