Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Goaltenders: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
-- Edmund Hillary

Braden Holtby’s ascent to the top of his profession was steady and relentless.  A fourth-round draft pick in the 2008 entry draft, he spent another 68 regular season and playoff games in Canadian junior (Saskatoon Blades), 12 games in the ECHL (South Carolina Stingrays), 141 games in the AHL (Hershey Bears), and 126 regular season and playoff games with the Caps before taking the reins as the team’s number one goaltender for good in the 2014-2015 season when he appeared in a league leading 73 regular season games and all 13 games the Caps played in the 2015 postseason.

Starting with that 2014-2015 season he finished in the top-four in Vezina Trophy voting in three consecutive seasons, was a finalist twice, and won the trophy in 2015-2016 when he tied a league record for wins by a goaltender in a single season (48, with Martin Brodeur, who did it for the New Jersey Devils in 2006-2007).

But while the ascent was impressive, the summit – a deep run in the postseason leading to a Stanley Cup – remained out of reach.  Holtby was one of those Capitals who either disappointed in the postseason or was disappointed by his teammates in five trips to the playoffs, four of which ended in the second round.  It was especially hard on player and team, given that through last season Holtby had the best goals against average in the expansion era beginning after the 1966-1967 season (2.00) and the second-best save percentage (.932, behind Tim Thomas’ .933; minimum: 50 playoff appearances).

There was a hiccup in Holtby’s 2017-2018 season that interrupted his long string of regular season success.  In his last 22 appearances of the season he went 10-8-4, 3.47, .893; quite a drop-off from his 24-8-0, 2.68, .917 performance over his first 32 appearances.  It led head coach Barry Trotz to choose Philipp Grubauer to start the postseason for the Caps, but after Grubauer struggled in the Capitals overtime losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Games 1 and 2 of the first round, Holtby returned to the net.  After taking the Game 2 overtime loss, he then went 16-6, 2.17, .922 with two shutouts to finally win the big prize that eluded him and his teammates.  And, of course, there was what is perhaps the biggest save in team history...

Odd Holtby Fact…

Braden Holtby was the tenth goaltender selected in the 2008 entry draft.  Five of the nine taken ahead of him have yet to appear in an NHL game.  None of the 23 goaltenders taken in that draft are within 100 games played of Holtby (361).  Jake Allen is second with 219 (taken 34th overall, the fourth goalie taken in that draft).

Fearless’ Take…

No active goaltender has more 40-win seasons than Braden Holtby.  He and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne each have three such seasons.  And only Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, and Ryan Miller – three of the longest-tenured goalies in the league – are the others with more than one.  As it is, Holtby has 225 wins since coming into the league in 2010-2011, seventh among all goalies in that span, despite appearing in 40 fewer games (361) than the goalie with the second-fewest appearances on that list (Chicago’s Corey Crawford with 401 appearances and 229 wins).  He continued to thrive on a heavy workload in 2017-2018.  In 16 games in which he faced 35 or more shots, he was 13-2-1, 2.68, .929.  In the 31 complete games he played (not pulled early) in which he faced fewer than 35 shots, he was 21-7-3, 2.46, but with a save percentage of only .914.

Cheerless’ Take…

Over those last 22 appearances of the regular season in 2017-2018, Braden Holtby was 54th of 57 goals appearing in at least ten games in goals-against average (3.47), 55th in save percentage (.893), and was tied for 24th in wins (ten).  He was pulled four times over an 11-game span in which he went 3-6-2, 4.45, .872.

Potential Milestones…
  • 400 career appearances (he needs 39)
  • 250 wins (he needs 25)
  • 10,000 saves (he needs 525)

The Big Question…  Was last year’s late-season swoon a hiccup or evidence that the league has a better book on Holtby?

Last season was really the first time in his career that Braden Holtby suffered any sustained performance issues.  But on top of the late-season slump he suffered, he also had quite a home-road difference in results.  In 31 home appearances he was 22-7-2, 2.41, .921; but in 23 road appearances he was 12-9-2, 3.90, .889.  In all seven instances in which he was pulled early in contests, it occurred on the road.

But what made the season for Holtby just a little bit more bizarre was an odd regular/postseason difference.  In nine regular season games against the four teams Holtby faced in the postseason, he was 4-5-0, 3.48, .897, with no shutouts.  Then, he went 16-7, 2.16, .922, and he recorded his two shutouts in Games 6 and 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final.  If those four teams had a “book” on Holtby based on their regular season results against him, they forgot whatever lessons they taught.  Or, those problems that Holtby endured in the regular season were merely all of a slump that all players suffer at some point, if they play long enough.

In the end…

Nothing is every easy at the highest levels of competition, but one gets the feeling after last season that Braden Holtby had to experience that lengthy season-end slump and even lose his unchallenged status as the team’s number one goaltender as the last element of the education of a champion.  Having never experienced that kind of sustained difficulty in the regular season might have kept him from developing that hard shell that players need in the postseason to shrug off the occasional misfortune and plow through it in a way he was not able to do in his previous five trips to the postseason.

The pressure on him to avoid that kind of a slump will be greater this season as the club no longer has Philipp Grubauer to provide consistently effective support in a backup role.  There will be the temptation for the Caps, likely to start the season with Pheonix Copley as the number two netminder, to give Holtby a bigger workload this year than he had last season, especially early. Consider that last season Holtby appeared in only 20 of the Caps’ first 28 games.  On top of that, there was a distinct rhythm to those early appearances.  He was “two-on/one-off over Washington’s first dozen games before going to a “three-on/one-off” over the next 16 games.  

The Caps might not be able to afford that kind of pacing for Holtby early in the season as the club sorts out its backup goalie situation and eases Copley into that role.  How the goaltending situation unfold early could go a long way toward determining if the Caps will be in the playoff hunt later, and it makes watching Holtby’s workload something to which attention should be paid.  Having conquered his own misfortune to get to the top of the mountain, he will have to continue that effort to stay there.

