From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. Next up, John Erskine.
#4 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Jun 26, 1980
$1,250,000 cap hit in 2010-11; UFA after 2010-11
Key Stat: Zero, the number of games John Erskine played in the 2010 postseason.
Interesting Stat: 1.71, Erskine's GAON/60, good for second best among Caps' defensemen in 2009-10.
The Good: If it was a gritty, nasty, unpleasant job, odds are Erskine was pretty good at it. His 2.18 hits per game were more than any Capitals defenseman other than Shaone Morrisonn (who played roughly 9.5% more minutes), his 1.6 blocked shots per game were third on the team (to Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz, again guys who saw a lot more ice time), his 5.6 blocks per sixty minutes in 5-on-5 situations led the team, and he accounted for 80% of fights from Caps blueliners this past season.
Of course, while the willingness to do the dirty work and put yourself on the line for the team are admirable qualities, they don't yield success in and of themselves; at the end of the day it's production that counts. In that area, at least on defense, it's hard to complain about Erskine's numbers. His plus-16 rating, 1.71 GAON/60, 1.45 +-ON/60, and Corsi rating relative to quality of competition are all solid.
The Bad: For starters, Erskine once again brought virtually nothing in the offensive end, either in terms of aggregate numbers, total offensive contribution, or rate production, and while his production was up over last season's, it was still so insignificant as to add virtually no value.
While Erskine's basic defensive numbers look good, looking at them has to make liberal use of caveat. Yes, plus-16 is a good plus-minus rating, but it was as much a product of the Capitals dominance as it was solid play on Erskine's part - only one of the five defensemen who played at least 50 games for the Caps in 2009-10 had a lower rating. Yes, that 1.71 GAON/60 is a stellar number - but Bruce Boudreau and his coaching staff protected Erskine, playing him against very weak competition. The idea that Erskine needs to be protected seems to be justified by his penalty killing performance: his 4-on-5 GAON/60 was the worse than any defenseman other than Tyler Sloan and, accordingly, Erskine saw his penalty-killing time dwindle, playing an average of 1:07 with his team down a man (or two), compared with 1:37 last year. Finally, Erskine was either mistake-prone or hampered by his lack of speed and skill all too often this season. He gave the puck away more frequently than any other Caps' defenseman, and far, far too much for a pure stay-at-home defender and took penalties at even and full strength more often than any other Caps' blueliner.
Most telling is Erskine's postseason. We can talk about matchups, skill set, and skating ability all we want, but the bottom line is that Erskine found himself scratched first for Tyler Sloan, a marginal NHLer, and then for Karl Alzner, who hadn't played in an NHL game in two and a half months. For Erskine there was no individual 'bad' this postseason, because he couldn't even get in a game. In some ways, that's even worse.
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 season that 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 season you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Given that Erskine's productivity seems to be contingent on ensuring he plays against weak competition, does he have a role on a team whose success is going to be measured solely being their postseason accomplishments (or lack thereof)? And, if so, can he be more than an auxiliary player?