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,.
#4 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Key Stat: Erskine's 28 GP and 12:06 ATOI were his lowest as a Capital.
Interesting Stat: Erskine led the team in highest percentage of offensive zone starts at 54.9%.
The Good: John Erskine continued living up to his billing as a defensive defenseman, placing third on the team (and leading the defensive corps) in goals allowed per 60 (1.69) and leading the entire team in shots allowed per 60 (25.0). Additionally, he continued to make his presence felt, sustaining a hitting pace that was second among defensemen (1.39 per game) and also chipping in with three fights, all decisive wins (including a vengeance bout against Aaron Asham).
Big John also stepped up in the Boston series, coming off of a two-month layoff to play a gritty, effective style that helped challenge Boston's rugged forwards. It may be coincidence, but a majority of Boston's overly physical antics stopped once Big John was inserted in the line-up. The Caps are light on players who can stand up to Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic, but Erskine is one of them. And that certainly gives players a bit more assurance that someone has their back if something goes wrong.
The Bad: One year after having a career-defining season, Erskine slipped back into the 7th/8th defenseman abyss, never gaining favor with the Dale Hunter regime. He only suited up for 24 of Hunter's 74 games coached; his ATOI plumetted to a paltry 12:06; he took almost twice as many penalties per 60 as the next closest player; his blocked shots/game of 0.96 ranked seventh among Caps defensemen; and he only averaged 0:32 per game in penalty killing. All this occurred while playing against weaker competition and getting high OZ% starts.
One would expect that Dale Hunter's tight-checking, physical and slower system would have benefited a player like Erskine, who would not be as exposed to the speed game that was more prevalent in the Run-n-Gun days. But he never could find his groove with Hunter. It didn't help that he had a few games where he put the Caps in a hole with his decision-making, like this one against Florida where he took 17 minutes in penalties, or his doozy of a night in Montreal where he earned a triple minor. One would have to believe that the latter event was the final straw for Hunter, who only played Erskine four more times (in the regular season) after January 18; Erskine must have breathed a sigh of relief following Hunter's resignation. With one year left on his contract, he lives to fight again for the red, white and blue.
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: Are there certain teams or styles of play for whom you would rather see Erskine earn a sweater? Should the Caps consider a contract extension with Erskine? If so, at what price? What would it take for Erskine to earn a 10 next year?