Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

“The years teach much which the days never know.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Since he became a full-time player with the Washington Capitals in 2010-2011, John Carlson is tied for sixth among defensemen in goals scored (131, with Mark Giordano), second in assists 456 (trailing only Erik Karlsson with 486), third in points (587, trailing only Karlsson (634) and Brent Burns (640)), fifth in power play points (217, between Burns (219) and Victor Hedman (213)), and fifth in points per 60 minutes among defensemen with at least 250 games played (1.21, right behind Roman Josi with 1.23).  It is worth noting that the defensemen noted here are all Norris Trophy winners at some point in their careers with one exception.


John Carlson might be the best offensive defenseman in recent memory never to have won a Norris Trophy.  And if anything, he has been even more dominant in recent years.  For example, he is one of eight defensemen to have recorded at least one 70-point season over the last four years and the only one to do it more than once (three times).  Oh, and note here that six of the other seven defensemen on that list have won Norris Trophies.  The best Carlson did in Norris Trophy voting was a second-place finish in 2019-2020 (Josi won in that season).

Odd Carlson Fact… With as many NHL players that were born in Massachusetts (210, according to,  Carlson is the only one to have been born in Natick.  He is all-time leader in goals scored by a defenseman born in Massachusetts (132), second in assists (461, trailing only Keith Yandle (516)), second in points (593, trailing only Yandle (619)), and second in plus-minus rating (plus-100, trailing only Mike Milbury (plus-175, the leader among all players born in Massachusetts).

Fearless’ Take… It is one thing to be an offensive defenseman, it is better to be one who matters in terms of outcomes.  The Caps were 13-2-1 in the 16 games in which Carlson scored a goal last season, 34-9-6 in the 49 games in which he recorded a point.  Heavy ice time burdens did not seem to be very disagreeable to him or the Caps, who went 12-5-5 in 22 games in which he logged at least 25 minutes while he went 6-19-25, plus-9, in those 22 games, posting points in 14 of them (seven multi-point games). 

Cheerless’ Take… Carlson is no shrinking violet, but neither is he noteworthy as a “physical” defenseman.  Good thing, perhaps.  When he was credited with two or more hits last season, the Caps were just 10-9-3.  And shooting the puck is not the same as scoring.  When he had three or more shots on goal, the Caps were just 22-15-3.  They were 5-1-1 in the seven games in which he did not record a shot on goal.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 900 career games (he has 887)
  • 500 career assists (461)
  • 200 career power play assists (180)
  • 600 career points (593)
  • 300 career penalty minutes (290)
  • All-time leader among Capitals defensemen in goals scored (132; Kevin Hatcher had 149)
  • All-time leader in power play points by a Capitals defenseman (217; Calle Johansson had 228).

The Big Question… Will John Carlson be able to quarterback the power play without the “high-risk” element of shorthanded chances the other way?

Last season, the Caps allowed nine shorthanded goals, tied for sixth-most in the league.  John Carlson was on ice for eight of them.  It mattered.  The Caps were 1-6-1 in the eight games in which Carlson was on ice for a shorthanded goal against.  Over the last four seasons, while he was putting up three 70-point seasons, he was on ice for 23 shorthanded goals against, more than any defenseman in the league.  The Caps were 6-15-2 in those games.  Yes, he was still a plus-122 in power play goal differential on-ice over that span, but allowing shorthanded goals can be an especially deflating occurrence, as the win-loss record when on ice for a shorthanded goal against illustrates.

Perhaps the problem is in Carlson’s power play ice time load.  More time, more opportunities for bad things to happen.  And Carlson led the league in power play ice time per game last season among defensemen (3:59).  He is tied for the lead in power play ice time per game over the last four seasons (3:53, with Cale Makar, although Makar has played in 101 fewer games over that span).

The difficulty in considering how the risk-reward matter might be addressed might lie in the Caps’ power play scheme.  Their 1-3-1 formation seems to place an emphasis on a right-handed shot at the top of the offensive zone (recall that Mike Green, Carlson’s predecessor in the power play from that position, was also a right-handed defenseman).  Washington has two other right-handed shots on the parent roster at the moment – Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk – neither of whom is generally thought of as a power play sort of defenseman (they combined for less than 15 minutes between them in power play ice time last season).  Ryan Chesley, drafted this past summer, is a right-handed defenseman, but he is perhaps years from making the team, let alone getting power play time.  For the time being, Carlson looks like the man, with the risk that accompanies that.

In the end…

It is one thing to get little respect from Norris Trophy voters in recent years, but Caps fans seem to have a curious streak of negativity when it comes to Carlson, rooted in his play in the defensive end.  It can sometimes be an adventure, but 42 defensemen were on ice for more even strength goals against last season, including some well-known and widely respected players (Mark Giordano, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton, Victor Hedman, and Roman Josi among them). But the Caps are 513-267-107 in games in which Carlson dressed over his career (a 47-win, 104-standings points pace).  It is not as if he was an insurmountable obstacle to success with play in his own end and whatever shortcomings he might have there.  The years have taught Caps fans that John Carlson is on a short list of best offensive defensemen of his generation, and if the odd day creeps in when he makes a mistake, those days seem sufficiently rare that his reputation as a top defenseman should not suffer.

