Should the Capitals Re-sign Conor Sheary?

Screen cap: TNT

When the Washington Capitals and General Manager Brian MacLellan scooped up Conor Sheary in unrestricted free agency back in December 2020, it was clear that the Capitals were looking for a bit of a reclamation project. After Sheary’s first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins from the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season, Sheary amassed 48 goals and 45 assists for 93 points in 184 games.

After his third season with the Penguins, he had fallen out of favor with the Penguins’ front office and coaching staff, and was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, alongside defenseman Matt Hunwick, in return for a 2019 4th round pick. Sheary never quite found his scoring in Buffalo, going from about a 0.5 points per game pace in Pittsburgh to .39 points per game in Buffalo. Buffalo then turned around and traded Sheary back to Pittsburgh alongside forward Evan Rodrigues in February 2020 for forward Dominik Kahun. After the trade back to Pittsburgh, Sheary played in eight games, scoring a goal and three assists.

It was clear that Sheary needed to find a new home after stints in Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Capitals took a flyer on him, and got great value out of that signing over the course of two contracts: a one year deal that carried a $735k cap hit, and then a two year deal (that just expired) that carried a cap hit of $1.5M. Sheary amassed 48 goals and 54 assists for 102 points in 206 games with the Caps.

In this post, we’re going to evaluate Sheary’s performance this past season, with a lens of whether or not the Caps should try to bring Sheary back into the fold. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz, Hockey Reference, and CapFriendly. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.

Five-on-five performance

First up, let’s take a look at the percentage performance Sheary turned in during the 2022-23 season:

We’ll get into the drivers of Sheary’s rather mediocre performance in possession metrics here in a moment, but the one key area where Sheary excelled was in his goals for percentage (GF%). With Sheary’s expected goals for percentage (xGF%) falling a bit under the 50% target line, we can see that Sheary was one of the few players on the Capitals that displayed finishing capabilities when on the ice during five-on-five play.

On the other hand, we have other data that shows that finishing wasn’t necessarily the driver of the net percentage difference between GF% and xGF%:

Above is a ranking of each key statistic out of 15 forwards on the Capitals that skated more than 200 minutes. What we can see here is an effective player in Sheary that can drive generation of Corsi For shot attempts per sixty minutes (CF/60), Fenwick For shot attempts per sixty minutes (FF/60), and overall shots on goal per sixty (SF/60). On the other hand, Sheary struggled with suppressing shot attempts against, which points to some complications, defensively.

The reason why I ended the explanation for the first graphic above with a point of data that shows that finishing wasn’t necessarily the reason why Sheary had a positive net differential between his GF% and xGF% is his on-ice save percentage when on the ice during five-on-five play. He was on the ice for a team-best (among forwards) save percentage by the Caps goalies, even with being in the bottom two in terms of rates for shot attempts and shots on goal.

In short, there’s a fairly decent chance that Sheary’s goals against per sixty (GA/60) was a bit inflated due to the high performance of the Caps’ goalies when Sheary was on the ice. On the other hand, Sheary was pretty dang effective offensively this season for a team that had a finishing rate drier than the Sahara Desert.

Now, let’s take a look at Sheary’s chance generation percentages, although we might have a good idea of what they’ll look like considering the rankings I shared above:

In terms of overall scoring chances for (SCF%), it wasn’t an issue with generating scoring chances, but an issue with defensive suppression of scoring chances against. That’s what’s driving his SCF% below that 50% target line.

Sheary was a bit more effective in terms of generation and suppression of high-danger chances for (HDCF%), which is what brings his HDCF% up slightly over that 50% target line.

Interestingly enough, his high-danger goals for percentage (HDGF%) is rather strong here, but that’s definitely being driven by the Caps’ on-ice save percentage when Sheary was on the ice.

Let’s take a look at Sheary’s isolated impact chart from HockeyViz. This shows what Sheary’s impact on xGF and xGA is during even-strength versus how the Caps perform with him off the ice:

The Caps are ever-so-slightly better offensively in terms of generating xGF/60 when Sheary is on the ice versus off, but we’re talking about .05 xGF/60, which isn’t moving the needle a ton. It’s considerably offset by his impact defensively, resulting in 5% higher xGA/60.

This isn’t necessarily surprising, given all we’ve written before this, but there was definitely some struggles defensively when Sheary was on the ice. Part of that is getting the majority of his ice time on a line with Alex Ovechkin, who certainly isn’t doing him any favors on the defensive end of the ice.

Now that we’ve mentioned linemates, let’s take a look at how Sheary performed with Ovechkin and Dylan Strome, with Strome but without Ovechkin, and Sheary without either Ovechkin or Strome on a line:

Sheary put in his best work in terms of these key metric percentages with Ovechkin and Strome. That’s not super surprising considering that line was the best offensive line that the Caps had throughout the season.

