Capitals Handcuffed as Deadline Day Approaches

Posted on February 11, 2014 by Adam Stringham

Capitals GM George McPhee Addresses Media Members

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The Washington Capitals are very limited in terms of what they can accomplish at this year's trade deadline. The salary cap was lowered this season due to the new CBA, and no team has less available salary cap space than the Caps. Contract negotiation and salary cap management are essential duties for NHL management teams. In this week's post I use some advanced stats to take a look at how the Caps stack up in terms of player salaries.

My analysis included any skaters that Extra Skater had listed as having played 25% of their team's games (as of 2/7/14), in total 673 players were included.  Any players traded during this season had their statistics included exclusively with their new team.

Glossary entries from Extra Skater:

1. FF% rel. - Fenwick for percentage relative to team's FF% with player not on ice. This is a common possession metric that helps illustrate how much a player contributes to their team. The greater the FF% rel. the better that player is when compared to the rest of the team.

2. TotTm% QoC - A quality of competition metric. Measures the percentage of the opposing team's total ice time that is taken up by the players facing the selected individual.

3. Cap Hit - The amount of salary that a player contributes towards the team's league defined salary cap.

Possession stats are currently considered the best indicator of a team's likelihood of future success. No matter how good a player is, they are still affected by their teammates play when they are not on the ice. A player that drives team possession (high FF% rel.) is a great asset. A player that is able to drive possession and take up minimal cap space is even better.

Cap Hit FF Rel League

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

The trend line above illustrates that, on average, better paid players have a better FF% rel. than their lower paid counterparts. That shows that at least some NHL teams are signing players to contracts that make some sense given their advanced statistics. Let's see how Capitals look based on the league wide trend line. 

Cap Hit FF rel by Team - Capitals

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

Some Big Positives:

1. Mike Green and Dimitry Orlov were playing very solid possession hockey together prior to Green's most recent injury. I have often been critical of Mike Green's current contract; I believed that the Capitals overpaid him given that he was slated to become a restricted free agent at the end of his previous contract. Based solely upon this chart Green is earning his paycheck.

2. Grabovski was easily GMGM's best off season signing in recent memory. I'd like to see the Capitals sign him for 5.5-6.5 million dollars per year, hopefully for 3-5 years.


1. Since Brooks Laich was injured in last year's lockout he has not been the same player. His 4.5 million dollar cap hit is good for 4th highest on the team. For that sort of cash you would expect him to be producing solidly on the third line or holding his own on the second. He may be a good penalty killer, he might be a good character guy, I know that he is a good person, and the ladies certainly seem to love him, but in the end Brooks Laich is the most overpaid player on the Caps right now. When the Capitals traded away a first round pick for Troy Brouwer many thought that would be the end of Laich in the nation’s capital; instead management gave him a 2.5 million dollar raise. With all of that being said, the salary cap is due to go up next season making this contract less painful and Laich is still a decent third line player. It should also be noted he has been better of late; he has had a positive CF% rel. in 7 of his last 8 outings.

2. Any line that involved Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich is a negative, and they have been on the same line a lot this season. Both of these players are at their best when they play similarly to former Cap Mike Knuble. Knuble was a great player for the Caps, but I would never want two of him on a top 6 line. Grinders play best when working alongside skilled players (think Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Knuble). I do not know what mysterious chemistry Oates thought would develop between these two players, but they do not have complimentary skill sets. 

Brooks Laich Care Mete

Photo Credit: Washington Post

Quality of competition is another important metric that can be used to help understand how a player is utilized and how much success they have in that utilization. 

If every signing was a good one, a team's highest paid player would always be their best player and so on. Line matching in the modern day NHL often leads to the best offensive players being matched up with the opposition's best defensive players.  For that reason you would generally expect higher paid players to face tougher competition. 

ToT Tm% QoC vs FF rel League

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

For the most part that appears to be true, the majority of the high cap hit players (dark circles) face tougher competition than their low paid counterparts. Some of the low paid players that do face tougher competition are only low paid because they are still on their entry level contracts; Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche is a good example of this ($900,000). Landeskog's cap hit goes up to $5,571,479 next year. High paid players that do not face tough competition are likely bad contracts (Heatly in MIN stands out). I separated the Capitals into both forwards and defenseman, and then compared them to the league averages for their respective positions.


Defense - Capitals

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

Carlson and Alzner are clearly the Capitals "shut down" pairing, but they have had trouble this year. Alzner looks less comfortable on the ice this year than in the past but I am confident he has the potential to become the shutdown defenseman that the team needs.  Schmidt and Orlov both appear to have benefited from playing alongside Mike Green. That being said, Orlov has still been satisfactory since Green's injury. 

Team ToT Tm% QoC vs FF rel - Capitals

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

The data expressed in this graph shows that the Capitals have no clear cut second line. The Capitals use the second and third lines interchangeably. Ward and Chimera have played well with whichever center they have been assigned this year, but they are not second line quality players. They both do their jobs respectably and well, but the Capitals need a second line that can score if they want to win. Evgeni Kuznetsov could be the boost the second line needs, but the Capitals will be hard pressed to fit him (or anyone else) within the salary cap.

Next week I'll look at some teams that do particularly well with cap management. Special thanks to my good friend Andy Hom for: proposing the original post topic, helping refine that topic, and helping to assemble the data.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Stringhama and @TalkTheRed.

next up:

The Difficult Road Ahead

February 10, 2014

Capitals come back from the Olympic break with some huge tests.


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