Michal Kempny and his thighs came in at the very last minute to save the Caps’ 2017-18 season.
|16.7||time on ice per game|
|48.9||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|53.4||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:
What a pick-up. As early as November it was apparent that the Caps’ struggles were primarily among their depth forwards and defense. As the deadline approached, Brian MacLellan made his move: acquiring lightly used defenseman Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round pick.
It worked. Here are how the Caps ranked among all 31 teams before and after Kempny’s first game in the lineup.
They went from being a bottom-10 team in just about everything to a solid team ready for a playoff run. I’m not saying that Michal Kempny himself was the difference between the Caps being a dark horse and being a champion, but his presence brought externalities that undeniably improved the team.
Kempny spent most his time with John Carlson. Kempny-Carlson as a pair certainly outperformed Orpik-Carlson (47.6 percent of shot attempt vs 44.3 percent with slightly better zone-starts), but Carlson actually saw his best success with Christian Djoos. Kempny’s most profound impact wasn’t in making his teammates better (though he did that overall), but rather in giving the team flexibility to make changes on the blue line.
The addition of Kempny spelled the end of Madison Bowey’s rookie season, which I mention not as a criticism of Bowey’s year (which maybe I’ve misunderstood) but rather as a condemnation of the Bowey-Orpik pairing. During their shifts, the Caps possessed only 42.1 percent of shot attempts over 409 minutes and were outscored 14 to 7. Once Kempny took a spot in the top four, Trotz used Christian Djoos with Orpik (48.3 percent over 105 minutes) and sent Bowey to Hershey. All of a sudden there were three viable defensive pairs that the coach could trust instead of one and a half. Orlov-Niskanen’s deployments improved, and the Caps stopped bleeding goals when their top pair was off the ice.
I’ve spent all this time talking around Kempny instead of about him. Kempny himself is strong and smart and quietly dependable in all the ways you want a mid-tier defenseman, but I wonder if maybe his offense is underrated. Kempny generates offense about on a level with Matt Niskanen, not far behind Carlson. When the Caps revisit their defensive platooning next season, they might be wise to give Kempny a try separate from Carlson – to see if they can give all three pairings some teeth on defense.
Finally, what a story. A few months back, the 27-year-old Czech was expecting to return home this summer without an NHL contract. Instead, he’s won a championship and earned a spot in the roster for years to come. Not bad for a springtime.
Now I’m just gonna leave this right here.
What role did Kempny have in turning around the Caps? How would you like to see him used in the future?
Read more: Japers’ Rink
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.