Thursday, September 26, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Goaltenders: Braden Holtby

Braden Holtby

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”
― Henry Ward Beecher

The Metropolitan Division of the NHL is among the most, if not the most competitive division in the league.  Last season, six point separated the first place Washington Capitals and the fifth place Columbus Blue Jackets.  In 2017-2018, eight points separated first and fifth place.  The balance in the division places a heavy premium on goaltending play.  If not excellent (if you define that as “Vezina-worthy), then at least consistent over an 82-game season. 

With Sergei Bobrovsky, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets, having departed for the Florida Panthers as an unrestricted free agent this past summer, Braden Holtby returns as the winningest netminder in the division over the past two seasons (66 wins, ten more than Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray).  However, his underlying numbers have not been especially impressive over those two seasons.  His goals against average (2.90) ranks ninth among 16 goalies with at least 2,000 minutes played over the last two seasons, and his .909 save percentage ranks ninth.  He has the unfortunate matter of having allowed five or more goals more times over the last two seasons (16) than any other Metro goalie (Henrik Lundqvist: 13).  Part of that is a product of shouldering such a heavy workload, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

Still, last season was an improvement on his 2017-2018 season in important respects.  His win total was down (from 34 to 32 in four more starts and five more appearances), but his goals against average was better (down from 2.99 to 2.82), his save percentage was up (from .907 to .911), and he had three shutouts, whereas he had none in the regular season in 2017-2018, the only season of his nine-year career in which he did not record a shutout.

Odd Holtby Fact…

There have been 23 goaltenders taken in the fourth round of the draft in NHL history who have appeared in the postseason.  Braden Holtby is the only one to win a Stanley Cup as a number one netminder.

Bonus Odd Holtby Fact…

Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, population less than 12,000 (the Alberta portion of the city is somewhat larger), has sent 11 players to the NHL, including former Capital Garnet “Ace” Bailey.  Braden Holtby is the only goaltender among them.

Extra Bonus Odd Holtby Fact…

Braden Holtby is not a “relief” goaltender.  Over the past five seasons, only Pekka Rinne and Corey Crawford among 55 goalies appearing in at least 100 games have started a higher percentage of total appearances.  Rinne is at 99.7 percent (305 starts in 306 appearances), Crawford is at 99.6 percent (236 starts in 237 appearances), and Holtby is third at 99.4 percent (313 starts in 315 appearances).

Fearless’ Take…

If Braden Holtby was to spend his entire career with the Washington Capitals, he would own almost, if not every meaningful franchise record for goaltenders.  As it is, in nine seasons with the Caps he is:
  • 2nd in games played (420)
  • 2nd in seasons played (nine)
  • 2nd in wins (257)
  • 2nd in shots faced (12,101)
  • 2nd in saves (11,110)
  • 2nd in minutes played (24,085)
  • 2st in save percentage (.918; minimum: 50 appearances)
  • 4th in goals against average (2.47; minimum: 50 appearances)
  • T-1st in shutouts (35)
  • 1st in playoff games played (89)
  • 1st in playoff wins (48)
  • 1st in save percentage (.928; minimum: ten games)
  • 1st in goals against average (2.09; minimum: ten games)
  • 1st in shutouts (seven)

Careers have an ebb and flow to them the longer they go.  Caps fans might not remember, but the year before Olaf Kolzig won the Vezina Trophy, he was 26-31-3, 2.58, .900, albeit on a team decimated by injuries.  And while Holtby slipped a bit the past two seasons, he allowed two or fewer goals 31 times in 56 starts in which he finished last season.  And, only eight goalies allowed two or fewer goals more often while facing 35 or more shots on goal than did Holtby last season (nine).

Cheerless’ Take…

In his first seven seasons with the Caps, Braden Holtby had a save percentage under .920 only once, and that one -- .915 in 48 games in 2013-2014 – was still better than the save percentage he posted in either of the last two seasons (.907 in 2017-2018, .911 last season).  Of 33 goalies appearing in at least 40 games last season, Holtby’s even strength save percentage was .922, 16th in the league, and he was 31st in that group in save percentage when the Caps were shorthanded (.827).  To some extent, that might be a product of the defense in front of him, but Holtby does not seem to be quite the goalie he was before these last two seasons.

Potential Milestones:
  • 300 career wins (257; he needs 43)
  • All-time leader in shutouts in franchise history (35; he needs one to break tie with Olaf Kolzig)
  • 25,000 minutes played (24,805; he needs 915)
  • 1,000 goals allowed (991; he needs nine)
  • Top-100 all time in games played among NHL goaltenders (420; he needs five to tie Jon Casey and Chuck Rayner for 99th place)
  • Top-50 all time in wins among NHL goaltenders (Tuukka Rask will probably pass Felix Potvin for 50th place early (Rash trails by one win), and Holtby (257 wins) is in a race with Bobrovsky (255) and Jaroslav Halak (254) to catch Potvin (266 wins))
  • Top-50 all time in career shutouts by an NHL goaltender (35; he needs three to tie six goalies for 45th place)
  • Top-20 all time in postsesason wins by a goaltender (48, he needs one to tie Glenn Hall for 20th place (49))

The Big Question… Will Braden Holtby’s contract situation be a distraction in or a means to focus on the 2019-2020 season?

Before the 2004-2005 lockout and the salary cap provision that was included in the collective bargaining agreement that broke the impasse, players with long tenures with a single club were not uncommon, even for goaltenders.  By the time the NHL went dark in 2004-2005, Martin Brodeur already had a dozen seasons with the New Jersey Devils.  Olaf Kolzig had been with the Caps 13 seasons.  Jose Theodore had been with the Montreal Canadiens eight seasons.  Martin Biron had been with Buffalo seven seasons. 

But with the salary cap, giving players raises with new contracts, whatever their merit, comes at a price in deals you can’t make elsewhere on the roster, and making large investments in a position where a single player commands two-thirds or more of the appearances, as if the case with a number one goalie, carries special risks.  There is also the matter of assessing the likelihood that single player will maintain a level of performance in the next contract that he did in the current one.