Projection: 62 games, 38-18-4, 2.48, .918, 2 shutouts

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Goaltenders: Pheonix Copley

Pheonix Copley

“Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.”
-- Carl von Clausewitz

Last Season: 15-17-6, 2.91, .896, 2 shutouts with Hershey Bears

Well, consider us fascinated at the prospect of Pheonix Copley sliding into the backup goaltender role for the Washington Capitals in 2017-2018.  Fans of the Caps have been spoiled over the last three seasons, what with the club employing two – and only two – goaltenders in specific, well-defined roles.  Braden Holtby was the number one netminder, and Philipp Grubauer was the backup (except for the first two games of the 2018 postseason).  The Caps are the only team over the past three seasons to employ only two goaltenders in the regular season.  More than half of the teams in the league dressed six or more (16 teams), and both the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames dressed ten over that period.

We are past that.  Grubauer is in Colorado fighting for a number one spot of his own, and Copley, who has two games of NHL experience (both with the St. Louis Blues), is getting his shot at a permanent subordinate role in Washington.  He has come quite far since, as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan Tech University, he signed with the Caps in March 2014.  And while he has only those two games of experience with the Blues after the Caps traded him there with Troy Brouwer and a draft pick in July 2015 for T.J. Oshie, he has a reasonably good AHL record (73-48-12, 2.55, .913, with nine shutouts in 145 games over four seasons with the Hershey Bears and Chicago Wolves).

Odd Copley Fact…

Copley is first and only, to date, goaltender born in Alaska to play in the NHL.  Copley was born North Pole, AK.  Ty Conklin, who played in 215 NHL games with six teams, was raised in Anchorage, AK, but was born in Phoenix, AZ.

Fearless’ Take…

Everyone has to start somewhere, and it is hardly unheard of for a rookie goaltender to get 15 or more starts. As a group, rookies starting at least 15 games since 2005-2006 have a GAA of 2.59 and a save percentage of .913, although the range for both statistics is quite significant.

Cheerless’ Take…

Here is an ominous thought (did I use that word right, cuz?).  The last time that the Caps had a backup goalie at any point in their season with as few games of experience as Pheonix Copley has was in 2013-2014, when Grubauer dressed for 17 games after coming into the season with only two games of experience in the NHL.  And Grubauer wasn’t the backup to start the season.  Michal Neuvirth was, but he was later traded to Buffalo for Jaroslav Halak, who pushed Grubauer off the depth chart.  Grubauer played only one game in the NHL after January 19th that season and lost his last five decisions (0-3-2) after January 9th.  It makes one wonder if the Caps are going to go a fourth straight season using only two goaltenders.

Potential Milestones…
  • First NHL win (he is 0-1-0 in two appearances)

The Big Question…  Is Pheonix Copley the answer to the backup goaltending situation?

Given the outsized role Philipp Grubauer played last season as a nominal backup – 15-10-3, 2.35, .923, with three shutouts in 35 appearances, many of which took place during Braden Holtby’s curious late-season slump – there will be considerable attention paid to how Copley fares coming out of the box as the new backup.  His ability to fill the role with some measure of effectiveness might be the biggest issue that the Caps have as the season gets underway.   And while his AHL numbers at Hershey over three seasons (43-26-14, 2.52, .913, with 5 shutouts) are not stunningly, jump off the page good, Braden Holtby was better, but not overwhelmingly so over four seasons in Hershey (74-45-7, 2.37, .918, with 14 shutouts). 

It is hard coming into an established roster, and it is harder still to do so when that roster is coming off a Stanley Cup win.  Add to that the reputation Philipp Grubauer took with him to Colorado as perhaps the best backup goaltender in the league over the last three seasons, and Copley has a challenge in front of him.  And that is quite enough of a challenge for a goalie with only two games of NHL experience on his resume.  If for whatever reason the Caps need a number one goalie for any length of time, one would have to think that Copley becomes the third option, behind giving prospect Ilya Samsonov a shot and going out into the trade/free agent market for a solution.

In the end…

The flip side of coming into a settled roster situation, except for the spot you are filling, is that everyone knows his role and has been successful in it.  The new guy needs to tend only to his business without the distractions of an unsettled roster in front of him.  And, with the Caps, having a number one goaltender as solid as Braden Holtby provides a certain level of expectations.  While Holtby did appear in only 54 games last season – a career low since he became the Caps’ full-time number one netminder – one would expect he would return to appearing in 60-65 games, at a minimum, in 2017-2018. 

The Caps’ situation is about as good as it gets for a young goaltender trying to establish himself as a bona fide NHL netminder, even if it is in a relief role.  Pheonix Copley has served enough of an apprenticeship to earn himself a shot a fulfilling that relief role.  But nothing is certain in that regard, and it is the most fascinating question as the Caps begin their Cup defense.  Can Copley succeed in a limited role?

Projection: 20 games, 10-7-1, 2.66, .912

Monday, September 24, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Brooks Orpik

Brooks Orpik

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

It would be easy to look at Brooks Orpik’s 2017-2018 season and think that he was challenged to keep up with his younger teammates and the speed that has become an important feature of NHL hockey.  His minus-9 was the second worst of his career (he was a minus-36 for a dreadful Pittsburgh Penguins team in 2003-2004).  His possession numbers were of a sort one would want to forget, a 44.21 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 that ranked 149th of 151 defensemen appearing in at least 60 games source:  His hitting was down, the 2.7 hits per game he recorded ranking second lowest of the 11 seasons he played in at least 60 games since the statistic was recorded by the league.  He had more giveaways than any of those same 11 seasons (44).  On a sheer individual numbers basis, his was not a great season.

On the other hand, he dressed for 81 of 82 games, a career high in games played in a season.  He had ten assists, the ninth time in 15 seasons the defensive defenseman recorded double-digits in helpers.  His 168 blocked shots was the second highest total of his career.  And, even with the high giveaway volume, he did tie a career high in takeaways (17).  And, he had one of those game-saving little plays that figured large in the Caps' Cup-clinching win over the Vegas Golden Knights last June:

Odd Orpik Fact…

No player in the history of the NHL has played more regular season games than Brooks Orpik (982) and scored fewer goals (16).

Bonus Odd Orpik Fact...

