When it comes crashing down, and it hurts inside. John Carlson is real and he is an American. He also had what many Caps fans perceive to be an up-and-down year, but he proved near the end that he’s an integral cog in the wheel that is the Capitals defense corps.
|22:43||time on ice per game|
|51.1||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|55.8||5-on-5 goal percentage, adjusted|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows various metrics for the player over the course of the 2016-17 season. A short description of each chart:
Starting from a purely base-count standpoint, I’d have to say that this season is a disappointment for Carlson. For a defenseman that gets the power-play time that he does, his past history of scoring over 50 points and his last season in which he was on track for career high totals before injury, his 37 points in 72 games is not what the Caps are looking for. These offensive “struggles” also carried into the playoffs where he had just 4 points in 13 games after coming off a 2015-16 postseason where he was a point per game player. Am I super worried about any of this? Not really. Carlson for the last five years has hovered around 6 percent shooting percentage and shot a full point lower this year. He definitely still has all of the tools to return to 50 point territory.
I think the only next real place to go with Carlson is to talk about his pairing with long time pal, Karl Alzner.
The two defensemen skated 667 minutes together 5v5 even strength. During those 667 minutes the Capitals saw only 46.1 percent of the shot attempts go in their favor. That’s creeping into Aaron Volpatti levels of bad, no good, no more please, yuck. However, under those same conditions, the duo also saw 55.3 percent of the goals that went in when they were on the ice go in the Caps’ favor. A lot of arguments were had in the comments about how the pairing was up against the oppositions top forward lines every night, which was true, and that maybe the pairing was forcing teams to take low-quality shots from the outside resulting in that lopsided goals for percentage number, which was not true. This is a point that Peter talks about in Karl Alzner’s season review.
In the end, the pairing benefited from elite, Vezina-caliber goaltending from Braden Holtby and from playing a ton of minutes with the Capitals top two lines. So what does this mean for their future, Carlson in particular? It means that the man who benefits most from Karl Alzner leaving and signing a huge deal with someone like the Calgary Flames, is his old pal John Carlson. With Alzner gone, Niskanen and Orlov becoming a match made in heaven, a potential Orpik contract departure and hopefully a Nate Schmidt-less expansion draft, the Caps will be forced to give Carlson a partner that helps both him and the team.
Carlson, in the 490 minutes he played at 5-on-5 away from Alzner this season, saw improvements in almost every statistical category you can name. His shot-attempt percentage rises to 54.4 percent, his goals-for percentage rises even higher, and you see the same story with all of the per 60 minutes metrics. I didn’t think that this situation could become any more clearer until he was paired with Schmidt in the playoffs against Toronto and the two were excellent. I think that Carlson carried that momentum through the Leafs series and into the second round becoming the most consistent Capitals defenseman in my eyes and a lot of that had to do with the minutes he spent away from Alzner and with Schmidt.
Now, Carlson is still only 27 years old and coming into the age range (28-32) that some perceive to be the true fully developed prime for defensemen. He also has only one year left on a very team-friendly contract that, when it expires, will make him an unrestricted free agent. A good value comparison for what his next deal could look like will be whatever Kevin Shattenkirk gets this offseason, as they will be the same age and are both #1/#2 defensemen tweeners.
Does he have some obvious issues with missing the net with his shot and did he go through some trouble recovering from injuries at the start of this season? Yes. Is he an integral piece to this team’s success going forward? That is also a yes.
Some believe that Carlson has been leapfrogged by Matt Niskanen and even Dmitry Orlov on the Caps defenseman totem pole. I’m not so sure about that. If he’s paired with a partner that is more like a life jacket than an anchor, I think the best is yet to come from #74.
What do you think John’s future hold and should the Capitals be spending up to 6 or 7 million dollars to keep him in DC past this next year?
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
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