Caps forward Andre Burakovsky has missed the team’s last three games as a healthy scratch. While a missed game here or there for a bottom-six player isn’t noteworthy, three consecutive games – with the last two occurring on back-to-backs – has raised some eyebrows. For whatever reason, on Saturday Coach Todd Reirden opted to play tired players instead of a rested Burakovsky. Compounding matters, that same night we heard rumors that Vancouver is interested in trading for the 23 year old, though Washington has been cagey about the details.
I’m sure we’ll learn more about Burakovsky’s status soon; for now I think it’s safe to say he and the Caps are not on good terms.
By all accounts, Burakovsky was excellent on his entry-level contract, scoring 38 goals and 57 assists in 196 games, while averaging just over 13 minutes on ice per game. Then, in the summer of 2017, Burakovsky and the Caps agreed to a bridge deal: two years at three million dollars per. Around then was when everything went wrong for Andre.
February 2017: broken right hand.
October 2017: broken left hand.
April 2018: Undisclosed upper-body injury requiring surgery.
It was a brutal chain of events for Burakovsky, and its impact has been easy to see.
Prior to the end of his ELC and the beginning of his injuries, Burakovsky was creating almost 1.5 goals per hour. For a young forward mostly outside the top six, this was a great output, and his three-year average was better than average for forwards who have his ice time — and for forwards overall.
But since the start of the 2017-18 season, Burakovsky has seen less ice and created fewer goals — just as another Caps forward has stepped up.
Jakub Vrana‘s current output won’t last (he’s shooting around seven percent above his career average), but he’s still a good option in Washington’s top six. Vrana is a young, fast, creative, and prolific shooter – all the things Andre was two seasons ago, before injuries dulled his specialness.
We can see that drop-off in Burakovsky’s offensive rates (attempted shots, unblocked shots, and scoring chances) after 2016-17.
And we can see it in shot-location maps, like these from Sean Tierney, which show Burakovsky getting fewer dangerous wrist shots from the slot and below the dots, where he’s most effective.
Click to enlarge.
Back in 2016-17, Andre was an important part of Washington’s third line along with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. Burakovsky was a big driver of that line’s offense and a contributor to their excellent possession play. But since his injuries, Burakovsky’s impact on his teammates has been more mixed. The table below shows the differences in shot-attempt percentages each Caps player sees when with Burakovsky during two two-season periods.
|Burakovsky’s SA% impact||2015-17||2017-19|
While players still tend to play more offense and less defense when with Burakovsky, the degree to which has fallen as Burakovsky’s best traits have been lessened by his injuries.
With Eller and Connolly now seeing less of an improvement when playing with their former winger, Burakovsky’s case for playing on the third line is hindered. With the fourth line of Boyd, Dowd, and Jaskin humming, Reirden has no sensible reason to break them up to make space for Burakovsky. And with Vrana, Oshie, and Wilson blockading the top six, there’s no opportunity to Burakovsky to play higher in the lineup.
That’s a shame.
The last season and a half of Burakovsky’s career — the entirety of his bridge deal so far — has been a disappointment. I think it’s plainly obvious that the cause of this disappointment has been the repeated injuries to his hands. I have neither time nor respect for arguments that his recent performance is the result of “mental softness“, a topic about which Burakovsky’s candor and commitment has been commendable.
Andre Burakovsky will turn 24 a few weeks before the 2019 trade deadline. I don’t know if he will be a Washington Capital when that happens. But while his value has a player has never been lower, he undeniably has value. His scratches in games on consecutive days, wherein the first game was a grueling overtime win, probably does not improve the perception of said value — unless other teams already knew that the Caps were shopping him. We don’t know if that’s true, so here’s something I do know:
Andre Burakovsky is a good hockey player who has been through a rough couple years. With a little support and a little patience — maybe a lot of patience — he’s going to come back. I’m confident he will make a team very proud. I hope that team is Washington, but I’ll understand if it’s not.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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