Only three players in NHL history have scored fewer than 20 goals and recorded more than 150 assists.  Brooks Orpik (16-169-185) joins Jimmy Thomson (19-215-234 from 1945 through 1958)) and Bert Marshall (17-181-198 from 1965 through 1979).

Fearless’ Take…

Brooks Orpik raised his game considerably in one respect in the playoffs.  Yes, it’s not the best measure of effectiveness, but after posting a minus-9 in the regular season, the second worst of his career, he was a league best plus-17 in the postseason, five points better than teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and by far the best of his career (he was a plus-6 in the 2014 postseason with Pittsburgh).  His lone goal in the postseason was a game-winner (a 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Vegas Golden Knights).  That makes two game-winners among his three career playoff goals scored.

Cheerless’ Take…

Brooks Orpik skated 19.4 minutes last season for every goal scored against the Caps when he was on the ice. Only John Carlson skated fewer minutes per goal scored against (18.5 minutes) among defensemen appearing in at least 25 games.  And while Orpik skated more penalty killing minutes than Carlson, it was not by all that large a margin (252 minutes to 215 minutes).  More to the point and what a defensive defenseman is out there for, his goals-for-to-total-goals percentage at 5-on-5 (41.38 percent; source: was worst on the team and was 205th among 224 defensemen skating at least 400 5-on-5 minutes.

Potential Milestones…
  • 1,000 career games (he needs 18)
  • 300 career games as a Capital (he needs 21 to become the 65 player in team history to do reach that mark)
  • 20 career goals (he needs four, which would be a career high)
  • 200 career points (he needs 15)
  • 1,000 penalty minutes (he needs 60)
  • 20,000 minutes played (he needs 671)
  • 1,500 credited hits (he needs 27)
  • 2,500 blocked shots (he needs 75)

The Big Question… Can Brooks Orpik summon up one more solid season?

Defenseman is the hardest position to master as a skater at the NHL level of hockey.  It also seems to be the least forgiving at the other end of the age spectrum.  Since the 2005-2006 season, only ten defensemen age 38 or older have dressed for 75 games in at least one season.  Nicklas Lidstrom (three times) and Zdeno Chara (twice), each of whom is a freak of healthy nature in their own way, are the only ones to do it more than once.  Brooks Orpik will be 38 years old on opening night.  However, he has been preparing for this stage of his career, too.  If there is a player who could answer the call for 75 or more games at that age, the 38-year old Orpik (on September 26th) is that player. 

But can he play in 75 or more games without being a liability on the blue line?  Measuring contributions by defensive defensemen, and that really is the singular dimension of his game, is a hard thing to do.  Things other than goals, assists, and points have to be scrutinized – shot attempt percentages on ice, relative Corsi, goal scored against on ice (preventing them is Job 1 in his position description), and these were not areas of strength for Orpik in 2017-2018.  He did step things up the postseason, and frankly, if his regular season impact is to be sacrificed for a stronger postseason, the Caps will take that trade-off. 

We might bemoan from time to time Orpik’s underlying numbers as the season rolls on, but at this point in his career and given the team for which he plays, it’s not about the regular season, although if his underlying numbers deteriorate further he could be pushed for ice time.  All other things being equal, though, it is about being strong for the playoffs where his intangible assets -- experience and professionalism on the ice and in the locker room – have been an advantage.

In the end…

For a player who exudes a sense of stability and continuity, the 2018 off-season seemed a bit bumpy, what with his being traded to the Colorado Avalanche in June, bought out the following day and released, and then re-signed by the Caps a month later.  The trade to Colorado, in Orpik’s word, “blindsided” the player,  and it was part of a process that got the league’s attention.  Add in the fact that there appeared to be off-ice family matters that influenced his return to Washington and the fact that he will also be coming back from an odd injury suffered in the Stanley Cup final, one that has left him for the time being without feeling in his pinkie finger, and getting onto the ice with its routine and familiarity might be what Orpik needs to make his autumn with the Capitals the springboard to a second spring of a deep playoff run.

Projection: 75 games, 0-8-8, minus-6

Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images North America

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
-- Epictetus

By the time Dmitry Orlov was taken by the Washington Capitals in the second round with the 55th overall pick, 19 defensemen had already been selected.  Fast forward nine years, and Orlov has played in more games (365) than 13 of those 19 defensemen, scored more goals (30) than 13 of them, has more points (124) than 14 of them, and has a better plus-minus (plus-53) than 17 of them.

Orlov established himself in 2017-2018 as a defenseman capable of getting top pair minutes, teaming with Matt Niskanen to make a formidable top pair for the Caps.  It was a huge step up in terms of ice time for the sixth-year defenseman in 2017-2018.  His average of 23:08 per game was second on the club.  A lot of that increase, (3:32 per game more than his previous best, in 2013-2014) was a product of his getting 1:59 per game killing penalties. 1:26 more than his previous high average in his rookie season in 2011-2012.  His even strength ice time (19:59 per game) also rose by almost a full minute from his previous high (19:00 in 2013-2014).

His taking on a heavy workload carried over into the postseason, where he averaged 24:12 a game, almost three minutes more than his next highest average (21:25 in 2017).  He recorded his first two career playoff goals and recorded twice as many points (2-6-8) in 24 postseason games than he did in 24 career postseason games before this season (0-4-4).

Odd Orlov Fact…

2016-2017…2017-2018. 82 games…82 games.  125 shots…125 shots.  4.8 percent shooting percentage…8.0 percent shooting percentage.  That is why Orlov had six goals in 2016-2017 and 10 goals in 2017-2018.

Bonus Odd Orlov Fact…

Both of Dmitry Orlov’s postseason goals were “first goals,” one opening the scoring in the Caps’ 6-3 series-clinching win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, and the other being the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.

Double Bonus Odd Orlov Fact…

Dmitry Orlov was thaken with the 55th overall pick in the 2009 entry draft.  That has been an especially popular overall draft slot for the Caps over the years, six players having been drafted in that slot in team history.  Orlov is one of five players taken with that pick to play in the NHL and one of three to dress for more than 350 NHL games (Bengt Gustafsson and Torrie Robertson being the others).

