Thursday, December 31, 2020

Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Previews -- Forwards: Garnet Hathaway

Garnet Hathaway

“Garnet: a group of silicate minerals used as gemstones and abrasives. As a birthstone (January), it is said to bring love, luck, health, loyalty and friendship.”

Undrafted, spent four years in college hockey, signed to a minor league contract as a free agent, did not get into his first NHL game until the age of 24, did not become a regular in an NHL lineup until age 26, built a career around hard minutes doing the dirty jobs – working the corners, getting under opponents’ skin, killing penalties – while providing occasional offense.  It is the profile of a “good story,” a player who climb a long and steep hill to stake his claim to an NHL position.

When Garnet Hathaway was signed by the Washington Capitals as a free agent in July 2019, fans might not have known what they were getting, he having toiled out west with the Calgary Flames in his first four NHL seasons.  The player who came to Washington was the sort who would record ten or so goals per 82 games, a similar number of assists, log a substantial number of penalty minutes by being as abrasive as the meaning of his first name suggests, and generally playing 10-12 hard minutes a night. 

And that is just what Caps fans saw in Hathaway in his first season in Washington – nine goals and 16 points in 66 games, 79 penalty minutes (25 of those earned in five fights), and 10:47 of ice time a night (1:18 a game on the penalty kill).  Those minutes were better the more he logged.  Washington was 9-0-0 in games in which Hathaway skated at least 13 minutes (“leading” effects probably coming into play when a team is either trying to protect a lead or have enough of one to roll four lines and not have scorers forced into more minutes), 19-6-1 in 26 games in which he logged at least 11 minutes.

Odd Hathaway Fact… Garnet Hathaway was one of four players in the NHL last season to play in at least 50 games, record at least 15 points, post a rating of plus-5 or better, and do it playing less than 12 minutes per game.  Odder still, two of the other three were also Capitals (Richard Panik and Nic Dowd; Minnesota’s Ryan Donato was the other).

Odd Hathaway Fact II… Hathaway is the all-time leading NHL career goal scorer (25) among players born in Maine.  He was born in Kennebunkport.

Fearless’ Take…

Scoring was not particularly important with respect to Hathaway’s contributions.  The Caps were just 4-2-2 in games in which he scored a goal, 9-4-2 in games in which he had a point.  Physical engagement was another story.  Washington was 4-1-0 in the five games in which he had a fighting major, 23-10-2 in the 35 games in which he was credited with three of more hits.

Cheerless’ Take…

Garnet Hathaway has appeared in 13 postseason games, eight for the Caps, and is still looking for his first playoff point.  The Caps missed getting production from their bottom six forwards in their last two trips to the postseason, and this is going to be a sticking point with respect to any Capital bottom six forward when looking at his value.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:

  • 250 career NHL games played (he currently has 241)
  • 300 career penalty minutes (298)
  • 3,000 career minutes played (2,598)

The Big Question… Does Garnet Hathaway have another level of offense in him?

Since becoming a regular with the Calgary Flames in 2017-2018, Garnet Hathaway has been a “teen” sort of scorer – 13 points in 2017-2018, 19 points the following season, and 16 points with the Caps last season.  But those 16 points came in just 66 games, which would have put him on a pace for his first career 20-point season over 82 games.  He was on a similar pace in his last season in Calgary before coming to Washington. Seeing as how Hathaway is something of a late arriver to regular play in the NHL, it is not unreasonable to wonder if he does not have a little more offense to provide, say, in the 25-point range.  If there is a career arc to think of in comparison, it might be that of jay Beagle, who became a regular in his mid-20’s, spent a couple of years with modest point totals, and then became a 25-30 point player per 82 games in his later years with the Caps, into his 30’s.

In the end…

Making a living as a “grinder” getting bottom-six minutes is a hard way to make a living.  The job is hard and, frankly, the players are more replaceable than stars.  Since the NHL started keeping time on ice statistics in 1997-1998, 29 forwards have appeared in at least 500 games while averaging less than 12 minutes a game.  Garnet Hathaway is not quite half-way there (241 games), so on one level he might be considered in the “prime” of his abrasive self as an NHL player.  But what bears watching is whether the kinds of contributions he can make in the regular season translate to the postseason, where his offense has been absent. 

Hathaway is a player that fans seem to instinctively root for, a hard worker who comes to the aid of teammates and rarely, if ever takes a night off.  Add to that his contributions to the community through his “Hath’s Heroes” effort, and one might believe the Caps have a “gem” as well as an abrasive asset on their roster.

Projection: 54 games, 8-9-17, plus-4

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Previews -- Forwards: Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin

“When the enemy gives you an opening be swift as a hare and he will be unable to withstand you.”
― Sun Tzu


When last we looked in on Carl Hagelin, he was wrapping up a disappointing postseason in Game 5 of the opening round series against the New York Islanders.  No goals, no assists, one shot on goal, two shot attempts, no hits, no takeaways, and he was on ice for the first Islander power play of the game on which the Isles scored, the first goal in a 4-0 series-clinching win.  He did this in 9:28 of ice time, his lowest ice time in the playoffs as a Capital and only the sixth time in 136 postseason games that he skated less than ten minutes.

