The Washington Capitals had a very busy summer. Between winning the Stanley Cup, celebrating with the Stanley Cup, and drinking half the world’s supply of alcohol out of the Stanley Cup, they also had to re-sign some key players to new contracts. Of the new contracts that were signed none were as big as defenseman John Carlson’s ($8 million annual average value for eight years) and right wing Tom Wilson’s ($5.16 million annual average value for six years) new deals. They were not only big because of their importance to the Capitals, but because of the reaction by the rest of the hockey world.
When both signed their new contracts, there was a lot of skepticism when it came to the numbers. Many thought that neither could or would live up to their contracts, even though they had strong seasons, both during the regular season and in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, before they signed their new contracts, and now that it is halfway through the first season of their new deals, NoVa Caps is taking a look at how each are doing.
Of the two, Carlson was the least controversial. He led all NHL defensemen in points last season with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points in a full 82 games, all while averaging the 13th-most time on ice with 24:47 per game. It’s hard to find top-end, right-handed defensemen, so the price was always going to be high, but was it too much of a price?
One of the biggest concerns for Carlson was whether he would be able to duplicate his offensive output from last season. His 68 points was the only the second time in his nine-year career that he scored over 50 points (he had 55 points in the 2015-2016 season). This led people to believe that it was just a fluke season. Fortunately for the Capitals, Carlson is proving this isn’t the case. With his current 39 points in 40 games played, Carlson is on pace to hit nearly 80 points. And if the Capitals’ power play wasn’t the horrific mess it has been since the beginning of December, he could be on pace for 90 points.
But it’s not just points Carlson is building upon. Even at the age of 28, it seems Carlson is improving every facet of his game. Bill Comeau’s SKATR Tool seems to back up this hypothesis. Compared to last season, Carlson solidified his game, making himself a better all-around player. It helps he is getting better offensive zone starts than last season too. That way he can use his elite offensive tools a bit more. He has improved his Shots For, Shots Against, and Expected Goals For, though he did take a hit on the Expected Goals Against. But it seems worth the sacrifice when improving in so many other places.
He’s still a workhorse that plays lots of minutes at even-strength, on the power play, and even the penalty kill. According to Evolving Hockey’s analytic tool GAR (Goals Above Replacement), Carlson leads not just all defensemen in driving play, but the whole league!
Will Carlson’s contract be a problem down the road when he’s in his mid-30s? Probably, but until then he’s off to a great start with his new contract. With the Capitals looking to win as many Cups as possible while Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are still dressed in red, Carlson is worth every penny.
Every summer there are a lot questionable and controversial contracts, but none threw the hockey world into a bigger frenzy than Wilson’s contract. Being the completely unique player Wilson is, it seems only Capital fans understood the value he brings to the team (and even then many fans were scratching their heads over the deal). Everyone else saw Wilson only as a goon, a fighter, that couldn’t help his team any other way. But he finished the last 82 games of the season (including playoffs) with 44 5v5 points, which would have been good enough for the Top 30 last season. And it’s very arguable that without Wilson on that top-line during the playoffs last spring, the Capitals don’t win the Stanley Cup. But people don’t see that, they just see the questionable hits.
When MacLellan signed Wilson to his big contract, he fully believed that he had more offensive capabilities in him to make the contract worth it and so far, Wilson is proving his General Manager right. In the 22 games he’s played this season (he’s missed 16 due a suspension and three due to injury), Wilson has racked up 12 goals (tied for second on the team even with all his missed time) and eights assists, a near point per game output. Of his 20 points, 15 of them are at even-strength. That would give him 60 even-strength points alone in an 82-game season. Only two players last season had over 60 even-strength points.
The crazy thing is Wilson has these 20 points in 22 games with minimal power play time. He had a run this season when T.J. Oshie went down with injury. For those 11 games in his absence and playing barely 29 minutes total, Wilson put up two goals and two assists for four points. That gives him 8.22 power play points per 60 minutes, which is first on the Capitals by over two points. And with the power play struggling, it’s probably best to play him there now. The point is that had he stayed on the power play the entire season, he’s probably easily breaking a point per game output.
If Wilson keeps up his 0.9 points per game this season, he’ll finish with 57 points in 63 games. 57 points would have been impressive if it were a full, 82-game season, let alone a shortened season for him. It’s doubtful Wilson finishes the season scoring 0.9 points a game, due to not seeing power play time as long as Oshie is playing and his 22% shooting percentage, but his 0.75 points per game seems doable (he’s scoring 0.75 even-strength point a game). That would bring his total to 51 points in 63 games, which is still very impressive. If he’s able to do that. than he’ll successfully be able to quiet all of his doubters who think he’s nothing but a goon.
Looking at the SKATR Tool like with Carlson, it’s easy to see how much Wilson has improved upon his game from last season. Last year, he was able to start in the offensive zone a lot, not this year around. So far this season, he’s had tougher starts against slightly tougher opponents. This has made his defensive game a bit worse, as seen by his Shots and Expected Goals Against, but his offensive game has been much better with Shots and Expected Goals For. He’s even improved on not taking as many penalties. He’s still taking too many, but better than last season.
Returning to Evolving Wild’s GAR, it’s easy to see just how great Wilson has been. He leads all forwards in driving play in all situations. If he played more power play time he’d certainly improve upon that 0.6, but alas. Combine this with the SKATR Tool it’s easy to see that Wilson, at least so far, is worth his contract. He’s helping his team everywhere in the lineup.
It’s also ironic and fitting that the top two players in GAR for the Capitals are the two players focused on in this article. Carlson and Wilson have been lights out and difference-makers this season. It’s only been half the season, so they can go out and stink the last half, but so far they have done their part to try to live up to the expectations laid upon them after signing their contracts.
By Luke Adomanis