Fearless’ Take…

Dmitry Orlov was the only Capitals defenseman with more credited takeaways (54) than giveaways (51) last season.  He was second in hits (128), third in blocked shots (116), second in shots on goal (125), second in shot attempts for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.54).  He was not just contributing at the offensive end of the ice, and he managed to do it all while coloring inside the lines.  He took only 11 penalties in 82 games.  Only 19 of 86 defensemen in the league appearing in at least 75 games took fewer penalties.

Cheerless’ Take…

If Dmitry Orlov could have done the damage to other divisions that he did to the Metro, what a season it would have been.  He had six goals on 45 shots (13.3 percent) in 28 games (0.21 goals per game).  Against everyone else he had four goals on 80 shots (5.0 percent) in 54 games (0.11 goals per game).  And big workloads were not always a good thing.  In 27 games in which Orlov skated more than 24 minutes, the Caps were 13-10-4.

Potential Milestones…
  • 400 career games (he needs 35)
  • 100 assists (he needs six)
  • 500 shots on goal (he needs 49)
  • 7,000 minutes (he needs 42)

The Big Question… Is “First Pair Defenseman” a permanent role for Dmitry Orlov?

Dmitry Orlov getting top minutes on a Stanley Cup winner might not have been what one might have envisioned when he was drafted in the second round of the entry draft in 2009.  It might not have been envisioned in 2016-2017 when he was fourth in average ice time among defensemen playing the entire season with the club (fifth if you include Kevin Shattenkirk’s 19 games).  However, he played more than 26 minutes in the Caps’ season opener last season and never looked back, skating less than 20 minutes only once in 82 games in the regular season and only once in 24 games in the playoffs.

But it is not as if Orlov exploded on the scene in 2017-2018, either.  He has become a quite durable defensemen, despite losing a chunk of his early career development to injury.  This was his third consecutive season appearing in every game, one of only five defensemen in the league to do so He also has become, if not a top-drawer offensive defenseman, at least a reliable one, scoring 29, 33, and 31 points last season in those three years.

In the end…

It is easy to underestimate the season Dmitry Orlov had in 2017-2018.  For instance, since 1997-1998, only 28 defensemen taken in the second round appeared in 60 games and averaged more 23 minutes per game at least one season.  Orlov's 2017-2018 season is one of them.  As an aside, given the lack of success the Caps had with defensemen taken in the second-round in the years immediately preceding Orlov’s pick (Eric Mestery, Theo Ruth, Josh Godfrey, and Keith Seabrook, none of whom ever played in an NHL game), Orlov’s ascent to the top pair is rather amazing.

Orlov heads into the 2018-2019 season having largely justified the six-year/$30.6 million contract that he signed last summer.  It has been a long time coming, especially with the bumps along the way early in his career, but as he enters his tenth season since being drafted by the Caps, time invested has been worth the effort.  He enters his prime years as one of the important elements in the Capitals’ success and a player they will have to depend on to maintain that success.

Projection: 82 games, 9-22-31, plus-8

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Friday, September 21, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen

“The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion.”
-- Alexander Graham Bell

When Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen took the ice on April 5th against the Nashville Predators he became the 22nd defenseman active in the 2017-2018 season to appear in 800 career NHL games.  With the 68 games he played in the 2017-2018 season, Niskanen became the 20th defenseman in Caps history to play in 300 or more games for the club.  It was a season that fit squarely with Niskanen’s performance profile over his previous 11 seasons in the NHL.  If anything, it was somewhat better.  He appeared in 68 games (his career average before last season: 67), but his 7-22-29, plus-24 scoring line was more in line with his per-82 game averages over his previous 11 seasons (6-25-31, plus-10).

The breakthrough for Niskanen in 2017-2018 was becoming a full-time first-pair defenseman.  His pairing with Dmitry Orlov (perhaps a bigger surprise in getting top billing) was the most reliable, most stable pairing for the Caps over the course of the entire season.  He shook off an early scoring slump, posting only two assists and a plus-1 in his first ten games (punctuated by a 13-game absence to a hand injury), to go 7-20-27, plus-23 in his last 58 games.  Only once did he have a streak longer than three games without a point, a six-game streak from December 16th through December 28th.

There was a dramatic shift in one aspect of Niskanen’s game in 2017-2018.  In each of his previous three seasons with the Caps, he averaged more than one minute of power play ice time per game with a high of 2:25 in 2015-2016.  Last season, however, he averaged just 31 seconds of power play ice time per game.  That was offset by lesser increases to even strength ice time (up 1:35 per game) and shorthanded ice time per game (up eight seconds per game).  He still managed to average more than 22 minutes per game for the fourth time in four seasons as a Capital.

Odd Niskanen Fact…

Matt Niskanen is one of only nine defensemen in the last 30 years (and only the third not drafted by the club) to skate more than 7,000 minutes as a Capital.  

Bonus Odd Niskanen Fact…

Matt Niskanen dressed for 16 games in the postseason in his rookie year with the Dallas Stars.  He would not appear in that many games in a postseason again over his next seven trips to the playoffs… until last season with the Caps (24).

Double Bonus Odd Niskanen Fact…

Matt Niskanen was part of the 2005 entry draft class, the tenth defenseman taken and 28th player overall.  Defensemen taken ahead of him by the Caps in that class?  Sasha Pokulok (14th overall; no NHL games) and Joe Finley (27th overall, one pick before Niskanen; 21 NHL games).

Fearless’ Take…

Matt Niskanen was a minutes-eater in the postseason, to good effect.  Washington did not lose a game in regulation time when he skated 25 minutes or more (eight wins and two overtime losses).  It was a continuation of his profile in the regular season where the Caps were 14-2-3 in the 19 games in which he skated more than 24 minutes.  Offensively, it was, if not his best of his four seasons since he came to Washington from Pittsburgh, then close to it, given the games missed to a hand injury.  His 0.10 goals per game was his best as a Capital, and his 0.43 points per game was his second best with the Caps and fourth best of his 11 year career.

Cheerless’ Take…

In his first ten seasons, Matt Niskanen was over 50 percent in even strength Corsi-for percentage, averaging 52.5 percent over those seasons.  Last year, he was under 50 percent for the first time (48.7 percent; source:  His relative Corsi-for of 0.7 was off by 2.6 points from the previous season. 