Braden Holtby represents a difficult risk-reward matter for the Capitals as he enters the last year of his current contract that carries a $6.1 million cap hit, the eighth-highest cap hit of any goalie currently under contract, according to  It is worth noting that five of the seven goalies with higher cap hits are older than Holtby, but three of them – Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Henrik Lundqvist – play for team likely to struggle to make the postseason this year.  It raises the issue of whether re-upping Holtby in a capped environment is something the Caps can afford.  An analysis of that issue, and any similarities it might have to situations faced by other teams in similar situations, is one for another day, but the issue of relevance here is whether that consideration and the uncertainty it can cause poses a distraction or serves as a basis for focus on the part of Holtby. 

Holtby faced a faintly similar situation in 2014-2015, when a two-year contract under which he was playing, with a $1.85 million annual cap hit, was expiring.  While the expiration of that contract would have left Holtby in a restricted free agent status and a different dynamic, the matter did not appear to distract.  He led the league that season in appearances (73), minutes played (4,247), set what at the time was a career high in wins (41), and had career bests for a full season in goals against average (2.22, fifth among 34 goalies with at least 2,000 minutes) and save percentage (.923, tied for seventh in that group).  Only Marc-Andre Fleury had more shutouts (10) than did Holtby (nine).  He finished fourth in the Vezina Trophy voting.

If there are performance issues for Holtby in 2019-2020, one would not think they would be a product of distraction.  The bigger issue surrounding this issue is one for Caps fans, who have to deal with perhaps a season long contemplation of this being Holtby’s last season in Washington.

In the end…

That 2014-2015 season for Braden Holtby set off a three-season run in which he was arguably the league’s best goaltender.  He appeared in 202 games over that span (first), won 131 games (tops by a 23-win margin over Devan Dubnyk), had a goals against average of 2.17 (second among goalies with at least 5,000 minutes played to Carey Price (2.09)), had a .923 save percentage (tied for second among goalies with at least 5,000 minutes played), and had 21 shutouts (first).  He finished as a Vezina finalist twice and won the award in one of those instances.

In the last two seasons he has not had numbers as sparkling as those, and while he was a money goalie in the 2018 postseason after having been passed over for Philipp Grubauer to start the first two games of the opening round against Columbus, he was not as impressive in the 2019 postseason (3-4, 2.67, .914, one shutout) in the opening round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

What it means is that there is some “show me” that Braden Holtby might have to provide the Caps’ front office for the team to give serious consideration to investing a large share of the salary cap in his services.  Tempering this view is the lack of NHL experience number one goalie-in-waiting Ilya Samsonov has had, making it difficult to project his potential at this level as a replacement. 

Braden Holtby has come a long way from a fourth round draft pick to Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion.  He has a resume that suggests he will get paid in time for the 2020-2021 season.  Whether that is with Washington or another club is an issue that could be hanging over Capitals Nation much of the season.

Projection: 60 games, 34-17-5, 2.70, .918, 4 shutouts

Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Goaltenders: Pheonix Copley

Pheonix Copley

“Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.”
-- Jack Benny

Backup goaltenders make up an odd fraternity in the NHL.  Some are youngsters on their way up the ladder to a number one position.  Others are insurance against shaky performance by the number one goalie they work behind.  Others are on the last lap of their careers, grooming young phenoms taking their first steps as a number one goalie.  And others are backups.

It might be the most underrated, underappreciated position in teams sports.  A backup goaltender in the NHL might get 15-30 starts, and those represent standings points a successful team just cannot afford to give away with poor netminding.  Which brings us to Pheonix Copley.  Last season, 22 goaltenders had 15-30 starts.  Not all were backups in the traditional sense (Stanley Cup winning netminder Jordan Binnington is in this group), but it is a group representative of the position.  In that group, Copley finished in the middle of the pack generally – 10th in goals against average (2.90), 12th in save percentage (.905), one of 15 in the group with at least one shutout (he had one), 14th in even strength save percentage (.912), 14th in save percentage when shorthanded (.857).

Copley’s season divides into two parts.  Even with having allowed six goals on 36 shots in his first appearance of the season, a 6-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on October 11th, he was 10-2-2, 2.59, .916, with one shutout in his first 15 appearances (one no-decision).  However, in his last 12 appearances, he was 6-5-1, 3.31, .889.

Odd Copley Fact…

Pheonix Copley was the only goaltender last season with a Gimmick save percentage under .600 (.583) and a winning record in the trick shot phase (2-1).

Bonus Odd Copley Fact…

Among 54 goaltenders with at least ten wins last season, Copley had the third-worst save percentage in wins (.924) and the fifth-worst goals against average (2.33).

Fearless’ Take…

Only once in 10 appearances against teams that qualified for the playoffs last season did Pheonix Copley allow more than three goals (he allowed seven against Nashville in a 7-2 loss on January 15th).  He was 4-4-2 against playoff eligible teams with a 2.79 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.

Cheerless’ Take…

He seemed to be a bit more of a passenger against weaker teams.  Copley was 12-3-1 (one no decision) in games against teams not qualifying for the playoffs, but his goals against average (2.98) and save percentage (.905) were not especially impressive.

Potential Milestones:
  • Top-20 in career wins as a Capitals goaltender (16; he needs five to tie Dave Parro and Rick Tabaracci for 20th place (21)).
  • 1,000 shots faced as a Capital goaltender (776; he needs 224)
  • 1,000 saves as a Capital goaltender (702; he needs 298)

The Big Question… Is Pheonix Copley the backup goaltender, or is he keeping the seat warm for Ilya Samsonov?

Draft pedigree might mean less for goaltenders than for any position on the ice.  Perhaps the most extreme example of this phenomenon is Dominik Hasek, who was a 10th round draft pick (199th overall) in the 1983 Entry Draft.  He had a nice career.  Ilya Samsonov is not Dominik Hasek, but he is the highest goaltender draft pick in Capitals history (22nd overall in 2015) with the exception of Olaf Kolzig (19th overall in 1989), and he is perhaps the most well thought of prospect in the Capitals system.  He is seen by many as the number one goaltender in waiting.

However, Samsonov has yet to dress for an NHL regular season game, and he has only 37 regular season and five postseason games of experience in the AHL.  It would be risk of a high order for the Caps to install Samsonov as the backup to Braden Holtby, given that profile.  On the other hand, Copley has NHL experience.  Not a lot, mind you (29 regular season games).  But he did show promise as a reliable backup with a couple of impressive streaks last season, a 15-game run in which he allowed more than three goals only once and more than two goals only five times, and a six-game winning streak late in the season in which his goals against average was a very good 2.61.

