October 25, 2014

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part III: Overachiever and underachiever

Part three of our Washington Capitals end-of-season roundtable will focus on the players our panel thought were the biggest surprises and biggest disappointments this year.

Once again, our panelists are Dave Nichols (DSP Editor-in-Chief), Abram Fox (DSP Caps Page Editor), Erika Schnure (Ravings of a Rink Rebel and DSP’s Caps minor league contributor), Andrew Tomlinson (DSP Caps contributor) and respected Caps media Ted Starkey (author of Transition Game and Red Rising), Peter Hassett (Russian Machine Never Breaks) and Adam Vingan (NBCWashington.com and Kings of Leonsis).

Click here to see Part I, “Disappointed or encouraged“, and here to see Part II, “How did Hunter do?”

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Dave: The single player that overachieved in my eyes was Jason Chimera. He’s always been a terrific skater, one of the fastest in the league. He’s energetic and ornery. But he’s never been known as a scorer until this season. He utilized his speed to open up scoring chances and unlike in year’s past, actually converted on a large portion of them. In the regular season, Chimera set personal bests in goals (20) and points (39), and registered five game-winning goals. He continued his net presences in the playoffs, notching four goals and three assists in 14 games.

On the other side of the ledger was Alexander Semin. He barely beat out Chimera in goals (21), suffering the lowest goal total since his rookie season and tying ’10-’11’s disappointing 54 points total, his third lowest point totals in his career. Some of the scoring problems might have to do with luck — his shooting percentage was just 11.5 percent, down from his career 14.1 percent and the lowest season mark since his rookie campaign. Or, Semin could just be aging no-so-gracefully. Each of the last three seasons we’ve seen his goal total drop precipitously, from a high of 40 in ’09-’10 to 28 in ’10-’11 to just 21 this past season. He’s an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Do the Caps invest, looking for a rebound? Should they? Does Sasha test out the NHL free agent waters? Or does he take up residence in the KHL next season? Fascinating question.

Dishonorable mention goes to Marcus Johansson. It’s clear he’s not the second line center the Caps though they might have had. He spent much of this season bouncing between lines, mostly playing on the wing. He was the team’s third leading scorer (14-32-46), which is probably an indictment of the team more than the second-year player. But he recorded just three points in 14 playoff games and his season faceoff percentage (43.2%) was atrocious. He’s young enough that this might have been a “transition” year, but he needs to get stronger on the puck, work on his faceoffs, and just plain shoot the puck more often. He ranked 341st in the NHL in total number of shots.

Abram: Braden Holtby exceeded the universe’s expectations, let’s get that out of the way off the top. Otherwise, it was mostly the players with low expectations that exceeded them. Jay Beagle showed that, far from a career AHL player, he’s a strong penalty-killer and faceoff specialist, a poor man’s Manny Malhotra. Matt Hendricks is a valuable 4th liner with speed and hustle and can keep the puck in the opponent’s zone while D.C.’s scorers take a rest. His brilliant shootout performance gives him great added value in the regular season.

John Carlson and Jason Chimera also impressed. Carlson’s newfound defensive prowess is a heartening sign for Washington’s future, and Chimera’s combination of grit, scoring ability, and blazing speed makes him a player the other 29 teams covet and an absolute steal at his current salary.

As this season has largely been a disappointment, it’s easy to pick out some notable players on that front. Semin, who is an offense-only player, brought very little of it. Dennis Wideman did bring the offense that was hoped from him in his second full season with the Caps, but the veteran defender never acclimated to Hunter’s system and his production fell off drastically after his All-Star Game appearance. Marcus Johansson similarly struggled at times under Hunter, and although he was much better as a setup man in his sophomore season, he wilted in the playoffs and seems destined to be a tweener 2nd/3rd-liner that the organization hoped.

Erika: Exceeding expectations was Matt Hendricks. He’s always been the guy to do the dirty work, but he thrived so well under Hunter’s system. Especially in the postseason, he had a great game almost every game.

The player who disappointed me most, unfortunately, was Marcus Johansson. He was buzzing at the beginning of the season, but got progressively worse as the season went on. In the postseason, he was downright dreadful. If he wasn’t making glaring errors or poor decisions with the puck, he was completely invisible. I don’t know if maybe he didn’t take well to Hunter’s system or what it was, but something was definitely off with Johansson’s game this year.

Andrew: Karl Alzner has always been a guy I really liked as a defenseman and thought he was left in Hershey way to long. This year he grew to become one of the top five to ten best defenseman in the Eastern Conference. He has defensive smarts and often times makes the other member of his pairing play at a higher level.

