From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up, John Erskine.
#4 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Jun 26, 1980
$1,250,000 cap hit in 2009-10; UFA after 2011-12
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Key Stat: Erskine's 1.71 GAON/60 was the lowest among all Capitals defensemen in the 2008-09 season.
Interesting Stat: Erskine's -0.06 quality of competition rating was the lowest among Capitals defensemen as well; his 0.12 quality of teammate rating was the highest.
The Good: Simply put, Erskine did what was asked of him without too much fuss during the regular season, taking regular shifts at even strength (15:07 per game) without allowing too many goals, and killed penalties more efficiently than any defenseman on the team other than Mike Green.
Of course a lot of the good that came out of Erskine's game came from his overt physicality and toughness. Erskine led Capitals defensemen in hits per game and was second in blocked shots per game, despite being sixth in ice time per game among defensemen. Although concussion concerns have led to Erskine dropping the gloves less often than he had in earlier seasons, Erskine handled himself pretty well in the three fights he had in the 08-09 season.
The Bad: It's not exactly news when it comes to Erskine, but the rugged blueliner contributed virtually nothing on offense in the 2008-09 season. In a combined 64 regular season and playoff games and a combined 1,102:35 of ice time, Erskine only two primary assists and didn't register a single goal. In fact, Erskine's performance in the offensive zone may have hurt the Capitals this season: Anecdotally, Erskine seemed to put the puck into the shin pads of opposing defensemen an awful lot; statistically he had his shots blocked more often than any defenseman other than Green. Erskine also only got 38% of his five-on-five shot attempts get on net compared with 45% for Karl Alzner, 43% for Milan Jurcina, 41% for Green, and 41% for Shaone Morrisonn.
In his own end Erskine was generally solid during the regular season, but for all the praise he received for playing well in the playoffs, particularly against the Rangers, he finished the postseason with a 2.78 GAON/60 rating. That rating was second-worst on the team, behind only the injured and ineffective Mike Green and was registered despite the fact Erskine against weaker competition than any Capitals defenseman other than Brian Pothier.
Finally, Erskine's solid goals against statistics are mitigated by the fact that he played against weaker opposition and with stronger teammates than other Caps defensemen. Despite this, Erskine took penalties more often than any Capitals defenseman other than Jurcina, and 61% of Erskine's minors were restraining fouls. Erskine was also a liability with the puck at times this season, giving the puck away more often than anyone other than Alzner, while registering the fewest takeaways of any Capitals defenseman.
The Vote: Rate Erskine below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: What role do you see John Erskine playing on the 2009-10 Capitals, and what role do you think he should play? Is he a guy who should be getting a sweater every night, getting regular shifts, and killing penalties? Or is he a seventh defenseman at the NHL level; one who should be used as a reserve when others are hurt? Finally, is his potential enough to justify his new contract extension and salary?