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Japers' Rink Mailbag: Sophomore Slumps, T.J. Dollar and Portable Possession

Which second-line soph is due a setback, how much did the Caps give up for Oshie, can Williams keep it going and more in this week's edition of "you ask, we answer."

Rob Carr/Getty Images

A bunch of questions for this week's 'Bag, so let's dive right in:

[Ed. note: Such a positive question, we had to turn this one over to Adam to answer] Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov will both be integral parts of the 2015-16 Capitals and whatever success the team is able to achieve. Obviously deployments will be a big part of determining how each of these players will contribute, so I'll talk about a couple of different possibilities. Current conventional wisdom has Burakovsky and Kuznetsov playing together on the second line with Justin Williams. Assuming that's the case (i.e. that they're skating together on a scoring line - and they were dangerous in limited time together last year), let's delve into things a little bit. Here's a look at the 15-game rolling five-on-five Points-per-60 and High Danger Scoring Chances-per-60 charts for Kuznetsov and Burakovsky from last season:

Kuz v Burra

Kuz v Burra

Both players contributed for the Capitals last year. Kuznetsov looked great during the playoffs and at the end of the regular season but his underlying numbers (chances generated and puck possession) still leave me a little concerned about how his point production will look moving forward. On the other hand Burakovsky's numbers make it appear that he should have been producing points at a greater rate than he was (Burakovsky's underlying numbers last season were impressive, among the best on the team, but he endured some poor puck luck in the second half of the season; ideally he'll be getting a lot of top-six ice time next year and those percentages regress in his favor). I don't think Kuznetsov is going to play worse this coming year than he did last season; I'm actually pretty confident he will be a better offensive producer this time around (especially given that he won't spend as much time on lower lines as he did last season), but I think he is the more likely of the two to see production below expectations if his underlying numbers don't improve (which, of course, Burakovsky and Williams would presumably help to happen). It's worth noting, by the way, that these two had the highest on-ice shooting percentages on the team, and that's probably not entirely "luck"-driven - play the two together with a possession-stud like Williams and the Caps could have their best second line in a long time.

There's another possibility regarding Burakovsky, though, and that's that he winds up centering the third line. If that's the case, Burakovsky could be the one to "slump" - I don't think the Capitals have enough talent to maximize Burakovsky if he is playing on the third line and even if they did  players that convert from wing to center see a drop off in their on-ice production.

In all honesty, though, I don't think either player is going to struggle next year. Both had surprisingly low Individual Point Percentages (points divided by on-ice goals-for) last season which, if they are as talented as we all believe them to be, should lead to increased production when they regress. Put me down for neither slumping and Burakovsky having a higher points-per-60 than Kuznetsov next season.

Next question:

Bill Simmons talks about teams making bad deals where they trade a dollar for three quarters and a dime. If TJO is a dollar (pegging the best player at a dollar for purposes of this exercise), what did the Blues get in return? I'd say: 50 cents, a quarter and dime. Is that fair? Is the pick worth a quarter? Is Copley worth more than a quarter? - Bil via email

Eighty-five cents, eh? I could buy your total, but I think I'd get to it a different way. If we're saying T.J. Oshie is the dollar, you're underselling Troy Brouwer at 50 cents - Oshie certainly isn't anywhere close to twice as good. Oshie's the better player, but the difference isn't enormous, especially when you factor in Brouwer's face-off and penalty-killing abilities. So maybe we peg Brouwer at 75 cents (not that Oshie is 33% better, but I'm guessing that's not how this game is played anyway).

I like Pheonix Copley fine as a prospect - he certainly had a great season last year - but I don't think there's a ton of value in a non-bluechip goalie prospect given the realities of the goalie market (which we've been over plenty of times). Maybe he's worth a nickel here, though he's probably worth a few cents more to the Blues than he is to the Caps, given the teams' respective goaltending depth.

As for the pick, it's a third-rounder next year and, if things go according to plan, that should be a late third. Let's call it 83rd (which is where the Caps would've picked in this past Draft, if they hadn't traded that pick in the Curtis Glencross deal and everything else played out the same way). That's an asset with a low chance of ever turning into a regular NHLer (somewhere south of 20%)... though at some point all of these longshot picks the Caps are sending away in trade add up to something more than that. But in a vacuum, I'd call that another nickel.

So I get to 85 cents, but I place more value on a legit middle-six (third-line?) forward and a little less value on assets that are likely not going to make an impact at the NHL level.

Yes and no, respectively. Muneeb went in-depth on Williams' numbers last week, and they're awfully impressive... and not just because he was on one of the top puck-possession teams - the Kings were better with him on the ice than without (with the exception of a mildly-concerning-but-not-troubling dip at the end of last season):

Williams rolling CF%

Williams has been a tremendous puck-possessor playing on (and helping) a tremendous puck-possession team; it's damn-near unfair. So while he won't possibly maintain the 59.1% Corsi-For he's posted over the last five seasons (tops among NHL forwards and higher than any Cap has in even a single season since 2008-09), it's probably a good bet that he'll be among the Caps' best possession players and he'll boost the numbers of those he plays with.

Oof. Um. Welp.

I think there are two options that are more likely than Brooks Laich and those would be Jay Beagle (he got those minutes in the playoffs), which would slot Michael Latta in in the middle of the fourth line or Andre Burakovsky (as noted above, presumably with Marcus Johansson on the left side of the second line). Neither one of those is a great option, and Eric Fehr would be a better one. That said, third-line centers can be had via trade during the season, so it can be addressed later if not sooner. And "who's gonna be the 3C?" is a much nicer problem to have than "who's gonna be the 2C?" isn't it?

General consensus is to use shot generation to judge a power-play. Sure enough, the Caps topped the League in Corsi-For/60 and Fenwick-For/60 at five-on-four last year. (Conversely, they were sixth from the bottom in High-Danger Scoring Chance/60 and seventh in Scoring-Chances/60... presumably because no one accounted for their Alex Ovechkin/60.) That works for me, given the options, though I do think that power-plays (more than five-on-five) work for better shots and don't simply exist to pump pucks towards the goal whenever they can, so if a specific unit was particularly effective without generating an obscene amount of shots, I'd take a closer look at what they're doing. And I'd also note that controlled zone entries on the power-play are critical (hello Caps in the playoffs), so zone time (and not just the proxies for it) could have value. So basically shot generation and zone time... without completely ignoring, y'know, goal rates.

As for the penalty kill, I think it's much simpler - shot suppression, probably Fenwick-Against/60 (which would presumably capture shot-blocking, shots allowed and things like clears and zone time). Then again, there's reason to believe that you could just go with good ol' fashioned Goals-Against rates and do pretty well.


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.