Potential Milestones…
  • 300 career points (he needs 2)
  • 100 power play points (he needs 11)

The Big Question… Is Matt Niskanen underappreciated?

Matt Niskanen came into the NHL in 2007-2008.  Since then the population of defensemen with 800 games, 50 goals, 250 points, and plus-100 or better includes the following:  Zdeno Chara, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Niskanen.  That’s it.  And Niskanen did it while playing the fewest minutes of the group (16,596), more than 1,300 fewer than Vlasic (17,908).  However, since he finished eighth in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie in 2007-2008, only once did he receive any votes for an individual award, finishing tenth in the Norris Trophy voting for top defenseman with Pittsburgh in 2013-2014.  It probably says more that we would ask a question about the level of appreciation in his play than any particular aspect of that play and whether he could improve on it or suffer a regression. 

The fact is, he is among the most reliable defensemen in the game.  With the Caps, his range of goal scoring in four seasons is four to seven, and his points range from 29 to 39, although his other two seasons of 31 and 32 points suggest a predictability as a low-30’s point producer, right where is in his career per-82 game average (31 per 82 games).  There is every reason to think that, absent injury, he would once more produce in that area, and little expectation that he would experience an upward spike in his scoring.  If there is a Capitals defenseman from years gone by that he might resemble in his reliable and understated play, it might be Calle Johansson (albeit a bit edgier). That's not bad company.

In the end…

Matt Niskanen is not a conventional top-pair defenseman.  He isn’t a big goal scorer, not a fancy playmaker, isn’t extraordinarily physical (although ranking 25th in total credited hits by defensemen over his four years in Washington, it might be an underrated part of his play), doesn’t get much time on, let alone dominate a power play.  He is an adept all-around defenseman who has quietly, steadily, bit by bit built a body of work that is impressive more in its totality than if you look at it game-by-game, or even season by season.  It would be folly at this point to expect anything other than that reliable, dependable, productive level of play. 

Projection: 74 games, 6-24-30, plus-14

Photo: Getty Images North America

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Michal Kempny

Michal Kempny

“Life can surprise you.”
-- Gary Bettman

A hockey season has its ebbs and flows, its routines and its mileposts that mark important times and dates in the season.  One of the most eagerly anticipated dates on the hockey season calendar is the trading deadline.  With great anticipation, fans, pundits, and even players weigh in on how things might unfold and who might be sent where.  Most of the anticipation and the attention focus on big names. 

Sometimes, though, the most meaningful transactions are lost in the hype.  Consider February 19, 2018.  Two trades took place on that date.  One involved a playoff hopeful trading to bolster the most important position on the ice, the Philadelphia Flyers sending two conditional draft picks to the Detroit Red Wings for goaltender Petr Mrazek.  In the “and in other news” category, the Washington Capitals obtained defenseman Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks for a 2018 third round draft pick.

It was the second straight season in which the Capitals traded for a defenseman at or near the trade deadline.  In February 2017, the Caps dealt two players and two draft picks for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and goalie Pheonix Copley, thinking that Shattenkirk – largely thought of as the prize among available players at the deadline – would be the last piece to the puzzle of how to win a Stanley Cup.  It took a second bite at that apple for that to work (the Caps took another bite of the apple two days after the Kempny deal, trading a fifth round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Jakub Jerebek).  But who knew it would work with a trade for a defenseman in his second year in the NHL at the age of 27 with just 81 games of experience?

Kempny ended up being the solution to more than one problem.  The Caps were not getting it done, or at least not looking like a likely deep-run playoff team with two rookie defensemen (Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey) getting regular turns in the lineup.  Whether they were paired together, or they were partnered with John Carlson (Djoos) and Brooks Orpik (Bowey), it wasn’t working at a high enough level.  They had one solid pair – Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov – and two that just didn’t seem to click.

Enter Kempny.  Pairing him with John Carlson on the second pair allowed head coach Barry Trotz to pair a conventional offensive defenseman in Christian Djoos with a conventional defensive defenseman in Brooks Orpik.  Uncertainty about the blue line’s ability to stand up when the pressure was greatest melted away.  Not that Kempny’s numbers popped off the page.  He was 2-1-3, plus-1, in 22 regular season games and 2-3-5, plus-1, in 24 playoff contests, but his presence settled the defense and made it an effective complement to the strong forwards lines that the Caps took into the postseason and to a Stanley Cup.

Odd Kempny Fact…

The Caps’ Stanley Cup win makes Michal Kempny an oddity among defensemen in franchise history.  He is the only defenseman in Caps history to appear in fewer than 25 regular season games (22) and more than 20 playoff games (24) in a single season.

Fearless’ Take…

I think the term my esteemed cousin is searching for in describing Kempny’s effect on the team is a “burr puzzle.”  It is a kind of a wood puzzle that often contains three sets of rod pairs that have to interlock to form a burr seed-shaped or other symmetrical solution. Such a puzzle has 5 pieces and 1 “key” piece.  Kempny might have been just that piece.  It took a little time for the pieces to resolve themselves, the Caps going 3-4-0 in his first seven games with the club and his personal numbers being 0-0-0, minus-4.  But after that, Kempny went 2-1-3, plus-5, in 15 games, and the Caps went 12-3-0.  And, more Kempny was a good thing.  The Caps went 14-5-0 in the 19 games in which he skated at least 15 minutes in ice time.

Cheerless’ Take…

OK, it worked.  But was that a sign of the Caps unleashing the true inner Kempny, or was that just the fickle finger of fate (what, you kids never heard of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In?”)?  Let’s just keep in mind that he was never drafted, didn’t sign an NHL contract until he was 25 years old, has Karl Alzner-esque career offensive numbers (5-13-18 in 103 games with the Caps and the Chicago Blackhawks), had his worst personal possession numbers as a Cap (48.01 percent shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 versus 55.45 percent in 81 games with Chicago; source:, and has a pretty ugly career takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (15 takeaways, 67 giveaways).  His 103 games in the NHL is his entire body of work in hockey in North America, having played entirely in Europe before signed by the Blackhawks in May 2016.

