Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Defensemen: Martin Fehervary

Martin Fehervary



“Overture, curtain, lights
This is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing a part
We know every part by heart
Overture, curtain, lights
This is it, we'll hit the heights
And oh what heights we'll hit
On with the show this is it.”

“Listen to the Capitals’ front office, and one name keeps coming up. Martin Fehervary was drafted just a year ago, a second-round pick and the second blue-liner the organization picked that year, but he already has vaulted to the top of the depth chart.”  That comment was published more than two years ago, and it seems the Caps are no less enamored with the young defenseman than they were then.   Not that he has been rushed into a role with the big club.  In the 2019-2020 season that followed, Fehervary played 56 games with the Hershey Bears in the AHL and got six games with the Caps in two separate call-ups. He spent last season on the Caps’ taxi squad and played 24 games with the Bears, going 3-14-17, plus-10. 

Odd Fehervary Fact… When Martin Fehervary recorded seven hits in a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins in the round-robin phase of the 2020 postseason, it was the most hits recorded in a postseason game by a rookie defenseman for the Caps n the post 2004-205 lockout period.

Odd Fehervary Fact II… Fehervary is the only Slovakian defenseman drafted by the team in Caps history.

Fearless’ Take… Martin Fehervary was second among Hershey Bears defensemen last season in points 3-14-17) and was fourth among blueliners in 2019-2020 (4-10-14).  He has represented Slovakia in international play dating back to the 2014-2015 season as a 15-year old.  He has experience at t professional level in Sweden.  He has done his time, so to speak, and he is a highly regarded prospect.   Fehervary has not been rushed into the NHL, but it would appear the time has come to take the training wheels off and give him a longer look with the big club.

Cheerless’ Take… The Caps, a team with a competitive window that is closing, are in the position of perhaps entrusting a critical role at a critical position to a rookie.  While Fehervary shows great promise, there are no guarantees.  Much depends on whether Michal Kempny is healthy and/or Trevor van Riemsdyk can nail down a position for himself.  He is likely to be a regular fixture on the blue line at some point, but this might not be the year that happens.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

He’s new…everything will be a milestone of sorts for Fehervary this season.

The Big Question… Is Martin Fehervary’s apprenticeship over?

The Capitals have depth on the right side of their defense, with John Carlson, Justin Schultz, and Nick Jensen.  On the left side, things are a bit muddled.  Dmitry Orlov will hold down the top pair spot on that side, leaving Michal Kempny and Trevor van Riemsdyk on the second and third pairs.  Kempny is coming off a season lost to injury, and van Riemsdyk, while a proven veteran with seven seasons and almost 400 games on his resume, still dressed for only 20 games with the Caps last season.  This presents Fehervary with an opportunity to grab a regular spot in the lineup, should Kempny be either not completely recovered from his injuries or is a diminished talent as a result of them, or van Riemsdyk prove not quite up to night-in, night-out responsibilities in the lineup.  In 80 games in the AHL, Fehervary went 7-24-31, plus-25.  One gets the impression there is little more he can do there for career development.  He might not get a full season’s worth of games with the Caps, but it is hard to imagine that he will be a press-box casualty this season. 

In the end…

At some point, you have to dive into the deep end of the pool.  Martin Fehervary has six games of regular season experience, but that is likely to increase substantially this season.  On the other hand, he could be pushed from below, by Alex Alexeyev, another left-handed defenseman taken 15 spots ahead of Fehervary in the 2018 Entry Draft.  The Caps are not especially deep among prospects, but Fehervary could prove to be an interesting one in the 2021-2022 season, battling for playing time with the big club while trying to hold off Alexeyev from jumping him in the order of prospects.