As with almost everything Capitals in the preseason, salary cap issue have to be considered.  Copley is under contract at an annual cap hit of $1.1 million for the next three seasons.  Samsonov’s cap hit is smaller at $925,000 for each of the next two seasons, and while the difference is not great, the Caps are close enough to the cap to make every dollar something to scrutinize.  There is also the matter of the expansion draft to populate the new Seattle franchise lurking.  But for the time being, the Caps are faced with the matter of how to juggle goaltending time behind Braden Holtby, balancing the need to keep Copley sharp with the desire to give Samsonov (and, perhaps, Vitek Vanecek) a taste of NHL action.

In the end…

Pheonix Copley might not be the goaltender of the future for the Capitals, but it would be quick to conclude that he could not fill the backup role adequately for this team.  Last year was, after all, his first full NHL season.  More consistency might be something to look for, and perhaps relying less on run-support for wins.  But whatever shortcomings Copley has, they are, by and large, the sorts of things that can improve with experience.  

Caps fans were spoiled for a few seasons with Philipp Grubauer manning the backup spot as perhaps the best in that role in the NHL for much of that tenure.  Copley might never get to that level of performance, but if he can keep the Caps competitive on nights Braden Holtby gets a break, he can play the vital role of helping to keep the number one netminder fresh while giving the Caps a chance to give Ilya Samsonov a number one goalie’s workload in Hershey in anticipation of that day when it might be his turn to take over the reins of the number one spot.  In that regard, Copley’s importance to this team this season as Braden Hotlby’s partner should not be underestimated or taken for granted.  It could mean the Caps avoiding golf and the fresh air a bit longer than they did last season.

Projection: 19 games, 10-6-1, 2.88, .906

Photo: Nick Wass/AP Photo

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Jonas Siegenthaler

Jonas Siegenthaler

“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place, and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds, to show you what is possible.”
-- Terrence Mann (“Field of Dreams”)

It happens, if not often, than with some regularity.  A player is injured, creating a hole in the lineup that must be filled.  Sometimes, that sort of thing mushrooms, and a team is forced to make moves it was not anticipating having to make.  Such was the case in November 2019 for the Washington Capitals among the defensive squad.  Brooks Orpik was on the shelf with what eventually be diagnosed as a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.  Then, John Carlson was knocked out of the lineup with a lower body injury.  The club responded to the misfortune by recalling from the Hershey Bears Aaron Ness, who had already appeared in 18 games over three seasons with the Caps, and Jonas Siegenthaler, who in his third season with the Bears but who had not yet had a chance with the parent club.

It was Siegenthaler who got the call, making his NHL debut on November 9th in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.  It would be the first of 26 games for which Siegenthaler dressed in his first NHL season, and it was a season that cleaved into two parts.  The first from that debut on November 9th through December 29th covered 12 games.  Siegenthaler did not make a huge impression at the offensive end of the ice, recording three assists, but his plus-6 was third-best on the team despite playing fewer games than all of the eight defensemen who dressed over the period except Tyler Lewington (two games) and fewer minutes per game (13:43) than all but Christian Djoos (13:06).  In the 12 games in which he appeared, the Caps went 9-3-0.

However, starting with a New Year’s Eve game against the Nashville Predators, Siegenthaler dressed for 14 games over the remainder of the season, going 0-1-1, even.  His ice time was up over this period (14:32 per game), but the team’s record fell to 5-6-3 over those 14 games.

Odd Siegenthaler Fact…

Jonas Siegenthaler was one of two Capitals defensemen to record seven blocked shots in a game last season.  He did so in a 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators last January 15th.  Matt Niskanen was the other Capital to block seven shots in a game, turning that trick twice last season, both times in victories (against Chicago on November 21st and against Montreal on April 4th).

Bonus Odd Siegenthaler Fact…

Jonas Siegenthaler is the only rookie defenseman for the Caps since 2005-2006 to record at least 25 hits (31) and at least 40 blocked shots (44), and do it in fewer than 30 games (26).

Fearless’ Take…

The 2015 Entry Draft was a defense-heavy draft with 74 defensemen taken among the 211 picks.  Jonas Siegenthaler was the 19th defenseman taken in that draft, and he is generally on track in a manner consistent with his draft placement.  He is 18th in his draft class in games played (26), 31 of the 74 members of his class having appeared in at least one NHL game.  He is tied for 20th in his class in points (four, with 124th overall pick Ethan Bear).  His plus-6 rating is tied for eighth with 26th overall pick Noah Juulsen.

Cheerless’ Take…

Jonas Siegenthaler is not what one would think of as an offensive defenseman; he was 9-11-20 in 122 career games in Hershey with the Bears, and he never had more than three goals or 11 points in any of his four seasons in Swiss hockey.  But what offense he did display dried up late.  He had one point in his last 14 games of the regular season and did not record a point in any of the four postseason games in which he played.  He did not record a goal, perhaps a product of his lack of inclination or ability to get pucks to the net.  He had only six shots on goal over his last 14 regular season games, half of those in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in March, and he had three shots on goal in his four postseason games, all of them in the Caps’ double overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that ended their season.

Potential Milestones:
  • 100 career NHL games played (26; he needs 74)

The Big Question… Is Jonas Siegenthaler a keeper in 2019-2020, or does he need more seasoning?

Jonas Siegenthaler turned 22 years old in May.  In 44 seasons, 32 defensemen have appeared in more games by their 22nd birthday than Siegenthaler (only nine since 2005-2006).  It’s not a small number, but it is not an especially large club, either.  The Capitals, assuming all are healthy, seem set among the first five defensive positions with John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Dmitry Orlov, Radko Gudas, and Nick Jensen.  It is that sixth position where the competition continues in training camp with Siegenthaler in the mix with Christian Djoos and, as dark horse candidates, Lucas Johansen, Tyler Lewington, and Martin Fehervary.  Even if the competition comes down to Siegenthaler and Djoos, Siegenthaler has the advantage of playing under a waiver-exempt entry level contract.  He could be sent to the Bears to get more playing time.

On the other hand, the Caps are in a salary cap bind, and moving a defenseman is a possibility to solve that problem.  Although lineups will not be set for a bit longer, Siegenthaler would seem to have, based on how last season wrapped up, an inside track to a regular spot in the lineup.  But that lineup card might be written in pencil for a little while. 

