John Carlson is the Capitals player who is most likely to get the fanbase absolutely tilted, just positively malding.
|23.8||time on ice per game|
|50.7||5-on-5 shot-attempt percentage|
|49.5||5-on-5 expected goal percentage|
|51.8||5-on-5 goal percentage|
About this visualization: This series of charts made by Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com shows lots of information for the player over the season. A short description of each chart:
About this visualization: At three times during the season, RMNB shared an open survey with fans, asking the following question for each player:
On a scale from 1 to 5, how HAPPY are you to have this player on the team?
1 means VERY UNHAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
2 means UNHAPPY
3 means NEITHER HAPPY NOR UNHAPPY
4 means HAPPY
5 means VERY HAPPY TO HAVE THEM ON THE TEAM
The numbers above show the average score for the player in each survey period.
Tied with Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson has the longest contract among Caps players, expiring in the summer of 2026. How you feel about that deal depends on where you fall in The Carlson Paradigm. Are you a person who appreciates his genuinely special offensive contributions, or are you a miserable goblin who gets bent out of shape when he makes a galactic-tier goof-up that costs his team big time? I’m not being mean; I’m definitely in the latter group.
But let’s make the nice case first. Without a doubt, Carlson is an elite offensive defender. Evolving Hockey’s GAR stat says he adds 5.7 goals above replacement to the team’s offense, highest among Caps defenders and just barely behind Evgeny Kuznetsov among all skaters.
Carlson ranks 28th among defenders in his five-on-five points rate (1.2 points per hour), but he’s in the top-ten if you go in primary assists per hour. He’s less special during the power play (32nd of 81 defenders who played at least an hour of five-on-four), which where we’d all like to see him setting up Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer more effectively. But I think it’s safe to say that Carlson’s got a scoring touch that’s special in his position. That’s sort of beyond debate now.
It’s the just other side of the puck that drives everyone bananas. Here’s one example.
This is from Game Five of the playoffs. At the blue line, Carlson sees a loose puck coming for him. Rather than confidently controlling the puck, he opts for risky offensive big slapshot. He whiffs, the puck exits the zone, and Florida brings the score within one goal.
What I’m doing here is cherry-picking. This is not exactly analytically rigorous, but I wanted to show the most dramatic example of how Carlson’s pattern of play can hurt his team. Because they’re so dramatic, plays like this are what stick in our minds, even if they’re not necessarily indicative of the player overall.
Except Carlson’s defensive downsides are undeniable as well. Opponents generate more high-danger chances and expected goals (11.3 and 2.6 per hour, respectively) when he and partner Martin Fehervary are on the ice. And going by the defensive component of the goals-above-replacement table above, Carlson and his partner Fehervary are the weakest defensive players on the team outside Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, with whom they shared a lot of ice time.
Over at Japers Rink, JP sometimes discusses “the big mistake” — a anecdotal mistake that is so grievous that it occludes our thinking and gets punished by coaches, especially, in my opinion, if that player is younger. Carlson certainly makes big mistakes, but he’s often escaped criticism for them. Not so much anymore.
When asked about the loss to the Panthers, Caps GM Brian MacLellen said it was “basically mistakes, lack of execution. I think some of those mistakes were made by our key guys, too.”
There will be more to discuss here once we get to Martin Fehervary’s review (Friday, May 27). I’ll leave it here by reminding us all that Carlson’s contract is big and long as Shai-Hulud, but perhaps his role within the team is now being scrutinized. That’s good; some adjustment to how he balances O and D would be prudent.
Do Carlson’s offensive gifts outweigh his defensive deficits? How would you use him differently next season, if at all?
Read more: Japers Rink
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