Capitals Player Report Card: Tyler Sloan

Tyler Sloan

Stats: 33 GP, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, -6, 14 PIM
Contract Info: $700,000 cap hit, signed through 2011-12
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Ranking: 29/30
Defensemen: 10/10
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 29/30
Defensemen: 10/10

I was actually looking forward to doing this report card the most and it’s not because Tyler Sloan is last one on the list, it’s because Sloan’s a player that I constantly berate whenever I watch him play. He’s someone who typically only plays 10-12 minutes per night in a 3rd pairing defense role because his play in the defensive zone is typically spotty at best and can be absolutely brutal at times. I couldn’t wait to look at his underlying numbers to see if they say that he is as bad as I think he is (those quick stats above should give you a hint that they are) and they are for the most part but while taking  a gander at his player card from BTH, I noticed some interesting things…

First off, look at his offensive zone starts over the years. He was actually given TOUGHER minutes the last two seasons compared to 2010-11. I really would like an explanation for that because Sloan did nothing to show that he could handle those minutes in those two seasons and it took Boudreau this long to figure that out? This was also the first season where he saw below average competition instead of middling like he usually did. Huh? Maybe this is why I felt that his play wasn’t as brutal as it usually is this season because Boudreau was finally realizing his limitations and sheltering him. However, he got destroyed even when playing soft minutes by having a terrible relative corsi rate of -18.8 and surrendering over 30 shots per 60 minutes. Uhh…I think that qualifies as “worse than bad.” However, despite giving up that many shots, he had relatively the same amount of goals allowed per 60 minutes as he did last season and that was with the same on-ice save percentage as he had last season so at least he’s consistently bad?

Nevertheless, Sloan is a “fringe NHL player” who you activate whenever you need to which is usually when there are numerous injuries or lack of depth on your team’s defensive corps and the Caps had a lot of that this season.  However, he was kept out of the lineup in favor of Sean Collins in game 4 of the Tampa Bay series when Mike Green was hurt, which should show you how much trust this team has in his abilities. The amount of ice time he was given all season shows that he isn’t depended on in that many key situations (was barely used on PP and PK) so the team opted to go with someone who is less of a liability in his own zone than he is in a very important game.

The report card grade is relative to my expectations and my expectations for Sloan are always at rock bottom so I have to give him something like a D- for this year. I expected him to be bad and he was…and then it only got worse when I saw that he actually did worse with sheltered minutes which is awful. The only thing that kept him in Washington all-season was the fact that he couldn’t return to Hershey without being exposed to waivers but even then, I don’t think many teams would be chomping at the bit to get him after seeing some of his highlights (watch the Washington/Atlanta game from late November to see what I mean).

Capitals Player Report Card: Tom Poti

Tom Poti

Stats: 21 GP, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, -4, 8 PIM
Contract Info: $2,875,000 cap hit, signed through 2012-13
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Ranking: 22/29
Defensemen: 9/10
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 21/29
Defensemen: 9/10

This might be an unpopular opinion but Tom Poti is a good not that bad of a defenseman, at least he wasn’t in 2009-10. He played tough minutes (47% OZ%) against tough competition (ranked first on the team in that category) and actually came out with a positive corsi rating and was only on-ice for 1.86 goals allowed per 60 minutes. For someone who is a second pairing defenseman, that is pretty damn good. Good enough for George McPhee to reward him with a two-year extension worth about $2.875 mil per season with still a year remaining on his current contract. Unfortunately for him and Caps fans, Poti’s strong 2009 campaign didn’t translate over into this year. He missed 3/4 of the season with injuries and he could be the odd-man out in the team’s defense corps depending on what happens in the next few weeks.

Poti played in a career low 21 games due to a nagging groin injury which some are saying could potentially end his career. At 34, he isn’t getting any younger and his play this season clearly showed that he is wearing down as a player. He played softer minutes against weaker competition and struggled badly against them (-9.3 5v5 relative corsi) and also ended up on the negative side of shots for/against per 60 minutes with a -0.8. The only positives were that he seemed to be killing penalties better than he did in previous years and had decent offensive numbers in the 21 games where he was active. He also ended up below 50% in scoring chances despite getting softer minutes…which is obviously not good at all. Corsi percentage may have been high but when factoring in his zone starts, he ended up having a -8.23, good for next to last on the team.

