Japers' Rink Mailbag: Developing D, Trading Green (or Brouwer) and Much More

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Developing defensemen, valuing the second-line center position, trading Mike Green and/or Troy Brouwer and much more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

We have another giant 'Bag this week, so let's jump right in with one for Rob:

Properly.

The Caps have a few promising young defenders in the system that may be able to make an impact in the future. While it's tempting to envision them arriving sooner rather than later (just ask Adam Oates), however, the reality is that none of them is ready for the NHL full time right now.

Madison Bowey is 19, and maybe the best of the bunch. Connor Carrick is 20. Nate Schmidt is 22. Patrick Wey is 23. Tomas Kundratek is 24. (Sidenote: notice how the most promising guys are younger? We tend to overestimate the value of prospects and they rarely live up to our lofty expectations.) None of them is Drew Doughty and they don't need or deserve to be in the NHL on a daily basis right now. So, the easy answer is that the Caps develop these young defensemen by letting them take their time in juniors and the AHL (with a renewed emphasis on the continuity between Hershey and Washington); develop their skill sets and the knowledge and experience they will need in order to succeed in the NHL.

As of today, all of the young defenders have a lot of growing left to do before they are ready for a regular spot in an NHL lineup. They should all be playing in lower leagues, fighting for - and earning - the opportunity to get called up to the NHL when the Caps suffer injuries on the blue line (an inevitability). Who should play when a regular defender goes down? Part of that depends on the role. Wey might be a smarter replacement for Karl Alzner or Brooks Orpik; Schmidt or Carrick, a better substitute for Mike Green or John Carlson.

Moreover, each of these players will get more even-strength and special-teams ice time at lower levels, which will allow coaches to see them in various situations, with higher levels of pressure on them. And with Barry Trotz's "48-hour rule" in place, you can bet he'll have all of the information that Troy Mann has when it comes to how these kids are performing.

Columbus President of Hockey Ops John Davidson said something back in March that stuck out about not rushing young players (in this case, referring to his previous gig in St. Louis):

"To see the young players that we spent a lot of time pulling for and not getting impatient with, just watching them develop, seeing them become men and very good players on a very good team, it's gratifying in a lot of ways," Davidson said. "You feel like we did some things right. We did some things that were part of building a hockey club and trying to build a hockey club that is going to be good for a long time. That's your biggest key, not just trying to build one that is going to be a flash in the pan."

That's the model. If anyone can name a defender who was hurt by being kept in the AHL for too long, I'm all ears. The list of players that have had their development set back because they were rushed to the NHL is much longer, and that's a far more painful price for an organization to pay. It's likely that one of these kids will deserve a spot in the lineup before all of these long contracts have expired, but let's hope that the Caps make them earn the spot rather than pushing them to into the lineup because of the promise they've shown at a young age. If the Caps need to make space or move an asset at that time, they can (as their rivals often do). Let them cross that bridge when they get to it.

Oh, and if you're wondering why we haven't mentioned Dmitry Orlov, it's because he's already on the NHL roster and should be a regular fixture on the big club's blue line. The Caps don't need to worry about making space for him, as he's pretty easily one of the top six defenders on the team. If, for some reason, Trotz chooses to play Jack Hillen over Orlov, then we'll eat our words and revisit this.

***

Alright, back to me for the lightning(ish) round:

Hmm... I'm guessing this questions is an effort to understand why the team prioritized adding two defensemen in free agency over addressing the hole that is the second-line center position.

It's not an easy question to answer, especially in a vacuum (if you have the Blackhawks' wings, you can have a lesser second-line center; if you have Pittsburgh's wings, you'd best have two stud pivots). But one (imperfect) way to think about it is to consider what the marketplace says. To that end, NHL Numbers' 31st-largest 2014-15 cap hit for a center - very roughly the top of the second-line center barrel, since there are 30 first-line centers (even if some teams have more than one and others none for this exercise) - is Jamie Benn/David Krejci at $5.25-million. So how many defensemen will take up that much cap room next season? Just 26, believe it or not (including, of course, the Caps' Green, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen).

Does that mean that the market values the best second-line centers slightly above the best #2 defensemen? Well, it doesn't not mean that.

For another (imperfect) measure, let's take a look at Hockey Prospectus's Goals Versus Threshold (which purports to measure player value... though we're skeptical). For 2013-14, the #31 center in that metric was Paul Stastny/Antoine Vermette with a 10.0. How many defensemen were at that number or higher? Twenty-two.

And how about one more for good measure? HockeyReference's Point Shares. The #31 center last season by that measure was Steven Stamkos at 6.3. Forty-three blueliners were at that number or better.

Now, I don't think we're at a point where we're great at measuring (or valuing) defensive contributions to the game, and offense is what gets paid. But if you told me that a second-line center is generally more important to a team's success than any defenseman outside of the top two, I could be pretty easily convinced. And I'd feel very comfortable putting the second-line center ahead of the fourth defenseman on my shopping list.

We've written a lot about Orpik (here, here and here, for example), and, to a lesser extent Niskanen - and at the risk of beating a dead horse, it's going to be real tough for the former to outperform his contract, while the latter probably can, depending on where the salary cap goes during the life of the deal. The out-years on Orpik's deal could look pretty bad (if he plays them), but the downside to Niskanen is probably still "perfectly serviceable top-four NHL defenseman."

