Monday, September 26, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: Conor Sheary

Conor Sheary

“Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.”
-- Victor Hugo

Over his two seasons with the Washington Capitals, he has as many goals as Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie (33).  Only three Capitals – Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, and Kuznetsov – have more game-winning goals than he has (six).  Of 17 Capitals with at least 100 shots on goal over the last two seasons, his 15.2 shooting percentage ranks third, behind Oshie (18.0) and Wilson (15.8).  His 2.08 takeaways per game rank second among 26 Caps to dress for at least 20 games, trailing only Nic Dowd (2.30).

Conor Sheary might deserve some more love and attention as an important offensive contributor to the Capitals. Over his two seasons with the Caps, Sheary’s per-82 game scoring line (22-21-43) is rather impressive for a player who averaged less than 15 minutes of ice time per game (14:37).  Last season, his per-82 game point total was 50 points.

Sheary seems to have regained the goal-scoring touch he had early in his career.  In his first three seasons, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he averaged at least 1.0 goals per 60 minutes.  Upon leaving the Penguins for Buffalo for parts of two seasons and a return to Pittsburgh, his per-60 minute goal scoring average dropped well under 1.0 goals.  In each of his two seasons with the Caps, however, that average has once again topped 1.0 goals per 60 minutes (1.2 goals/60 in 2020-2021 and 1.1 goals/60 this past season).  His 0.27 goals per game in two seasons with the Caps is his highest such average in any of his three NHL stops (0.26 with Pittsburgh and 0.17 with Buffalo).

Odd Sheary Fact… Conor Sheary is the all-time leading goal scorer (105) among players born in Winchester, MA, and is fifth among all NHL left wingers born in Massachusetts, trailing Keith Tkachuk (538), Kevin Stevens (329), Chris Kreider (229), and Ted Donato (150).

Fearless’ Take… Getting Sheary engaged in the offense, even without scoring, was a good thing for the Caps in 2021-2022, or at least better than when he was not.  In 23 games in which he recorded three or more shots on goal, the Caps were 12-7-4.  In the 14 games in which he did not record a shot on goal, they were 5-5-4.  And, while he is not a particularly physical player (more terrier-like with his persistence than Rottweiler-like with a more demonstrative physical presence), the Caps were 6-2-1 when he was credited with three or more hits, and they were 8-1-2 when he was credited with two or more blocked shots.  The Caps were 22-7-5 in the 34 games in which he recorded points. 

Cheerless’ Take… Sheary’s ice time had an odd quality about it.  In six games in which he skated 18:53 or more, the Caps were 4-1-1.  However, when logging 16:40-18:52, the Caps were just 5-7-0.  And for an offensive player, his on-ice goal differential at even strength was a less than impressive minus-1, tied for worst among the 24 forwards to dress for the Caps last season.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 500 career NHL games (he has 449)
  • 100 career penalty minutes (90)
  • 200 games as a Capital (124)
  • 100 points as a Capital (65)

The Big Question… Can Conor Sheary be a 20-goal scorer for the Caps?

Not since 2016-2017, in his sophomore NHL season with the Penguins, has Sheary been a 20-goal scorer.  He had 23 in 61 games that season, his only career 20-goal season.  He came close last year with 19 goals in 71 games, but it is that number “71” that offers hints about why he has not hit the 20-goal mark a second time.  In six full NHL seasons he has never played more than 79 games, and he dressed for a total of 405 games of 453 games scheduled (89.4 percent).  Sheary has a career 19.2 goals per 82 games average.  It would not take much, in terms of scoring pace, to hit that 20-goal mark.  It is reminiscent of the Crash Davis quote from the movie Bull Durham… “if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”  In hockey terms, just one shot that hits a post and goes in instead of out, a puck with eyes that finds its way through a clot of players screening the goalie.  It would help if Sheary could manage another half dozen games or so to reach that level of scoring.  The Caps will need what they can get from him this season.

In the end…

Conor Sheary is a quite versatile forward who can provide offensive spark and a feisty attitude on any of the top three lines.  He is not, and never will be a “star,” but his is the kind of game that can complement the stars with whom he plays.  And, he is something of a bargain with a $1.5 million cap hit.  Of 14 forwards last season, age 28-32 and cap hits of $1.25 million to $1.75 million, Sheary finished second in goals, second in assists, second in points (Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman led in all three categories), and was fourth in average ice time.  He is in the walk year of his current contract, and if he duplicates last season or improves upon it, it could mean a bump up in pay on his next contract.  Whether the Caps would be able to afford him at a higher salary is a matter to be considered down the road, but for now, the emphasis will be on whether he could force the Caps into having to make that difficult decision.  The answer to the question of the Caps making the playoffs could hinge on the answer.

Projection: 78 games, 17-20-37, even

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