The Big Question… Will “Mr. Kempny Goes to Washington” have a long run?”

Numbers don’t lie, and Michal Kempny’s were not especially impressive, but sometimes one has to put some trust in what you see and what others see.  When Michal Kempny was approaching unrestricted free agency last June, his defensive partner John Carlson had this to say about him
"I thought he was a great player.  He made a huge impact on our team. When he got here, I thought we kind of started to play our best hockey maybe 10, 15 games after he got here, and then I thought he played awesome in the playoffs. He's a great player, a great defender and he can skate.  So that's pretty much textbook what you want to have on your team. And certainly, I think we play well together." 

Kempny, who was an irregular starter in Chicago, had this to say about the effect his coaches in Washington had on his play…
“When I came here, I had really, really great meetings with the coaches.  I sat down with Todd [Reirden], and he told me about the way we want to go — and we did. The plan [worked] out very well. I can’t be happier. It’s been an amazing three months for me.”

As an observational matter, there seems to be the sort of fit among player, playing partner, and coaches (especially Reirden, who takes over as head coach) that will reveal more of Kempny’s potential as a player than what he displayed in Chicago.  The team certainly thinks so, having signed him to a four-year/$10 million contract.  It is a front-loaded contract that pays out $6 million of the $10 million over the first two years of the deal, but the $2.5 million cap hit is in the same neighborhood of defensemen that includes Ryan Ellis, Thomas Hickey, Patrik Nemeth, Brayden McNabb, and Kevan Miller (all with a $2.5 million cap hit; source:  Whether that is a bargain or not is uncertain, but the Caps are giving Kempny the wherewithal to make this a long run.

In the end…

On a “value-to-hype” basis (contributions to the club versus the attention paid at the time), the trade of a third round draft pick for Michal Kempny might be the most consequential in the history of the franchise.  The Rod Langway trade was more important to the club, and the Jaromir Jagr deal was bigger, but both of those were blockbuster trades.  The Kempny deal flew so far under the radar at the time, you needed a coal miner’s lamp helmet to see it. But it solved the most obvious weakness that the Caps had as they were approaching the playoffs, the lack of confidence that they had three solid defensive pairs.  Maybe it was just one moment in time in which everything came together, or maybe it’s the start of a beautiful relationship.  Either way, it was quite a surprise that Michal Kempny would figure so large in the fortunes of the Capitals in 2018, and it was the kind of season that fosters hope that the show will keep running for years to come.

Projection: 77 games, 4-7-11, plus-3

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Christian Djoos

Christian Djoos

“Whoso neglects learning in his youth, loses the past and is dead for the future.”
-- Euripides

Christian Djoos had a nice rookie season for the Washington Capitals in 2017-2018.  How nice?  He started his rookie season with a goal in his first NHL game:

And when the season was over, he became only the 13th defenseman in team history to dress for at least 60 regular season games as a rookie and only the fifth since Kevin Hatcher played in 79 games as a rookie in 1985-1986.  He became only the third rookie defenseman in team history to play in 60 regular season games and post a plus-minus of plus-10 or better, joining John Carlson (plus-21 in 2010-2011) and Scott Stevens (plus-15 in 1982-1983).

Djoos ranked highly among his rookie defenseman peers in 2017-2018 as well, finishing eigth in games played (63), tied for eighth in goals (three), 12th in assists (11), tied for ninth in points (14), tied for fourth in plus-minus (plus-13). He accomplished this despite ranking 40th in average ice time (14:02 per game) among 62 rookie defensemen appearing in at least 20 games.

His possession numbers were respectable, finishing 20th among 56 rookie defensemen appearing in at least half of their teams’ games (521.79 percent; numbers from, although he was sheltered in terms of his offensive zone starts (60.43 percent, 11th among that same group of 56 defensemen).

Odd Djoos Fact…

Christian Djoos scored three goals on home ice last season (none on the road).  The Caps lost two of the games, a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on October 11th and a 4-1 loss to Florida on October 21st.  The lone win accompanying a Djoos goal was a 5-2 win over New Jersey on December 30th.

Fearless’ Take…

Playing defense is hard in the NHL, perhaps the hardest position on the ice to master and play well consistently.  That only 13 rookie defensemen played in 60 or more games last season, including Djoos, speaks to that idea.  It is especially noteworthy with respect to Djoos that he was among this group having been a seventh-round/195th overall draft pick in 2012.  He is one of only six skaters out of the seventh round of that draft to have dressed for an NHL game, and Djoos has the most among them.  He is one of only eight rookie defensemen since 2005-2006 taken in the seventh round of any draft to have played in 60 or more games and the only one to have played for a Stanley Cup winner. 

Cheerless’ Take…

Djoos hit a wall last year, at least in the offensive end, that looked like Wile E. Coyote trying to chase the Road Runner through a tunnel, only to find it was a painted rock.  He had a four-game points streak to end January and begin February, but starting with his 45th game of the season on February 9th, he was 0-2-2 over his last 41 games, including the playoffs.  He finished the season with a 54-game streak without a goal, including the postseason.  And there was an ice time issue.  In 20 games in which he skated more than 20 minutes, the Caps were 9-9-2.  They were 9-5-1 when he skated 13 minutes or less.

The Big Question… Is Christian Djoos’ role as a starting third pair defenseman secure?

The overall picture of the Washington Capitals heading into training camp and the 2018-2019 season is that they bring almost their entire Stanley Cup winning roster back.  They lost one skater (Jay Beagle).  Drilling down, it would then follow that Christian Djoos, having established himself with a good rookie season and then appearing in 22 playoff games after sitting out the first two games of the first round, would have his name written in pen on the six-deep depth chart of defensemen.  Well, let’s step back a bit.

Remember that at this time last season, he and Madison Bowey were being looked at as a rookie third-pair for the Caps.  For a while, they were in the lineup regularly, even if not always paired with one another.  As the season unfolded, the Caps traded for Michal Kempny, who was paired with John Carlson, Djoos was paired with Brooks Orpik, and Bowey was sent to Hershey.  Voila!  A Stanley Cup.  So here we are a few months later, and Bowey is in camp pushing for a roster spot, some other youngsters (Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler, Connor Hobbs) might be making a case for themselves, and Djoos did have, if not struggles, than a less productive last five months of the season in his rookie campaign than he had in its beginning.

