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, Brian Pothier.
#2 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Apr 15, 1977
$2,500,000 cap hit in 2009-10; UFA after '09-'10
Key Stat: Simply put, after suffering through headaches and hell for 14 months, following a crushing hit by Boston's bruising winger, Milan Lucic, in January of 2008 which concussed him and altered his vision permanently, Potsy returned triumphantly and played over 16 minutes a game for the final month of the regular season and through two tremendously draining playoff rounds.
Interesting Stat: His only goal of this season, and post-season, was a game-winner (March 27th vs. TB).
The Good: It gives me great joy to write this one. Pain, fear, perseverance, faith, and then, finally, rebirth. The extraordinary return of Pothier was a hockey miracle. And as for his team, Potsy's restoration to full health and regular duty, frankly, allowed the Capitals to proceed into the post-season, no matter what happened at the trade deadline, within the confines of the salary cap and without unbounded anxiety that one significant injury to the blue line would completely unravel the D corps. In fact, he effectively replaced an injured Jeff Schultz after just game one of the first round series versus the Rangers. Even in mid-March, would you have thought him good for more than 16 minutes a game in the post-season, a tick more TOI/G than ? Imagine how the team's defense would have fared against the Rangers (not to mention the Penguins) without Pothier and without Schultz and with a busted Mike Green?
Potsy's recovery provided a critical Plan B for GM George McPhee, who didn't have to mortgage the future to acquire a veteran defenseman insurance policy at the deadline (even if it were salary cap possible to do so).
In that healthy dose of ice time, almost 15 minutes per game of which came at even strength, Pothier, paired with John Erskine, basically held it together. Once getting comfortable again with the speed of the NHL game, and after taking and dishing a handful of heavy hits, he seldom looked out of place. Sound decision-making was, again in this spring as it was before the January 2008 concussion, a hallmark of Potsy's game. Nothing fancy, nothing crazy. He finished +2 at ES during the playoffs, and was on for two PP goals. All of his other peripheral stats were, frankly, unremarkable. And for Pothier, this season, unremarkable is ok.
That GWG against Tampa, the exclamation point to his comeback statement, and the standing ovation which followed in the stupendously loud Centre Verizón, brought tears to my eyes. It was a moment in team history that should be fondly remembered for a good long while in Capsland.
The Bad: Even a full season's performance at the level at which Pothier performed for 22 games this spring would fall below what may reasonably be expected from a $2.5 million defenseman. But we must manage those expectations, and see what this September's training camp, and a full season from the start, brings for Potsy in the final year of his Capitals pact.
A healthy Brian would be called upon to shoot more, certainly more than his recent average of less than one S/G. And perhaps spend more time on the PP point, spelling Tom Poti, with his left-handed shot, as he sometimes did during the 2007-08 season before he went on the IR.
But that's all looking forward. Again, for what was expected of Pothier this season, and his tremendous comeback, his Rink Wrap should be overwhelmingly positive. But, of course, we want to know your reasoned opinion.
The Vote: Rate Pothier 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: Could Pothier emerge from September camp as more than a third pair defenseman? Does he still have room for improvement relative to his performance this past spring, in what will be a pivotal contract year in his hockey career? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?