Projection: 33 games, 1-5-6, plus-1


Monday, September 27, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

“The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”
-- Conrad Anker


Over the last four seasons, John Carlson has been the best offensive defenseman in the NHL, period.  Third in goals scored (53), first in assists (204, 27 more than Brent Burns), first in points (257, 33 more than Burns), first in points per game (0.91, among 179 players dressing for at least 150 games), 106 power play points (nine more than Victor Hedman), tied for first in game-winning goals (12, with Alex Pietrangelo), first in goals for on-ice at even strength (328, 13 more than Darnell Nurse).  It isn’t even that Carlson leads in so many categories as much as there are a number of defensemen who are in second behind him.  There is no clear “second-best” to challenge Carlson as an offensive defenseman over this period (although Cale Makar will be a worthy challenger as he builds his resume).  Carlson is the only defenseman in the last four seasons to record 70 or more points twice.  He has been a top-five vote getter for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman three times in the last four years, a finalist once (second in 2019-2020). 

Odd Carlson Fact… If John Carlson appears in all 82 games this season, it will be the sixth time he did so, tying Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom (assuming he does not) for the all-time franchise lead.

Odd Carlson Fact II… If Carlson post 50 or more assists, it will be the fourth season he did so, breaking a tie with Scott Stevens for the all-time lead in that category with the Caps.

Fearless’ Take… Although some might think John Carlson had an “off” year last season, especially after two 70-point seasons, he averaged 0.5 goals per 60 minutes, the second consecutive season in which he did so and a career best.  And despite his averaging his lowest ice time (23:47) since 2016-2017 (2:43), he still finished tied for fifth among defensemen in goals (10), tied for seventh in assists (34), tied for fifth in points (44), tied for tenth in power play points (15), and tied for first in first goals in games (three).  And, he was very stingy with the puck, averaging only 1.01 giveaways per 60 minutes, by far a career low (1.58 in 2013-2014).

Cheerless’ Take… John Carlson had his first negative plus-minus rating (minus-5) since he was a minus-3 in 2013-2014.  His 3.34 blocked shots per 60 minutes last season were a career low.  His goal differential at even strength (even, 54 for and 54 against) was his third worst in his career (he has had only two minus seasons in this category, none since 2013-2014 (minus-2)). Carlson also had a difficult time drawing penalties.  The 0.19 penalties he drew per 60 minutes last season were the second lowest of his career (0.18 in 22 games in his first year with the Caps in 2009-2010).

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 200 career power play points (currently 192)
  • 30 career game-winning goals (25)
  • 300 career penalty minutes (270)

The Big Question… Have we seen “peak” John Carlson in terms of his offensive production?

John Carlson has been the best offensive defenseman in the league over the past four seasons, but last season saw some slippage.  Small, and perhaps understandable given the seasons that preceded it, but seemingly there nonetheless.  Part of that might have been due to injury that he might have suffered, a cracked kneecap that might have occurred in a late-season game against the New York Islanders.  He was 0-4-4, even, in nine regular and postseason games to close the season after that incident.  In that context, last season, especially how it ended, could be regarded as a speed bump for Carlson.  On the other hand, he will turn 32 years old in January and has a lot of mileage in terms of ice time on his resume.   

One thing to watch for is if his scoring touch returns.  He did not have a goal in his last 15 regular season games (on 35 shots) or his five playoff games. (on eight shots).  There is also the matter of his being a distributor.  His 0.8 primary assists per 60 minutes was the third highest of his career, but it was down from the previous two seasons (1.0 in 2018-2019 and 1.3 in 2019-2020).  Carlson is an important cog in the Caps’ arsenal, and if he can regain the elite level of production he displayed in the two seasons preceding last year’s effort, the Caps will be in fine position to reach the postseason and perhaps make a deep run when the flowers bloom in the spring.

In the end…

The Caps are deep in scoring at forward, both in terms of numbers and variety.  Nicklas Backstrom, when healthy, is the trigger man.  Alex Ovechkin is the finisher.  T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson go into difficult areas to score goals.  Anthony Mantha could prove to be able to hold his own in this group.  The third and fourth lines have the capacity to chip in more offense than comparable units on other teams.  But on defense, it is pretty much John Carlson.  Dmitry Orlov has shown flashes of being a contributor, but a quarterback on offense he is not.  Justin Schultz could provide some of that contribution, but reliably and consistently?  That is an open question.  John Carlson being “John Carlson” is an indispensable element in the Capitals’ hopes for this season.  Whether he can climb back to the performance summit he achieved before last season will be one of the story lines as the season unfolds.

