“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle
man who is the miserable man.”
-- Benjamin Franklin
Stars are stars. It is hard to win without one (or two…or more). But teams without depth, without a cadre of players with a solid work ethic who bring effort every night and make contributions that do not often get a lot of star-wattage attention often go quick and quiet, either dropping out of contention in the regular season or going quick and quiet in the postseason.
Nic Dowd is such a player for the Washington Capitals. In two seasons with the club Dowd, who plays most often as a fourth liner, has recorded 15 goals and 37 points in 120 games, while earning a plus-21 rating (not once in 56 games did he post a rating lower than minus-1 and that only nine times). Not bad numbers for a fourth liner. Add to this that Dowd is in his chronological prime and carries a salary cap hit of $750,000 this coming season and next before reaching unrestricted free agent status, and he can be looked at as a value player who should cause the Caps little concern at the fourth line center position.
He comes by his success through patience and hard work. He was the 198th overall of 211 picks in the 2009 Entry Draft. It would be almost seven years until he tasted his first NHL action, and he did not play regularly until the 2016-2017 season with the Los Angeles Kings when he was about to turn 26 years of age.
But since he became a regular in an NHL lineup, he has performed well, perhaps outperforming the role to which he is most often assigned – fourth line center. Three times in the last four seasons, playing in at least 56 games in each, he had 15 or more points (twice with 22 points), and four of his 15 goals with the Caps over the last two seasons have been game-winners. He has also shown a certain discipline with the puck, credited with 51 takeaways and only 29 giveaways in his two seasons in Washington (22 and 7 last season).
Odd Dowd Fact… Nic Dowd has three shorthanded goals in his career. All of them were posted last season for the Caps.
Odd Dowd Fact II… Nic Dowd is the all-time leader in games played by natives of Alabama (251). He was born in Huntsville.
Odd Dowd Fact III… Nic Dowd is only player in Caps history to dress for 50 or more games, average less than 12 minutes per game, post 15 or more points, and have a rating of plus-10 or better twice for the club.
Last year, among 25 centers 27-31 years of age (Dowd was 29) with salary cap hits of $1.0 million or less, Dowd finished fourth in goals, fourth in assists, and third in points. His plus-11 rating was best in the group. Over his two seasons as a Capital, among 72 skaters appearing in at least 50 games and averaging less than 12 minutes per game (Dowd averaged 10:33), Dowd was tied for ninth in goals (15), tied for fifth in assists (22), fifth in points (37), first in plus-minus (plus-21), fourth in shooting percentage (15.2), and was second in game-winning goals (four).
All that regular season stuff is nice, cuz, but one point and minus-5 in 15 postseason games over two seasons? And that 19-game streak without a point from January 7th through February 23rd this season did not help when the Caps were in their second-half swoon, either. The Caps went 9-9-1 in that 19-game pointless streak.
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021:
- 300 career NHL games (he currently has 251)
- 50 career assists (39)
The Big Question… Is Nic Dowd the “Canary in the Coal Mine?”
In 2017-2018, when the Caps won the Stanley Cup, they had decent scoring punch from the bottom of the forward cohort. Jay Beagle (22 points), Alex Chiasson (18 points), Chandler Stephenson (18 points), and Devante Smith-Pelly (16) were not just space fillers; they contributed in the offensive end in addition to spelling the scoring lines and providing energy. Nic Dowd has contributed in a similar fashion over the broader course of his two seasons in Washington, but the trick here is whether he can continue contributing at that level, do so on a consistent basis, and perhaps pull along his linemates to give the Caps another scoring dimension in the context of his fourth line responsibilities.
In the end…
If Alex Ovechkin is the leading man, and Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Tom Wilson the other “stars” in the opening credits, then Nic Dowd is one of those “character actors” that gives a production depth and complexity necessary to make it entertaining and successful. He is not going to steal the spotlight, but he can make for some memorable moments.
Dowd is a late bloomer who fits comfortably into a fourth line role. He plays at a high tempo, he can take draws (49.7 percent on 551 draws last season), he can fill minutes on the penalty kill (2:29 per game last season, second highest among Caps forwards), and he can make the occasional offensive contribution, all in 10-12 minutes per game (10:50 per game last season). Getting that production profile is part of the depth a club needs to be successful in the long run (the regular season) and the short run (the playoffs). The Caps will be happy indeed if Dowd can keep producing as he has over the first two seasons, more so if he can improve his postseason production.
Projection: 53 games, 6-8-14, even
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America