Key Stat: For the fourth time in five years, G.I. John led all Capitals skaters in average TOI during the regular season (24:47).
Interesting Stat: Carlson was one of the most versatile players in the League in 2017-18, averaging 18:27 per night at even strength, 3:42 on the power play and 2:38 shorthanded. That made him one of just three players in the League to average an 18/3.5/2.5 split (Rasmus Ristolainen and Shea Weber being the others), and one of only 11 players to average 18/3/2. Big Number 74 did it all for Washington this season.
The Good: You’re shopping on Amazon, or at a book store if you’re a luddite like me who still craves fleeting, superficial human interaction. You see a book, and you notice that its title is “John Carlson.” What do you expect about this book from its cover?
Probably stellar offense from the blueline, and you’d be right - Carlson’s 68 points led all NHL blueliners, and it wasn’t all on the power play - during the regular season, John Carlson led all Capitals defensemen in even-strength points-per-60 (1.14) and even-strength shots-per-60 (6.67), a statistic that placed him 15th among all NHL defensemen. These numbers helped propel Carlson to a fifth-place finish in Norris Trophy voting (including a trio of first-place votes).
And in the Stanley Cup playoffs, John Carlson elevated his offensive game so much he probably earned himself the contents of a shiny, well-stuffed Brink’s truck. On the way to helping Washington win its first Stanley Cup in franchise history, Carlson led all playoff defensemen in goals (five), assists (15), points (20), and shots (80). His offensive acumen is what gave Washington the flexibility to adjust their power play assignments on the fly based on what the defense presented, keeping Ovechkin’s Office from getting stuffy and ineffectually predictable.
What’s more, Carlson essentially kept the Capitals’ season afloat when fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen missed 14 games while on long-term injured reserve after injuring his left hand against the New Jersey Devils on October 14th. Over that 14-game stretch, which accounted for a full 17 percent of the regular season, Carlson averaged nearly 30 minutes of ice time per game. And while the stats will show he was not fully up to the task of filling Niskanen’s skates while also limiting the strain on less well-equipped defensemen like Brooks Orpik, Madison Bowey, and Christian Djoos (who had just 5 NHL games under his belt at that point), Carlson fulfilled enough of the enormous responsibility asked of him to make sure Washington’s season didn’t get away from them before it had even begun.
And we all know how that worked out.
The Bad: Of course, if you’re going to give a defenseman the kind of contract that Carlson signed late Sunday night (to the tune of $64 million over 8 years at an $8M AAV), you want to make damn sure he can play...well...defense.
And when it comes to John Carlson, the jury is very much still out on whether or not he can shut down opposing teams’ top scorers.
This regular season, Carlson allowed 29.05 even-strength scoring chances against/60, putting him second-worst on the Capitals and 27th-to-last among all NHL defensemen. Even more damning, Carlson’s 12.71 high-danger scoring chances against/60 was the 13th-worst in the NHL (for reference, Brooks Orpik was dead last). Similarly, his 3.25 goals against/60 was worst among Washington defensemen.
All this, while benefitting from a massively positive 101.5 PDO (a statistic which attempts to quantify “puck luck” by taking the sum of his goalie’s save percentage and his team’s shooting percentage).
Is John Carlson one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL? Probably.
Do his stats benefit from being the Bud Abbott-like straight man to Alex Ovechkin’s supernaturally mischievious Lou Costello-esque shooting weaponry? Almost certainly.
Should the Capitals mortgage their newfound salary cap surplus, and impede the potential ice time of other young and developing blueliners like Bowey, Connor Hobbs, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Lucas Johansen, to bring him back at a king’s ransom?
Well, I’m not so sure.
Carlson and His Defensive Partners (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Carlson’s 5v5 Usage (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Carlson’s Rolling Shot-Attempt (Corsi) -For Percentage (chart by @muneebalamcu):
The Vote: Rate Carlson 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 year 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 year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Carlson got his big contract - will it end up being a worthwhile gamble, or should they have gone in another direction? What would it take for you to give him a “10” next year?
Other Carlson Season Reviews: RMNB
How do you rate John Carlson’s 2017-18 season?
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