Projection: 80 games, 16-53-69, even


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Forwards: Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
-- Abraham Lincoln


“Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, according to some of his peers, is a menace. A bully. A punk. A goon. He is reckless, vicious, dirty, and bad for hockey.”  That is the lede of an article penned by Ben Shpigel of the New York Times last May.  When the New York Times takes notice of your play on the ice and devotes more than 2,000 words to it, you have arrived, not only as a hockey player, but as one whose performance is a national item of interest.  

What the Times described, and what Capitals fans have come to know, is that Wilson is a far more complete player than the one who arrived in Washington in the 2013 playoffs, his first action in the NHL, as a first round (16th overall) draft pick.  In his first four seasons, Wilson went 21-48-69, plus-12, in 313 games, a 6-13-19, plus-3, line on an 82-game basis.  In four seasons since, he is 70-82-152, plus-19, in 256 games, a 22-26-48, plus-6, scoring line per 82 games. And even though his penalty minutes pr game were up last season (2.04/game) compared to 2019-2020 (1.37), almost a third of those minutes last year (31 of 96) came in consecutive games against the New York Rangers that got a fair amount of attention, especially from Rangers Nation.

Wilson has, despite the protestations and vitriol coming from opponents and their fan bases, become a more disciplined, more rounded player who can play effectively at even strength and shorthanded (he was fourth among forwards in shorthanded ice time last season (1:35)), who contributes valuable offense (four of his 13 goals last season were game-winners), and has become a rather efficient shooter (15.7 percent last season, 14.3 percent over his last four years).

Odd Wilson Fact… The Caps were 10-2-0 last season in games in which Wilson was not credited with a hit.

Odd Wilson Fact II… A 100-penalty minute season would give Tom Wilson seven such seasons as a Capital, putting him all alone in fourth place in team history.  Dale Hunter leads with 12 such seasons.

Fearless’ Take… Wilson continues to improve in subtle ways.  Last season, he averaged better than 1.0 primary assists per 60 minutes for the first time in his career and set a career best with 1.5 assists per 60 minutes.  His points per game last season (0.70) was a career high, as were his 2.5 points per 60 minutes.  And although he took more penalties than he drew, his minus-0.15 net penalties per 60 minutes was third best in his career to date, a number more impressive by virtue of his taking 2.01 penalties per 60 minutes, third fewest in his career.

Cheerless’ Take… But still, penalties, penalties.  The Caps were 9-9-1 in the 19 games in which he took at least one penalty last season.  The Caps were also 16-9-2 in 27 games in which Wilson was not credited with a hit.  Grittership goes only so far.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 600 career NHL games (currently 569)
  • 100 career goals (91)
  • 1,200 career penalty minutes (1,123)
  • 1,000 career shots on goal (826)

The Big Question… Will Tom Wilson continue to become more disciplined, or with all the roster moves by other teams, apparently with him in mind, will he be goaded into taking too many needless penalties?

To Wilson might still be only 27 years old, but he could pass 600 regular season games played in the NHL this season. He’s not new to this.  He knows teams are looking hard at how to counter his uniquely rambunctious approach to the game, but by this time he knows his value is on the ice, not in the penalty box.  There is little doubt some teams will try to goad him into taking stupid penalties or try to use players of inferior talent to get him into coincidental penalty situations.  His offensive production continues to improve, now to the point where he is a bona fide top line forward, not merely a body guard to protect more talented teammates.  There will be situations in which he finds himself in the position of defending himself or teammates, but the thing to look for is whether the frequency of such incidents decline.  One thing to watch for is his ice time.  Last season’s 16:32 per game was almost two minutes fewer than his 2019-2020 average (18:16), and his even strength time per game (13:18) was more than a minute less than his average the previous season (14:24).  If he spends more time on the ice and less in the penalty box, it could frustrate opponents keen on agitating him into confrontations and make him that much more effective.