Poti was definitely missed when he was out. Him being out of the lineup meant having to suit up fringe NHL players like Brian Fahey and Tyler Sloan more than we would have liked and it proved to be a big problem at the end of the season when a cavalcade of injuries seemed to happen to our defense corps. Poti also has decent puck-moving skills and with him and Green out, it put a lot of weight on the shoulders of rookie John Carlson to provide offense from the blue-line. He’s important to this team…which is why his down season had a pretty big effect on the rest of the squad.

Poti’s future with the team is uncertain because the Caps already have numerous defensemen under contract for next year including him but many say the acquisition of Dennis Wideman (who is also signed for next season) makes Poti expandable, which I would agree with. McPhee picked the absolute worst time to give Poti a new contract but the cap hit isn’t that bad and I think some teams who have a severe lack of NHL talent on the blue line might offer at it. However, I know that GMGM is high on Poti so I’m not sure how likely it is that will happen. Poti gets a C- from me on the year. Would have been a D but the injuries weren’t his fault…I guess.

Capitals Report Card: Semyon Varlamov

Semyon Varlamov

Stats: 25 GP, 11-9-5, .924 save pct. 2.23 GAA, 2 SO, .930 EV SV%,
Contract Info: $821, 667 cap hit, pending RFA

Much of the Caps off-season turmoil has been centered around their young Russian goalie (and pending RFA) Semyon Varlamov and whether or not he will return to Washington to battle for the starting job or go to the KHL where he will likely have a chance to be a starter and earn a lot more money while doing so. I am someone who believes that you do not need to spend big money on goaltenders unless you’re getting a proven elite goalie or someone you can count on to keep your team in every game (Tomas Vokoun, Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist come to mind), so I do not think George McPhee needs to break the bank when offering Varly a new contract. However, if Varlamov leaves and the Caps get nothing in return, I will not be happy because I still maintain that he is the best goalie the Caps have and the season he just had only strengthens my opinion.

Varlamov’s season began on the injured reserve list, a place he is more familiar with than we would like to be, and he ended up losing his starting job to Michal Neuvirth as a result. When Varlamov was healthy, he played like he was the better goalie and I still say that he wasn’t the starting goalie in the playoffs because he was injured for a good portion of the season and Neuvirth played well enough to keep the job. I know it’s with a small sample size, but this tandem has given the Capitals some of the best goaltending they’ve seen in awhile in their (roughly) two years in Washington.  Last season, Varlamov set career bests in save percentage and GAA after having somewhat of a down season in 2009-10. His record may have been only 11-9-5 but I have always considered wins somewhat of a meaningless stat for goaltenders because Varlamov played well in most of the games that he didn’t win, especially his 30+ save performances against Tampa Bay where the team was shutout twice. Looking at his game log, you’ll see only two disastrous starts (@NYR and ANA) there surrounded by solid performances in just about every other game. This article does a good job at detailing the lack of goal support that Varly has gotten compared to Neuvirth, hence why he has a worse record than him.

As I stated earlier, Varlamov’s durability is what’s keeping him from being the starting goaltender for the Capitals. He was bothered by a groin injury for almost the entire season and missed nearly all of October, November and March and even needed to make a few conditioning starts in Hershey because of it. It was also what kept him from starting in the playoff that and Neuvirth not being to blame at all for any of the losses against Tampa Bay but it should be noted that Varlamov was lights out against Tampa Bay this season with a .949 save percentage and one shutout against them, so I think starting him would have been at least worth a shot when the team was down 0-2 heading into Game 3.

When it comes to giving Varly a new contract, I feel that his ceiling should be $2 mil per year because he hasn’t shown that he can play a full-season but he has shown that he can play great when given the chance and that’s what most young goalies need to do if they want to stay in the league. It’s a shame that he was hampered with injuries again because he improved in just about every category compared to last season so I’m giving him a B here. The door is still open for Varly to be the starter in DC but he has to earn it and be willing to take a significant paycut compared to what he might get in Russia (I’ve heard $4-4.5 mil per year thrown around). McPhee has made his stance clear on how he feels about the situation and so has Varly so I hope the two of them can come to an agreement in a couple weeks having Varlamov is very important to this team and we can not let him leave for nothing.