That game, hardly alone in its disappointing performance among Capitals, brought to an end a disappointing postseason for Hagelin, who finished 0-1-1, minus-4, in eight games.  In a way, that result might have been expected, given that he finished the 2019 playoffs 0-1-1, minus-1, in seven postseason games.  But on another level, it was surprising.  Hagelin was hot as a bonfire over the last stretch of the 2019-2020 regular season, going 7-9-16, plus-7, in his last 22 games.  But then again, he closed with a rush in the 2018-2019 regular season with the Caps, too (3-8-11, plus-9, in his last 16 games).

Hagelin’s profile from last season is something of the “sampler” menu.  He had eight goals and 25 points, decent numbers for a forward getting largely fourth line minutes.  Never a great shooter in terms of efficiency, he did post a 7.5 shooting percentage, which was his best since a 7.9 mark in 2015-2016 split between stints in Anaheim and Pittsburgh.  His plus-12 rating was his best personal mark since a plus-18 with the New York Rangers in 2014-2015 and was second-best on the team among forwards (Richard Panik: plus-16).  Two of his eight goals were game-winners.  He averaged 2:55 in shorthanded ice time per game, second on the team and first among forwards.  His three shorthanded points (one goal, two assists) tied Nic Dowd for the team lead.

Odd Hagelin Fact… In nine NHL seasons, Carl Hagelin has never finished with a minus rating (his lowest was minus-7 in 2018-2019, combined in stints with Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Washington).

Odd Hagelin Fact II… In nine NHL seasons, Carl Hagelin has never recorded a power play assist (he does, however, have two power play goals).

Fearless’ Take…

Skill can be enhanced and used effectively with coaching.  Hard work can be nurtured by coaching.  But speed?  For the most part, a skater brings that to the table.  Carl Hagelin remains one of the fastest skaters in the league, and he seems to take pride in his defensive skiils, a combination of attributes that Caps fans hope will continue to make him a formidable penalty killer.  The Caps have a lot of skill and talent in the offensive end of the ice, among both the forwards and defensemen.  But a team with Stanley Cup aspirations cannot leave the other end of the ice to indifference, and this is where Hagelin will continue to be valuable.

Cheerless’ Take…

Speed on skates has a shelf life cuz, just like a pitcher’s 98-mile and hour fast ball or a wide receiver’s 4.1 40-yard dash time.  Hagelin turned 32 in August.  How much high-octane speed does he have left in his tank?  Being 32 isn’t a “best-used-by” date, but he is just another one of several Capitals who bear close watching this season for cracks in the best parts of his game.  Not being an especially efficient offensive player, whatever cracks he develops will be magnified.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:

  • 300 career points (he currently has 266)
  • 10,000 career minutes played (9,337)
  • 100 games played as a Capital (78)

The Big Question… Carl Hagelin has had fast finishes the last two regular seasons, but can he put together a fast start?

Last season, Carl Hagelin started the year without a goal in his first 27 games (on 39 shots).  He had one in his first 36 games (on 58 shots – 1.7 percent).  In 2018-2019 he started the sea with one goal in his first 26 games (on 43 shots – 2.3 percent).  See a pattern?  In a 56-game season, a start like this just is not going to be conducive to team success.  On the other hand, if you look at things from a slightly different angle, they are not quite as bad.  In games after January 13th (the start date for this coming season), he had four goals in 33 games in 2018-2019, and last season he had seven goals in 23 games starting on January 13th. 

In the end…

In evaluating bottom six forwards, be mindful of expectations and criteria for success.  A bottom six forward should not be evaluated on (or at least only) their offensive contributions.  Getting timely contributions are important contributors to team success, but the word “prolific” is not going to be attached to their scouting report insofar as their goal scoring or playmaking is concerned.  The bottom six forward needs to have a varied range of skills or needs to be especially adept at skills that the casual fan might not immediately appreciate. 

Carl Hagelin is primarily a defensive specialist with penalty killing skills, able to make opponents pay for a weak or lackadaisical moment on their power play.  He has breakaway speed that can stretch a defense or keep them honest in not getting too deep in the offensive zone.  He is not, and never has been a 20-goal scorer (17 is his high), he is not a 40-point player (39 is his career-best).  He does not get power play time.  But he does provide timely contributions (26 of his 101 career goals are game-winners), and he does have the kind off game that provides a certain balance with the more offensively-gifted members of the roster.  And is not as if he was a stiff last season, despite the slow start.  His 2019-2020 scoring line was 11-24-35, plus-17, on an 82-game basis.  Hagelin’s ability produce in such fashion, not to mention have a better start than he has had the past two seasons, is going to be an important factor in what success the Caps have this season.

Projection: 55 games, 7-15-22, plus-10

Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Washington Capitals 2020-2021 Previews -- Forwards: Lars Eller

Lars Eller

“Face to face, out in the heat
Hanging tough, staying hungry
They stack the odds 'til we take to the street
For the kill with the skill to survive”

-- Frankie Sullivan/Jim Peterik

This is… Jeopardy!