But that doesn't mean that they won't be "a fruitful endeavor." If Orpik can help to change the culture of the team through his leadership (which is one of the intangibles for which the Caps paid a hefty premium), it's hard to put a price on that... hence the "intangible" factor. And if Niskanen provides the team with the flexibility to move another blueliner for a good return, that's valuable.

Ultimately, though, these moves will be measured in wins and losses, and if GMBM can't adequately address the second-line center issue, you can bet the Orpik deal will bear the brunt of the blame for his inability to do so.

To answer the second part first, no, he hasn't fallen out of favor with the organization... because if he had, he'd have been a great buyout candidate and it appears the thought never really crossed anyone who matters' mind (whether the team could have done so or not, given Laich's health, is probably another question).

As to Laich having a bounce-back year, it's hard to say. He says he's healthy, but he's said that before. He won't get the power-play time he got during his relatively big years, so I wouldn't expect a big year offensively, but he can still be a useful player in the right role... when healthy.

Pretty slim, as he's been a wing through the meaningful parts of his hockey career. If you're looking for a young European Cap who could realistically get some second-line center time, you're probably looking at Marcus Johansson and/or Evgeny Kuznetsov (though we're not fond of either in that role).

Kuznetsov is going to get the most time in the top-six and the most power-play time, so he's an easy choice here... unless you mean the most likely to actually finish in that range. Kuznetsov's 0.18 goals-per-game last year prorates to 14.8 over 82 games, and that was in largely fourth-line minutes with limited power-play time. With any health and luck, he should top 15 tallies.

Tom Wilson, on the other hand, should see a bigger role than he did last year (if the logjam at right wing clears up some), and could hit double-digit tallies, though I'd probably bet the under. Burakovsky seems like a long-shot to even see double-digit games in D.C., much less score that many goals, but stranger things have happened.

So what's more likely - Kuznetsov having a potentially disappointing 10-15 goals or Wilson exceeding expectations and winding up in that range? You're a Caps fan... you know what the answer is.

So basically this guy has over $40,000 pledged to make some potato salad. Red, Hot & Blue sells a pint of their (mediocre) potato salad for $3.99 per pint. Let's assume Kickstarter Potato Salad guy is making a pint of potato salad. If that's the case, he's basically at 10,000 times what RH&B charges for their product.

Brooks Orpik may be overpaid, but he's not that overpaid (he's worth more than $550 per year). Then again, if you're talking raw dollars, Orpik is easily overpaid by more than $39,996.01.

Asked and answered.

It's hard to say, especially because we have no idea what Green is going to look like under Trotz. Plus the trade market for guys who should be high-end targets hasn't been great; it's hard to look at the return for guys like Ryan Kesler or Jason Spezza and not be a little underwhelmed (although granted, no-movement/no-trade clauses played a role in each).

At this point, moving Green for cap space or futures would be hard to stomach because it would take an area of strength - the blueline - and gut it while not making the team better, at least in the near-term. This is simply not the type of player you give away or move for budgetary flexibility, and it certainly wouldn't be "addition by subtraction". Mike Green is a good hockey player, full stop.

"But, J.P., he's a free agent next summer and you don't want to lose him for nothing if you don't plan on re-signing him," you say. True enough, but the reality is that it happens all the time. The Caps let Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Ribeiro, Alexander Semin, etc. all walk. The Avs just let Paul Stastny scoot with no return. It's part of the business, and chances are the bag of magic beans you might get for a Mike Green today aren't worth the one full year you might get from him in 2014-15, even if he does walk. Besides, there's always the trade deadline, when teams are more plentiful and desperate than they are right now, and more buyers means a better price.

But to answer the question more precisely, I'd be pretty upset if the Caps dealt Green now (or soon) in a deal that brought back anything less than a legitimate impact scoring-line center, preferably with some term on his contract. The Caps don't need to move Green, and they shouldn't if it's not going to make the team markedly better immediately.

Rob and D'oh did a good job on this question back in early May. The additions of Orpik and Niskanen make Green a bit more expendable, but I still think he's a very valuable player.

Oh hell no.

I think they'll try (if they haven't already). The way our pal Mike Vogel broke the news of Wilson's injury the other day may have implied as much (or maybe we're inferring something that isn't there):

Washington believes Wilson has greater upside, and the Caps have greater needs at other positions such as center and possibly at left wing as well. If the Capitals were to thin the herd on the right side with a deal to address shortcomings at other positions, it would also alleviate a logjam at the position and enable Wilson to move higher on the depth chart and in the lineup.

Until more is known about Wilson’s condition and long-term availability, any such plans could be put on hold. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more about Wilson’s condition and his recovery.

"The herd" to be thinned would be Alex Ovechkin, Brouwer and Joel Ward. Ward was a Trotz favorite back in Nashville and Ovechkin... yeah (though flipping him back to left wing makes some room on the starboard side). So Brouwer would seem to be the most likely of that group to be on the block.

Does the Wilson injury change things? He's due back some time during camp, so I wouldn't think so. Selling high on a 25-goal Brouwer who comes at a reasonable $3.67-million cap hit and does a lot of the things that NHL GMs value seems like a good possibility.

***

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. As always, there are always a lot of question marks around this team... so let's talk about as many of them as we can.

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