Tom Wilson is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, nestled inside a puzzle, playing on the top line, concussing his opponents.
|16.0||time on ice per game|
|51.0||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage, adjusted|
|53.7||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 season. A short description of each chart:
After five years of third- and fourth-line minutes, Tom Wilson became a first-liner in 2017-18.
|Season||TOI per game|
It’s been a long journey to this point, but it’s easy to argue that the top line works with Tom Wilson up there. This season the Caps controlled 51.9 percent of shot attempts when Ovechkin and Wilson played together and outscored opponents 35 to 29. Those are good results, and they – combined with anecdotes like we saw in the postseason – paint a very favorable picture of Wilson as a bona fide top-line player.
But that’s not how we’re supposed to do this evaluation. The question isn’t whether or not Tom Wilson “looks like” a top-liner when he plays on the top line (he does), it’s whether Wilson is delivering the value expected of a top-liner. And that’s way less clear.
Here’s how Wilson’s results differ depending on whether or not he’s playing with the most prolific player on earth.
While Wilson is on the better side of 50 percent in goals no matter where he’s played, he’s been convincingly out-shot (48.4 percent of attempts) in other contexts.
And though the Ovechkin lines saw better shot-attempt percentages with Wilson than without him, about half of the non-Wilson minutes for Backstrom-Ovechkin and Kuznetsov-Ovechkin were with Devante Smith-Pelly. Ovechkin-Backstrom did just as well in their non-DSP minutes as they did with Wilson, though Kuznetsov-Ovechkin struggled a bit more. Overall, that’s not very compelling as a case for Wilson’s value in other contexts.
Because we’ve seen a lot of those other contexts, and it’s not pretty.
When Wilson has been off the top line, his goal production has been notably below league average and his primary assists have been spotty. Add to that Wilson’s well-cultivated reputation as a reckless player (see below), and you’ve got room for doubt.
About that reputation, Wilson was suspended twice during the season. Whoops, sorry, typo. I meant Wilson was suspended twice during the preseason, which is before the real season begins. And lest you think that the preseason does not matter, it surely does when the Department of Player Safety considers how to punish a high hit in the playoffs that concussed a player and broke his jaw.
Again, it’s hard to do a fair with-or-without-you impact assessment for Wilson-as-postseason-first-liner based on the three playoff games he missed. Trotz in his infinite wisdom placed Devante Smith-Pelly on Ovechkin’s off wing for half of that time, though Chandler Stephenson’s limited ice-time in the spot actually outpaced Wilson’s.
As I write this, the Caps are in negotiation with Wilson’s camp for a new contract. A long-term deal seems in the cards, but I don’t think it can be said with certainty whether Tom Wilson is a top-line player or just a guy who can play with a top line.
What makes Tom Wilson the best choice available for the top line? If he’s not the best choice available, then what is he?
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.