“True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.”
-- Saint Francis de Sales
Progress is measured in various ways. In pro team sports it might be how a player makes developmental progress through a team system, or it might be, in the case of hockey, how goal or point totals might increase over time. For winger Garnet Hathaway, signed by the Washington Capitals this summer to a four-year/$6 million contract, progress might be described in games played.
Undrafted as an amateur, Hathaway finished a four-year tour with Brown University in the NCAA before signing as a free agent with the Abbotsford Heat, the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, in March 2014. Thirteen months later, he signed a two-year contract with the parent Calgary Flames. After a pair of one-year extensions as a restricted free agent with the Flames, he reached unrestricted free agency status and signed with the Caps at almost double the salary ($1.5 million) as he earned in his last deal with the Flames ($850,000).
In his four years with the Flames, Hathaway’s games played rocketed upward. Fourteen games in his first year, 26 in his sophomore season, 59 games in 2017-2018, followed by 76 games last season. His offensive production improved commensurately, from 0-3-3 in 14 games in his first season to 11-8-19 last season. Last season, his ice time was an indicator of team success, too. This is not unusual for bottom six forwards, who might be expected to get more time in games in which his team is successful, not having to put more ice time burden on point producers in games in which they trail. Nevertheless, Calgary was 11-1-0 in games in which Hathaway skated at least 13:30 (he averaged 10:32 per game for the season); 4-5-0 in games in which he skated less than seven minutes.
Odd Hathaway Fact…
Calgary was 14-8-2 in 24 games in which Hathaway did not record a shot on goal, 22-9-4 in games in which he recorded one shot, and 11-5-1 in the 17 games in which he recorded multiple shots. Those are points percentages of .625, .686, and .676, respectively. Shots seemed not to be a function that contributed much to team results.
Bonus Odd Hathaway Fact…
Garnet Hathaway was the only player in the league last season to skate fewer than 1,000 minutes and record five or more game-winning goals. He had five in 800 minutes of ice time.
Hathaway was a persnickety shooter last season (77 shots on goal in 76 games), but he was an efficient one, ranking fifth among Flames’ forwards in shooting percentage (14.3 percent; minimum: 25 games). While the shooting frequency did not increase above his career numbers (101 shots in 99 games prior to last season), his shooting percentage was almost three times better than the previous season (5.9 percent).
He also found himself in the regular rotation of Calgary penalty killers, ranking fourth among forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (1:42). His ice time did have a somewhat odd component to it, though. He was tied for shortest shift times among Calgary forwards, with Mark Janikowski (0:41; minimum: 50 shifts).
Of 13 Calgary forwards dressing for more than 25 games last season, Hathaway had the only personal shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 percentage under 50 percent (49.51). That number was especially poor, compared to forward teammates, in close game situations (47.15 percent, worst in that group of forwards and more than three points worse than James Neal). He occupies an unremarkable niche in the league. Over the last four seasons, 13 forwards played in all of them, appeared in 150-200 games and recorded 30-50 points. It is populated by players such as Matt Read, Derek Grant, Jujhar Khaira, and Curtis Lazar. The Caps saw something in this player, as a free agent, to offer him a four year deal, twice as long as any of his previous contracts (his entry level deal was for two years). The Caps were fond of such term this off-season (the same term on contracts for Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik, so at least there is some consistency there.
- 200 career NHL games (175; he needs 25)
The Big Question… Does Garnet Hathaway have a way to stand out in the bottom-six scheme of things?
Out… Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly. In… Richard Panik, Brendan Leipsic, Garnet Hathaway. The three departed forwards combined for 38 goals last season, 34 in 2017-2018 when the Caps won the Stanley Cup. The incoming trio combined for 30 goals last season, 17 the year before. It would be a stretch to think that the incoming trio, even if all of them make the squad and get full-time work, would match the offensive production of the outgoing group, but the team did make an effort to improve the defensive performance of that group and provided visuals of how that might be accomplished by the newcomers.
Hathaway is, in a way, the most intriguing member of the threesome, if for no other reason than his rapid rise in games played and offensive production over his four NHL seasons. He merits some comparison to Brett Connolly. Hathaway does not have Connolly’s draft or prospect pedigree, but his early career performance (16-24-40 in 175 games) is not a lot different from Connolly in his first four seasons (18-16-34 in 139 games). After scoring nine goals in 71 games with Boston in his fifth NHL season, Connolly found a scoring touch in Washington with 52 goals in 217 games over three seasons. Hathaway had a career high of 11 goals last season in Calgary, almost tripling his total of the previous year (four). That was entirely a product of an increase in shooting efficiency (14.3 percent versus 5.9 percent the previous year), but Connolly found his stride in this area in Washington, too (18.1 percent over three seasons versus 9.2 percent over his first five seasons). If Hathaway continues his early career improvement, he could stand out among the newcomers.
In the end…
Clearly, the Caps saw something the casual fan might not have seen in Garnet Hathaway to enlist him with a four-year contract. If he continues to improve at something like or even near the pace with which he improved over his first four seasons, he will look like a bargain. If last season in Calgary was a plateau, then his getting a sweater on a regular basis might be in question. He will be right in the middle of perhaps the most competitive aspect of training camp, in the odd position of competing among two other players who are newcomers to the club. It will make for one of the more interesting aspects of training camp, and even the early season, to watch for Caps fans.
Projection: 58 games, 9-12-21, even