Evaluating The Capitals’ Free Agent Defensemen Signings With WAR and SPAR

Through the first day of unrestricted free agency, the Capitals and General Manager Brian MacLellan have been busy adding players to their NHL roster. Thus far, the Capitals have signed defenseman Brenden Dillon to a four year deal with a cap hit of $3,900,000 per year, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to a one year deal with a cap hit of $1,500,000, and defenseman Justin Schultz to a two year deal with a cap hit of $4,000,000 per year.

So far, the action plan of addressing the defensive group and adding a veteran goaltender to complement the young Ilya Samsonov are coming to fruition. It will be interesting to see other roster moves that may occur, since a few roster slots are still up for grabs, including the signings of restricted free agents Jonas Siegenthaler and Shane Gersich. It’s unlikely that Gersich will make the NHL roster, but Siegenthaler is certainly in play for the third pairing role on the left side.

In this piece, we’ll take a look at the free agent acquisitions of Dillon and Schultz, their performance over the past three seasons, and how their contract value aligns to Evolving Hockey’s salary projections.

Brenden Dillon

Caps fans are already familiar with Dillon and his style of play. He’s defensively responsible, large in stature and presence, and seemed to be a great fit into the locker room in DC.  He’s not going to put up stellar offensive numbers, but was a nice, steady complement for John Carlson, while Michal Kempny struggled.

Below are Dillon’s last three years performance relating to Games Above Replacement (GAR) and Standings Points Above Replacement (SPAR), courtesy of Evolving Hockey:

Overall, outside of a rather rough 2017-18 season, Dillon has been trending well in terms of the value he brings on the ice. The biggest question that comes out of this signing is not whether Dillon will provide value on the ice, but how it sets up the Capitals organizationally on the left side of their defensive corps.

The Capitals currently have roster control over Dillon, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny (who will be on LTIR for most, if not all of next season), Jonas Siegenthaler (currently a restricted free agent), Martin Fehervary (who will likely make the opening night roster) and Alexander Alexeyev, and Lucas Johansen down on the farm. Something’s gotta give there.

Here’s a useful graphic showing Dillon’s performance at even strength over the past five seasons, with the scale against replacement level, also courtesy of Evolving Hockey:

Long story short here, Dillon is very effective in shot suppression, and has a positive impact on all of the metrics here. He’s a valuable asset and the Caps have him locked up at a fair price and comfortable term.

In terms of contract value, Evolving Hockey’s contract projection tool had his most likely contract term and value at 3 years at $2,903,000. With adding an extra year of term, the contract projection for cap hit rose up to $3,392,000. The Capitals signing Dillon to a four year deal at $3,900,000 was 500k +/- off this projection.

Justin Schultz

The signing of Schultz was an intriguing one. He’s certainly a talented player, and proved that in the past. He played a large role in the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to their second Cup in as many years.

The biggest question for Schultz is whether or not he can stay healthy and on the ice. Given his history, it’s not clear he’s going to be on the ice for every game in a given season. Schultz has never played an entire 82 game season entering his ninth NHL season.

Here’s his performance over the past three seasons:

It’s hard to rate him on the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He played in a total of 75 games spanning those two seasons. If the 2017-18 version of Schultz is skating on the Caps’ blue line this upcoming season, then the contract could be worth it.

One of the main values of having another offensively talented right shot defenseman is that he can man the point on the second unit of the power play. The second unit of the Capitals’ power play struggled this past season with Orlov manning the point, since the angle of the pass to Alex Ovechkin on the left circle is harder to shoot a one-timer off of.

Schultz also has manned power plays in the past, so it will be less of a drop off from John Carlson when the second power play unit gets on the ice.

Here’s Schultz’s performance at even strength and on the power play over the last three seasons compared to replacement level:

This definitely outlines what we know about Schultz from his career trajectory. He’s an offensive threat, but is below replacement in shot suppression and expected goals against. He does help generate overall goals for, but doesn’t help too much in terms of generating shots.

In terms of the projected contract for Schultz, this is where the Capitals’ valuation and Evolving Hockey’s projection vary. The contract projections had him most likely taking a 3 year deal at a cap hit of $3,906,000, but with a year less of term, the projection showed $2,995,000.

The Caps are taking a gamble with Justin Schultz’s cap hit, especially with Jakub Vrana, Ovechkin, and Ilya Samsonov needing new contracts after next season, but as we’ve seen this offseason, contracts can be moved to teams with lots of cap space.

Recap

The Caps did address some off-season needs in bolstering the defense as a whole, including adding a right shot defenseman. The question that looms is who is playing on the second pairing with Dmitry Orlov, Schultz or Nick Jensen? On top of that, it’ll be interesting to see how the team performs in Peter Laviolette’s defensive system and structure.

The Capitals got decent value on Brenden Dillon’s contract, but Justin Schultz’s looks a bit like an overpay. It’s a gamble, but it’s only a two year contract with the expansion draft looming next off-season.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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12 Responses to Evaluating The Capitals’ Free Agent Defensemen Signings With WAR and SPAR

  1. hockeydruid says:

    Surprised that they went after Justin. Guess that is going to make the players available next year for the expansion draft even deeper; Orlov, Kempny, Jensen, Schultz and Dillon. And I see them hoping that if Seattle takes a D from them that they take Orlov.

    • Ryan says:

      Justin has good up side. BMac said in his interview that Laviolette is big on defenders joining the rush and Schultz fits that bill. Fingers crossed he can play up to that potential he had a few years ago.
      Agreed on Orlov too. It would be nice for the expansion to get rid of that contract. It seems like it’s between him or Oshie from what I keep seeing. If Oshie keeps defying age and keeps putting points up I’m hoping he stays.

      • Jon Sorensen says:

        I agree with you Ryan as far as fit. It’s the contract value that is a bit too high for me. But who knows, Mac may have been running out of options for an RHD.

      • hockeydruid says:

        I think it will, for the Caps, come down to salary and needed Caps space for who they put up. Sad I think that Ovie will not take a pay cut but rather want hit $9-10 or 11 mil a year and that willb reak the bank and maybe put him up on the expansion list. I cant think of any other reason that they are stopping contract talks unless he would rather pick his place than go through a rebuild.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I would have preferred TJ Brodie to JS… GMBM is going it and knows he has 2 years left to win.

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