It is not to say that Djoos is in imminent danger of losing a starting spot or even a roster spot.  But he does have an additional consideration that in some cases would be incentive, while in other cases, pressure.  His current contract expires after this season, and he will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free-agent.  How well he fights off a “sophomore slump,” how well he deals with the grind of a long NHL season to avoid hitting a wall, and how well he can compartmentalize his on-ice responsibilities and his looming contract situation will go a long way to determining if he can maintain a firm grip on his spot on the depth chart.

In the end…

What with Alex Ovechkin having another fine year and fulfilling a Stanley Cup dream, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s coming-out party as a top echelon forward in the league, John Carlson’s career year, Lars Eller’s clutch playoff performance, Devante Smith-Pelly’s odd propensity to score goals in the postseason at rates he doesn't approach in the regular season, and Braden Holtby’s return from the abyss at the end of the bench as Philipp Grubauer’s backup to open the playoffs, Christian Djoos’ season can get lost in the cheering.

Make no mistake, though.  Djoos had a rookie campaign that compares favorably among rookie defensemen over the history of this franchise.  The object of the sophomore year, then, is to take the lessons learned and experience gained as a freshman and build on it to continue with favorable comparisons to his predecessors on the Capitals’ blue line.

Projection: 74 games, 4-12-16, plus-10

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

“You climb to reach the summit, but once there, discover that all roads lead down.”
-- Stanislaw Lem

John Carlson isn’t the best defenseman named “Carlson” in his draft class, the 2010 draft being the one in which newly minted San Jose Shark Erik Karlsson was drafted.  But John Carlson has something Erik Karlsson does not – a Stanley Cup.  And Carlson (John) was no bit player in that effort.  He was one of 29 defensemen to appear in all 82 games, and he was a top-ten finisher among defensemen in goals (15/T-8th), assists (53/T-3rd, with Erik), points (68/1st), points per game (0.83/T-3rd), power play assists (28/1st), power play points (32/2nd), game-winning goals (4/T-4th), power play ice time (303 minutes/1st).

There was also something of a grittership component to Carlson’s game as well.  Thirteen defensemen played in at least 50 games, averaged at least 0.50 hits per game, averaged at least 1.5 blocked shots per game, and averaged at least 2.50 shots on goal per game.  Carlson was one of them, joining what amounts to defenseman royalty – Drew Doughty, Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Alex Pietrangelo, among others.

And he closed like a freight train.  In his last 30 games he was 8-20-28.  Only Victor Hedman and Shayne Gostisbehere had more points (28 apiece), and only Tyson Barrie had more power play points (18 to 14 for Carlson).

He was not done in the regular season.  Carlson became just the fourth defenseman since 2005-2006 to record 20 or more points in a single postseason.  He obliterated the team record for points in a single postseason (12, held by Carlson, Kevin Hatcher and Scott Stevens).  In fact, his was the best postseason in franchise history for a defenseman as far as offensive numbers are concerned.  He is the only defenseman in team history to appear in ten games, record five or more goals and record 15 or more points.

That Carlson finished fifth in the Norris Trophy voting might have been a bit of a surprise, but voting for trophies in the NHL does have its reputational component.  Not that Drew Doughty or P.K. Subban, who finished second and third in the voting, had obviously inferior years to Carlson, but those two are at a stage in their respective careers where one, the other, or both are going to be in the finalists group. 

Odd Carlson Fact…

John Carlson was the only defenseman in the league last season to log more than 300 power play minutes and more than 200 penalty killing minutes.  He is the only defenseman to do it since Oliver Ekman-Larsson did it in 2014-2015.

Bonus Carlson Fact…

John Carlson played in all 82 games last season and did not skate less than 20 minutes in any of them.  He has logged 20 or more minutes in 96 consecutive  regular season games dating back to March 4, 2017, when he skated 19:43 in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.  Including postseason games, Carlson has logged 20 or more minutes in 108 consecutive games dating back to Game 5 of last year’s second round loss to Pittsburgh when he skated 19:54 in a 4-2 win over the Penguins.

Fearless’ Take…

John Carlson climbed up the ladder in a lot of franchise all-time categories in 2017-2018. He jumped into the top ten in games played among defensemen, finishing the season in seventh place in games played (608), seventh in career goals (77), sixth in assists (256), seventh in points (333), eighth in plus-minus (plus-59), eighth in power play goals (22), and fourth in game-winning goals (17).  No defenseman appearing in at least 100 games for the Caps since 2005-2006 has averaged more ice time per game than Carlson (23:00).

Cheerless’ Take…

Carlson sure liked his home cooking.  He was a point a game player at Capital One Arena (9-32-41), while going just 6-21-27 on the road.  That’s generally true over his career, over which he is 48-130-178, plus-47 at home and 29-126-155, plus-12 on the road.  And while he was something of a minutes-eater on the blue line, that was not always a good thing.  The Caps were just 14-9-2 in the 25 games in which he logged over 26 minutes.

Potential Milestones:
  • 400 career points (he needs 67)
  • 200 career penalty minutes (he needs 2)
  • 20 career game-winning goals (he needs 3)
  • 15,000 minutes played (he needs 1,014)

The Big Question… Has John Carlson peaked in his career development arc?

When you set career highs in goals, assists, points, even strength goals, power play assists, power play points, minutes played, and shots on goals, it would be reasonable to ask, “is there another summit to reach?” Carlson will be 29 in January.  Since the 2005-2006 season, only three defensemen have reached their 29th birthday season and: a) played in every game, b) recorded at least 15 goals, and c) recorded at least 60 points.  Brent Burns did it three times, while Dan Boyle and Nicklas Lidstrom did it once (Lidstrom accomplishing the feat at age 40).  It would be a rare feat for Carlson to do this and more or less duplicate his 2017-2018 results.