It is hard to look past the Captain, Alex Ovechkin, as the biggest disappointment of the year. He turned it on late in the season, but the end to his season was sort of fitting, with a disappearing act in a crucial Game 7.

Ted: Jason Chimera had an excellent season, doubling his goal total of a year before, and was able to really help the team’s depth lines create some scoring. While not a lot of Caps saw their point total rise in the past season, Chimera set personal bests for both goals (20) and points (39) in his career, and registering his best season in a Washington sweater. One of the players who got a lot of work under Hunter’s system, Chimera used his speed down the wing to create scoring chances, and took advantage of the ones he got to put together a nice season for the Caps.

Chimera also had 4 goals and 3 assists in the postseason, including notching the game-winner in Game 6 of the Rangers series, knocking in a Backstrom feed past Henrik Lundqvist.

On the other side, during the regular season, John Carlson seemed to regress, only contributing 9 goals but dropping to a -15 in plus/minus, with some ill-advised give-aways and seemed to be losing confidence as the season progressed. Once envisioned as a puck mover who could compliment Mike Green, Carlson developed some bad habits on the ice, and seemed to not be having a whole lot of fun off the ice and it showed.

Good news for the Capitals that paired with Karl Alzner in the postseason, Carlson made a nice recovery, playing with a lot more confidence – and scoring 2 goals and 3 assists through two rounds.

Peter: Karl Alzner exceeded my expectations, perhaps in part because he’s so low-key he doesn’t attract much expectation to start with. He played tough minutes in all 82 games and had few exemplary bad nights.

I’d say Tomas Vokoun was a qualified disappointment. He did not start the season well and played a big role in the games leading to Boudreau’s firing. He recovered fantastically after the new year, but his season-ending injury sort of spoiled the redemption plotline. I wish he’d come back to the Caps for another chance next season.

Adam: Jason Chimera exceeded my expectations. He has always possessed some semblance of offensive skill (though constant remarks regarding his “stone hands” would prove otherwise), but this season, he actually became one of the Caps’ go-to scorers in the clutch. Chimera was tied for first on the team with five game-winners and he set career-highs in goals (20) and points (39). That carried over into the postseason, where he scored four goals and was third on the team with seven points. Complementing a newly found offensive game with his trademark speed and tenacity made Chimera one of Washington’s most dangerous players. Whether he can keep that up next season, however, remains to be seen.

In terms of disappointing, Dennis Wideman takes that “honor” in a landslide. Wideman never truly got to establish himself upon his arrival in February 2011 due to a debilitating leg injury, but when he returned this season, the idea of having Wideman, Mike Green and John Carlson in the lineup together had Caps fans frothing at the mouth.

For the first half of the season, Wideman impressed, earning 34 points while also leading the Caps in ice time. Yet, once he returned from his first-ever All-Star Game, Wideman disappeared. Between January 31 and May 12, Wideman scored twice. In the postseason, not only was he Washington’s worst defenseman, but he might have been the worst player overall. He finished at a minus-7, which is still the second-worst of any player who appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wideman was an All-Star defenseman by name only this season.

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We’ll take the weekend off, then return Monday with Part IV: A withering look at the captain, Alex Ovechkin.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. Chimera did indeed have his best season this year but looking at who his linemate was, it’s no surprise. Alex Semin created numerous opportunities for Chimera night in and night out. Chimera isn’t the set-up type of guy but Semin is. Semin worked and worked to get Chimera the puck in multiple situations and overall that “second” line was the most productive throughout the season. It’s a team sport and Semin consistently makes a difference when he is on the ice…his +/- was insane during the regular season. And offensive-only?? I don’t think so. His best season, ’09-’10, had him on the penalty kill AND scoring 40 goals. He is a phenomenal 2-way player and deserves what his agent is asking for….a bigger role.

    • Dave Nichols says:

      thanks for your comment. I don’t know about Sasha the playmaker, I’m sure there were occasions that the defense was more preoccupied with him than Chimera. but it’s undeniable that his production has gone down three years running and with just four points in 14 playoffs games, he hasn’t done much to reinforce the idea that he’s a player the Caps — or anyone — can depend on. the talent is unquestionably immense, but the results have not been commesurate to that talent, in my opinion, anyway.

      • Yes, production is down but for many reasons. For the past two years AT LEAST he has played with a carousel of centers AND wingers. He has learned (unlike other stars) that a pass may be more beneficial in times when he is being defended by multiple opponents in the offensive zone…instead of risking a turnover. Many of his teammates never finished what he set up. I’m not claiming he is God or anything, but he is much better than people give him credit for and deserves a bigger role. He was most productive when he held a bigger role on the team–PK, 1st PP unit, many minutes. That equals production. Caps messed up by taking minutes away from him in my opinion. Let’s remember that offensive production is down as a whole these days…defense first and sit the snipers. As for the Rangers series? How many minutes did he play compare to the others? Shouldn’t they have done more for our team than someone on the bench?

