Japers' Rink Mailbag: Strachan vs. Oleksy, Green vs. the Salary Cap and... Jeff Schultz vs. Caps' D's?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A look at a curious personnel decision amongst the blueliners, whether or not the Caps have a potential buyout candidate on the blueline and the return of a fan favorite in this week's installment of "you ask, we answer."

Our first question this week inquires about Steve Oleksy's role as popcorn muncher, and Tyson Strachan's as a top-six defenseman:

[Ed. note: the team demoted Strachan this morning and recalled Patrick Wey... but we'll answer the question any way, because it's still an interesting one.]

Good question, and frankly, there's no real clear answer. Strachan does have nearly three times the NHL experience as Oleksy, and has got a bit of size on the dude they call "Binky" as well, but it's hard to believe that Adam Oates would make lineup decisions based on intangibles. Then again, his borderline obsession with handedness pairings for his wingers and defensemen might make it not so surprising after all...

Oleksy did struggle the last time he saw the ice (that 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Penguins), but he was solid in his four outings before that, breaking even in on-ice even strength goals, and finishing as a positive possession player in all four outings (with a cumulative 61% CF in those games).

More to the point of possession, Oleksy wasn't fairing so well on the season in terms of possession, but since being plugged into the lineup, Strachan has been a veritable anchor, so that's hardly an explanation. And it's worth noting that in the 10 games Strachan has suited up for, he hasn't exceeded the 50% CF threshold once (and in 8 of those 10 games has had a negative possession effect compared to his teammates). But possession isn't everything, and we have said in the past that it's reasonable to believe that stay at home defensemen— which, for the most part, is an apt label for both Oleksy and Strachan— are likely to be passengers on the possession locomotive, for better or for worse.

But what about goals for and goals against? Well, here is where it becomes clear that sitting Oleksy for Strachan is not the right decision. Oleksy has the best GF% amongst defenseman while Strachan has the worst (0 ES goals for, 5 against), despite Strachan receiving better goaltending than any other blueliner on the squad.

So, to summarize, after analyzing publicly available data, there is no tangible explanation for Oates's right-handed choice on the third defensive pairing.

We'll let Rob take our second question, which asks about Mike Green 's future (and it seems to have disappeared from the Interwebs, but trust us - it existed):

@JapersRink given Green's continued poor performance, injury problems, and large contract, when does he become buyout target? #JapersMailbag

Mike Green is not going to be bought out.

For starters, this organization clearly values "their guys" and shows a ton of loyalty to them, making sure to re-sign pending UFAs and RFAs, whether they are core players or not, sometimes well before they even hit free agency (see Tom Poti, John Erskine) - "the devil you know" and whatnot. Green has been a part of the core of the team for essentially the entire Alex Ovechkin Era. Even following two seasons in which Green played about half of the games, and looked nothing like the player that was nominated for the Norris Trophy twice, the Caps rewarded Green with a raise and a three-year deal. They also gave him a limited No Trade Clause. There is zero indication that the Caps see Green as anything but an essential part of the team or have any interest in severing the relationship.

Aside from looking at the way the Caps do business, in general, there's really no other option for the Caps if Green leaves. As things are, the team only has three defensemen that could passably claim to be top-four defenders. As disappointing as Green's performance has been at times this season - and it's very much worth noting that he has the best score-close Fenwick percentage on the entire team - he's still a top-four defender and there really isn't any competition for the job (John Carlson is obviously the second righty in the top-four, but there isn't a third to challenge for those two spots... see above). The Caps' defensive corps is already thin and has been a problem for the team this season. Losing Mike Green, even if he's not the Norris-caliber guy fans had expected for years to come, simply exacerbates that problem.

The obvious retort is that the Caps should take the money that Mike Green is owed (and however much the salary cap rises), go fishing on the free agent market to find another defender (or three), and ultimately improve the team. This suggestion ignores the fact that the Caps haven't made many significant moves on the free agent market (and the most significant one they've made, Mikhail Grabovski, came at a deep discount). There's no indication they'd be willing to change organizational philosophy to chase free agents to replace a player that has been part of the core for 5-6 seasons now. Even, playing Devil's Advocate, if the Caps decide to go the free agency route, there aren't a ton of options to replace Green. Lots of players well past their prime, few players that are capable of stepping in and providing the offense, especially the power play offense, that Green provides. The ones that are potentially capable of bringing that offense, Dion Phaneuf and Dan Boyle, both cost more than Green does currently. Is Phaneuf, right in his prime, likely to take a discount? I wouldn't bet on it. If Boyle takes a discount, it'll likely be because he's 37 years old. Even if he came to the Caps, he'd be a temporary solution, at best. The rest of the UFA class barely merits a mention.

So there you have it, between the organizational philosophy, lack of defensive depth, and lack of UFA options next summer, there's no real likelihood of the Caps buying out the final year of Mike Green's contract. They'll let him play out this season and next, and then re-evaluate what kind of commitment he warrants. They won't prematurely end the decade-long relationship.

***

And since we've given so much attention to the right side of the defense, how about a question on the left (for JP):

Hooboy. Alright, so this question really comes down to where Schultz (who was recalled by Los Angeles earlier in the week) would slot among left-handed defensemen on the Caps' current depth chart. Via Extra Skater, here's a table of the Caps' current lefty rearguards and Schultz (sorted by Corsi-For percentage; stats are combined 5-on-5 stats for 2012-13 and 2013-14, games played for the Caps only):

Schultz

That doesn't take into account deployment (and Schultz's zone starts were the least favorable on the blue line last year), and the goaltending behind Sarge was the worst of any of the team's defensemen (a stat to which I'm sure some would argue Schultz himself contrbuted).

But it certainly appears as if any hopes of Schultz being a legitimate top-four defender, at least under Adam Oates, have long been extinguished. Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are all almost certainly better options among healthy defensemen (though perhaps Schultz could help on penalty kill), and John Erskine probably brings more to the table at this point as well (when healthy). You could probably flip a coin on Alexander Urbom vs. Schultz, but at their respective price points (at least what Schultz would've been costing the Caps) and potential, Urbom is a better asset.

Bottom line: Jeff Schultz ran into some bad luck, a bad system and bad play and it's probably best for the Caps (and hopefully for him as well) that he's no longer here.

***

Agree? Disagree?

If you've got something on your mind, go ahead and ask it here on the site, on Twitter (use #JapersMailbag), via email or on Facebook, and we'll try to get to them. There are still a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.

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