The Capitals are entering the most important offseason in franchise history after yet another collapse in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it has been known for months now that it will bring massive changes to the roster. Among the many free agents is longtime defensive stalwart Karl Alzner, who figures to command a huge payday on the open market. While the Capitals will likely be able to retain young restricted free agent blueliners Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, losing Alzner would be a huge blow to a defensive corps that has been among the best in the league the last few seasons. Among the remaining defensemen is John Carlson, who could be the X-Factor for the blueline next season.
Still just 27-years old, Carlson is two years removed from a career best 12-goal, 55-point season that saw him finish 10th in Norris Trophy voting as the league’s best rearguard. Prior to that, the former first-round pick (27th overall in 2008) had compiled seasons of 37, 22, 32, 37, and six points, respectively.
However, injuries have prevented the normally-durable defenseman from reaching those lofty totals again. Last season, Carlson played in just 56 games; in a full 82-game season, he would have been on-pace for 12 goals and 57 points. This season, Carlson played in 72 games, but managed only 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists). Carlson saw his role reduced significantly after the Capitals acquired fellow right-hander Kevin Shattenkirk. During his 55-point season, Carlson averaged 23:04 of ice time a night. This season, his time was reduced slightly to 22:43.
But if the Capitals’ defense is going to survive the (likely) loss of Alzner, they’ll need Carlson to step up and be a difference-maker for what could potentially be a young, relatively inexperienced blueline. The key for Carlson is, of course, to remain healthy. When healthy, he has the ability to be a weapon from the point, something he seemed to have lost after the injuries. If and when Alzner departs, Carlson will by default, be the longest-tenured defenseman on the Capitals’ roster at the age of 27.
This will mean that Carlson will have to remain consistent as well. During his career year, he averaged 0.67 points per game and was one of the Capitals’ most willing shooters on the power play and had 4.8 defensive point shares (points contributed by a player due to his defense). This season, he fell to just 3.5 DPS.
But despite his relatively consistent effort on offense, Carlson struggled defensively this season, giving the puck away an astounding 88 times compared to 51 takeaways. Carlson was also on the ice for 80 total goals this season. But even though his defensive effort didn’t always produce the best results, Carlson has been in the NHL long enough to know that he needs to bounce back and has shown himself as an excellent defenseman in the past.
No matter how one slices it, Carlson will be a vital component of the Capitals’ defense next season. As Carlson is a free agent himself in two seasons time, he’ll be looking to prove himself worthy of a raise.
By Michael Fleetwood