T.J. Oshie knows how to play the game only one way and that is at 100 percent. Along with his offensive production, it is what makes him such a valuable player. His teammates clearly feeds off his energy.
Playing that way, however, comes at a price. At the age of 32, wear and tear begins to build up for players who play such a physical, grinding style of game. Head coach Todd Reirden and the Caps need to be cognizant of that.
Last season, Oshie averaged 18:37 per game, the fourth most among Capitals forwards. It could be beneficial to both him and the team if he was moved down to the third line in 2019-20.
Oshie suffered his fifth documented concussion in November and was held out for nearly a month. The next one could keep him out even longer. It will also become increasingly more difficult for Oshie to play the way he does as he gets older. Fewer minutes per game will decrease the likelihood of injury and allow him to play the all-out effort style of play that endears him to Caps fans. It will also allow him to be more effective in other roles such as playing on the top power play unit.
From the team perspective, depth scoring proved to be a major factor in their first-round exit against the Carolina Hurricanes. Of the 20 goals the Caps scored in that series, the bottom six accounted for only five. One was an empty netter and two were from Brett Connolly who is an unrestricted free agent and could very well leave in the offseason in search of more money and a bigger role.
The Caps must be able to get offense from its bottom six forwards, especially the third line.
Granted, if you do not have scoring depth, moving a top-six forward down to the third line does not magically solve the problem and only serves to weaken the top-six. The Caps would have to have a player who could step into Oshie’s role on the second line. That means re-signing at least one of Connolly, Carl Hagelin or Andre Burakovsky or finding a middle-six forward on the free agent market. A player who can play on the second line is going to be expensive to acquire, but not impossible.
What makes this move feasible for Washington would be the chemistry Oshie has with third-line center Lars Eller.
This would not be the first time those two players have been on a line together. Back in the 2017-18 season, Oshie was in the midst of a slump in which he tallied only one point in seven games. Barry Trotz tried reuniting him with Ovechkin and Backstrom in a game against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 7, 2018, but switched the lines up during the game and moved Oshie down with Eller. The results were almost instantaneous. Oshie assisted on an Eller goal and recorded a second assist in overtime.
“Everything just seemed to click,” Oshie said afterward.
Oshie knows how to play the game only one way, but it is going to get harder and harder to play that way with every passing year. By shaving two minutes per game of ice-time, you save a lot of wear and tear for a hard-working player, keep him fresher for key moments like the power play and help prevent a concussion which would likely result in a lengthy absence given his history. It also helps add scoring depth to the third line which the Caps desperately need and reunites him with a player in Eller in whom he has had chemistry in the past.
Oshie’s age will eventually necessitate a move like this sometime in the near future. Doing it now makes a lot of sense for Washington.
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