In the end…

Tom Wilson is now an essential cog in the Caps’ lineup.  He is not the cartoonish thug opposing fan bases seem to think he is.  He will always have a large physical dimension to his game, but his offense and growing responsibility in penalty killing are evidence that he is a more complete hockey player than he often gets credit for being.  At 27 years of age, he still has room to improve, and skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin and, as seems likely, Evgeny Kuznetsov, he will have an opportunity to put up bigger numbers to the frustration and consternation of opponents and opponents’ fan bases, showing the league that he has become more a “character” player than a “reputation” player.

Projection: 80 games, 26-23-49, plus-3

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Forwards: Daniel Sprong

Daniel Sprong

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
-- Leonardo da Vinci

Daniel Sprong has been around.  Drafted in the second round (46th overall) in the 2015 Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, at 24 years old he is entering his sixth NHL season with his third NHL team, stints with Pittsburgh and the Anaheim Ducks preceding his arrival in Washington in February 2020 n a trade for defenseman Christian Djoos.  What he has not been, though, is a consistent fixture in any lineup.  He played 18 games as a rookie for the Pens in 2015-2016. A shoulder injury kept him out of NHL action the following season, and he managed only eight games with the Pens in 2017-2018.  He appeared in 63 games in 2018-2019, split between the Penguins and the Ducks, but he dressed for only eight games with the Ducks in 2019-2020.  Last season, Sprong dressed for 42 games with the Caps and posted 13 goals, his 0.31 goals per game and 1.6 goals per 60 minutes being career bests in those rate categories.

Odd Sprong Fact… In 42 games last season, Sprong was credited with one blocked shot, in a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 19th.

Odd Sprong Fact II… For a player with a reputation as an offense-oriented player, his shot frequency was not matched by team success.  In 19 games in which Sprong was credited with two or more shots on goal, the Caps were 8-8-3.

Fearless’ Take… Sprong has, from time to time, been viewed as perhaps a bit too offense oriented, who might have his ice time managed with that in mind, but the Caps were successful in games in which he had higher ice times, going 9-3-0 in the 12 games in which he skated at least 13 minutes, while the team went 5-5-2 in those games in which he skated under ten minutes.

Cheerless’ Take… Cuz, I usually take the negative view, but I gotta ask, where does this idea of Sprong being a defensive liability come from?  In five NHL seasons, his on-ice goal differential is minus-8, but he had a minus-9 with Anaheim in 2018-2019, a team with a mediocre team defense over all (tied for 18th in scoring defense).  His career shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5 over his four seasons is minus-8 on almost 2,800 shot attempts, for and against.  He might not be a stalwart Selke defensive type, but if his offense helps keep the puck out of opponents’ hands, what is the problem?

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 200 career NHL games (currently 139)
  • 100 games as a Capital (currently 42)
  • 50 NHL goals (32)

The Big Question… Can Daniel Sprong be a regular fixture in the Capitals’ lineup?

It has been a difficult road for Daniel Sprong to get regular playing time in his five seasons.  He has averaged 28 games per season with a high of 63, split between Pittsburgh (16) and Anaheim (47) in 2018-2019.  He logged 42 games with the Caps last season, and he finished strong with six goals in his last eight games, three of them game-winners.  He could slide into the right side of the third line with Lars Eller in the middle (once Nicklas Backstrom returns to the lineup after his hip rehabilitation) and Conor Sheary on the left side.  With depth at forward being a bit of an issue, especially on the wings, Sprong has an opportunity to assert himself as a regular in the lineup.  It is worth noting that his goals-per-60 minutes were best in seasons in which he was frequently in the lineup (1.6/60 in 42 games with the Caps last year, 1.4/60 in 47 games with Anaheim in 2018-2019).  He, with Conor Sheary, could make for an interesting third line this season.

In the end…

Daniel Sprong has had an up-and-down career to date, but he is still only 24 years old with an opportunity to become a fixture in the Capitals’ lineup.  His late-season surge last year perhaps provided a glimpse of what he can contribute, even from a third-line position.  Picking up where he left off could provide more balance among the forward lines, not to mention relieving a bit of the pressure with Nicklas Backstrom out for the time being.

Projection: 68 games, 17-13-30, minus-2