Capitals Player Report Card: Scott Hannan

Scott Hannan

Stats: 78 GP, 1 Goal, 10 Assists, 11 Points, +4, 34 PIM
Contract Info: $4,500,000 cap hit, pending UFA
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Rank: 7/29
Defensemen: 2/10
Balanced Corsi: 10/29
Defensemen: 4/10

When the Caps traded for Scott Hannan, fans had a wide range of expectations for him. Some thought that he would be the “big physical shutdown defenseman that we have always needed” while others simply saw him as giving our blue-line more depth, which we needed badly with all of the injuries. I was in the latter camp because I always thought Hannan was a good defensive player, but he’s not Shea Weber (then again, who is?) and the fact that we were able to get him for only Tomas Fleischmann. Hannan certainly fared much better than I thought he would in Washington and proved to be a very durable and reliable defenseman that we needed. However, after taking a closer look at his season, it appears that losing him this off-season may not be as devastating as I thought it would be.

“Solid, steady defenseman” describes Hannan best at this point in his career and that’s just what he was in Washington. You’ll see that he slowly got more even strength ice time as the season went on and led the Caps in ice-time for many games during the middle stretch of the season. Taking a look at his player card, you’ll see that he wasn’t depended on in Washington as much as he was for the Avalanche. He was given less ice time and saw much weaker competition compared to his years in Colorado. but he still logged a lot of minutes on most nights. He also managed to have one of the best scoring chance percentages on the team despite starting over 50% of his draws in the defensive zone, which speaks highly of his ability to prevent opposing chances more than it does to create ones on his own.

Hannan was also one of the few Caps defensemen who were able to stay healthy for most of the year and he became more depended on during the playoffs due to injuries to Mike Green, John Carlson, Dennis Wideman and others but he was able to handle those minutes. He also played well despite lacking a consistent partner for most of the seasons. He was either paired with John Erskine or Jeff Schultz most of the time and neither of those two make an ideal partner but he made due with what he got. In fact, I think Schultz’s play actually in his own zone improved when he was paired with Hannan (still trying to figure out WOWY’s for this season so I can confirm this). I said all season that I would love to have Hannan back next year because our defense corps looks better with him, however if Hannan does leave, our defense corps isn’t crippled.

Taking a look at how he compares to other defensemen on the team in shots allowed per 60 minutes, he ranks about in the middle of the pack. His corsi improved dramatically compared to previous years (probably due to playing for a better team) but if you look at his relative corsi rating, it’s not that impressive. This is mostly because Scott Hannan’s game is very one-dimensional. He’s a solid stay-at-home d-man but not much more than that. He rarely contributes offensively and his stats over his career show that. This isn’t a knock on Hannan’s game at all because he’s not supposed to light up the scoresheet, he’s supposed to be a good defender and that’s what he was this season. I feel that defensive defensemen are very common in the NHL and can be signed for a lot less than Hannan made this year, which is why I believe the Caps losing him isn’t crippling. Is he better than someone like Shaone Morrisonn or Milan Jurcina? Absolutely. Is he irreplaceable? Absolutely not.

Again, I’m not knocking Hannan’s game at all by saying that because he did what he was expected to do and played more minutes than I thought he would so he gets a B+ on the season. I still would like the Caps to bring him back next year but he’s going to have to sign for a lot less than what he’s making now. It seems that over the past few years, teams have been overpaying for defensive defensemen (see Komisarek, Mike) so he could fetch more in the open market after having a good season with Washington but I think the Caps can find someone whose game is similar to his for a lot less money. If he produces at both ends of the ice then that’s a different story.

Capitals Player Report Card: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom

Stats: 77 GP, 18 Goals, 47 Assists, 65 Points, +24, 40 PIM
Contract Info: $6,700,000 mil cap hit, signed through 2019-20
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Ranking: 5/29
Forwards: 4/19
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 1/29
Forwards: 1/19

The past couple of seasons, Nicklas Backstorm has slowly established himself as one of the elite centers in the NHL and his 101-point campaign in 2009-10 seemed to solidify himself as one and he was awarded with a 10-year contract extension worth $6.7 mil per year. This year, a notable regression seemed to happen….and that’s speaking lightly. Backstrom recorded his lowest goal total since his rookie season and his lowest assist and point totals in his career. Not the season want to have after signing such a huge contract. What caused such a huge decline for him? He probably isn’t going to hit 101 points again but I find it hard to believe that he has peaked at 23 years old. There’s too much talent there and we’ve seen that he is capable of so much more than what we saw this year. There were definitely some other things going on that weren’t exactly his fault, so I think a solid bounce-back season is possible for him.