I’ll take “Draft Picks for $500”…

“Joni Ikonen and Olivier Rodrigue”

Who were the two players drafted with the 2017 and 2018 second-round picks that the Washington Capitals traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Lars Eller in June 2016?

If you have never heard of Joni Ikonen or Olivier Rodrigue, you can be forgiven.  Neither player has yet dressed for a professional hockey team in North America.  Ikonen, drafted by the Canadiens in 2017, has spent his entire career in Europe since being drafted.  Rodrigue, drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2018, spent two more years in Canadian junior hockey and is currently playing in Europe.  And, to extend the transaction tree, Rodrigue was drafted by Edmonton because Montreal sent that 2018 draft pick to the Oilers for a third and a fifth-round pick in that same draft.  For the record, neither Jordan Harris (currently at Northeastern University) nor Samuel Houde (currently with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the QMJHL), taken with those picks by Montreal, have yet played in North American pro hockey.

To say the trade for Eller was a “steal” is quite an understatement.

Meanwhile, in his four seasons in Washington since arriving from Montreal, Eller is 59-79-138, plus-11, in 312 regular season games.  Those 59 goals rank seventh on the team in that span, the 79 assists also rank seventh, and the 138 points are tied for sixth (with Tom Wilson).  He has three shorthanded goals in that span (only Tom Wilson has more with four), and he leads the team in shorthanded points (six).

Last season, Eller was one of five Capitals to appear in all 69 games, his 16 goals ranked sixth on the club, his 23 assists tied for fifth on the team, and his 39 points ranked eighth.  He logged 1,174 total minutes (fourth-most among forwards), 1,448 shifts (second among forwards), and 2:26 in shorthanded ice time per game (third among forwards).

Odd Eller Fact… Perhaps is has something to do with abbreviated seasons.  Twice in Lars Eller’s 11-year career, he finished the season scoring more than half a point per game.  He had 30 points in 46 games in the 48-game 2012-2013 season (0.65 points per game), and he had 39 points in 69 games in last season’s pandemic-shortened schedule (0.57).

Odd Eller Fact II… Perhaps it was something he brought with him from Montreal.  After wearing jersey number “81” with the Canadiens, Eller came to Washington and played in 81 games in each of his first three seasons with the Caps.  Only a pandemic-shortened season kept him from the change of make it four-for-four.

Fearless’ Take…

If you look at the group of 20 centers with a salary cap hit last year between $3.0 and $4.0 million (Eller’s hit is $3.5 million), Eller was tied for fifth in that group in goals (16), sixth in assists (39), and seventh in points (39).  On an individual level for the Caps, his 16 goals last season were eclipsed only once in his career (18 with the Caps in 2017-2018), he tied a career high in assists (23, also recorded in 2018-2019), and he posted a career best in points (39).  To this add his value as a player who can be slotted up and down the lines as circumstances dictate, and he is among the more valuable, not to mention “good value” players for the Caps in recent memory.

Cheerless’ Take…

Twelve games, one goal, four points, minus-6.  If you are keeping score at home, that is Lars Eller’s postseason scoring line over the last two seasons.  This past season, there might have been things weighing on his mind, in addition to the pandemic/bubble issues all players were dealing with.  There was the matter of the upcoming birth of his second child, for which he missed the last three games of the playoff loss to the New York Islanders.  But the last two years stand in stark contrast to the 7-11-18, plus-6 scoring line he had, in addition to his league leading three game-winning goals (including the Cup clincher), in 24 games in 2018, when the Caps won the Cup.  His contributions matter.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:

  • 800 career NHL games played (he currently has 754)
  • 300 career points (294)
  • 50 career penalty minutes (460)
  • Top-50 in points in Capitals history (138, needs 19 to pass Matt Niskanen and Robert Picard for 49th place)
  • Top-50 in goals scored in Caps history (59, needs four to pass Andre Burakovsky and Keith Jones for 49th place)

The Big Question… Can Eller maintain his consistency?

Eller will turn 32 years of age in May.  This is still in the prime of his productive years, but it is also a time when one might start to look for telltale signs of wear and diminishing results.  He has given no indication that he will be suffering this problem any time soon, but the relationship of his presence and production with Caps success makes his continuing to exhibit the consistency and versatility he has in his first four seasons in Washington one of the essential considerations in success for the 2020-2021 squad.  With three years left on his current deal, the club will be counting on him to continue providing the value he has over the first two years of his contract.

In the end…

Lars Eller is unique in Capitals history.  He is the only Capital ever to score a Stanley Cup-clinching goal.  If he did nothing else – if he does nothing else – this alone would likely be enough for him to avoid ever having to pay for a drink in DC again.  But time goes on, and Eller has been as reliable and consistent a player one could imagine in the two years since the Caps won the Cup.  That is a quality the Caps are going to find necessary if they are to make another run at a Stanley Cup. 

Projection: 56 games, 13-21-34, plus-3

Photo: Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images