Michal Kempny: What To Expect When He Returns From Injury


Michal Kempny was a major catalyst on the 2018 Stanley Cup winning Capitals team, generating immediate dividends after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the trade deadline. Kempny was extended for four years with an average annual value of $2.5 million.

Then, the injuries caught up with Kempny. In March 2019, he suffered a torn hamstring in a tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and then in October 2020, Kempny tore his Achilles tendon. Following successful surgery and recovery from his Achilles injury, Kempny then collided with an ice scraper during a rehabilitation assignment in Hershey, effectively ending his 2021 season before it started.

Now, entering a full offseason to recover and train for the 2021-22 regular season, there is a decent chance that Kempny could end up being an everyday player for the Capitals…if he stays healthy.

According to CapFriendly, the Capitals have only three left handed defensemen on the roster: Dmitry Orlov, Kempny, and Matt Irwin. Based on comments after the playoff series loss against the Boston Bruins, General Manager Brian MacLellan is expecting Martin Fehérváry to crack the NHL roster and be a full time player. Irwin is likely a depth player that’ll either be a healthy scratch most nights, or depth player in Hershey. That leaves Orlov, Fehérváry, and Kempny as the options on the left side of the defense.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how Kempny faired from 2017 to 2020, and attempt to project how he’ll perform if he gets a shot on the everyday roster.

Statistics used in this post are courtesy of Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and Hockey-Reference.

[Note: A definition of all analytics terms used in this post can be found in our NHL Analytics Glossary.]


2017-18

As mentioned earlier, Kempny was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2018 trade deadline, for the meager price of a third round draft pick. Kempny had an immediate effect on the Capitals and their success following his acquisition.

Here’s how Kempny performed in terms of Goals Above Replacement (GAR) percentile that season (via Evolving-Hockey):

The Capitals really got a high return on a relatively low investment for Kempny. He performed in the 82nd percentile in GAR, including solid marks in offensive and defensive GAR. The impressive piece of Kempny’s offensive GAR (oGAR) is that he skated extremely low amounts of ice time on the power play.

Nearly all of his oGAR production was a result of his even strength offense, which is a huge asset. On top of that, he had solid defensive GAR (dGAR) marks, but skated sparingly on the penalty kill during the 2017-18 season.

2018-19

In the Capitals’ quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, Kempny’s hamstring injury hamstrung the Capitals’ defensive balance. The Capitals had to adjust defensive pairings often in that seven-game series, with the only real regular pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen remaining.

Here’s how Kempny performed in terms of Goals Above Replacement (GAR) percentile that season (via Evolving-Hockey):

As Kempny’s ice time increased to first pairing levels, his dGAR regressed, but his oGAR progressed. The mass majority of his time on ice was on a pairing with John Carlson. While the pairing put up a gaudy goals for percentage of 59.79%, their expected goals for percentage was a sub-optimal 48.95%.

The Kempny-Carlson pairing struggled with high danger chances (44.18 high danger chance for percentage) and high danger goals against (46.43). Ultimately, it’s not too surprising to see Kempny’s dGAR numbers tumble a bit due to these factors.

2019-20

In the 2019-20 season, Kempny suited up for 58 games. He played in five games in the playoff series against the New York Islanders in the bubble, but was largely ineffective, posting a sub-par 42 Corsi For percentage during five on five play, while being on the ice for six five-on-five goals against and only three goals for.

For comparison’s sake, in the 2017-18 playoffs, Kempny was only on the ice for 10 goals against in 24 games played, and had a Corsi For percentage of 49.1. Overall though, the entire Capitals’ squad was ineffective against the Islanders in that five game series.

Here’s how Kempny’s 2019-20 season panned out:

We’re starting to see a real trend here for Kempny. When getting more ice time, he seems to struggle defensively. Kempny spends most of the season paired up with Carlson again, and they had nearly identical numbers to their 2018-19 performance. Their actual goals for percentage was 57.63%, but their expected goals for percentage hovered at 48.79%.

They were improved in high danger chances for percentage at 50.89% and in high danger goals for percentage (57.58%). The Kempny-Carlson pairing struggled in possession metrics, putting up a 48.77 Corsi For percentage, and owned a 49.31 shots for percentage.

Role in 2021-22 Season

Based on Kempny’s performance over a three year span from 2017 to 2020, plus two serious injuries that can derail a career, it’d be hard to expect Kempny to slide into a top four defensive role on the Capitals’ blue line. While Kempny and Carlson were a formidable pairing in the Capitals remarkable journey to a Stanley Cup in 2018, those days are likely done unless Kempny returns from his Achilles injury at full strength.

With Kempny’s oGAR production, he could be a suitable match with Nick Jensen on the third pairing. For context, Jensen’s dGAR in the 2021 season was in the 94th percentile in the NHL, but struggled offensively (22nd percentile). A Kempny-Jensen third pairing could have a nice balance of offensive production and defensive responsibility, with the fleet-footed Jensen able to support Kempny if his skating falters after the hamstring and Achilles injuries.

Since Kempny was able to come back from a severe hamstring injury and produce a 77th percentile oGAR performance in the 2019-20 season, we could conceivably see him in the high 60s to mid 70 percentile for oGAR.

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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