What concerns me the most is Sheary’s output without Strome or Ovechkin on his line. We see below average results in all the key categories, which makes you wonder if Sheary was just benefiting from playing with Strome and Ovechkin.

Rate-Adjusted Plus-Minus

Let’s take a look at Sheary’s Rate-Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) for this past season:

To me, this really resonates with the data we’ve presented throughout this post. Sheary is still effective offensively, which you can see with his above replacement level performance in GF/60, xGF/60 and CF/60, but you can see a tremendous drop off in CA/60 and a sub-replacement level performance in xGA/60.

The concerning piece is just how poorly he performed defensively, and that can really offset his penchant for generating scoring chances offensively. The key to success in today’s NHL is balance: you can’t completely disregard the defensive side of the game and go 100% on offense, and vice-versa.

Goals Above Replacement

Let’s take a look at Sheary’s Goals Above Replacement (GAR) and expected Goals Above Replacement (xGAR) over the course of Sheary’s career:

Sheary has always been a valuable forward over the course of his career, coming in above replacement level every season since he debuted in the NHL back in the 2015-16 season. Interestingly enough, Sheary’s worst performance in xGAR came this past season, narrowly squeaking just above replacement value in that regard. What drives his value up this season is a 4.8 offensive GAR performance, but his -2.2 defensive value drives his overall value down a bit to that 3.5 level we see on the chart above.

I don’t think we’re magically going to see Sheary start posting positive values defensively unless the Caps could find two linemates for him that are not named Ovechkin or Strome.

Should the Caps re-sign Sheary

In an off-season where we could see significant change among the top six forward group for the Capitals, I’m not sure where Sheary fits in. With Wilson entering the 2023-24 season healthy, you’d have to expect that Wilson slots in on the top line with Strome and Ovechkin. If MacLellan achieves his goal for the off-season in acquiring two top six forwards, that group is effectively filled.

Sheary would be ideal for a third line role, but the Caps bottom six is chock full of potential players. You have to think the fourth line going into next season is carved into stone, with Aliaksei Protas, Nic Dowd, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel manning the shutdown line. The third line could potentially consist of T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Sonny Milano, or Connor McMichael.

Obviously, it’s hard to predict the line combinations ahead of a busy summer for MacLellan. With Evolving Hockey’s contract projection for Sheary (if he stays in Washington) at a 3 year deal with a cap hit of $3.346M, is Sheary a commodity you can afford with potentially two new top six forwards in the fray? I’m not quite sure there.

Now, if the Capitals can only bring one top six forward in via trade, I surely wouldn’t mind bringing back Sheary. But, Sheary could potentially net a new contract in unrestricted free agency that the Caps just aren’t willing to match.

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. Justin enjoys geeking out over advanced analytics, roster construction, and cap management.
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53 Responses to Should the Capitals Re-sign Conor Sheary?

  1. Greg says:

    It’s time to let the Hershey crew get some time in DC. I like Con, but I would rather save the much needed $, and let Beck, Snively, and MsMichael have their chance. Hopefully someone else will give him that 3 million! He seems like a good dude.

    • Agreed. Depending on how the off-season pans out, there might be a pretty decent chance that Milano or McMichael could end up on the second line left wing spot. For me, the two biggest questions in terms of acquisitions are on the second line left and right wing spots.

      Obviously, the biggest question is if the Caps trade Kuznetsov or not.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      I feel what you describe is the definition of a “rebuild”, which Mac and Ted have said they will not do in Ovechkin era. Whether that happened in reality is another story.

      • Anonymous says:

        Good point. They say “no rebuild!” But every move since trade deadline has been a classic “rebuild” move.

        • Anonymous says:

          You can’t just bring back the same underperformers no matter what team you are. Every team has turnover even when not rebuilding. This is a rebuild just not a tear down, sell off completely type of rebuild. With the mess the GM has made of this roster we will see if he can incrementally rebuild or if he is postponing a complete overhaul. There are pieces to keep and build around but he will have to dump bad contracts to remain competitive. Mantha obviously. Oshie too. Kuzy maybe. Stuck with Nick.

        • Anonymous says:

          The full rebuild is underway (in disguise)

  2. Reed says:

    Unpopular opinion but I’d take Shears again in a 3rd line role over non-factors such as NAK or unproven players such as Protas and CMM. He was one of the few players on the caps who looked like he actually wanted to play hockey last season. Agree with giving the young guns a chance but hard to pass on a guy playing with more effort than 90% of the squad AND has finishing ability.

    • Anonymous says:

      Easy to pass at $3M per

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Not that unpopular. Caps need goals, and letting Sheary walk would put us another 20 in the hole. Mac wants to sign, but will he be outbid is the question.

