Capitals Chaos: Oshie to the 3rd line and other Caps musings

I found the article JJ Regan on NBCSW about moving Oshie to the 3rd line interesting.

Seems though like it would be highly contingent on being able to find another top six winger (or high end middle six) to pair with Vrana assuming that Ovi-Wilson remained the top line pair and that Wilson and Vrana both are at least as good as, if not improved from, this year’s regular season. I think if I’m looking at the Caps model it’s a trigger man on one side and a tendentious body with some net-presence on the other.

And, obviously, also is highly contingent on being able to navigate the salary cap hell the Caps are already in and this kind of move seemingly exacerbates since Oshie is being paid like top-six/first line wing, not like the bottom of a middle-six/top-nine.

I also don’t see that coming from within the organization:
Connolly seems like he would be redundant to Vrana if you consider Vrana the trigger man of the line. While Connolly is good, and his reclamation story has been exciting, he’s not necessarily that tendentious complimentary piece the Caps seem to like to balance a line with. I’m also not sold that he’s really a top-six talent even though he’s had great success in the Caps top-nine. Regardless, he won’t come as cheap as he has been the last few years.
Buracuda seems like he too would probably be redundant to Vrana. Unlike Connolly though his story has been frustrating and despite his size, to my eyes, isn’t that tendentious complimentary piece either. He seemed like he should be a top-six type of talent but there’s something vexing about his streakiness and although he might tip the ice the Caps favor he can’t seem to score with any consistency which negates his value that high up in the lineup. It’s not just the confidence issues he’s working through, or the injuries, it’s the the slow release of his shot, or that sometimes it seems he just plain holds the puck too long in general and other skills things that, to me, also seem to hold him back. And that’s not even getting into the complexity of having to re-sign him (if you qualify him you’re most likely overpaying, if you don’t qualify him you have to negotiate with him hoping he’ll come back but that the process and the reduction of his contract doesn’t play into his lack of confidence)
Hagelin I never figured was going to be here more than as a rental. Even IF he took a big reduction in salary to stay, while he is tendentious he has hands of stone and wouldn’t really be contributing much other than tipping the ice toward the Caps because he probably won’t score. He seems like a solid bottom-sixer but I wouldn’t want to depend on his output to power the top-six on a competitive team at this point in his career.
Stephenson is quick, he had flashes of being pretty good in the past but also struggled a lot with consistency. I was hoping he’d take a step forward this season and it really seemed like he struggled. Not saying he’s already hit his ceiling as maybe he could still find another gear but I’m pretty hesitant to think of him in a top-six role for any length of time.
And what is down in Hershey is not necessarily inspiring to think of jumping into the top-six immediately, nor even being eased into it over a season or two…

So, you’d have to go outside of the organization to find someone who both fit the stereotype the Caps have for what that winger should “look” like (modeled after Wilson & Oshie at the moment to compliment Ovi & Vrana) and would also fit within the confines of the very limited cap space the Caps have.

Thus, to me, making a Oshie to the third line move something a team with more depth in it’s forward corps might do, or a team with a bit more leeway in their cap space might try, or a team that was ready to tank and wanted to test what it had while conserving vet’s health to be traded might try, but not something the Washington Capitals can probably pull off at this moment in time. I mean, if they found another winger to fill the role I have no problem envisioning Oshie tearing it up one line lower, but I have a real problem at the moment wrapping my head around who that wing replacing him might be.

And, speaking of managing the salary cap and related issues it begs some questions about another high paid veteran Niskinen. Several interesting takes by NoVa Caps, Stars and Sticks and the commenters at Japer’s Rink the last few days inspired these thoughts from me too:

I’m not 100% sure how much of some of the performance was on the Coaches, on Orlov as his partner, or on him by himself. But, for long stretches things just didn’t look quite “on” for Nisky. He was rarely the most aweful guy on the ice but for someone brought in to add a predictable stability

From Coaching: to my lying eyes it seemed like Nisky-Orlov were being deployed more heavily as a shutdown pair then Carlson who seemed to be getting deployments to take greater advantage of that pair’s offensive abilities and to shelter the third pair more with easier assignments. That seemed to be combined with, again, to my lying eyes, less support from the forwards than what there seemed to be especially at the end of last year. It didn’t seem like the staff had an answer for how to more evenly distribute the defensive pairings, nor how to create five-man units that allowed the pairings to play better, nor how to deal with giving Nisky or Orlov much needed rest, such that they always seemed like they were playing from behind. Maybe the short off-season didn’t help but a night off once in a while might have as possibly would have breaking the pair up to more evenly distribute the “tougher” minutes, etc. That doesn’t excuse Nisky from everything, but it seemed like some of his troubles were a symptom of the coaching / usage / system at times.

