Friday, September 17, 2021

Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Forwards: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov

“Don't let yesterday use up too much of today.”
― Will Rogers


There might be no word in the English language associated more with Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov than “time.”  The almost four years it took between the time Kuznetsov was drafted (June 2010) and his setting foot on the ice for the Caps for the first time (March 2014).  The two years over which he became familiar with the NHL and gave glimpses of the supremely skilled player he is.  The four seasons over which he went 87-204-291, plus-55, in 319 games (tied for 11th in assists and 19th in points over that period) and became the only player in Capitals history to post more than 30 points in a postseason (32 in the Caps’ 2018 Stanley Cup run).  And the last two seasons in which the spark seems to have appeared only intermittently in Kuznetsov’s game (28-53-81, plus-5, in 104 games), and it has been burdened by off-ice issues.  His recent slide had a bitter exclamation point with no points in three postseason games last spring, his only career postseason without a point.

Odd Kuznetsov Fact… Only Alex Ovechkin and Mike Gartner had more 70-point seasons in their first six NHL seasons with the Caps (six and five, respectively) than did Evgeny Kuznetsov (three).

Odd Kuznetsov Fact II… Evgeny Kuznetsov averaged 20.8 shifts per game in 2020-2021, the highest average of his career.

Fearless’ Take… Even though one might view Kuznetsov’s last two seasons as disappointing, it is not as if he has been an utter stiff in the offensive zone.  Over the last two seasons he averaged 0.78 points per game, more than Tyler Seguin (0.72), more than Taylor Hall (0.72), more than Joe Pavelski (0.67).  And he did have four game-winning goals, more than any season since he had eight in 2017-2018.

Cheerless’ Take… Kuznetsov had a significant drop in power play ice time and production last season.  His 2:29 of man advantage ice time per game was almost a minute or more lower than each of his previous three seasons (3:11 in 2019-2020, 3:40 the previous season, and 3:27 the year before that).  He had only one power play goal, a career low for a full season and eight power play points, also a career low for a full season.  Then there was his shooting, which fell off in frequency to 6.9 shots per 60 minutes, second-fewest of his career.  It largely negated a respectable shooting percentage (11.5 percent) that was his fourth-best in eight seasons.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 100 career multi-point games (currently 99)
  • 600 career games played (520)
  • 300 career assists (289)
  • 500 career points (418)
  • 10,000 career minutes played (8,831)

The Big Question… Is this Evgeny Kuznetsov’s Last Stand with the Caps?

Let’s face it.  The Caps aren’t making any deep playoff runs if Evgeny Kuznetsov’s production resembles the last two years.  Good, not great, and certainly not elite.  That he would be the subject of so much trade talk is evidence of both his disappointing play and the importance of his production to the team.  If his recent level of production isn’t necessary a liability, paying $7.8 million a year this year and the three years to follow for it is.  Kuznetsov is capable of a big season.  It is not as if 2017-2018 (27-56-83, plus-3) was a fluke or an outlier.  He has three 70-point seasons on his resume.  He has topped 50 assists in three seasons.  Three times in his career he averaged at least 0.90 points per game.  He has been a double-digit power play point producer six times in eight seasons.  Only twice in eight seasons has he failed to produce a game-winning goal.  He can score in bunches – 23 multi-point games in 79 contests in 2017-2018 – but he had only seven in 41 games last season.

In the end…

Evgeny Kuznetsov is capable of a big season, and he is in the chronological prime of his career (he will turn 30 next May).  Perhaps if he can clean his slate of off-ice issues and distractions, he can approach the better years of production on his resume.  But there is the lingering matter of whether his internal furnace burns hot enough to be an elite-level player.   In another space, we said with respect to last season that “no other forward had a season that screams ‘do-over' like Kuznetsov’s.”

This could be his last hurrah with the Caps should he fail to post bigger numbers than he has over the past two seasons.  Yesterday, with all its distractions and disappointments, needs to be left behind.  But attention needs to be paid to the clock that ticks loudly for Kuznetsov.

