Japers' Rink Mailbag: Projecting Ovechkin and Backstrom, Beagle's Role and More

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Going on record with point totals for the big guns, discussing the fourth-line center, salaries, Ovechkin's Selke-worthiness (?!) and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

Some good old fashioned prognosticatin' to kick off the 'Bag:

I'll turn it over to our resident statisticians, Muneeb and Adam, for their takes on this one...

Muneeb: Production is one part system, one part opportunity, one part talent, and one part luck. (Note: Parts not necessarily all the same size.)

On the system front, at even strength, the Caps' new system should improve their puck possession, which could lead to more shots and goals - although not always. Pittsburgh, for example, ranked just ahead of the Caps in Fenwick-For/60. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom produced about as well under defensive-minded Dale Hunter as they did under Adam Oates in 2013-14 - Ovechkin scored at a 24-17-41 per-82 pace at even strength under Hunter and posted a similar 27-12-39 in 2013-14, while Backstrom was roughly a point-per-game player all the way through. At the very least, they should be able to match that, more or less.

On the power play, if we assume nothing changes on the power play — and why would it? — call it a wash, too.

On the opportunity front, Trotz has been willing to give his star players plenty of ice time in the past, so Ovechkin and Backstrom should continue to see plenty of ice time. The one area of concern might be power-play ice time: the Caps drew the second-most power play opportunities of any team in 2013-14, and it's hard not to see them falling back to the pack a little.

On the talent front, Ovechkin and Backstrom are getting older. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when sharp age-related declines will happen, though, and there aren't any obvious signs that there's an imminent drop from either player.

On the luck front, maybe Ovechkin gets a few more assists and Backstrom a few more goals — in 2013-14, Backstrom shot just 4.4% at 5v5 with Ovechkin on the ice. That comes after he converted nearly three times as efficiently in the two preceding seasons.

Add it all up, and it looks like more of the same — around a point a game each, or maybe a little less. And that's perfectly fine for two players who finished in the top-11 in the league in scoring.

Adam: This question requires some research and assumptions. To make this seem less like I am picking numbers out of a hat, I am going to outline how I got to my final numbers

My first assumption is that Ovechkin and Backstrom are going to be on the ice for fewer 5v5 Corsi events this year than they have been in the past. After looking at some Nashville numbers I figure that drop could (but probably won't) be as high as 11%. If you adjust his Corsi-For and -Against numbers for a full 82 games, Ovechkin has averaged 2429 on ice Corsi events per season over his last four campaigns.

Using Ovechkin's average on-ice events (2429) I created three separate total event situations: the first being with 11% fewer events, the second with 5% fewer, and the third with the same amount as his four-year average.

Since I have no idea what the Capitals' or Ovechkin's Corsi percentage will be this season I did calculations with six potential Corsi-For percentages (48-53). Each of those potential CF% generated a different CF total. I then used two constant numbers to take that CF total and turn it into point production.

Ovechkin has had on-ice corsi shooting percentage of ~4.7% between 2007-2014, by multiplying that number with the estimated CF total I get an expected number of on-ice GF. Then to finally get point totals I multiplied that number of GF by Ovechkin's IPP (individual point percentage).

So what that finally leads to is Ovechkin having between 38 (10% fewer events 48% CF) and 47 (same event total and 53% CF) even strength points. His even-strength goal total has a minimum of 20 with a max of 24. So here are my final estimates (basically guesses).

Alexander Ovechkin will have be on the ice for around 2308 5v5 Corsi events this season (5% fewer). The Capitals are going to have a CF of 51% and Ovechkin is going to have a very solid 53% (his best since 2010-2011). Ovi's even-strength stat line will read 23-22-45 (once again his best since 2010-2011). Ovi's all-other-situation production will give him another 23G-25A-47P (two fewer than he got across all situations last year), resulting in a final total of 46 goals, 47 assists and 93 points for Ovechkin. And I'm going to guess Backstrom ends up with about five fewer points than Ovechkin and 20 fewer goals (26G-62A-88P).

Jay Beagle is a fringe NHL player (despite his last coach's willingness to have him center the League's top goal-scorer and his previous coach's willingness to play him more in close games than the aforementioned scoring dynamo). His Corsi-For percentage was downright woeful whether he skated on the top line (45.2% with Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson), the third line (36.9% with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) or the fourth line (43.2% with Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson), and no Cap forward had a worse Goals-For percentage. Heck, in 2013-14 he wasn't even used much on the (abysmal) penalty kill, and you know how I feel about veteran fourth-liners who don't play special teams.

In 2014-15, Beagle will have to earn his minutes, with Michael Latta and perhaps Chris Brown challenging for that fourth-line center spot.

Oh wow, a chance to be self-indulgent. Don't mind if I do...

Personally, one of my favorite pieces was "When Everything Changed... And If It Needed To," which looked at the beginning of the end for Bruce Boudreau's Caps (I thought we did a good job of being analytical but also accessible in that one, which is something we're always aiming for).

But if you want X's and O's, our Chalk Talk hub has a ton of great stuff in it. If you're looking for debate, we've done a lot of fun Two Dudes posts, and if you want discussions, our Roundtables and Caps Questions. Pick a section and you're likely to find good stuff that's still worth reading (if someone put out a coffee table book of Rink posts, I'd buy it). I could go on, but one last recommendation would be our Best of 2013 post, which highlights, well, exactly what you'd think it would.

What do you guys think? Anything in particular stand out?

Probably the former. I'm not sold on Johansson as the wing on the top line opposite Ovechkin (I'm going to keep pushing Eric Fehr for a shot at that gig), but putting Evgeny Kuznetsov there for prolonged periods of time is going to leave a serious skill deficit on the other three lines and would probably drive Barry Trotz insane due to the two Russian wingers' collective defensive deficiencies.

In other words, will someone be making more than Backstrom's $6.7 million? Of players currently on the roster, the only guy who realistically could would be Mike Green, and that would take some maneuvering (not to mention a pretty big 2014-15 season... a problem we'd all gladly see the Caps have to deal with).

Given where the cap is going and the Caps' own internal salary structure, I'd say that if there's anyone on the team making more than Backstrom in 2016-17, it'll be a second center, a 1B to Nick's 1A. Say, if the Caps were to make a move for Joe Thornton, he's due to make a cool $50,000 more than Backstrom in 2016-17...

Lawyers, probably. Feel free to bet the house on Nationals Park.

Yes! Back in 2004, Central Scouting noted that Ovechkin "doesn't forget to get back on defense."

Okay, that's the best I can do. But what you've noticed is how silly Selke voting can be because the voters lean on plus-minus like a drunk on a lamppost - using it for support, despite the fact that it's not particularly illuminating at all (to paraphrase Brian Burke).

In Ovechkin's case, he finished 29th in Selke voting in 2007-08 and 28th in 2009-10 while finishing fifth and first, respectively, in plus-minus among forwards in those two years. Last year, of course, his plus-minus was terrible. Was he playing dramatically less or worse defense in 2013-14 than in his two "Selke" years? I tend to doubt it. More likely, the Caps just had the puck more back then and it went in the other team's net more often. So Ovi was worth a few Selke nods as the League's top defensive forward when things were going his way, and worthy of derision when they weren't. As is almost always the case, the reality is somewhere in between.

***

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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