When the Vancouver Canucks threw a four-year contract worth an average annual value of $3 million per year at Washington Capitals‘ pending free agent Jay Beagle, who was going to turn 33 three and a half months later, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan decided to look elsewhere to replace him. The Capitals already had center Travis Boyd, who led the AHL’s Hershey Bears with 63 points two seasons ago, but decided to sign center Nic Dowd in free agency as a safety net in case Boyd struggled.
Boyd, 25, had a big opportunity to take advantage of a roster that had a number of holes a season ago. The Capitals had lost a lot of talent up front due to free agency. Boyd did not make the opening night roster and only appeared in eight games with the Capitals all season long, though he did dress in one playoff game – Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round when center Nicklas Backstrom (hand injury) and forward Tom Wilson (suspended) were not available.
With the organization opting not to match Vancouver’s lucrative offer to Beagle, the Capitals signed Dowd to a one-year deal at $650,000, the lowest possible cap hit for an NHL player. Washington had success with reclamation projects over the years, namely forwards Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly, and decided to try it out again with Dowd, 28.
With only Beagle and goaltender Philipp Grubuaer (traded to the Colorado Avalanche in addition to defenseman Brooks Orpik for a 2018 second-round pick at the draft) gone from the reigning Stanley Cup Champion roster, the Capitals were not going to have a lot of competition entering training camp, but one of the battles included Dowd and Boyd for the fourth-line center spot.
When Boyd was placed on long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered after blocking a shot in the Capitals’ 4-0 preseason win at the St. Louis Blues on September 25, Dowd won the job by default.
In the Capitals’ preseason finale against the Blues on September 30, the team decided to dress their projected opening night lineup, which included Dowd. With the Capitals clinging to a 3-2 lead, with a little more than seven minutes left in regulation, without Wilson, who was ejected for a hit to the head on Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, Dowd buried a shot from the slot past goaltender Chad Johnson to give the Capitals a 4-2 cushion.
In his regular-season debut with the Capitals three days later, Dowd scored again on a beautiful spin-o-rama backhander in a 7-0 win over the Boston Bruins on opening night.
After posting just a single assist in the next 11 games, Dowd found himself in the press box when Boyd returned. When Boyd tallied two assists in the first six minutes of his regular-season debut in a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on November 5, many assumed it would be a while before Dowd would draw back into the lineup.
He was a healthy scratch for four of the next five games but returned when top-six forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie were dealing with concussions. After getting held off the scoresheet for the first three games, Dowd recorded points in three consecutive games (including goals in back-to-back games) and three goals and six points in the final eight games of Oshie’s absence. Kuznetsov returned after missing six games.
When Oshie returned to the lineup on December 11, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden kept Dowd in and bumped forward Andre Burakovsky out instead. In the next game, Dowd recorded three assists in a 6-5 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes. The third assist was his fifth in three games.
After scoring three goals and four points in only 56 games with the Canucks and Los Angeles Kings in 2017-18, a season when he was traded by the Kings for defensive prospect Jordan Subban mid-year, Dowd has already more than tripled his point total (13) this season in 31 games. He currently also has a +7 rating after entering the season with a career-high of just a +1, set in just five games with the Kings in 2015-16. Dowd’s shooting at a rate of 19%, the fifth-highest on the team, after never shooting more than 7.7% in a single season. What makes his performance even more impressive is that he is currently averaging only 10:24 worth of ice time per game, the third-lowest average among the Capitals forwards who have played in at least 18 games.
Defensively, Dowd has been impressive, tallying the fifth-most hits on the team (48), tying center Lars Eller for the fourth-best average in takeaways-per-game (1.4), and recording the seventh-least giveaways (9).
After getting an opportunity to become the fourth-line center in Washington, Dowd has seized that opportunity playing in 18 consecutive games despite Boyd recording 10 points in 18 games since returning from injury. It appears as if MacLellan did it again as Dowd continues to shatter his previous career-highs with the Capitals this season.
By Harrison Brown