I’ve already made it clear that this was a bad year offensively for Backstrom so there’s no need to go into detail about that. You can view the player cards for yourselves. However, something I do want to point out was that Backstrom’s play at the other end of the ice was something that really improved this year. He had 73 takeaways this year and was used considerably more on the PK than last year. He was also on ice for less shots allowed per 60 minutes this year than previous years and even less goals (only 1.80 G/60). Backstrom also managed to blow away most of his teammates in both the corsi and scoring chances (though that might have to do with him playing on the first line) despite having a down year offensively.

One reason for Backstrom’s decreased production could be that he was used in more of a defensive role this season. He is a very good two-way center and one of the team’s best face-off guys, which is why he had more defensive zone starts this season than previous years (51.0 OZ% this season compared to 58% last year). He saw weaker competition but he was clearly being used in more defensive situations because him and Boyd Gordon (and David Steckel if you want to get technical) were the best centers on the team when it came to face-offs, thus making Bruce Boudreau use them in those roles. Backstrom led the team in balanced corsi because he took so many defensive zone draws and outplayed his competition while doing so. This is why I believe he will rebound. Granted, some of his playmaking skills seemed missing this season and he (along with nearly everyone else) struggled on the powerplay but I still stand by this statement. I have proposed this a few times but I think the Caps acquiring a defensive center or a face-off specialist this off-season and using him like the Canucks do with Manny Malhotra is important. We could possibly do that with some players on the roster right now (Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon) but we don’t know if those two will be on the roster next season so we should look at our options in free agency. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler had career seasons after the Canucks acquired Malhotra and had him take over 70% of the team’s defensive zone draws, allowing them to use the Sedins and Kesler in more offensive situations. There’s no reason not to try something like this to see if it works with Backstrom (and Ovechkin).

Tough for me to grade Backstrom’s season seeing how he is one of my favorite players in the league but I can not deny this was a disappointing season for him..but his good defensive play and good underlying numbers make this season not a total waste for him. However, this was the first season where he had to miss any games and had a terrible playoffs (o goals, 2 assists in 9 games) where he was playing with an injured hand so I can’t give him anything higher than a C here. No need to panic about him declining yet, though because as I said earlier, he is only 23. If he has another year or two with under 20 goals and 70 points, then I would start to panic.

Capitals Player Report Card: Mike Knuble

Mike Knuble

Stats: 79 GP, 24 goals, 16 assists, 44 points, +10, 36 PIM
Contract Info: $2,000,000 cap hit, signed through 2011-12 season
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Rank: 10/29
Forwards: 7/19
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 18/29
Forwards: 13/19

As the Caps first line goes, so does Mike Knuble. He is a passenger on the first line who is depended on for creating space for Ovechkin and Backstrom along with clearing out garbage in front of the net (which is how most of his goals are scored). As many already know, Ovechkin and Backstrom both had disappointing seasons and as a result, Knuble had his lowest point total since 2001-02. Despite that, Knuble still put home 24 goals and was a key player in the team’s top 6 and penalty kill and he emerged as one of the team’s leaders which was why he was rewarded with a one-year contract extension. Was that the right call? For that cost and what he brings to the table, I think so.

Many were thinking that Knuble’s age was catching up to him after his slow start to the season where he only scored 3 goals in the first two months. He slowly improved in the next few months but didn’t seem to hit his stride until late February/early March when he scored 10 goals in the last two months of the season. Many thought that his streak of scoring 20 or more of goals in a season would be broken this year but that strong surge at the end of the season really helped. Still, definitely a down year for him offensively compared to last season where he was scoring at a 1.48 G/60 pace. He also his lowest shooting percentage since 2003 despite shooting the puck considerably more than he did in recent years. His point production was definitely lower than most expected but he still finished above the team’s average in scoring chance percentage (which is expected when you play on the first line) and was a plus player in terms of corsi (something he wasn’t in last couple years with the Flyers).