From his partner: Orlov had his own trials and pains this season and since they two were shackled to one another sometimes it was difficult to separate out how much negativity they were dealing one another. It’s not like Orlov was dragging Nisky up and down the ice. Not that Nisky was dragging Orlov either as there were enough bone headed plays and missed opportunities by Orlov that Nisky definitely looked like he was having a hard(er) time compensating this year compared to in the past. Could be that something about Orlov’s overall game no longer meshed as well with Nisky for where they both were this season and that “incompatability” ended up being a drag on aspects of how Nisky played as well.

For himself: One year older. Shorter off-season. And, honestly, he never “looked” physically “on.” Can’t put my finger on it since it’s not like there was a report of a nagging injury or anything but it certainly seemed like he wasn’t playing with the same smoothness as before. Like the calibration of everything was just a little off and he couldn’t quite every get that corrected over the course of the season so he looked more regularly human, and functioned more like a middle pairing guy than the one that was tasked to lead the blue line. Won’t pretend to know why or how it happened but it definitely seemed like there was something not there for long stretches this year in addition to everything mentioned above.

I expected more out of Nisky than what I got. Though, what I got was still good enough to win the division on the regular season and push the first round to 7 in an eastern circuit that all losing teams looked horribly over-matched that’s not what his past performance, salary or usage dictates he should be doing and quite honestly, I wanted the Nisky of last year again…

To get a 10: Feel like an average first pairing guy or at worst an above average second pairing guy that demonstrates much more consistency on both ends of the ice while helping the team back to the Cup round.

Or, maybe gets traded and the assets that come in return are viable enough to help the team compete for the cup again (granted that’s mostly out of his control but hopefully his body of work allows for some definable/attributable return).

However, if you do go the trade route, which, of course would open up the possibility of getting a middle-six-to-second line talent with the salary cap savings, you’d also have to consider the following:

Nisky was one of the veterans of the blue line. He and Orpik would both be departing likely in the same off-season leaving Carlson and Orlov as your veterans. Then you have two new(er) guys to the Caps franchise in Kempny and Jensen and two young guys in Djoos and Siegenthaler coming up from the Caps system, plus whatever rookie is being called up from Hershey for that 7th spot if they don’t pick up an aged veteran as a backup.

While there’s something to be said for speed, and for youth, there’s also something to be said for experience and having quality depth. I’m not sure the group above is as inspiring as other blue lines in the league are right now. Not that they couldn’t mature into something more grand than what they appear on paper but as we saw this year dealing with the injuries to Djoos, Orpik and especially Kempny the Caps really need the blue line to be predictable to be successful. All the shuffling especially in the post-season really wrecked the team’s strategy and undermined the continuity between the D and Forwards that was a calling card to their previous Cup run.

It is possible Jensen is able to slot in for Nisky next to Orlov and provide the same kind of stability that Kempny was providing Carlson in that pairing but we really won’t know the full impact of such a move till it’s had time to gel on the ice. Not just because Jensen is new to the Caps system but because he is still young and coming from a team that hadn’t had a lot of success recently which leaves the bottom pairing without a veteran presence and the defense (and locker room in general) with one less voice of successful experience overall. That’s a much more difficult thing to measure the impact of. Although, if you look back at the Caps blue line before Nisky and Orpik were brought in it’s not hard to tell what changed (just read any of my old rants about the Caps blue line being too Caps-centric and too inexperienced and you’ll see the basis for this concern).

In the end though, there’s a finite amount of time left where Ovi will be supernatural and the rest of the core isn’t getting any younger either, so maintaining the status quo might not be enough to repeat. If the franchise is going to shake things up these are the kinds of moves that would be much more than just a tweak here and there. If bold moves like this work, the Caps regain the Cup. If they don’t, one can only image the fan reactions to GMBM overplaying his hand.

About thedoormouse

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