From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2011-12 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2012-13. Next up, Keith Aucoin.
#23 / Center / Washington Capitals
Nov 06, 1978
NHL Seasons: 7 (parts)
Contract Status: $512,500 cap hit in 2011-12; UFA after 2011-12 season
The Good: Keith Aucoin has become the consummate journeyman, toiling in that purgatory between the AHL and NHL for over a decade. Thanks to injuries on the Caps' roster, Aucoin was able to make a semi-permanent leap up to the big club for his longest NHL stint since the 07-08 season with Carolina, and eventually translate that into his first NHL playoff action as well.
There was a reason he stuck around for as long as he did, and it wasn't just the fact that the Caps needed a warm body at center. Aucoin was a reliable if not exceedingly flashy role player who found good chemistry among the team's third- and fourth-line players. He finished the season just two points shy of his career high of 13 (and tying his career total in assists, due in no small part to a three-assist night against the Islanders) while playing in 11 fewer games. He also picked up his first career playoff point with an assist on the eventual game-winner in Game 4 against his hometown Bruins. His points/60 in the regular season was the highest on the team, and he was on the ice for more goals-for per 60 than anyone else while also being on the ice for the fourth fewest goals-against-per-60 among all forwards who played at least a quarter of the season.
The Bad: While he did lead the team in Corsi Rel and Points/60, Aucoin did it with the easiest minutes on the team, and by a healthy margin; he faced the 15th toughest competition among forwards, and the spread between 14 (Mathieu Perreault) and 10 (Nicklas Backstrom) was less than the spread between Perreault and Aucoin. Aucoin also benefited from a 1043 PDO, which was boosted by higher-than-average save % and shooting % (.932 and 11.1% respectively, both top 3 among forwards), numbers that would likely not hold up over a larger sample. It's nice that Aucoin was able to produce in the softer regular season minutes, but his scoring dried up in the playoffs (and a regression of his PDO to 993), to the tune of .46 points/60 at five-a-side.
Despite Aucoin's skillset, and high scoring AHL pedigree, he was unable to become a productive member of the Caps' power play. Among forwards, he was 8th among Corsi Rel in the regular season, and 14th among points/60. Given that Aucoin got the 7th most PPTOI among forwards in the playoffs, you'd like to have seen him more productive. His rate stats on the PP look good (a team leading 25.7 Corsi Rel, 3.79 points/60, 4th best among forwards), but that's a product of small sample. He had one power play assist in the playoffs, and that was thanks in large part to Alex Semin's shooting skill. He certainly wasn't alone in this regard, but for someone routinely getting big minutes on the power play he simply was not creating enough offense.
The Vote: Rate Aucoin 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: Aucoin has paid his dues and bounced around from team to team over the last decade; with his contract set to expire on July 1, is he someone the Caps should try and hang on to, whether for another extended stint in Washington or a return to Hershey, or is it time to let him move on to his next stop? Does the playoff experience he's gained this year and hard work he's known for make up for certain glaring deficiencies as an NHLer? Finally, what will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?