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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Best Team Ever, T.J. Sochi and a GM's Rep

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The top team in franchise history, shootout strengths, agents' complaints and much more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

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Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

It's October, y'all, and hockey games that count start in a week. But before they do... let's 'Bag:

Nope. For my money, that would be the 1985-86 squad, which boasted three future Hall-of-Famers on the blueline in Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy (not to mention a young Kevin Hatcher), a pair of 50-goal scorers (future HoFer Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter) among other weapons up front, a Jennings-winning duo in net, and a recent Jack Adams Trophy winner behind the bench. On paper, that was one hell of a team, and one that had the best chance to win a championship that the club has ever had.

(That team, incidentally, finished second in an incredibly close readers' poll of the best teams in franchise history.)

Your money is in the right place - with Philipp Grubauer needing to pass through waivers to be sent to Hershey (and he wouldn't make it through), the Caps will keep him in Washington and expose Justin Peters to waivers... and probably not be heartbroken if he's claimed.

Roy has been good so far in the preseason, despite changing linemates and roles, and that's all the Caps could have hoped for when they brought him in on a tryout basis. At this point, it's probably a matter of making the money work for both sides; I'm sure the Caps would like to find a way to fit him in.

Our next question comes from our comments:

GMGM had a bit of a reputation with the way he handled agents and players. Considering how GMBM has acquired now 3 high profile free agents, brokered a major trade, and has Roy on a PTO I can only wonder how much worked against the caps during GMGMs tenure and how much it helps GMBM by not being his predecessor.

More specifically I remember reading a few times that agents were very unwilling to engage in talk with GMGM because once he had them under contract he would muzzle talk between agents and players. - breaklance

Frankly, I think that's overblown. When you talk about "reputation" here (and it's certainly out there), realize that all it takes is one disgruntled agent to whisper something to a reporter and boom... reputation.

George McPhee signed free agents (some, like Mikhail Grabovski and Tomas Vokoun, at dramatic discounts) and made plenty of trades, so I don't think there's anything about his "reputation" that inhibited his ability to do his job. More likely, Brian MacLellan is simply more aggressive and less conservative in addressing what he sees as the team's needs.

At the end of the day, players and agents like money, and while there may be specific instances of bad blood quashing a would-be deal, that affinity for greenbacks probably speaks louder than a general manager's reputation.

We all remember the legend of "T.J. Sochi," and over his NHL career, Oshie has a 52.5% success rate (31 for 59) in the shootout, with the most game-deciding goals (tied with 16) in League history. That conversion rate is good for second among active players with at least 25 attempts (Frans Nielsen is at 52.8%), and fourth all-time (Slava Kozlov at 58.7% and Erik Christensen at 52.7% have him beat). And if we lower our attempts requirement to 15, he drops to fourth among active players behind Nielsen, Jakob Silfverberg (60.9%)... and teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov (53.3%).

Even with those small samples (not to mention Braden Holtby's 65% shootout win percentage, which is second to Marc-Andre Fleury's 67% among active goalies with at least 20 decisions), it's no wonder Barry Trotz is happy to "take [his] chances in the shootout." But barring a successful strategic ploy to get through the last five of 65 minutes of actual hockey deadlocked, if the Caps end up in a shootout once every nine games or so (and it could be even less than that... or way less than that) and we give Oshie a five-for-nine success rate in those games (a tick above his career average) and assume that his fill-in if he wasn't here would score on three of those (League average all-time is right around 33%), you're only looking at a point or two, at most.

Because "mediocre" is better than "flat-out bad."

We've expressed some anxiety in this space regarding the loss of a trio of key penalty killers, but to an extent you're right and it really gets back to a question that I don't think has ever really been adequately answered - how much of a penalty kill's success is driven by personnel and how much is system-driven? It's a question we struggled to answer at the end of the 2013 season (go and read that post - it's good), and haven't really gotten any closer to answering in the interim, in part because measuring individual contributions to the penalty kill isn't particularly easy (color me skeptical of shot suppression in and of itself being a great way to do it).

That said, yes, absolutely devising a better penalty-killing scheme would help, but the personnel, including something this team might lack in the faceoff dot, has to be up to the task.

That would probably depend on what their third-line center and other wing options are, but there's no reason Kuznetsov couldn't move to the wing, where he could do cool things like this:

CiM

That said, the team seems committed to playing Kuznetsov in the middle, so I wouldn't expect a shift any time soon.

Similar question, and it's a similar answer - they're committed to Kuznetsov down the middle, so it's hard to see Burakovsky leaping over him at center on the depth chart. So I'll go with a breakout year for Kuznetsov being more likely than him dropping down to center the team's third line in favor of Burakovsky on the second.

As we noted last week, the Caps did improve with the lead over the course of the season, and they were 35-2-3 when leading after two periods during the regular season (and 4-0 in the playoffs). But their all-situations goals-for percentage when up a single goal was 52.7% (12th in the League) and their Corsi-for percentage was just 45.5% (18th) during the regular season. And those numbers dropped to a woeful 16.7% and a nearly-as-ghastly 37.0%, respectively, in the playoffs - nine times in 14 playoff games the Caps had a one-goal lead, and they surrendered the next goal six times while extending their lead just once (numbers via war-on-ice.com). Thanks for that walk down memory lane.

Anyway, here's how it looked graphically over the course of the regular-season - 10-game rolling goals-for and Corsi-for percentages when leading by one:

Leading by 1 10-game rolling

The top chart looks like really great progress (because it was), but the numbers that underlie those results (the bottom chart) paint a slightly murkier story. One thing that should help is the upgrades the team made at five-on-five, specifically by adding Justin Williams and Oshie. All in all, though, it's a problem until it isn't. But it's getting better.

Maybe.

Well, we know it's not a delusional relic of a fringe (to be generous) NHLer, so I'm really not sure. I have, however, heard that Tom Wilson sleeps with a light on... but not because he's afraid of the dark, but rather because the dark is afraid of Tom Wilson.

Very excited, and I look forward to Mars hosting a Winter Classic at some time in the near future.

***

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.