Friday, September 07, 2018

Washington Capitals 2018-2019 Previews -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
-- Henry David Thoreau

As much as any player in recent memory not drafted by the Washington Capitals, T.J. Oshie has become a fixture with the club – on the ice, in the locker room, in the community, and with the fan base.  On the ice he found a level of production in his three seasons in Washington that he could not find with the St. Louis Blues, the team that drafted him.  He played with the ferocity of a larger player than the 5’11”/195 pound Oshie.  He had a special moment in the first glow of a Stanley Cup win.   And, after the championship was won, he partied the way a lot of us imagine we would in that situation.  T.J. Oshie seems to have a gift for sucking out all the marrow of life.

It did have its price on the ice in 2017-2018, though.  Playing with the abandon with which Oshie plays has its risks of harm, and it is one reason he has never dressed for every game of an NHL regular season (he has two seasons with 80 games).  He appeared in 74 games in 2017-2018, bringing to 24 the number of games he missed for the Caps over his three years in Washington.  This season, six of the eight games he missed were the result of a concussion suffered in December when colliding with the backside of San Jose Shark center Joe Thornton.  It was his fourth such injury in his career

It likely played a part in his goal production falling off from 33 in 2016-2017 (tied with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead) to 18 in 2017-2018, fewest in his three seasons in Washington.  He had just two goals in 35 games upon his return before finishing with six goals in his last 11 regular season games.

Odd Oshie Fact…

In his three seasons with the Caps, T.J. Oshie is one of four players in the NHL over that span to record at least 75 goals, at least 350 hits, and at least 150 blocked shots (77/353/166).  The others are Wayne Simmonds (87/483/158), Jamie Benn (103/385/164) and Joe Pavelski (89/370/210).  The oddest part about this?  While the other three recorded at least 629 shots on goal (Simmonds), Oshie had only 455 and had the best shooting percentage (16.9). 

Fearless’ Take…

T.J. Oshie’s goal scoring fell off quite a bit this past season, from 33 to 18, but he remains one of the most productive goal scorers in this generation of Capitals, despite that drop off.  Since 2000-2001, only five players have more seasons with at least 18 goals than Oshie – Alex Ovechkin (13), Nicklas Backstrom (8), Alexander Semin (6), Peter Bondra (4), and Troy Brouwer (4).  His 0.35 goals per game over the past three years equals that of James Neal and Jack Eichel, and it exceeds that of the likes of Phil Kessel (0.34), Eric Staal (0.34), and Nathan MacKinnon (0.33).  His relative possession numbers last season, expressed as Corsi-for percentage on ice-minus-off ice, was the best of his career (plus-3.1), and was the first time he was a plus player in this category as a Capital (source:

Cheerless’ Take…

Relative Corsi….sounds like the weird uncle who shows up on Thanksgiving clutching a can of cranberry sauce because he thinks the stuff you make out of whole cranberries is a terrorist plot.  But his Corsi-Corsi, while it is consistent in his three years with the Caps (50.4 – 50.9; average of 50.6), is a step down from what he posted with the St. Louis Blues (average of 52.9 over seven seasons).  And, his shots per game dropped last season to 1.72 shots on goal per game, the lowest of his career.  Even in what has been a signature skill of his game – the Gimmick – was something of an off year.  Over his first nine seasons, no player taking a total of 20 shootout attempts had a better shooting percentage than Oshie (39-for-71/54.9 percent).  He was 1-for-4 in 2017-2018; 44 players with four or more shots had better shooting percentages.

Potential Milestones:
  • 200 goals (he needs 13)
  • 300 assists (he needs 23)
  • 500 points (he needs 36)
  • 150 power play points (he needs 11)
  • 100 power play assists (he needs 11)

The Big Question…  Is there a “15 Percent Premium” that the Caps have to pay in return for Oshie’s production?

First, let’s define that “15 Percent Premium.”  T.J. Oshie has played 10 years in the NHL and has dressed for 665 games.  That represents 84.6 percent of all of the games in which he could have dressed.  He missed about 15 percent of those available games.  The percentage of games missed is lower in his three years with the Caps (9.8 percent), but the point remains the same.  Missing chunks of games has been an unfortunate attribute of Oshie’s history in the NHL.

But here is where it gets complicated.  Oshie plays bigger than his size.  Put another way, he’s a feisty sort of player, unafraid to mix it up (within the rules) with opponents.  But the feistier he is, at least by one measure, the more games he plays.  Oshie has played in at least 74 games five times in his 10-year career.  His top four years in hits per game came in such seasons.   Two of those seasons came with the Caps, his top two seasons in games played.

But those hits per game and games played do not track well with what his preferred contribution on the ice is – goal scoring.  In three of those four seasons that were his top hits per game seasons, he had three of his lowest goals-per-game seasons.

To further muddy the waters here, looking at his top three goals per game seasons, one of them (2015-2016 with the Caps, when he averaged 0.33 goals per game), one of them was his third-highest hits per game season (1.68), while another (2013-2014, when he averaged 0.27 goals per game) was among his lowest hits per game, in fact his very lowest of his 10 seasons (0.97). But (did we say this is complicated?) his top three seasons in hits plus goals per game are among his five seasons with at least 74 games played. 

The moral of this story might be that when Oshie is “leaning forward” mode – being the “hitter” rather than the “hittee,” he stays in the lineup more and is more productive.  But it does not come without risk.

In the end…

T.J. Oshie plays the game a bit closer to the edge than most players, and sometimes it costs him chunks of games.  Having moved into his early 30’s (he will be 32 in December), this is a concern, especially with his four-concussion history.  But players are not a la carte menus.  If you want “goal scorer,’ you might have to accept “susceptible to injury” with respect to Oshie.  While there have been those intermittent absences in three seasons with the Caps, he answered the call for each and every one of the 49 postseason games the Caps played, and he is tied for second on the team in goals scored over that span (18, with Evgeny Kuznetsov), behind Alex Ovechkin (25).  It paints a picture that resembles Thoreau, a player who cuts a broad swath and shaves close, who drives life into a corner, and reduces it to its lowest terms – goals, wins, and losses – with far more wins than losses.

Projection: 75 games, 25-34-59, plus-3

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America