      • Anonymous says:

        And if we deal Kuznetsov, we are really hurting for scoring. Caps were terrible at 5on5 goals last season. Getting rid of goal scorers is the opposite of what needs to happen.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your service but no to bringing back. Especially at the projected term and cap!

  4. Michael Kasrai says:

    He’s hit his ceiling. We can find someone more skilled, younger, and cheaper who can perform better on a consistent basis. His dry-spells cost us when we needed it most.

  5. Anonymous says:

    4th line in stone? Let’s hope that’s not the 4th line written in stone. Malenstyn is ideal for the 4th line, much more so than Protas.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      That’s very debatable. Certainly not “much more so”

      • Anonymous says:

        I think the point is that Protas may be more useful on a 2nd or 3rd line rather than stuck on the 4th. Have to see if the new coach uses the 4th line as much as the last coach.

      • Anonymous says:

        Beck brings a physical game, speed, and great penalty killing. Protas doesn’t bring any of those. He doesn’t fit that role.

        • Anonymous says:

          You need to look at Protas’ stats again. The Protas-Dowd-NAK line was the Capitals best line last season. Also, Protas brings all of what you mention.

          • Anonymous says:

            Apparently you only look at stats. If you think he brings the same qualities, you don’t watch the games.

        • Protas has a much more proven performance on the fourth line than Malenstyn did. Malenstyn also only played about 14.5 minutes on the penalty kill at the NHL level over the past 3 seasons (24 games).

          If you want to argue speed and physicality, sure. I would rather have a player with Protas’ skill set on that line when you already have NAK that can be a bit more physically involved if you need it. You need fourth lines that can play at both ends of the ice in today’s NHL, and I think Protas fits that mold much better, at least with what we’ve seen at the NHL level.

    • DWGie26 says:

      I like both players. One of things I like about Protas is he can play up the lineup and in middle. Good value for him will be playing third line. I like what Beck brings to 4th line but he gets hurt a lot. If he does, Protas slides to 4th line.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Shears is a (low)key ingredient- fans don’t know about his value.

    • Anonymous says:

      He is not a $3M player. At his current salary it would still be questionable whether it would be worth it to sign him.

  7. Brant says:

    Beck Malenstyn pushing through to that 4th line is a factor, too. Sheary’s goal production this year was heavily skewed because of surrounding injuries and being shoehorned in to the 1st line. I think we made him look as good as he can be, and it’s time to move on.

  8. Prevent Defense says:

    I was waiting for this article. I knew it would elicit lively debate. Fascinating.
    Thanks for all the great stats, Justin, and for framing the discussion … mostly cost-benefit analysis with a dash of sentiment. Sheary is the prototypical Good Soldier.

    A new executive named “Carbery” will have this delicacy on his plate, and soon. That and two dozen other roster decisions. Choose wisely

  9. hockeydruid says:

    Before doing anything with Sheary the GM needs to decide on what to do with Mantha and Kuzy. Once you decide on them then you know what monies you have available. With those 2 gone then you have legit openings and several in house replacements: Conner, Beck, Protas, or Snively. Maybe a better option would be to look at Smith and Brown first and see what their salary expectations would be. As for Sheary I would say all things considered he could be resigned to play the 3rdline and probably looking at 20 goals from that spot. not going to find 20= goals from another team without having to give up prospects or picks. Sad I dont see a trade of Kuzy and Manth netting a whole lot as both are low production and one is has let it be known that he is not happy here. Also salary is going to be a big obstacle in trading either so if the Caps retain some then they have less to spend on a this top 6 forward. SO stay with Sheary for the time being and try some of the young guys also. Another factor to consider is Backy coming back; if not that opens a slot and lots of salary cap.

    • andrew777dc says:

      I agree with going step-by-step, first deciding on the big pieces. That should give clarity on the less expensive players like Shears. And taking into account Brown’s health and whether Smith fits into the new HC’s view of the world.

    • DWGie26 says:

      GMBM has most certainly assessed all of those player expectations. I’m sure he has preferences, but he needs to spend wisely. I suspect that we will not be able to trade both Kuzy and Mantha, and with Carbery that may not be a bad thing. But then if they stay, limited roster spots for youth because we would need one top 6 forward that can score. I think Brown and Smith are both third line players now. Sheary as well so I just don’t see how it would make sense.

