“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
-- Theodore Roosevelt
When Nic Dowd signed a one-year/$650,000 contract last July 1st, he was joining his third team in seven months, having been traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Vancouver Canucks the previous December. He was also replacing, if not a legend, then one of the more loved players in team history in Jay Beagle, who himself was moving on to Vancouver as a free agent. That is a lot of stuff to deal with, even for a professional sports athlete. But it was a chance to join a contender coming off a Stanley Cup championship, a chance that only some players get to experience.
His season was equal parts predictable for a bottom six-forward and successful. The predictable part was that he put up modest numbers. He did establish a new career high in goals (eight) and tied his career high in points (22), both considerable improvements over his 2017-2018 season split between Los Angeles and Vancouver (3-1-4, minus-10), but he did it in 64 games, his season interrupted in parts with scratches for a game here, a couple of games there.
As one might expect, Dowd illustrated the benefits of secondary scoring. The Caps were 7-1-0 in the eight games in which he scored a goal, 16-2-1 in games in which he recorded a point. Even without scoring, engagement in the offensive end mattered, the Caps going 11-1-0 in games in which Dowd recorded at least two shots on goal. His time on ice reflected the benefits of being able to roll a full four lines. Washington was 21-7-0 in 28 games in which Dowd skated at least 10:44, 18-12-6 in the 36 games he played and skated less time. Those wins and losses by ice time were roughly similar to those of the player he replaced – Jay Beagle – who skated more than 13 minutes 33 times last season, the Caps with a 25-5-3 record in those games, while the Caps were 22-20-4 in games in which Beagle skated less than 13 minutes.
Fearless’ Take… Even with the intermittent scratches and absences, Dowd seemed to settle into his role and reach a comfort level as the season wore on. While he did play all ten games of his first ten-game segment, he played in only six of the next ten. He played in six of ten games in his fifth segment, five of ten in his sixth segment. It made for a performance progression by segments that was all over the place. He did dress for 20 of 22 games in his last two segments and went 3-4-7, plus 5, not bad production given his role.
Cheerless’ Take… The Caps relied on fourth line minutes less this season than last, and that can be seen in the even strength ice time per game of Dowd (8:38) versus Beagle’s last season (9:54). Beagle also averaged about a minute more in penalty killing time per game (2:31) than did Dowd (1:39). Beagle also averaged more than four more shifts per game (18.0) than did Dowd (13.5), although Dowd’s average time per shift (0:46) was higher than Beagle’s (0:42).
Odd Dowd Fact… Nic Dowd, born in Huntsville, Alabama, has played more NHL games combined than all the other players born in Alabama have played in the NHL. OK, it is 195 games, and there are only two other Alabama natives to dress in the NHL – Jared Ross (13 games) and Aud Tuten (39 games).
Game to Remember… December 14th at Carolina
As November ended and December began, Nic Dowd found himself on a hot streak. In nine games from November 23rd through December 11th, he was 3-4-7, plus-5, and the Caps were the beneficiaries, going 7-2-0 in that stretch. The game in Carolina would be a challenge, though, and the Hurricanes put the Caps in a hole early with a Sebastian Aho goal just 47 seconds into the game. The Caps tied it three minutes later on an Alex Ovechkin goal, Dowd providing the secondary assist. However, Carolina would score three goals over the next 23 minutes to take a 4-1 lead in the second period.
The Caps got one back on a Tom Wilson goal 12 minutes into the period, and late in the period the Caps tied the game on goals by Ovechkin and Travis Boyd, Dowd providing assists on both. The Caps and Hurricanes exchanged power play goals in the third period before skating a scoreless overtime. The trick shot competition went six rounds before Jakub Vrana won it for the Caps, 6-5. For Dowd, it was a three-assist night, the first three-point night of his career.
Game to Forget… December 19th vs. Pittsburgh
The Caps carried a five-game winning streak into their match-up with the Penguins on December 19th. The teams had already played twice, splitting a pair of one-goal decisions, Pittsburgh’s win coming in overtime. All of the scoring came in the second period of the contest, the Caps opening with a Lars Eller goal and the Pens tying and taking a lead on goals by Sidney Crosby and Brian Rust. It was a period in which Dowd skated only two shifts and 1:05 in ice time. As the Caps looked for the equalizer in the third period, Dowd got barely more ice exposure, skating three shifts and 2:13 in ice time, none of it in the last eight minutes. The Caps did not get that game-tying goal, dropping a 2-1 decision and ending their winning streak at five games. Dowd’s night was brief and uneventful. In nine shifts (a team low), he skated 6:49 (only 5:15 of it at even strength) with one shot attempt (a missed shot) and three faceoffs.
Nic Dowd signed a three-year extension that carries a $750,000 annual cap hit that will begin running next season. That signing ensures that the Caps, barring any other personnel moves, will be set down the middle on all four lines for the 2019-2020 season. For Dowd it is the sort of contract stability he had not known in his brief career, having signed mostly one-year deals (the exception, a two-year deal with Los Angeles that expired before he signed his one year contract with the Caps last summer). Dowd presents a bit of an odd profile. Although he turns 29 years old later this month, he has fewer than 200 games of regular season experience on his resume over four NHL seasons. He is a typical fourth liner – 10-12 minutes of ice time per game, 20 point or so ceiling, decent on faceoffs (51.9 percent this season with the Caps), can kill penalties (1:39 per game), can make use of grittership skills (fourth among Capital forwards in hits, fifth in blocked shots, positive takeaway-to-giveaway ratio). He is not, nor is he expected to be a difference-maker, but he can be the sort of player that provides some glue among the bottom six forwards to keep that area from being a headache.
In the end…
Nic Dowd might be a late bloomer. A seventh round draft pick (198th overall in 2009 and the lowest pick of that draft to appear in more than two games), he did not get into his first NHL action until he was two months shy of his 26th birthday. But he has topped 20 points in two of his last three seasons, the exception being the year (2017-2018) he split between Los Angeles and Vancouver. One thing that stands out in his season with the Caps is filling the role of a player who plays simply, keeps things honest, and is not a liability in the defensive end. That is the player the Caps had in 2018-2019 and hope they have for three years to come.
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America