That is a pretty high standard, though, especially for playing in every game.  Bumping the thresholds down a bit, say to 75 games, 12 goals, and 50 points, and it is not a bridge too far to cross.  There have been 21 defensemen since 2005-2006 to hit those marks having reached their 29th birthday.  Over the past five seasons Carlson has averaged 12-40-52 per 82 games.  It would not be a stretch for him to join this company.

In the end…

John Carlson is a part of hockey royalty in one respect.  In his eight seasons since becoming a full-time member of the Capitals, Carlson is one of only ten defensemen in the league to have appeared in at least 500 games (he has 586), scored at least 75 goals (76), recorded at least 300 points (327).    His plus-48 is fourth best on that list.  He has been durable (six times in eight seasons dressing for every regular season game) and productive.  One can argue that he has reached the pinnacle of his profession.  Consider that group of ten defenseman of which he is a part, referenced above, that set some rather high standards of play over the last eight seasons.  It is the rarefied air made more so for the fact that only three of those defensemen – Dustin Byfuglien, Drew Doughty, and Carlson – have won Stanley Cups.  It isn’t a bad summit on which to stand.  It would be fine to spend some more time on this one before heading back down the trail.

Projection: 80 games, 13-49-62, plus-2

Photo: Getty Images North America

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Defensemen: Madison Bowey

Madison Bowey

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
-- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

At this time last year, the Washington Capitals and their fans were contemplating the possibility of starting two rookie defensemen as a regular feature of their lineup.  Neither Madison Bowey nor Christian Djoos started for the Caps on Opening Night.  But whereas Djoos made his way into the lineup and more or less remained there through the regular season (63 games) and the playoffs (22 games), Bowey found his way into the lineup but dressed for only 51 games, none after February 20th.  He would be the roster casualty of the Caps obtaining Michal Kempny for the stretch run to the postseason.

Not that his season was a failure so much as it was unsatisfying.  For example, Bowey was only the 18th rookie defenseman in Caps history to dress for at least 50 games, but he was the only one of those 18 defensemen failing to record a single goal.  He is one of only a dozen Caps rookie defensemen in franchise history to post at least a dozen assists.  Mike Green didn’t do it (ten), despite playing in almost 20 more games (70) in his rookie season.  Kevin Hatcher came up short, too (10 assists in his 1985-1986 rookie season).  For that matter, so did Djoos (11).

If there was a disturbing aspect to Bowey’s play, it was in taking penalties.  Among the 14 rookie defensemen to appear in at least 50 games, Bowey tied for third in penalty minutes taken per game (0:28, with Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev).  And, there were the possession numbers.  Of that same group of 14 rookie defensemen, his shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 was the worst of the group (44.69; source:  He was the only one of the group whose number in this category was under 50 percent when the team was behind (47.99).  This despite 54.62 percent of his total offensive and defensive zone starts being taken in the offensive zone.  There might be a fair number of Caps fans, however, who would attribute much of this result to his being paired with Brooks Orpik for much of his time.

Odd Bowey Fact…

Despite not scoring a goal in his rookie season, Madison Bowey finished in the top ten among rookie defensemen in points per game (tenth/0.24 per game; minimum: 30 games).

Fearless’ Take…

One has to think the goal scoring will come.  Consider that no defenseman in Kelowna Rockets history (the team for which Bowey played in Canadian junior) has more career goals than Bowey (58).  He did get a fair amount of responsibility for a n NHL rookie otherwise.  Bowey was one of 30 rookie defensemen to skate 15 minutes in at least 13 games. 

Cheerless’ Take…

Hey cuz?  About that goal scoring in junior.  Bowey averaged 11.6 goals per season at Kelowna.  Well, Scott Hannan averaged 11.5 per season with Kelowna, and he ended up with just 39 goals in 1,166 career NHL games.  And about that ice time.  In the 14 games in which Bowey skated at least 15 minutes last season, the Caps were 5-8-1.

Potential Milestones:
  • 100 career NHL games (he needs 49)
  • 1,000 career minutes played (he needs 301)
  • First NHL goal

The Big Question… Can Madison Bowey crack a lineup that looks set in its top-six defensemen?

What was the Capitals’ biggest question mark going into last season – the three defensive pairings – appears to be the most solid fixture on the roster going into this season.  Matt Niskenen – Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson – Michal Kempny, and Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos appear to be the pairs that would be penciled into the lineup if tonight was Opening Night.  It leaves Madison Bowey in a bit of an odd place.  He is not the sort of veteran that would normally occupy a seventh defenseman spot on a roster the way that a Taylor Chorney might have last season. 

Bowey needs playing time, and under ideal circumstances, if the team manages his development with that in mind, he might be starting the season in Hershey.  But Bowey is no longer waiver exempt.  Unless he has an outstanding camp, he could find himself in an odd no-man’s land, unable to crack the lineup for significant stretches, but a player the team would not prefer to expose to waivers.  Add to this the fact that his position on the depth chart might be challenged from below by players such as Lucas Johansen or Jonas Siegenthaler, and it makes for an interesting situation to watch, if an uncomfortable one for the player.

In the end…

Let’s do a little mind exercise and compare a couple of prospect defensemen.  Defenseman A played 265 games in the Western Hockey League in Canadian junior and scored 37 goals.  In 56 games in the AHL he had nine goals.  As a rookie with the Caps he had two goals in 70 games.  Defenseman B played 259 games in the Western Hockey League in Canadian junior and scored 58 goals.  In 113 games in the AHL, he had nine goals.  Defenseman A went on to be a two-time Norris Trophy runner-up and had a 31-goal season for the Caps – Mike Green.  Defenseman B is, of course, Madison Bowey. 

This is not to say that Bowey will become Mike Green 2.0, any more than he will become the scoring-limited sort like Scott Hannan.  His immediate challenge is getting playing time on a team that is largely set in its top-six defensemen.  That is not a bad thing for the Caps, and it might not be a bad thing for Bowey, who could end up finishing his apprenticeship in Hershey this coming season.  He has worked his way back from what was a gruesome injury in December 2016 that made for a bitter interruption in his development.  As it is, he is at a stage in his career and plays at a position where patience is called for. 

Projection: 30 games, 1-6-7, minus-2

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America