On February 22, 2019, the Washington Capitals acquired defenseman Nick Jensen from the Detroit Red Wings, sending Detroit defenseman Madison Bowey and a 2020 second-round draft pick. Shortly after announcing the trade, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan announced that the team had extended the pending unrestricted free agent Jensen to a four year, $2.5 million average annual value contract, matching the same contract they had handed fellow defenseman Michal Kempny the off-season prior.
After acquiring Jensen, the Caps have certainly had a mixed bag regarding quality of play from Jensen. In some games, he looks like a fairly formidable option on the Caps’ second pairing, while in other games he looks out of place on a Stanley Cup-contending team. The level of consistency in Jensen’s game is suspect, resulting in many clamoring for a replacement option in the Capitals’ defensive corps.
In this piece, we’ll revisit Jensen’s play this season, and we’ll compare it to the on-ice statistics that Madison Bowey has posted this season with the Detroit Red Wings. All statistics used in this post are courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com.
So far this season, and as a Capital, Jensen has yet to notch a goal on the score sheet. Offensive output was never Jensen’s forte, but it’s surprising that a defenseman that averages nearly 18 minutes a game hasn’t found the back of the net quite yet. He doesn’t typically create individual high danger chances, and that’s reflected in the goals column for him. He’s also not generating assists, which is considerably more interesting to me. He’s on a pairing with a talented, offensive-minded defenseman in Dmitry Orlov, and usually gets quite a bit of ice time with the Capitals’ immensely talented top six forward group.
Let’s take a look at Jensen’s stats and compare them to Bowey’s, who in all fairness is playing on a really bad Detroit team this season. The quality of the roster around Bowey isn’t great, but he’s more of a known quantity to Caps fans, since he was on the Caps’ NHL roster last season.
Bowey starts in the defensive zone on face-offs marginally more percentage-wise. This might be more a comment on the quality of Detroit’s roster at this point in time, but it’s interesting to see Bowey above Jensen here. The other takeaway is that Bowey has played in fewer games than Jensen, so the percentages could be a bit off when doing a direct comparison.
Jensen actually has the second highest offensive zone face-off deployment rate on the Caps, only trailing John Carlson, who should be getting all the five on five offensive zone starts you can give him. Radko Gudas and Jonas Siegenthaler have the lowest rate of offensive zone deployments, typically starting in their own zone. This seems like more of a trust factor from Reirden and the Caps’ coaching staff than anything, because Jensen is skating on the second pair. Orlov also gets considerably fewer offensive zone deployments, which is interesting, considering Orlov and Jensen are defensive pair partners.
When you look at these numbers at face value, Jensen looks a lot better regarding possession metrics. The interesting piece is when we dig a bit deeper into these metrics, including looking at Corsi For Relative and Fenwick For Relative. Jensen has a -3.0 Corsi For and Fenwick For relative to his teammates’ performance. Bowey on the other hand, is -1.6 for Corsi For Relative, and -1.4 for Fenwick For Relative. Long story short on this front is that Jensen’s possession metrics are likely propped up a bit by the quality of players around him, where Bowey’s likely suffer a bit more because of lack of quality on the Red Wings’ roster.
If you were to tell me that Madison Bowey would be outscoring Jensen in the 2019-20 NHL season at the beginning of the year, or even at the time of the trade to acquire Jensen, I’d probably laugh. Not only is Bowey outscoring Jensen, he’s doing it in fewer games played. Jensen has yet to score a goal as a Capital, let alone this season, and Bowey has three goals and 12 assists. He’s tripling up Jensen in points right now. Let that sink in for a second. Bowey has three times the amount of points as Jensen, and Jensen plays with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and TJ Oshie.
The positive portion of Jensen’s game is that he’s durable, doesn’t take penalties in excess, and has a decent amount of takeaways. The problem is that he’s on the ice for considerably more goals against at 5 on 5 play than he is for goals for, and he has a giveaway problem. Looking at this graphic, it’s hard to really say that Jensen is the better player, much less worth giving up Bowey and a 2020 second round pick for.
To be honest, I came into this post with a neutral view on Jensen. There’s times where he has flashes of his skating prowess, ability to move the puck up the ice, and play responsibly defensively. Then, there’s other times where Jensen just looks out of place on the Caps’ otherwise stout defensive corps. The biggest issue here though is not the player. The issue is that he’s signed for another three seasons at $2.5 million AAV.
I’m not in Brian MacLellan’s head, but I’m wondering if there’s a way that the Caps might move on from Jensen, either at the deadline or this summer. $2.5 million isn’t a behemoth of a contract (it’s only 3.06% of the total cap of $81.5 million), and there’s an interesting valuation put on defensemen with right handed shots. It would be interesting to see what a Jensen trade may look like, but depending on how the cap works out this summer, I’d expect Jensen to be one of the top candidates to move on from.
By Justin Trudel