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2019-20 Rink Wrap: John Carlson

From Backstrom to Wilson, we’re taking a look at and grading the 2019-20 season for every player who laced ‘em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2020-21. Next up, John Carlson.

New York Islanders v Washington Capitals - Game Five Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Regular Season:


Key Stat: Carlson’s 75 points not only led all NHL defensemen this season but were also the most by a Caps’ defenseman in a decade, just one point shy of Mike Green’s 2009-10 output (in six fewer games played). It also marks the fourth-highest point total from a blueliner in franchise history - despite the shortened season.

The Good: As noted above, Carlson had an outstanding offensive season, setting a new career high in points (75) and assists (60) while tying his previous high in goals with 15 (matching his 2017-18 output). Not only did he have a season for the ages, but he also put himself into the franchise history books, moving into first place among all Caps’ defensemen in assists (373) and points (478).

Among other NHL defenseman, only Nashville’s Roman Josi came within striking distance of that total and still fell 10 points shy. Carlson is just the ninth player since 2000 to hit 75 points in a single campaign - and with the exception of Green’s 2009-10 season, the eight guys ahead of him all appeared in at least 80 games compared to Carlson’s 69. Unsurprisingly, as a result his points-per-game rate of 1.09 moves to the top among all defensemen over the last 20 years.

Generating that much offense requires ice time, and you earn ice time by generating offense - so it’s also not a surprise that Carlson’s 24:38 average ice time tied for tenth-highest among all NHL defensemen this season. He also led all defensemen in power-play ice time, and was the only one to crack the four-minute mark with the extra man, and yet racked up 49 of his 75 points (seven more than Josi) at even strength, and finished second in even-strength goals with 13 - just one shy of Zach Werenski’s top mark of 14.

It’s a shame that he wasn’t able to finish a season that looked like it was going to be one for the ages (not that it wasn’t historic even in the shortened year) but the work that he did put in resulted in the biggest “Good” of the season: Carlson’s first nod as a Norris Trophy finalist.

The Bad: That Carlson’s offense was en fuego this year is not questioned by anyone, even as he fell off the torrid pace he set to start the season. The areas of Carlson’s game that raised some eyebrows, as is often the case with offensive defensemen, was his work on the other side of the ice - and there are certainly some things that stood out for #74 this season (although how much of that is on him and how much is on the team’s porous defensive structure overall and/or the struggles of his defensive partner is certainly debatable).

To wit, Carlson’s xGA/60 of 2.46 at even strength was the second-highest on the team (behind only his aforementioned partner, Michal Kempny) and falls into the bottom tier of the NHL as a whole (minimum 500 minutes) - nowhere near what you’d expect from a defender who is considered elite. He also just barely cleared 50% in xGF, which again is way off the pace of the NHL’s best blueliners - so in general, the Caps were allowing more high-quality chances with their top defenseman on the ice than without him, which isn’t ideal.

All that said, if the Caps were going to make any sort of run this postseason, they were going to need the best out of their top players, including their #1 defenseman. The fact that Carlson was injured late in a preseason game before their official postseason even got started immediately put them behind the eight ball during the round robin. While he was eventually able to return for the opening series against the Islanders, it was very clear that he was nowhere near 100% — and it hurt the team.

The Video: Carlson became the franchise’s top-scoring defenseman with career point #475 on this assist:

The Charts:


The Discussion: Do you see this season as an outlier for Carlson, or do you think he has the ability to match - or even top - his offensive pace next season? How much of his perceived defensive flaws do you pin on the team’s system and/or his defensive partner, and how much do you think is just Carlson being Carlson? What would it take for you to give Carlson a 10 next season?

Other Carlson Season Reviews: Coming soon!

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.


How do you rate John Carlson’s 2019-20 season?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    (14 votes)
  • 25%
    (29 votes)
  • 28%
    (33 votes)
  • 18%
    (22 votes)
  • 8%
    (10 votes)
  • 4%
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
116 votes total Vote Now