In the end…

Jonas Siegenthaler’s progress has been steady, even perhaps a bit more rapid than expected.  After 68 games over two seasons of Swiss-A level competition after he was drafted and another 122 games in the AHL over four seasons in Hershey of the AHL, he got a shot with the Caps and advantage of it.

However, Siegenthaler’s rise through the Caps system does beg an uncomfortable question.  Is his progress a function of his potential as a regular NHL’er, or is it the product of a thin prospect pool at the position?  Last year at this time, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos were looked at as potential partners on the third defensive pair.  Bowey was not the answer and was traded for a more veteran blueliner in Nick Jensen.  Djoos suffered the double whammy of a slow start to the 2018-2019 season and injury that interrupted whatever progress he was making.

Siegenthaler took advantage of a series of favorable circumstances, including his own solid play in Hershey last season, to put himself in a position to take up a regular spot in the Capitals’ lineup.  Whether he can take a firmer grasp on that opportunity is one of the open questions for the Capitals as training camp winds down, and the regular season approaches.

Projection: 65 games, 3-7-10, plus-5

Photo: Patrick McDermott / NHLI via Getty Images

Monday, September 23, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”
-- Marcus Aurelius

Seven players in the NHL have played in each and every one of the 328 games of the regular seasons schedule over the last four seasons.  The list includes some of the most well-known names in the league.  The list also includes Washington Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov.  Orlov’s streak of consecutive seasons having played in every game might be the most remarkable, given that but for three games played with the Hershey Bears, he missed the entire 2014-2015 season to injury. 

With his durability has come a measure of consistency.  Over those four seasons he hovered around the 30 point mark, from a low of 29 in 2015-2016 and last season, to a high of 33 in 2016-2017, averaging 30.5 points per season.  And even within that is a nested consistency.  His assist totals have ranged from 21 to 27 over that span

Orlov got to that consistent place last season, but he did so inconsistently.  He started slowly (two points in his first 16 games) and finished slowly (two points in his last nine games), and even in between he was up and down with big point months in November (2-6-8) and March (0-9-9), but less productive in the middle (1-10-11 in 39 games over December, January, and February).  The three goals he had for the season tied a career low for a full season (not counting the 2012-2013 season in which he appeared in only five games).

Last season also continued a disturbing trend with Orlov.  His personal shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 continued to erode.  In 2015-2016 it was 53.34 percent and rose to 54.27 percent the following season.  However, in the last two seasons it fell under 50 percent, to 49.54 percent in 2017-2018 and to 48.52 percent last season, although that was still fourth among the nine Caps defensemen to appear in at least 20 games.

Odd Orlov Fact…

Dmitry Orlov did not record a goal on home ice last season.  He has gone 52 straight regular season games on home ice without a goal, dating back to February 11, 2018.  He has not scored a goal in a win on home ice since November 18, 2017, the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Bonus Odd Orlov Fact…

The Caps have lost the last eight games in which Orlov skated at least 25 minutes (0-6-2).  Odd, because the Caps were 5-1-2 in the first eight games in which Orlov skated at least 25 minutes.

Extra Bonus Odd Orlov Fact…

The Caps have won 100 games in which Dmitry Orlov has at least one point over his career (100-27-8).

Fearless’ Take…

Dmitry Orlov is in the middle of what might be his most productive years as an NHL player.  He was the 20th defenseman taken in the 2009 draft, and he has outperformed that selection to date.  For example, he is:
  • 10th in games played among defensemen in his draft class (447)
  • Tied for 10th in career goals (33, with Dmitry Kulikov)
  • 9th in career assists (120)
  • 9th in career points (153)
  • 5th in career plus-minus (plus-56)

And, it is his consistency that stands out.  Even though he has played only six full seasons as a Capital, Orlov goes into this season with the chance to tie Matt Niskanen for eighth place in team history among defensemen with five seasons of 25 or more points, and those five seasons will have come in succession.

Cheerless’ Take…

What’s up with the shots on goal?  Orlov had 26 games last season in which he recorded two or more shots on goal, and the Caps were 7-14-5.  They were 20-5-1 in the 26 games in which he did not record a shot on goal, and still, Orlov was a combined minus-7 in those games.

Potential Milestones:
  • 500 career NHL games played (447; he needs 53)
  • 200 career points (153; he needs 47)
  • 200 career penalty minutes (169; he needs 31)
  • 10,000 career minutes played (8,732; he needs 1,268)
  • Top-10 all time in goals scored by a Capitals defenseman (33; he needs nine to tie Robert Picard)
  • Top-10 all time in points by a Capitals defenseman (153; he needs 23 to tie Al Iafrate (176))
  • Top-10 all time in game-winning goals scored by a Capitals defenseman (six; he needs one to tie Matt Niskanen and Robert Picard (seven))

The Big Question… Will Dmitry Orlov find happiness with a new partner?

Dmitry Orlov has those four straight years of playing all 82 regular season games.  Most of that time was spent paired with Matt Niskanen.  Now, Niskanen is in Philadelphia skating with the Flyers, and Orlov will have a new regular partner…eventually.  When you look at the Caps’ defense, you have John Carlson entering his 11th season, Orlov entering his eighth season, and after that a collection of defensemen who will be starting their third (Christian Djoos) or fewer full season (Jonas Siegenthaler, Michal Kempny, Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas) with the team.  The first impression might be that Carlson and Kempny will be the top pair, with Orlov and either Gudas or Jensen on his right side (both being right-handed shots).

Getting comfortable with a new partner might be a bit of a distraction for a player who, while maintaining his consistency in recording points last season, had a devil of a time finding the back of the net.  Of 102 defensemen recording at least 100 shots on goal last season, Orlov ranked 85th in shooting percentage (3.0 percent on 3-for-101 shooting).  He has had an odd pattern of efficient and inefficient shooting over the past five seasons, starting with a 5.1 percent mark in 2013-2014, followed by, in order, 8.9, 4.8, 8.0, and 3.0 percent last season.  Last season was more unusual in that his shots on goal were off by almost 20 percent, to 101 after consecutive seasons of 125 shots on goal.  Orlov will be looking to rebound offensively from a somewhat down season, but he will be doing it skating next to a new partner, too. 

