Brian MacLellan defended his offseason plans to the Washington Post on Tuesday. We’ve already had a full accounting of it, but I’d like to dig deeper into one curious argument by the Caps GM: a hypothetical comparison between TJ Oshie and Justin Williams at age 36.
From MacLellan in the Post, discussing his offseason roster decisions:
The decision becomes: Do we want Oshie or not? I don’t know what the stink is. Oshie, he’s a big part of our culture. He drives the team. We felt it was necessary. People like Williams at 36, but they don’t like Oshie at 36?
I don’t fully understand this. I get that Oshie and Williams are comparable insofar as they are both top-six forwards who played for the Capitals last season, and both were on on contracts that ended in unrestricted free agency.
(Williams signed a two-year deal with the Hurricanes that’ll see him well paid for his final years, whereas Oshie signed a blockbuster eight-year deal with the Capitals that has a notably lower annual value than Oshie could have got on the open market – but with term and bonuses to offset it.)
All that I get. What I don’t follow is MacLellan’s meaning.
He seems to portray his critics as saying Williams will be a good value in his age-36 year, but Oshie will not. And, probably more importantly, MacLellan is saying those critics are wrong to do so. I’m not sure about that.
Williams and Oshie are very different kinds of players. Williams has long been a possession driver and a reliable two-way player. Oshie’s always had offensive flair – especially during the shootout – but he wasn’t known for making plays on his own and, until coming to Washington, he had never hit 25 goals a season.
At least, those are my characterizations. They’re subjective. Here’s something that’s not subjective: Williams shoots a lot more than Oshie.
Williams’ shot rate (on goal) has always been significantly higher than Oshie’s. It’s a likely bet that Williams’ age-36 year will be higher than Oshie’s age-31 year. When you consider that Oshie hasn’t really begun to feel the effects of an aging curve that could see him lose 40 percent of his output by age 36, Williams is plainly superior.
But we’re here for goals, so let’s do goals.
It’s noisier, but maybe more illustrative of Washington’s thought process. Oshie’s age-30 season was remarkable. His 1.54 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play is one of the 10 highest among all forwards since the last lockout-shortened season. And, for the first time since Robert Lang in 2004, Alex Ovechkin wasn’t the sole team-leader in goals (33).
But, and this part is important: Oshie is very unlikely to do it – or even come close to it – again. The shot volume is just not there, and Oshie’s going to be fighting a bunch of countervailing forces including age, injury, and reduced offensive-zone time as the Caps lose possession dominance.
Even if Oshie’s shot selection has improved since he came to Washington, his 23.1 shooting percentage is not sustainable. And even if we increase the sample size by including Oshie’s missed shots in the denominator, he’s still punching way above his weight.
In the graph above, average is the mean shooting percentage (goals over shots-on-goal plus misses) for all forwards who played at least 41 games last season. Crazy good means two standard deviations above the mean.
Here’s the top 10:
After a lifetime of average shooting, Oshie transformed into one of the most elite snipers in the league last season. Not all of that is luck, but most of it is. After all, Oshie’s shot selection hasn’t changed much — at least not during 5-on-5.
Shot location graphs are from hockeyviz.com. Please join us in supporting Micah on Patreon.
Don’t get me wrong: TJ Oshie is an excellent player. Even if he doesn’t hit 33 goals again, he’ll still be a boon to the Caps for years to come. But it’s plain to see the Caps are banking on a blue-sky projection for the player that probably won’t come to pass.
Meanwhile, and mostly unrelated, Justin Williams will still be pretty awesome next year.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk
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