Salary cap restraints were going to force the Washington Capitals to rely heavily on their top players. One look at the standings and it would appear that they are getting what they need, and then some.
Through 53 games, the Capitals are on pace to once again win the Metropolitan Division, holding a four-point lead over their nearest competitor to go along with having two contests in hand.
Leading the division wasn’t something that was attainable earlier in the season, as the Capitals struggled out of the gate.
Alexander Ovechkin is back scoring like his usual self. After finding the back of the net just 33 times last season, he has a chance at registering his fourth 50-goal season in the last five years.
One other player that the Capitals needed a big season from has been T.J. Oshie. Coming off a career season where Oshie scored 33 goals, tying Ovechkin for the team lead, the Capitals signed the forward to an eight-year contract, worth a total of $46 million contract with an annual average value (AAV) of $5.75 million.
While coming off a career season, there was a thought that due to his age (30 at the time), and the fact he had never put up the same kind of numbers before, the Capitals committed too much for the winger.
Washington believed he would be a key piece going forward in their attempt to win the Stanley Cup, and knowing he would get the same offer, if not better if he were to hit to open market, they were willing to make that risk in signing him.
An obvious candidate for regression
Players perform better in contract seasons, it is just how it is.
They have a lot on the line in the last year of their contracts. The obvious one is monetary, but also - especially with the ones with families - it opens up the possibility of geographic stability going forward.
The better you perform, the more likely you will get a longer-term deal and can feel safe that you won’t have to uproot your family anytime soon.
So when Oshie scored 33 goals in a year that could set him up financially, and lock him down long-term, it shouldn’t have come to as much of a surprise.
There was some definite ‘buyer beware’ warning signs on Oshie’s 2016/-17 season.
One look at his 5v5 numbers for last season, compared to the rest of his career, it was obvious there was really nowhere to go but back for Oshie.
*Stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey
Oshie, 31, doubled his goal output last season when compared to the rest of his career. He did this while shooting the puck less but scoring at a higher rate.
It wasn’t just a slightly higher rate either, Oshie converted at a 15% better rate than the rest of his career.
In fact, of all forwards with at least 800 minutes of 5v5 play, nobody scored at a higher rate than Oshie did, with just Paul Byron and Sven Baertschi also topping 20%.
Even looking at his expected-goals-for per 60 (xGF/60), which takes into account shot type, and quality, Oshie wasn’t that far off from his career mark, even during his breakout season a year ago.
Everything pointed towards a hard fall back down to earth for Oshie, which would be unfortunate for the Capitals, as with the need for some of their younger players to step up into bigger roles, they were going to count on the veterans even more.
An even harder fall than predicted
To be fair, one look at Oshie’s stat line, and it may not look too awful. With 12 goals, and 20 assists (32 points) in 48 games played, Oshie is currently fifth on the team in points behind Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom.
The concern comes from the 12 goals, is the fact that eight of them are power play goals, meaning only four are at even strength. Since it’s hard to control how often you get a man-advantage, consistency at 5v5 is crucial.
Oshie has found quite a niche on the man-advantage, setting up in between the circles as a secondary option behind Ovechkin, looking for a one-timer from Backstrom or Kuznetsov.
Since coming to Washington, Oshie is tied for 15th in the league in power play goals but after scoring 25 even strength goals last year, it looks like he is going to struggle to break ten this time around.
A deeper look at his numbers show an even deeper dip in production than what was maybe expected.
Oshie isn’t shooting the puck even less than he did a year ago, and his shooting percentage and xGF/60 are below his career marks. While Oshie doubled his career mark for G/60 last year, his number this year is half of what it usually is.
So what happened? Oshie not shooting certainly isn’t helping, but if he is also converting at the lowest rate of his career, it could explain not firing the puck at the net as often.
Age could be a factor, as Oshie would now be considered ‘past his prime’ and on the decline. He was already in his 30's during his career season, so using age as an excuse really doesn’t hold weight.
Whatever the reason is, despite the Capitals being in first place, they will need better play from Oshie going forward, especially once the playoffs hit.
Washington has still yet to get past the second round during the Ovechkin era, and time is running out for winning with this core of players.
They have some young exciting players like Christian Djoos and Jakub Vrana starting to take bigger roles on the team, but the Capitals could still use the added production from Oshie.
What is going on with T.J Oshie this year? Do you think he can break out of his season-long slump in time for the playoffs? Let us know in the comments section below.