With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 25 Jason Chimera
Age: 37 (turns 38 on May 2, 2017)
Penalty minutes: 22
Time on ice: 14:03
Playoff stats: 12 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, minus-1, 12 PIM, 13:00
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent (2015-16 salary: $2 million)
If Jason Chimera set out this season to prove his age is just a number, he accomplished his goal by matching his career high in goals (20) and maintaining his reputation as the faster skater on the Capitals.
The question facing general manager Brian MacLellan is whether the Caps can afford to bring the 37-year-old left wing back to Washington for an eighth season.
If it was up to his teammates, they should.
“He’s great,” Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said. “He’s great to have in the locker room, as well. He’s just an all-around great guy. He’s a funny guy, he jokes around and stuff like that. You need that in the locker room.”
Chimera is a bundle of energy on and off the ice, cracking jokes, singing songs and screaming over interviews in the Caps’ locker room. He’s also a physical anomaly, possessing the kind of speed and physicality that defines third-line wingers in today’s NHL.
“He's a freak,” said Caps center Jay Beagle, who played alongside Chimera much of this season. “He's going to play for, I think, a lot more years. He's still one of the fastest guys in the league. He's got those young legs that never seem to slow down and he’s a great guy in the locker room, a great guy to be around.
“He's going to play a lot of years. It's up to management and him, but I would love to see him back and I would love to play with him again.”
Chimera came into this season with a lot to prove. He was coming off a seven-goal, 12-assist season and had committed 51 minutes in penalties in Barry Trotz’s first year behind the bench, many of them due to a lack of discipline. Chimera cut his penalties in half (22) and more than doubled his offensive output with 40 points.
“I think the understanding with Trotzy was a little better this year,” Chimera said. “I played some power play with Kuzy (Evgeny Kuznetsov) and that didn’t hurt, for sure (4 power-play goals, 5 power-play assists). He’s one of the most skilled guys in the league and I got some easy tap-in goals with him. I played with Beags most of the year and you play with (Tom Wilson) and (Marcus Johansson) came in and played and we had a really good, solid third line all year. It was a fun year. Our team probably had the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life of playing. It was a fun year to be a part of, right from the coaches all out. It was a good year in that aspect, for sure.”
On the ice, Chimera possesses many of the qualities the Caps seem to be seeking this offseason. Thanks to a grueling offseason workout program, his speed has remained intact and his durability is nearly unmatched. He’s missed just seven games in his last six seasons with the Caps. And he believes he has many more.
“I’m not putting a number on it,” Chimera said. “I think you’ll know the writing’s on the wall when you’re kind of walking out the door. I haven’t seen any writing yet, so hopefully I don’t see any in the near future. I want to play as long as I can. I won’t put a number on it. I know a lot of players in the past I’ve talked to said, ‘Don’t let go unless you’re ready to let go’ because a lot of guys said there’s nothing like it other than playing.
“I’ll play as long as I can, whatever role I have to. It’s one of those things, I might not score as much as a (Jaromir) Jagr at his age (44), but you hopefully keep going to his age. This game’s treated me really well. Hopefully, it treats me really well moving forward. You don’t see stopping anytime soon.”
After the season MacLellan identified improving the Capitals’ bottom six forwards as his top priority in the off-season, adding that he will see how much money is needed to re-sign his restricted free agents before deciding on whether to re-sign Chimera.
Right now, the Caps have roughly $58.5 million committed to next year’s salary cap, which MacLellan expects to be around $73 million.
If $9 million is needed to re-sign RFAs Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta and Dmitry Orlov, the Caps would have roughly $5.5 million in cap space for two players.
Chimera likely will be seeking a deal no less than two years and $4 million. Despite seeing good friends Joel Ward, Mike Green and Eric Fehr depart for greener pastures last summer (Ward and Fehr are playing for the Stanley Cup), Chimera believes he’ll be back in a Caps jersey next season.
“I still think I’m going to be back,” Chimera said. “I’m not confident in anything. In this game, I think you’re not guaranteed anything to be back. I want to be back. You don’t think of playing anywhere else. You know the business side of it, but I still don’t think I’m going to play anywhere else, but we’ll see what happens, right?”
It is that uncertainty that made the Caps’ first-round playoff loss to the Penguins that much more painful for Chimera, who has seen the Caps get to the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, only to be knocked out in the first or second round.
Last year, Chimera continued his reputation as a playoff performer with three goals and four assists in 14 playoff games. This year he struggled, netting one goal and one assist and taking 12 minutes in penalties in 12 games.
“This loss was maybe a little more, not taxing, but I guess you don’t know what’s going to go on next year,” Chimera said. “You don’t know if you’re going to be with these guys. You want to be with the guys, but you understand the business side of it, too. That’s why I was disappointed the way it ended, for sure, because you want to win with these guys and you don’t know if you’ll have that chance. Maybe it’ll all work out, but it’s one of those things that it’s a business, and I realize that, too.
“You always leave with that sting in your mouth that you didn’t win. And I think the disappointment of that overshadows a good season sometimes. You overlook a lot of things in this game because a lot of times you end on a bad note. Twenty-nine teams end on a bad note. It was tough to take, for sure, the playoffs. I’m proud of the season I had for sure, but you want to get more out of the playoffs. That was our goal, and that’s what’s disappointing out of it.”