One thing that’s gone down from his Flyers days is his ability to keep the puck out of his own zone or keep it in the offensive zone. Look at his Zone Start% column in his player card and you’ll see that he finished less of his zones in the offensive zone than he started in both of his years in Washington. That could be due to his age catching up to him and not being as fast as he used to be. However, he still has been good at preventing chances as his goals and shots allowed per 60 minutes has continued to decrease ever since he joined the Caps. It shows that with the right linemates, Knuble is still a very effective goal-scorer…but he is only as good as his linemates are.

We know that we can only expect a certain amount of production from Knuble and while I do think he had a solid season, he still didn’t live up to my expectations so I’m giving him a C+. It would have been a B- but he was not good in the playoffs (2 goals in 6 games, but he was playing through an injury) and he got bumped from the first line numerous times this year. Remember that failed experiment with him and Laich on the wings or with Chimera on the first line? That was due a combination of him (and Ovie and Backstrom) not producing the way he should have been. However, he played a pretty big role on the PK (1:23 SH TOI/G) and had a pretty big off-ice role as one of the team’s leaders which was shown in the 24/7 series as well as from players on the team who look up to him. I thought it was smart for the Caps to sign him for another year for exactly that purpose now let’s hope he can get off to a stronger start next season.

Capitals Player Report Card: Mike Green

Mike Green

Stats: 49 GP, 8 goals, 16 assists, 24 points, +6, 48 PIM
Contract Info: $5,250,000 capt hit, signed through 2011-12
Player Card

Scoring Chance Percentage Ranking: 15/29
Defensemen: 6/9
Balanced Corsi Ranking: 6/29
Defensemen: 2/29

“He is a joke of a defenseman.” “He is clueless in his own zone.” “He will never win a Norris.” “He is a playoff no-show.” I’ve heard all of these insults about Mike Green countless times, so much that I want to hit the next person who tells me  this. Green’s play in the defensive zone has ranged from spotty to abysmal the last few seasons which is why he made a commitment in the off-season to become a better defensive defenseman. The result? He has improved in his play in his own zone quite a bit while his offensive numbers dwindled a bit. That wasn’t the problem I had with him this season, though. The biggest issue with Green in the 10-11 season was that he could never stay healthy and the team suffered from it.

Green played in only 49 games this season, his lowest since his rookie year and while you could attribute some of his injuries to poor condition, some of them were just unavoidable. A shoulder injury in October kept him out of a few games and so did another injury in December but what really did the damage was when he took a Brooks Orpik slapshot to the head in February that concussed him. He tried to return a few games later but was concussed again after taking a hit from Derek Stepan and he missed the rest of the season but returned just in time for the playoffs. The team’s powerplay struggled all season but it seemed to take a huge hit when Green was hurt. He is ranked in the bottom-half for scoring chances at even strength but he created 1.4 scoring chances per 2 minute powerplay, which is a pretty big contribution to lose, especially from the blue line.

There’s no doubting that Green’s presence on the powerplay is huge and he is still a big offensive threat but he had a down year by his standards. I know that his 2008-09 season was absurd and probably wont be replicated but his goals and points per 60 minutes were the lowest they have been in awhile. He also only had 5 goals and 10 points on the powerplay this season which isn’t bad for a defenseman but for him, it is.

Some good news is that Green seems to have lived up to his commitment of being a better defensive player, which is important when you log as many minutes as he does. His goals allowed per 60 minutes decreased to 2.11 and his shots allowed fell to 25.9, both are huge improvement compared to previous years. This might have something to do with him not being used as part of the “shutdown pair” as the team has another duo to use in those situations. You’ll see his quality of competition was lower than it was the past two seasons but he was given more defensive zone starts than last year. This is possibly due to a combination of Boudreau trusting him more in defensive situations and the team having more offensive options on the blue line rather than just putting Green at the point every offensive zone draw.  His corsi rating was also higher than it was last year despite him shooting the puck less, which could show that he’s doing a better job of keeping the puck out of his own zone.

In a perfect world, Mike Green would have the perfect combination of both offensive and defensive instincts but things never work out that way, do they? I thought he was on his way to doing that this season before he got hurt but it’s clear that a lot of his offensive firepower was missing and even if he finished the season healthy, his point total would have likely been way lower than what most were expecting from him so I’ll give him a C on the season. Finished below my expectations but I did see some improvement in his defensive play but just about every problem with the Caps powerplay this year centered around him. Whether it was because he was hurt or not as effective as he should have been. Think it’s safe to say that we’ll be hoping for better things in 2011-12.