In the end…

It is an odd situation for Orlov.  While he is second in seasons and games played with the club among current defensemen, he is a year younger than Gudas, Jensen, and Kempny.  He turned only 28 years old in July, but only Brent Burns has dressed for more regular and postseason games (383) over the last four seasons than Orlov (380).  He has a level of experience that should prepare him for challenges, but the uncertainty is whether his drop-off last season, both in his goal scoring and his possession numbers, is a reflection of regression in his own play or fallout from the struggles his frequent partner Matt Niskanen suffered.  Or, was it “partner fatigue” for both of them?

Orlov is a fine second-pair defenseman who plays at a consistent level, at least in the offensive end of the ice.  He seems to have outgrown frequently trying for the highlight hit in the defensive end or open ice, usually of the hip check variety, that can leave his partner out to dry if missed.  It is a sign of the maturity in his game.  This season it remains to be seen if he can regain that performance edge in the offensive end of the ice that seemed lacking last season.

Projection: 80 games, 9-27-36, plus-4

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images North America

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Michal Kempny

Michal Kempny

“The way to resumption is to resume.”
-- Salmon P. Chase

It was all coming together.  Michal Kempny was traded from the Chicago Blackhawks, where he seemed buried on the depth chart, to the Washington Capitals, where his insertion into the defenseman mix settled what was a troubled matter for much of the 2017-2018 season.  With the pieces in place after Kempny’s arrival, the Capitals marched through the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup.  Kempny’s numbers did not jump off the page, but they were solid. 

Those numbers got better in the 2018-2019 season for Kempny.  He started the season slowly with just one point in his first nine games and two points over his first 16 contests.  But starting with a four-game points streak in late November, Kempny went 6-17-23, plus-20, over his next 55 games.  And then, it blew up.  Kempny suffered a hamstring injury in an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 20th that would require surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation.  His season was over, and the depth on defense that had been cultivated by the Caps’ front office over the preceding 13 months was reduced once more.  One could not help but think it was an important factor in the Caps’ first round playoff loss to Carolina.

Kempny’s presence in the lineup, particularly in his 55-game run of good numbers, mattered.  Over that span the Caps were 34-16-5, the third best record in the league over that span, trailing only Tampa Bay (43-8-3) and Calgary (34-13-6).  The team’s possession numbers, while not especially impressive (49.63 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5), were respectable, ranked 14th over that period, compared to their 18th-ranked numbers overall for the season (49.04 percent).

Odd Kempny Fact…

If you want to know how complicated NHL transaction management can be, consider Michal Kempny and how he came to be in Washington, and what transpired after.  It started with a third-round draft pick in the 2018 entry draft.  It was the property of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but…
  • The Maple Leafs had to compensate the New Jersey Devils for signing Lou Lamoriello as general manager.  The compensation was a third round draft pick in either the 2016, 2017 or 2018 NHL Entry Draft.  
  • The Devils did not exercise the pick in 2016 or 2017 and traded the 2018 pick to the Capitals, along with a second round pick in the 2018 Entry Draft, for Marcus Johansson.
  • The Caps included the 2018 third round pick…sort of…in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought Michal Kempny to Washington.  The pick was conditional, the Blackhawks receiving the higher of Washington's own third-round pick or that third-round pick that Toronto originally owned and that was obtained from New Jersey.
  • When Toronto was eliminated from the 2018 playoffs in April 2008, the provision granting the Blackhawks the original Toronto pick was activated.
  • In June 2018, Chicago traded the pick to the Arizona Coyotes along with a fifth-round pick (that one originally held by the Columbus Blue Jackets…another story) for a third round pick (originally held by Calgary…still another story)
  • Arizona flipped the third round pick to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a fourth and a fifth round pick in the 2018 draft.
  • San Jose selected center Linus Karlsson with the pick.  He has yet to play a game in North America.

So…a third round pick takes a journey from Toronto to New Jersey to Washington to Chicago to Arizona to San Jose.  Michal Kempny, on the other hand, found a home.

Bonus Odd Kempny Fact…

In 2018-2019, Michal Kempny scored more goals (six), recorded more assists (19), posted more points (25), put up a better plus-minus (plus-24) in 71 games than he had over his 103 previous games in the NHL (5-13-18, plus-15).

Fearless’ Take…

Numbers inform, but results count.  That said, in a season and change with the Capitals, the team is 73-37-7 in regular season and playoff games with Michal Kempny in the lineup, 9-8-1 when he is absent.   Part of it is his offensive contributions; the Caps are 25-8-2, regular and postseason, when he posted a point.  However, they are also a respectable 48-29-5 in games in which he did not record a point.  His individual possession numbers have been good since he arrived (50.09 percent shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5 in the regular season), but not extraordinary; they are third among Caps defensemen playing in at least 50 games since he came to the club last season.  Whatever his own numbers, he does seem to have had a reverse-ripple effect on the defense.  His arrival allowed other pairs to settle, becoming more consistent, more predictable, and more consistent.

Cheerless’ Take…

Last season was the first one in a three-year NHL career, that started at age 26 mind you, in which Michal Kempny skated more than 55 games.  Yes, it was a fine season until he got hurt.  But now, we’re left with unknowns.  Can he come back 100 percent from surgery on his hamstring.  Will he be able to do so at the start of the season?  If the answer to either of the first two questions are “yes,” will last year prove to be an indicator of his expected level of performance, or was it an outlier, a spike, a one-off from which he will descend into a more disappointing profile?

Potential Milestones:
  • 200 career NHL games played (174; he needs 26)
  • 100 games played as a Capital (93; he needs seven)
  • 100 penalty minutes as a Capital (74; he needs 26)
  • Top-50 among defensemen in games played as a Capital (93; he needs 27 to tie Jason Doig (120))
  • Top-50 among defensemen in points as a Capital (28; he needs two to tie Bryan Watson (30))

The Big Question… Was Michal Kempny’s 2018-2019 level of production a floor or a ceiling?

After a slow start last season, Michal Kempny found himself on a pace to hit the 30 point mark from the blue line for the Caps before his season was cut short by injury.  Had he done so, he would have been only the sixth defenseman to reach 30 points for the Caps since the 2005-2006 season.  Little in Kempny’s history would indicate such a level of production as a common occurrence.  He totaled only 15 points in 81 games with the Chicago Blackhawks.  In his one season in the KHL, with Omsk Avangard in 2015-2016, he was 5-16-21 in 59 games.  He did not hit the 30-point mark in five seasons with Brno Kometa in the Czech Republic, although scoring standards in Europe might be somewhat different than in North America.