Projection: 76 games, 20-48-68, plus-5


Washington Capitals 2021-2022 Previews -- Forwards: Garnet Hathaway

Garnet Hathaway

“I don't have pet peeves; I have whole kennels of irritation.”
--Whoopi Goldberg

Six goals, 18 points, a little over 12 minutes a game are stats that get lost in the wash, but Garnet Hathaway answered the call for the Washington Capitals 56 times last season, one of only three Caps forwards to dress for every game.  This was no small feat for a player whose contributions in the art of “grittership” surpass those of his offense.  He led the Caps’ forwards in credited hits (179, fifth in the league among forwards), was second among Caps forwards in blocked shots (30), was second among forwards in penalties drawn (17), was second in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (1.48; minimum: 25 games).  Not that Hathaway was a liability, given his role, in the offensive end.  He had a career high in assists (12), and averaged almost a third of an assist per game (0.32).  His six goals were not a career best, but they mattered.  The Caps did not lose a game last season in which he scored one.

Odd Hathaway Fact… Back to those 56 games Hathaway played.  Only he and his fourth line teammates among forwards – Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd – also appeared in all 56 games.

Odd Hathaway Fact II… Hathaway is one of four players to skate for Brown University and the Caps.  Brian Stapleton, Ryan Mulhern, and Aaron Volpatti are the others.

Fearless’ Take… Garnet Hathaway is one of those hard-working players who might get more credit for what he does off the ice than attention for what he does on it (unless he runs afoul of the rulebook).  And that is not a bad thing.  A 2020-2021 King Clancy Memorial Trophy nominee for his work with "Hath’s Heroes,”  he has firmly established himself as part of the broader DMV community.  But in the tight circle of Capitals Nation, and the tighter circle of the Capitals’ locker room, he is the sort of player fans root for and teammates appreciate for his willingness to do the dirty work teams need to be successful and be a stand-up guy who has the back of his teammates.  Numbers are replaceable with respect to bottom-six forwards, but character is more difficult to quantify and replace.

Cheerless’ Take… Last year was a bit of an odd year for Hathaway.  His goals per 60 minutes dropped from 0.8 per 60 minutes in 2019-2020 to 0.5.  That might have been a function of his shots per 60 minutes (5.4) being his fewest since his rookie season in 2015-2016 (3.9).  And after a pair of seasons in which his shooting percentage topped 10 percent (14.3 percent in 2018-2019 with Calgary and 11.3 percent in 2019-2020 with the Caps), he dropped to 9.7 percent.  And the drop-offs came despite his posting his highest average ice time of his career (12:19 per game).

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2020-2021…

  • 300 career NHL games (currently 297)
  • 400 career penalty minutes (364)
  • 200 career penalty minutes as a Capital (154)
  • 1,000 career credited hits (828)

The Big Question… Can Garnet Hathaway be an irritant AND a 20-point player?

The last two seasons, both of which were cut short or delayed for COVID issues, hid the fact that Hathaway gave indications of being just such a player.  In 2019-2020 with the Caps, his 9-7-16 scoring line in 66 games was an 11-0-20 line per 82 games.  Last year, his 6-12-18 line in 56 games projected to 9-18-27 per 82 games.  Although he will turn 30 in November, his having played fewer than 300 games over six seasons leaves us with the question of whether there is still a bit of upside Hathaway can tap.  Keep in mind, only five Capitals in team history have appeared in at least 50 games in a season, averaged fewer than 13 minutes a game (Hathaway averaged 12:19 last season) and posted 30 or more points – Eric Fehr (39 points in 69 games and 12:08 in average ice time in 2009-2010), Ulf Dahlen (38 points in 75 games averaging 12:40 per game in 1999-2000), Chris Simon (31 points in 82 games averaging 12:11 in 2001-2002), Mathieu Perreault (30 points in 64 games averaging 12:02 a game in 2011-2012), and Tomas Fleischmann (30 points in 75 games averaging 12:37 a game in 2007-2008). 

In the end…

Garnet Hathaway carries around “whole kennels of irritation” that he can deploy against opponents.  But he is not a one-dimensional player.  He does have the ability to contribute offensively, even as a fourth liner, and he is durable, even playing a difficult role.  There is little to indicate last year’s results were a fluke or unusual.  He impresses as a player who will be in the lineup every night, getting under the skin of opponents, and pouring salt in the wound with some offensive contributions.  He helps make the Caps’ fourth line one of the best in the NHL.

Projection: 80 games, 10-16-26, plus-6