It looks like the Washington Capitals’ injury problems are getting better. John Carlson returned to action this week, and Dmitry Orlov is traveling with the team this weekend. Those are two important defenders returning, but among forwards the Capitals will remain depleted for awhile longer.
Overall, Washington is the most injured team in the league, and that will be their biggest obstacle to making the playoffs.
Washington’s injuries, as of Sunday morning, look like this:
First, here’s every team based on the cap hit of injured players (CHIP). Defenders are in red, forwards are in blue.
This calculation is dated November 10, i.e. just before Carlson returned.
In second place is Philadelphia, who are without Ryan Ellis on defense; and Cam Atkinson, Sean Couturier, and James van Riemdsyk among forwards. Atkinson has an upper-body injury and is skating but with no timetable to return, JvR has a broken finger and should be back by Christmas. Couturier has undergone multiple back surgeries and may be back in the spring. Ellis also has a back injury but is not expected to play at all this season.
Until Washington’s big-two defenders went down, Philadelphia technically had a bigger injury deficit. In this visualization of CHIP progression by game, orange indicates larger cap hits from injured players.
But I would quibble with a characterization that Washington wasn’t the more hurt team. Among forwards, Washington was down one-top-line winger (Wilson) as well as that top-line winger’s replacement (Brown) as well as that top-line winger’s replacement (Malenstyn). In Backstrom they lost a center who had clocked 344 hours of ice time in the last 15 years, and in Oshie they lost a veteran leader who had up until recently resisted the downward pull of injury. In proportion to team roles, I’d say Washington was all along the most hobbled team in the league – not that it’s a competition.
And besides, I think things are starting to improve for the Caps, and there’s reason for optimism. This graph shows Washington’s progress of CHIP over the season, again colored by position.
We’ll see Carlson come off this graph on its next update, and likely Orlov as well. Wilson may be as little as a month away from returning. Those makes three major pieces of this team coming off IR. And Malenstyn should be back on Washington’s very good fourth line before the new year.
But we still don’t have timelines on Oshie, Backstrom, or Brown. I hope for ever-elusive clarity on Oshie soon, but I still imagine a scenario in which all three are available, healthy, and (perhaps most importantly) rested for the postseason. The Capitals even qualifying for the playoffs is far from guaranteed (53 percent according to Moneypuck, 72 percent according to HockeyViz), as the Metro is now much more competitive than we previously thought.
And that’s where this final visualization comes in. This one compares each team’s injuries to their ability to earn standings points. Washington and Philly are at far right, the distant outliers in terms of injuries. Washington is in the league’s lower half at points-getting.
The Caps are now in what I think of as their float era. We can’t really know how good they’d be in a postseason – we don’t even know what their roster will be in April. For now we have to put aside those calculations and focus on the only thing that matters: grabbing standings points. That means goalies stealing wins, forcing overtime whenever you can, beating division rivals, and not losing to vastly inferior teams. Washington’s record in doing that so far is mixed.
The playoffs are far from guaranteed. If Washington is to make it at all, they’ll do so despite profound disadvantages. It’s going to be interesting.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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