Projection: 82 games, 14-56-70, plus-12

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson

“To have a comeback, you have to have a setback.”
-- Lawrence Tureaud (“Mr. T”)

Well, it would seem fans of the Washington Capitals are going to get a good idea of just what Tom Wilson means to the team.  In a perverse way, one hopes that the answer to that is “not much,” because if the answer is “a lot,” then the Caps could be in a heap of trouble to start the season.  Wilson, who could miss the first two months rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee (torn anterior cruciate ligament), has a reputation outside of Washington as a player who abuses the rules with his physical play.  What most Caps fans probably recognize is that Wilson plays a variety of roles in addition to “keeper of the peace.”  He blossomed into a reliable scorer while paring back his penalty minutes in recent seasons, kills penalties, and is a presence in the pivot on the 1-3-1 power play for the Caps.

For the fourth consecutive season, Wilson average 1.0 or more goals per 60 minutes of ice time (1.0 in 2021-2022) and for the third straight season he averaged at least 1.0 assists per 60 minutes (1.2 in 2021-2022).  For the fourth consecutive season, Wilson averaged more than 0.60 points per game (0.67, second-highest of his career).  If there was an odd stat in his offensive game, it would be that only 54.1 percent of his shot attempts ended up on goal, down from over 60 percent in each of the two previous seasons.  One indicator of his expanding role is that in 2021-2022, Wilson averaged more than four minutes per game playing special teams for the first time in his career (4:08 – 2:32 on power plays and 1:36 on penalty kills).

Odd Wilson Fact… Wilson had an odd start and an odd finish to his season – no goals in his first nine games and no goals in his last eight contests.  He did have seven assists in those first nine games, but he went without a point in his last eight games.  In-between, he scored at a 32-goal pace and shot 20.0 percent (24 goals on 120 shots over 61 games).

Fearless’ Take… Tom Wilson had a career year in 2021-2022 – 24 goals (a career high), 28 assists (also a career high), 52 points (his first 50-point season), five game-winning goals (another career high), two shorthanded goals (tying a career best), plus-13 (career high), plus-14 goal differential at even strength (tops in his career), 151 shots on goal (most of his career), a 15.9 shooting percentage (second-best in his nine seasons), 18:35 in ice time per game (most of his career), and he did it while averaging fewer penalty minutes per game (1.26) than any season of his career.

Cheerless’ Take… Wilson really liked home cookin’ last year.  He had 16 goals on 82 shots (19.5 percent shooting) at Capital One Arena and only eight goals on 69 shots on the road (11.6 percent).  And being physical didn’t seem to go well with wins and losses.  In 30 games in which Wilson was credited with four or more hits, the Caps were 14-11-5.  The same was true of ice time.  In 25 games in which he skated at least 20 minutes, the Caps were 11-8-6.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 700 career games (he has 647)
  • 300 career points (273)
  • 1,000 career shots on goal (977)
  • 10,000 career minutes played (9,362)

The Big Question… Can Tom Wilson pick up where he left off in 2021-2022?

How do you pick up where you left off (well, except for those last eight games) when where you left off was a career year?  And coming back from a serious injury at that.  Perhaps with the additions of Connor Brown (who seems to be getting first crack at assuming Wilson’s role as top-line right wing) and Dylan Strome, Wilson does not have to pick up immediately where he left off and can be eased back into his familiar roles with the team.  One could envision Wilson returning to assume duties on the third line as he plays himself back into hockey form.  This would likely depress his top line numbers somewhat. 

But the object here is the longer game, to get Wilson ready for the postseason while minimizing risk of any setbacks to his recovery.  Keep in mind that for the average patient, recovery from ACL reconstruction surgery is nine months or so.  Wilson had his surgery on May 24th, and nine months would put him into February for a full recovery, but being a world class athlete with the presumably the best rehabilitation facilities possible, he seems ahead of schedule to return to the ice.  It would be a lot to expect Tom Wilson to be “Tom Wilson” upon his return, though.  That will almost certainly take longer. The thing to look for is that he is closer to “whole” in April than he might be in December.

In the end…

It is not too much a stretch to think that had Tom Wilson not suffered his knee injury in Game 1 of last spring’s opening round playoff series against the Florida Panthers, the Caps could have won that series against a Panther team that looked very beatable in that series.  That is what he has come to mean for this team.  His development as a scorer, his tempering his physical impulses with the playing time lost to penalty minutes reduced, his assuming a wider variety of roles has made him a critical ingredient to the success of the Capitals.  Fans of other teams can continue to think of him as a one-dimensional player, and a “dirty” one at that.  Capitals fans know better and know that his comeback could be a key to reaching the postseason and going on a long and deep playoff run.

Projection: 43 games, 8-12-20, plus-2