From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2010-11 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2011-12. Next up, John Erskine.
#4 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Jun 26, 1980
$1,500,000 cap hit in 2011-12; UFA after 2012-13
'09-'10 Rink Wrap: 4.54
Key Stat: Erskine's four goals were a career high.
Interesting Stat: Erskine and fellow blue-liner Tyler Sloan combined for the fourth-most minutes (205.3) of any Caps defensive pair at even strength this year (s/t to Neil Greenberg).
The Good: John Erskine had a career-defining year, suiting up for a career-best 73 games, racking up 11 points, and filling in admirably as a top 4 defenseman repeatedly during a regular season which saw numerous Caps defenders visit the injured reserve list. His 11 points constituted over 25% of his career output - which has spanned eight seasons - and seven of those points came in a torrid 18-game stretch in the first third of the season.
As usual, Erskine also brought heart and physicality with him, whether in the form of hits (third on the team with 166), blocking shots (fourth on the team with 120), crease-clearing (including a memorable beat-down of Dustin Byfuglien after the Thrasher forward ran Michal Neuvirth in an early-season game), or fighting (4-0-2 including a few heavyweight bouts), one of which included a Winter Classic clash with Mike Rupp that ended prematurely because the latter lost a contact lens. Apparently, John Erskine has a bit of honor to go with the growl.
Despite his quality of teammates being sixth worst on the team, Erskine still managed to be a net positive player for the Caps, finishing with a +0.06 ON/60 and +1.1 shot differential over 60 minutes at even strength. This from a player many fans labeled a liability and wanted to see stapled to the press box on most nights.
The Bad: Although Erskine was firmly entrenched in the top-6 defensive rotation most of the year, his ice time per game dropped to a career low of 14:50, 1:09 less than his 2009-10 TOI. Despite being a defensive defenseman he could not crack the top rotation of penalty killers, finishing eighth among Caps defensemen in PK TOI. And despite moving to a defensive-oriented system after the December 7 blowout loss to the Rangers - one that theoretically played to Erskine's strengths - Erskine's TOI actually fell from 15:10 to 14:34, as he produced only four points and finished -2 in his last 43 regular season games.
Additionally, Erskine continued a career-long trend of taking penalties, finishing with the largest gap between penalties taken and penalties drawn, 0.7, of any full-time Caps regular with over 40 games played. Making that stat uglier is the fact that Erskine played against the lowest quality of competition of any player on the team.
Despite having a good season, in the end John Erskine did not play himself out of being a sixth or seventh NHL defenseman. If fans harbored any hope of Erskine permanently playing above his typecast role, it was rudely snuffed out in the playoffs. Erskine's lack of speed and lateral quickness was routinely exploited by Tampa, who abused him multiple times in the series.
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: Is John Erskine worth $1.5M in 2011-12 or is there someone in the organization who can play a depth defenseman role as effectively at a portion of the cost? What would it take for Erskine to earn a 10 next year?