Perhaps it is a case of circumstance, a player finding a team, a scheme, and a partner (primarily John Carlson) that allows otherwise hidden parts of his game to emerge and flourish.  The encouraging part about pondering this question is that last year was an extension of Kempny’s performance at the end of the 2017-2018 season, especially late and in the playoffs in 2018.  Sometimes, a change of scenery does wonders for a player stuck in the organizational mud with another franchise. 

In the end…

Back when there were “record stores,” there were clearance bins with old vinyl discs that weren’t in demand by artists few heard of.  But every once in a while, a gem could be found in the clearance bin.  Maybe not a classic, but something that just wasn’t played often enough to reach the level of appreciation it deserved.  Such might be the case with Michal Kempny who, in two seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, was dead last in average ice time (15:06 per game) among the 16 defensemen to dress for the team over those two years.  That he would be let go for a conditional third round draft pick was sufficient indication that he was not really ever in the club’s plans.  Their loss.

Kempny has been, so far, the sort of defenseman whose numbers might be replaceable, to a point, but who’s intangible ability to settle the rest of the defensive squad with his presence in the lineup has been one of the most important, and perhaps underrated elements of the Caps’ success over the last 100 regular season games.  His absence in the playoffs last spring just seem to underline that thought.  If he can pick up where he left off, the Caps might be able to resume deep playoff runs.

Projection: 70 games, 7-20-27, plus-18

Photo: Will Newton/Getty Images North America

Friday, September 20, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen

“There is no better high than discovery.”
-- E. O. Wilson

When the Washington Capitals traded defenseman Madison Bowey and a fifth-round draft pick to the Detroit Red Wings last February for defenseman Nick Jensen, the hope was that lightning was striking twice, that the Caps would benefit from a little-known, if perhaps underappreciated player that could play an important part in a deep playoff run, just as they did with defenseman Michal Kempny in 2017-2018.

The move certain had more than a passing resemblance to the deal that brought Kempny to the Caps from the Chicago Blackhawks a year earlier, at least in terms of results on the ice.  In 20 games with the Caps to close the regular season, Jensen averaged 16 minutes of ice time per game, and while he posted modest offensive numbers (0-5-5, plus-3), the team was 14-5-1 in those 20 games, good enough to hold off the New York Islanders to finish atop the Metropolitan Division for the fourth consecutive season.

But all was not as good as it seemed.  Jensen’s acquisition became something of after the fact triage for the blue line rather than addition of a supplemental piece when Kempny went down to injury.  Including the game in which Kempny was injured, a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on March 20th, the Caps went 5-3-1 in nine games to end the regular season.  And, while Jensen did have the reputation of being an earnest defender and an adept puck mover, his lack of offense, compared to that of Kempny, was telling in the postseason.  He was on the ice for only four goals against in the series (only Jonas Siegenthaler was on ice for fewer – three – in four games played), but he did not record a point in the seven-game loss to the Carolina Hurricanes and was minus-2 overall.

Odd Jensen Fact…

With all the players from Minnesota to have reached the NHL (271), Nick Jensen is the only one to have done so having been born in Rogers.

Bonus Odd Jensen Fact…

If you like durability, Nick Jensen will be one of three Capitals defensemen to have appeared in at last 160 games over the past two seasons.  He has 161 games; John Carlson has 162, and Dmitry Orlov has 164.

Fearless’ Take…

Nick Jensen is something of an odd duck in the NHL.  On the one hand, he is a late bloomer.  While he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 Entry Draft by Detroit in 2009, he did not see his first NHL action until he was past his 26th birthday, in December 2016. On the other hand, he hasn’t “bloomed” in the obvious ways.  He is the only defenseman in the last decade to log his first three seasons in the NHL between the ages of 26 and 30 and record fewer than 50 points in doing it. What this means, or what fans hope, is that it is in the less obvious aspects of his game where his appeal is evident.  He has had good possession numbers with a bad team (50.89 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 with Detroit in 190 games) and had a rather clean sheet in his own end when on ice (178 total goals against, on ice, third fewest among seven Red Wing defensemen playing at least 100 games over his tenure there).  And, his modest offensive numbers with the Caps at the end of last season might be the performance outlier.  Jensen was 6-37-43 in 190 games in Detroit, a 3-16-19 pace per 82 games.  It is not eye-popping, but it is roughly the per-82 game output of Karl Alzner over his career as a Capital (3-14-17).

Cheerless’ Take…

Kempny’s absence at the end of the regular season provided a useful, if unwelcome basis for comparison.  The late addition of Kempny in 2017-2018 ended up becoming something of the last missing piece the Caps needed for success.  His offense, especially in the postseason, while not especially impressive overall, had a timely quality to it.  And, the Caps were 31-15-0 in games in which he played to finish the regular season and through the playoffs.  On the other hand, Jensen, who essentially replaced Kempny in the “missing piece” role when Kempny went down, did not have as much of an impact.  The Caps were 17-9-1 in the games Jensen played – regular season and playoffs – and he did not record a point in the postseason in the opening round loss.

Potential Milestones:
  • 100 games as a Capital (20; he need 80)

The Big Question… Will skating for a better team reveal elements of his game we have not yet seen from Nick Jensen?

It is hard to impress with a struggling or rebuilding team, and the Detroit Red Wings were both in Nick Jensen’s time there.  One wonders if skating with better talent around him will allow him to free up other aspects of his game.  There were times at the end of last season he did not look comfortable in the Caps’ scheme, but part of that might have been a case of being spoiled by how well Michal Kempny fit in a year earlier under similar circumstances.  With the 20 regular season and seven playoff games under his belt, not to mention the security and stability a four-year/$10 million contract provides, Jensen might not have the same burdens under which he labored at the end of last season.

On the other hand, Jensen turns 29 on September 21st.  And that raises the question of whether with Jensen, what you see is what you get.  No bad, mind you, but at age 29, is there an additional upside to be revealed here?  In the ideal scenario, he would open the season on the third defensive pairing, perhaps alongside Christian Djoos or Jonas Siegenthaler on the left side.  It would result in a lighter burden than he had to carry in Detroit (almost 21 minutes per game last season)

In the end…

Stars have to do what stars do for a team to be successful, and the Capitals are no exception.  But the difference between successful teams and also-rans, even ones with superior talents on the roster (Edmonton comes to mind) are the nuts-and-bolts guys who provide steady, dependable play on a night to night basis.  Nick Jensen is not likely to wow anyone with electric offensive displays, but if he plays with consistency and discipline – moving the puck, playing the angles, keeping opponents invisible on the ice – his not being noticed on a night to night basis could be an important ingredient to whatever success the Capitals enjoy this season.  We are left to discover just what sort of player Jensen will be.

