Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
When Washington Capitals forwards Chandler Stephenson and Travis Boyd returned to Arlington in September for training camp, they knew it was going to be the NHL-equivalent of Survivor: only one of the two was likely to make the team’s opening night roster. General Manager Brian MacLellan had re-signed forward Carl Hagelin and added forwards Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway, and Brendan Leipsic, pushing the team to the limit in terms of roster spots and salary cap. While Boyd was sent to Hershey to start the season and Stephenson made the roster with the big club, Boyd emerged as the survivor when MacLellan was forced to make a trade to accommodate the salary cap. How is the decision looking nearly three months later? NoVa Caps takes a look.
Injuries early in the season gave the Capitals the flexibility to recall Boyd from Hershey in November. As the team got healthy, however, the salary cap pinch forced MacLellan’s hand. With Haglin set to be activated from long-term injured reserve and the Capitals needing money to make room for him, management could only keep one of the two players. MacLellan promised Stephenson that is he was dealt, the team would work to find him a good place to land. On December 2, the trade occurred: Stephenson was sent to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick.
At the time of the trade, Stephenson had recorded three goals, four points, and a +5 rating in 24 games while Boyd had a goal, seven points, and a +4 rating in only NHL 13 games this season after being waived and starting the season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Boyd’s numbers put him on pace for two goals and 13 points over 24 games.
Despite a strong start to the season, Stephenson had a down year in 2018-19 where he recorded only five goals, 11 points, and a -13 rating, the worst on the Capitals. It certainly did not help Stephenson that he was making $1,050,000, while Boyd made $800,000. Pinched for every penny, that $250,000 may have tilted the scales somewhat for MacLellan.
Since the trade, Stephenson has thrived with the Golden Knights, picking up top-six minutes and playing mostly on their top-line with forwards Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. The trio’s expected goals-for percentage of 69.3% at five-on-five is currently third in the NHL. He also saw time with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault when center William Karlsson missed eight games due to an upper-body injury.
In 36 games with the Golden Knights, the 25-year-old has recorded eight goals, 20 points, and a +19 rating. He has 5.8 goals-above-expected according to MoneyPuck. His career-highs with the Capitals were six goals, 13 points, and a +13 rating, set in 64 games in 2017-18. His +24 rating this season is tied for 10th in the NHL this season and is six better than the Capitals plus-minus leader, defenseman Radko Gudas.
In the 11 games he has played since Stephenson left for Vegas, Boyd has played with the fourth-line but got some time on the third when center Evgeny Kuznetsov missed the Capitals’ three-game road-trip earlier this month. The 26-year-old has posted two goals, three points, and a +5 rating. During that time, Boyd has never finished a game with a rating below zero.
Over a 36-game pace, Boyd’s numbers would equate to seven goals and 10 points. While there is a big difference in points between Stephenson’s numbers with the Golden Knights and Boyd’s since the trade, Stephenson has only one more goal than what Boyd’s pace indicates he would have over 36 games and he played with much better players than Boyd has. In addition, Stephenson gets four more minutes of ice time per game than Boyd has averaged.
Since Stephenson was dealt, Boyd has not played higher than the third-line with the Capitals. Among the Capitals who have suited up for more than 20 games this season, Boyd’s average of 11:45 worth of ice-time per game is the fifth-lowest, though his average of 52 seconds on the power-play is 12th. Meanwhile, Stephenson has averaged 15:45 per game, including 39 seconds on the power-play, since going to the Golden Knights. Unlike Boyd, Stephenson plays on the penalty-kill and has averaged 1:15 worth of shorthanded ice-time per game.
Stephenson has an impressive 17.4% shooting percentage since going to Vegas, while Boyd is shooting at a 13.3% rate but has only taken 13 shots since the deal. Stephenson is averaging 1.28 shots-per-game with the Golden Knights while Boyd is averaging 1.08.
With the Golden Knights, Stephenson has recorded a 57.9% Corsi-for percentage (shots + blocks + misses for versus against) and a 57.8% Fenwick-for percentage (shots + misses for versus against) but 59.3% of his zone starts have come in the offensive zone. In comparison, Boyd has posted a 54.9% Corsi-for percentage and a 53.6% Fenwick-for percentage, both worse than Stephenson’s statistics in each category, but only 50.8% of his zone starts have come in the offensive zone.
When on the ice, Stephenson’s 57.03% scoring-chances-for percentage is slightly better than Boyd’s 55.08% while his 55.43% high-danger Corsi-for percentage is better than Boyd’s 52.56%, according to Natural Stattrick. However, Boyd’s 62.5% high-danger goals-for percentage slightly tops Stephenson’s 62.16%. Boyd is currently tied for 97th in the NHL with a 2.15 points-per-60 while Stephenson is tied for 324th with 1.43.
Stephenson has thrived defensively with the Golden Knights as he currently has 30 blocked shots, 50 hits, 36 takeaways, and only 20 giveaways since getting traded. It is no secret that while Boyd is better offensively, that’s not the case on the defensive side of the puck as he has nine blocked shots, 14 hits, seven takeaways, and six giveaways (again, in fewer games played).
While Stephenson has enjoyed a breakout year with the Golden Knights, he would almost certainly have the same success in Washington as the Capitals’ top-six is loaded. If Stephenson was still in Washington, he would most likely be rotating in and out of the fourth-line. The Capitals could probably not even afford what the Golden Knights will give Stephenson, a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, after the season given the way he’s producing at the moment.
While Boyd has been not been bad by any means, Stephenson has been the better player since the deal was made. Though, he has played nine more games than Boyd since the trade. Some players thrive in a new environment, and playing with forwards like Stone and Pacioretty certainly helps in Stephenson’s case. Unless he gets an opportunity playing in the top-six, we’ll never know how Boyd really compares to Stephenson, but he is a skilled player and has shown talent in a limited role when in the lineup.
With the Capitals and Golden Knights each atop of their respective division’s standings, neither team should be looking back on the deal.
By Harrison Brown