TJ Oshie has been just about a perfect fit for the Caps since coming to the team during the summer of 2015. He’s been excellent in the role envisioned for him: a top-six wing to play the right side with a healthy mix of skill and physicality. Oshie’s tenacious forechecking has fit in great on the Caps first line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and TJ has proven he can keep up with his superstar linemates, as he’s posted his two best goal scoring seasons of his career while in DC.
Oshie, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, has fit in so well that it may seem like a foregone conclusion that the team should make re-signing him a top priority. While it’s possible there are scenarios that could play out to make bringing Oshie back a no-brainer, there’s plenty of reasons for the Caps to be very cautious when considering whether or not they should re-sign him.
Looking back to last offseason could give a good idea of what Oshie’s next contract will look like. There were three forwards on the market, all who can play as wings in the top-six and, to a varying degree, bring a healthy mix of skill and physical play to the table. Here’s a look at those forwards and the deals they signed at that time, as well as Oshie’s numbers to date.
|Loui Eriksson||30||24||33||6 years/$6m cap hit|
|Kyle Okposo||28||22||36||7 years/$6m cap hit|
|Andrew Ladd||30||23||27||7 years/$5.5m cap hit|
The per-season rates are per 82 games played at the time the contract was signed
It’s reasonable to think Oshie will be seeking a deal in the range of what Eriksson, Okposo, and Ladd got last offseason. That being, a deal of around six years that carries a cap hit in the neighborhood of $6 million.
Despite the fact that Oshie has had the two most productive seasons of his career as he approached the age of 30, there’s reason to be skepitcal of signing a player around the age of 30 to the type of deal Oshie is likely to be seeking.
Moneypuck, who now works for the Florida Panthers, wrote an article back in 2015 that shows the type of decline to expect from a player as they age. The chart below is from that article and shows player contributions in goals above replacement.
Further, here’s what Travis Yost found when he took a look at how a player’s individual shot and scoring chance rates decline as they age:
While there are exceptions to the aging curve, the research of both Moneypuck and Yost support the reasonable conclusion that a player’s production drops as he ages and that signing a player to a long-term, big money deal around the age of 30 carries significant risk due to the likelihood of a large decrease in contributions over the course of the contract.
While this look from a macro level is helpful, there’s also reason to be concerned specifically about the sustainability of Oshie’s production moving forward. This is not to say that Oshie won’t be a legitimate top-six winger for seasons to come, but it’s very unlikely that he’ll continue to score at the rate he has this season.
Oshie, a career 13.1 percent shooter, is shooting 23.7 percent through 47 games this season. A 23.7 percent shooting percentage is exceptionally rare, as only ten forwards in the last ten years have shot over 20 percent when playing 65 or more game in a season:
No player appears on this list twice because, as expected, every player’s shooting percentage has come back down to earth the season after shooting over 20 percent. And again, this isn’t to say that Oshie won’t still be a productive player next season. But, it is to say that paying for past performance on his next contract could leave a team disappointed if they are paying him an amount based off of the expectation that his current level of production will continue.
Further, the Caps salary cap situation makes re-signing Oshie a tricky proposition regardless of what his future production looks like. The team has a glut of players on expiring contracts and there’s no way to retain all of them. It’s doubtful that the Caps could find the cap room for Oshie if they want to retain RFA’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Dmitry Orlov.
Even if the Caps were able to find a way to somehow make the math work to bring back all three young RFA’S and still have money leftover for Oshie, a long-term deal for Oshie would limit the club’s financial flexibility in the future. For example, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Burakovsky is signed to a two or three year bridge deal this offseason. A six-year deal for Oshie could leave the Caps unable to sign Burakovsky long term as he approaches unrestricted free agency in a few years. Is there anyone out there who would prefer the Caps have Oshie when he’s in his mid-thirties over Burakovsky in his mid-twenties?
The Caps face a lot of hard decisions this offseason and one of them is what to do with one of their most productive forwards, TJ Oshie. Oshie has been so great during his two seasons with the Caps that it’s hard to imagine this team without him. However, imagining the Caps without Oshie is a scenario that Brian MacLellan and company should give serious consideration to when mapping out their offseason plans. While losing Oshie will sting, it could be less painful than re-signing him given the potential risk of his next contract.
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen/RMNB
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