Projection: 76 games, 2-14-16, plus-4

Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images North America

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Radko Gudas

Radko Gudas

“The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.”
-- Alfred Hitchcock

If a hockey game is a drama played out in three acts 82 times a season, Radko Gudas seems to have been cast as a villain in the production.  Not that he hasn’t played the role successfully.  Since he came into the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012-2013 season, only thre defensemen have accumulated more penalty minutes than Gudas (579) – Dustin Byfuglien (661), Dion Phaneuf (609), and Mark Borowiecki (587).  He and Erik Gudbranson are the only defensemen over that period to have been charged with two match penalties.  Only Byfuglien has been hit with more misconduct penalties (12) than Gudas (eight), and only Erik Johnson can match the four game misconducts he earned over those seven seasons.  He has been suspended by the league four times for a total of 21 games.

The odd thing about Gudas’ game, though, he how much more refined it has become with time.  Of those 579 penalty minutes, 268 of them came in two seasons – 2013-2014 with Tamp Bay (152) and 2015-2016 with Philadelphia (116), both of which were his first full seasons with those respective teams, perhaps signaling a desire to make a point, or at least an impression.  Since that 2015-2016 season with the Flyers, though, Gudas’ penalty minute totals have been in continuous decline – 93 minutes in 67 games (1.39 per game) in 2016-2017, 83 minutes in 2017-2018 (1.19), and 63 in 77 games last season (0.82).

Time did play a part in his performance with the Flyers last year in another way.  Philadelphia was 6-5-0 in games in which Gudas skated more than 20 minutes, so you might expect they were better when he had a light ice time load.  That was not the case.  The Flyers were 11-13-3 in the 27 games in which he skated less than 17 minutes.

Odd Gudas Fact…

Despite recording a game-winning goal in each of his first four NHL seasons, four out of a total of nine goals scored, he does not have a game-winner in any of his last three seasons out of a total of 12 goals scored.

Bonus Odd Gudas Fact…

In 77 games played for the Flyers last season, Gudas was not credited with a hit in only four of them.

Fearless’ Take…

For a player with a reputation as a bruiser, Radko Gudas’ numbers other than those involving penalties and hits and the like are quite respectable.  He is not a big producer on offense, but he was one of five defensemen with 20 or more points for the Flyers last season (4-16-20).  His plus-6 rating was tops among Flyer defenseman and the only “plus” defenseman among the six who appeared in at least 30 games.  His individual shot attempts-for percentages were decent as well.  He was third among Flyer defensemen in overall SAT percentage (49.60 percent; minimum: 30 games) and third in tied situations (49.12 percent).  Last year was the first in his last five seasons (four with Philadelphia, one with Tampa Bay) that he finished under 50 percent in the overall category.

Cheerless’ Take…

Can’t say Gudas being engaged in the offensive end was a big deal.  The Flyers were 10-10-1 in games in which he had three or more shots on goal last season.  Then again, at the other end they were 5-7-3 in the 15 games in which he didn’t record a shot on goal.  Did being physical matter?   Well, to a point.  The Flyers were 10-2-2 in games in which Gudas was credited with five hits, but with more than five hits they were 4-4-1.  Paying a price?  In 23 games in which he had three or more blocked shots, the Flyers were 7-10-6.  One had the feeling that the less one noticed Gudas, statistically, the better the team did.

Potential Milestones:
  • 100 career assists (81; he needs 19)
  • Top-20 all time in points by a defenseman born in Czech Republic (105; he needs 30 to tie Jan Hejda (135))
  • Top-20 all time in goals by a defenseman born in Czech Republic (24; he needs one to tie Hejda (25)
  • Top-10 all time in penalty minutes by a defenseman born in Czech Republic (579; he needs 40 to tie Roman Polak (619))

The Big Question… Will the view that Radko Gudas is an improvement on Matt Niskanen be reflected on the ice?

Turnover is a regular feature of life in the NHL.  However, there are those instances in which a certain familiarity and culture takes root with a club.  In that respect, this is a big season for the Capitals and Radko Gudas.  The player for whom he was traded, Matt Niskanen, played for five seasons in Washington.  He was one of three defensemen who played for the club in each of those five seasons.  He and Brooks Orpik (retired) have departed, leaving John Carlson as the only member of that cohort left.

Niskanen was plagued by declining production over his last three seasons, while Gudas was displaying a consistency for the Flyers (albeit at a lower offensive level than Niskanen).  It seems likely  that Gudas will step into the spot alongside Dmitry Orlov on the second pair vacated by Niskanen.  An open question with that pair is whether any residual lack of discipline in Gudas game will expose Orlov’s game in ways it was not with Niskanen as his partner. 

The analysts seem to think Gudas is a clear improvement at both ends of the ice.  That the Caps were able to swing a deal for Gudas while the Flyers retained a substantial portion of his salary, leaving the Caps with half the cap hit in Gudas ($1.345 million) than Philadelphia has in Niskanen ($5.75 million, according to, is a managerial plus.  But now, the task falls to Todd Reirden and the rest of the coaching staff to make sure the new piece is at least as good a fit as Niskanen was in Washington, even if that fit was a bit rough the last couple of years.

In the end…

Radko Gudas might be that player for whom the analyticals inform in a unique way.  Observationally, and for much of his career statistically, he has the profile of an edgy player who leans heavily on the physical game.  It has not been all that long since he was pronounced the NHL’s dirtiest player by one commentator.  But the folks who delve more deeply into a player’s underlying numbers paint a portrait of a defenseman who is underrated at both ends of the ice.  Gudas has been successful, individually, when perceived as a villain, but his teams have not been quite so successful.  He joins a contender with an opportunity to demonstrate that he can be the “reformed” villain who, while perhaps not quite entirely having been civilized, demonstrates those talents at both ends of the ice the analysts respect.

