“The only thing that should surprise us is that there are
still some things that can surprise us.”
-- Francois de La Rochefoucauld
When you do not get a full-time job as an NHLer until age 26, average six goals and 16 points a season over your first four full seasons, and do it averaging barely 11 minutes a game, one might be forgiven if you are pigeon-holed as a fourth line “energy” player. But then there was 2021-2022 for Nic Dowd. Dowd posted 11 goals in 56 games, obliterating his previous career high (eight in 64 games with Washington in 2018-2019), three of them game-winners, tying a previous career high (2018-2019). He also had a career high in ice time, averaging 14:22 per game, almost two minutes more than he averaged with the Los Angeles Kings in 2016-2017. He also proved to be an adept faceoff man, winning 56.4 percent of his draws (another career high), 15th in the league among 147 players taking at least 250 faceoffs.
Odd Dowd Fact… The Caps were 10-2-0 when Dowd won at least ten faceoffs, 15-2-0 when he won at least 65 percent of his draws.
Odd Dowd Fact II… Nic Dowd is not the only NHL player ever to hail from Huntsville, Alabama. Jared Ross (2008-2010) is the other one.
Fearless’ Take… Accounting for role, there might not been a Capital last season who filled his expected role as well as Nic Dowd last season, and frankly, he has filled that role as a fourth-line center who contributes some timely offense quite well in his three years in Washington. He has also done it quite economically, with a cap hit of $750,000 per seasons (he is entering the last year of his current contract). Dowd is one of five players in the NHL over the last three seasons (his tenue in Washington to date) to appear in fewer than 200 games, score at least 25 goals, and do it with an average of less than 12 minutes per game.
Cheerless’ Take… Dowd has a bit of an odd engagement with the “grittership” aspects of the game. Last season the Caps were 21-5-2 in 28 games in which he was credited with at least one hit, 15-10-3 in 28 games in which he was not. On the other hand, the Caps were 6-3-0 in games in which he was not credited with a hit, but they were 2-3-1 when he had five or more.
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…
- 200 games as a Capital (currently 176)
- 100 career NHL points (78)
- 300 career shots on goal (299)
- 4,000 career minutes (3,585)
- 3,000 career faceoffs taken (2,918)
The Big Question… Can Nic Dowd continue to contribute meaningful minutes from a fourth-line position?
In the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Indiana Jones notes about the wear and tear on his body, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” Nic Dowd might be 31 years old when the new season dawns, but he has only five full seasons in the NHL, just over 300 regular season games (307), and fewer than 4,000 minutes logged (3,585) on his resume. Getting bottom-six support was a hallmark of the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup championship team. The Caps had five forwards on that squad average less than 12:30 minutes of ice time per game while still posting double digits in points (Jay Beagle (22), Devante Smith-Pelly (16), Brett Connolly (27), Chandler Stephenson (18), and Alex Chiasson (18)). Getting that kind of support will be an important ingredient in getting the Caps to the postseason once more.
In the end…
Can the Caps reach the postseason without a 10-goal, 20-point season from Nic Dowd? Sure, they could, but the road is much easier if he continues to make the sorts of contributions he has made in three years as a Capital, and to make such contributions in the postseason would replicate the formula that the Caps used in 2018 to win a Stanley Cup. There is little reason to think Dowd will not tack on another season in which he makes contributions in the offensive end of the ice that are a bit more than one might normally expect for a fourth liner and in the defensive end of the ice in terms of being able to win draws and kill penalties (2:17 in shorthanded ice time per game last season, second most among forwards). He has been one of the more pleasant surprises for the Caps over the past few years, but his production is turning more toward expectation than surprise.
Projection: 78 games, 10-7-17, plus-3