        • Dave Nichols says:

          I’ll acknowledge the rotating linemates, but that isn’t really all that indicitive. many (most) teams shuffle lines all the time. this year was particularly bad wtih Caps missing Backstrom, but at some point, reasons turn into excuses. I’m not damning the player, and in the right situation he can be beneficial to a team. But am I not allowed to be disappointed with a player that scored half as many goals as he did two years ago with a shooting percentage lower than any time in his career?

  2. Jerry L Rivas says:

    Sasha has always been my favorite Caps player. He has the “sickest” shot on the team. He seemed to improve much toward the end of this season under Hunter, mixing it up pretty well with opponents vying for the puck along the boards. I think most pundits give him a low mark, make him the scapegoat, for a team that is poorly led. Just ask yourself: how many teams in this league would swap every player they have for every player on the Caps? About 16, I’d say. So, to my mind, what the Caps need is fresh management, a new GM and a new head coach. Start there and let them decide which players fit and which don’t. Hmmm, I guess I just told you pundits to take the week off, eh?

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Thanks for the comment. There is certainly a number of Caps fans that have suggested they clean house in the front office, but I don’t see that happening. Leonsis is loyal (maybe to a fault) and McPhee isn’t going anywhere. This off-season, with all the UFAs and RFAs is big for him though, I will admit.

  3. SharonS says:

    I don’t think Semin was a disappointment at all. He improved greatly under Hunter and was terrific defensively. Don’t forget that he was averaging a point a game for 32 straight games in February. His line was the best by far the last part of the season and during the playoffs. I agree that Chimera’s scoring benefited a great deal by playing with Semin. Semin has the highest puck possession stats on the team and was a constant playmaker for that line. I think Semin was poorly used during the Ranger series but even so he played very well. In fact, I think it is baffling that someone with his multidimentional skill set and cap hit was not relied on more for PK duties, first PP unit, high ice time. It seems weird that during the Bruins series he scored 2 PP goals while on the first PP unit, but was taken off that unit during the Ranger series, but yet he is blamed for not scoring. Huh? I can see why he is frustrated. With his talent, he will do well whever he is and he will make a lot of money. I wish him well.

  4. Gary Sz says:

    I’m surprised and heartened to see others are ahead of me in defending Sasha. First, the guy’s been playing without a legitimate 2nd line center for 2 – 3 years now. For a long stretch this year he was putting up an assist per game, as if he knew no one was going to be able to set him up for a goal so he needed to set up one of his linemates. Without Sasha, I wonder if Chimera would have had the year he had, and I wonder if Perrault would still be in the NHL. Second, playing on the second PP unit is going to bring down his goals. Third, under Hunter he was playing in a defense first system. I may be slightly off but if I recall correctly, Semin was in the press box for a game at the time BB was canned, and when Hunter took over, he carried that forward for one game, and in any event I recall watching Semin in the scratches skate working on defense with Jim Johnson for a long time. Message pretty clear, play defense, this way, if you want to play, nothing wrong with that, it clearly helped his defense. For the rest of the season I saw a guy that played solid defense without complaint, even though the impact was going to be, less chances to break away or head up on a rush, put up goals, and get a nice contract next year based on his offensive numbers. He did what he was asked and appeared to be a team player, and he’ll lose a couple million next year for that. Caveat being he apparently complained through his agent at the end of the year and OV made that comment about some players being jealous or however he put it, which makes me wonder if he maybe wasn’t such a team player off the ice. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Changing topic a bit, I don’t know if there is going to a part IV or whatever that talks about predictions for next year, but when we were in that end of year funk and lost to Buffalo for the umpteenth time at home and it looked like we may not make the playoffs and serious change was needed, I got to thinking of options, and it was either, change the core players as has been suggested for a couple of years now, or, double down, resign Semin, get Kuznetzov over here, and go all in. Without Kuznetzov or Semin (if he doesn’t come back, and even if he does, no second line center to set him up), and if OV isn’t going to produce at the level expected from $9.5M of cap space, man, I really fear we’re going to become a middle of the pack team that isn’t good enough to make a playoff run, isn’t bad enough to draft elite players, and doesn’t have the cap space to shore things up via free agents. And doesn’t have an owner with the cajones to bring in a new GM to make the kind of drastic changes that may be needed. Sure hope that’s not our future.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] or encouraged“, here to see Part II, “How did Hunter do?”, here to see Part III, “Overachiever or underachiever?”, here to see Part IV, “Captain, My Captain“, and here to see Part V, “Free agent [...]

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