      • hockeydruid says:

        The priority should be trading Kuzy as he doesn’t want to be here and no sense forcing a player to be somewhere he doesn’t want to be and that will, especially in Kuzys’ case, effect how he plays. As for Mantha, he has 1 year so I say grin and bear it as there will be no return for him. At worst you can scratch him most of the time and give a younger player ice time and bring him down to either give someone a rest or in case of injury. I have no problem throwing the competition open to Brown and Sheary and if Kuzy gets traded then McMichael and Smith compete for his spot. Right now there are 10 forwards under contract so there are 3-5 spots open and if Kuzy gets traded that becomes 4-6 and I’m looking at possible carrying up to 2 forwards as scratches nightly. For me the best would be to have Sheary, Brown and Smith and then carry Beck and Protas and let them get at least 2 games a week. IF you want even bring up McMichael and let him play the 3ed line and Smith the 2nd. Question is will Smith and Brown want to stay and at what price and for now many years.

        • andrew777dc says:

          Sounds reasonable. I am a bit skeptical about Mantha, though. But as a backup, healthy scratch (given our injury bug), perhaps. Let’s see who they also wanna bring in. And maybe there’s others Carbs will wanna bring up from Hershey.

          • hockeydruid says:

            Even with Mantha and Kuzy they have at least 4 or 5 openings as they will also need healthy scratches just in case. Definitely going to be a very interesting summer and training camp. Just to toss this out there; would be so nice if Backy decided to retire and save the cap space!

            • DWGie26 says:

              If we can’t make any mores I think we could see Backstrom as our 2LW. Kuzy as 2C. McMichael as 3C.

              Milano-McMichael-Oshie (like this line)
              Malenstyn-xxx (Snively, Pilon, Sutter, Frank)

              This would give us $1M in Cap space. I still think they will make a move but they aren’t giving anyone away.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Yes! Sign him already.

  11. andrew777dc says:

    Full-season stats are all very nice, and a 20-goal scorer he is. But what about taking into account that lull he was in… effectively for half a season? Yes, Backy and Willy’s return messed up the lines and chemistry, but some people got through it better than others. His second half was a nightmare! How convincing does he look now?

    • Anonymous says:

      I think GMBM wants to sign Sheary for Ovechkin alone. Only Ovi line with positive possession stats.

      • andrew777dc says:

        Point taken. Problem is, they couldn’t quite get it back together again, whenever they were put back together in the second half.

  12. Lance says:

    Sheary has been a fantastic Cap. Would love to have him at the right price. But I expect the economics won’t make sense. He’s probably best as added scoring on a playoff team. Caps really need to get younger.

    • hockeydruid says:

      Maybe what is done is sign Sheary and then in late Dec until the trade deadline put him out there and then when he goes bring up one of the young players. Hopefully then can get a decent pick or young prospect. Wonder in Lindgren might also be on the block as he is shirt term and we need to see what we have in the minors especially if Fucale leaves for the KHL

      • Lance says:

        It seemed like they considered trading Sheary at the deadline and didn’t so BMac must like him as a Cap. He’s a legit NHL winger, great character, would love to have him around—but not if it’s for a lot of cap space or term. My inclination is to pass on players over 27.

        • DWGie26 says:

          I think it had more to do with just having a kid and the way Capitals treat players which goes undervalued by fans. I think they will let Sheary go explore and then who knows. But i suspect he will get good money on a 3-4 year deal where he can settle and grow roots.

      • Anonymous says:

        Why would they move on from Lindgren to look at who they have in the minors? That makes no sense. Currently, they don’t appear to have anyone in the minors that would be a good NHL backup. Shep is a good emergency goalie to have in the AHL, and maybe a couple of the younger guys will get there. The Caps may bring in someone to give Lindgren some competition, but what you said makes no sense at all.

  13. Jon Sorensen says:

    Greetings folks! Just a quick note, if you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to NoVa Caps posts in the “subscribe” box located in the upper right corner. Thank you!

  14. GRin430 says:

    Sheary is a good player who can fill in anywhere in the line-up, but like the rest of the team, did not play well down the stretch. And the Caps really don’t have the cap space to pay him over $3M unless they dump Mantha.

    And if they do dump Mantha and maybe even Kuznetsov to open up the cap room, would bringing Sheary back at $3M be the right move? I don’t know… While he’s a 20-goal guy, Sheary isn’t the kind of goal scorer that strikes fear in opponents. The Caps need somebody on the 2nd line that opponents have to worry about enough to force them to play at least 2nd-pair defenders against that line, to take pressure off the first line. With Oshie a shell of what he was a few years back (and missing so many games on top of that) the Caps really don’t have that guy, unless this year’s top pick and/or Miroschnichenko fill that role. They just can’t count on that.

    So instead of bringing Sheary back, I’d rather they dump whatever salary they can with Mantha and or Kuznetsov and try to find a true top-6 guy, even if they have to pay him $6M or more and then fill the rest of the roster holes with kids.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Resign him…….data doesnt show contrbutions

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