Sunday, October 02, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Defensemen: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen

“If it's the right chair, it doesn't take too long to get comfortable in it.”
-- Robert De Niro

Managing a team over the course of a long season is a challenge, whatever the team sport.  What makes it easier is having a player or players with less drama, fewer flash points of conflict, minimal roster turnover at key positions, and a heightened sense of confidence in them so that coaches can turn their attentions elsewhere.  It might have taken a bit of time, but Nick Jensen has become valuable to the Washington Capitals in no small part because he can be left to perform his role in a steady, competent, consistent way.  There is no drama with Jensen, and that is a good thing. 

Jensen, who might not impress the casual hockey fan with gaudy numbers or outsized physical play, has made himself a defenseman who is steady in his own end and has the skill to move the puck out of his own end.  He is a fine complement to Dmitry Orlov on the second defensive pair for the Caps and is the sort of player who does not create issues for coaches to deal with, allowing them to attend to other roster and game management matters.

If anything, Jensen has shown improvement as an offensive player.  While he will never have the term “offensive defenseman” applied to him, even to the extent it might apply to his partner, Orlov (who is perhaps more accurately described as a “two-way defenseman”), he did have a career year in goals scored in 2021-2022 (five), had 16 assists (second-highest total of his career), 21 points (first time with more than 20 points in his career), he had a rating of plus-32, (he first time his plus-minus rating was in positive double digits in his career), he averaged 19:21 in ice time per game (second-highest of his career over a full season), he had 92 blocked shots (second-highest of his career), he had the first game-winning goal of his career (in a 4-1 win at Nashville on February 15th).

Odd Jensen Fact… Nick Jensen was credited with 135 hits in 76 games 2021-2022.  This was almost as many with which he was credited over the previous two-plus seasons combined with the Caps in 141 games (136).

Fearless’ Take… Perhaps what he needed was to be surrounded by better talent, but Jensen’s offensive numbers have improved.  He averaged 0.9 points per 60 minutes only once in two-plus seasons in Detroit but has done so three times in three-plus seasons in Washington.  He was actually an impressive performer on the road last season, going 4-11-15, plus-26 in 39 road contests.  The Caps were 8-2-2 in the 12 road games in which he registered points.  Overall, ice time seemed to agree with him and with the Caps, who were 19-5-5 in the 29 games in which he skated at least 20 minutes.

Cheerless’ Take… What was Jensen’s problem at home?  In 37 games, he was -5-6, plus-6, and shot 2.4 percent compared to 8.5 percent on the road.  These aren’t bad numbers for a defenseman from whom not a lot is expected offensively, but the home-road split was as wide as the Grand Canyon.  And it is probably a good thing Jensen is not a “physical” defenseman. It did not suit him or the Caps when he was.  In 21 games in which he was credited with three or more hits, the Caps were 9-10-2, and he was 1-3-4, plus-3.

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 100 career points (he has 91)
  • 500 career shots on goal (469)

The Big Question… Can Nick Jensen post another career year in his contract “walk” season?

Nick Jensen is not the only Capital in the last year of a contract, but his upcoming season might be interesting to watch unfold in that context.  Jensen is in the last year of a four-year/$10.0 million deal ($2.5 million annual cap hit). Last season, as a 31-year old, Jensen was something of a bargain at that rate.  Of 19 defensemen age 29-34 with cap hits from $2.0 to $3.0 million, he was tied for third in games played (76), second in goals scored (five), third in points (21), first in plus-minus rating (plus-32), and third in shots on goal (source:   If he duplicates that performance in 2022-2023, he will likely be a bargain once more, and that means that if he opts to test free agency, he would command a higher level of compensation, even at age 32.  The issue is whether the Capitals would be a team willing to spring for the additional pay to retain his services.

In the end… notes Nick Jensen’s career potential as “mobile puck-moving defenseman.”  Simple, basic skills, and they describe Jensen quite adequately.  What is more, Jensen provides the stability to the middle pair that gives the Caps consistency in the top four with a John Crlson/Martin Fehervary top pair and a Jensen/Dmitry Orlov second pair.  That kind of stability can be valuable on its own merits so that more attention can be paid to settling on forward combinations with the absences of Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Carl Hagelin to start the season.

Jensen has considerable incentive to produce this season, as he will be playing for what is likely to be his last big money contract.  He has been up to the challenge in an understated way as his production numbers have improved in his seasons with the Caps.  He has found a certain comfort level in the role he plays with this club, and while it remains uncertain whether that chair is comfortable enough to stay in Washington – a matter for another day – Caps fans can be comfortable in the knowledge that Jensen is likely to perform at an effective, if quiet level this season.

Projection: 76 games, 4-18-22, plus-18