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