Projection: 75 games, 5-14-19, plus-3

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Christian Djoos

Christian Djoos

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

Appearances can be deceiving.  Yogi Berra was the malapropist of his time, a gusher of odd quotes over a long career in sports that have endured over time.  They are viewed as funny in a quirky way, but they make sense upon further inspection, too.  And this is where you, dear reader, ask, “what does this have to do with Christian Djoos?”  Fair enough.  At first blush, there seems little to connect a deceased Hall of Fame baseball player from St. Louis with a 25 year old hockey defenseman from Gothenburg, Sweden.  That is, until you think, as Yogi did, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Christian Djoos rose steadily, if unspectacularly through the Washington Capitals system after being taken in the seventh round of the 2012 entry draft (195th overall).  He worked his way from Sweden to Hershey in the AHL and, finally, to the Caps as a rookie in 2017-2018.  He appeared in 63 games, posting a scoring line of 3-11-14, plus-13.  Only one rookie defenseman had more goals, more points, and a better plus-minus than Djoos (Charlie McAvoy went 7-25-32, plus-20, with the Boston Bruins).  Djoos went on to dress for 22 postseason games for the Caps on their way to the Stanley Cup.  Since 2005-2006, only one rookie defenseman dressed for more postseason games in a single season (Adam McQuaid dressed for 23 games in 2011 for Boston).  From that solid beginning, much was expected, or at least hoped for, when Djoos returned for his sophomore season.

It would be a disappointment.  Djoos dressed for only 45 games, going 1-9-10, plus-9, season interrupted with an injury in December that resulted in compartment syndrome, requiring surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation before returning to the lineup in February.  He dressed for only three postseason games, going without a point and with a minus-3 rating.  From a promising rookie season, he went to a sophomore season of equal parts misfortune and disappointment.  And, with the emergence of Jonas Siegnthaler on the third defensive pairing, it brought his future role with the club into question, a matter complicated by Washington’s difficult salary cap situation and Djoos’ salary cap hit of $1.25 million in what is the last year of his contract, after which he would be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent.  But again, as Yogi said, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Odd Djoos Fact…

Christian Djoos is a member of an odd club.  A seventh-round draft pick in 2012, he was one of 15 defensemen taken in that round among 30 picks.  He is one of five of those 15 picks to dress for an NHL game, and he is the career games-played leader among all 30 picks from that round (108).

Bonus Odd Djoos Fact…

Christian Djoos is one of 12 defensemen born in Sweden who finished their rookie season in the NHL with at least 50 games, at least ten points, and a plus-minus of plus-10 or better.  It is a rather impressive group.

Extra Bonus Odd Djoos Fact...

Christian Djoos is only the second defenseman drafted by the Caps born in Sweden who played for them.  Peter Andersson, a ninth-round draft pick of the Caps in 1980 (173rd overall), was born in Federtalve, Sweden.  Andersson played 160 games with the Caps over three seasons in the mid-1980’s.

Fearless’ Take…

Christian Djoos is not the biggest of defensemen at six-feet, 169 pounds, but he is of a sort that has flourished in this era of the NHL.  He is a superior stickhandler and passer, and he does have good instincts in the offensive end of the ice.  He does fit a certain recent pattern with this team as well.  Only six Capitals defensemen, Djoos among them, played fewer than 125 games over their first two seasons and had as good or better goals/points/plus-minus total than Djoos.  It is evidence of his solid development and his potential to improve.  He suffered a setback with injuries, but he has climbed this mountain before, fighting for playing time, and succeeded.  For him, in this case, it might be as Yogi put it… “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Cheerless’ Take…

Those setbacks have come at a price for Djoos.  Not only will he still have to make progress recovering from a serious injury, the blue line is getting crowded.  Not only has Jonas Siegenthaler drawn even (at least) with Djoos on the depth chart, Djoos has to contend with a prospect the team seems very high on (Martin Fehervary), another prospect that is being watched closely (Alexander Alexeyev), and players who have been putting their time in and paying their dues in Hershey (for example, Tyler Lewington).  In terms of depth, it’s like those establishments Yogi spoke of when he said, “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.”  The position might be too crowded, and given the Caps’ salary situation, might have enough depth where Djoos’ cap hit might be looked at for movement elsewhere.

Potential Milestones:
  • Top-50 in franchise history in games played by a defenseman (108; he needs 12 to tie Jason Doig for 50th place)
  • Top-50 in franchise history in career points as a Capital defenseman (24; he needs six to tie Bryan Watson for 50th place)

The Big Question… Can Christian Djoos resume his career development arc as a Capital?

This is really two questions: can he put the setback behind him and resume the progress he showed as a rookie two seasons ago?   And, given the Caps’ salary cap situation, can he do it here?  The first worrisome part in considering these questions is the start he had to last season leading up to his injury.  In 28 games, Djoos was 0-4-4, although he was plus-6, which was third best at the time among Caps defensemen (Michal Kempny was plus-19, and John Carlson was plus-17).  On the other hand, his shooting dried up.  He had 18 shots in those 28 games, converting none of them.  Compare that to his having recorded 25 shots on goal (two goals) in his first 28 games in his rookie season in 2017-2018.  And it was not as if he was getting significantly less ice time – 13:13 a game in his first 28 games last season compared with 13:53 per game in his first 28 games the previous season.  He did go 1-5-6, plus-3, in 17 games after returning from injury with 15 shots on goal, an encouraging development.  But there is, perhaps, more uncertainty as to what Djoos’ performance ceiling is than might have been the case after his rookie season.  Or, as Yogi might put it, “the future ain’t what it used to be.”

There is also the matter of his contract and the Capitals salary cap situation.  The matter has become a bit more complicated with the suspension of Evgeny Kuznetsov and that action’s effect on the salary cap, but the team will still have to shed more than a million dollars to come into compliance with the upper salary limit.  Djoos’ cap hit of $1.25 million, significantly more than that of defensemen with whom he is competing  -- Jonas Siegenthaler ($714,166), Martin Fehervary ($805,833), and Alexander Alexeyev ($894,167; according to – is something the team might be inclined to explore for movement to get cap relief.  

In the end…

The matter of Christian Djoos bears watching, and not only for what he does on the ice in the preseason.  There are the defensemen against whom he is competing and the jigsaw puzzle of the salary cap that the Capitals’ front office must piece together.  It is one of the most intriguing stories of training camp, one that has an uncertain end.  It isn't over 'till it's over, but on the other hand, we’ll just have to be satisfied with how Yogi so succinctly put it… “you can observe a lot by just watching.”

Projection: 20 games, 2-3-5, plus-2

Photo: Geoff Burke/NHLI