It’s a new week, but Tom Wilson still seems to be on everyone’s mind. Let’s dive in to the mailbag.
@cowgirl_bebop writes: Do you think with Wilson suspended for so long the Caps would consider calling up Shumakov if these other RW configurations don’t work out, especially since without any adjustments 43 still has about a month to go?
Not right away. The Caps committed somewhat to Dmitrij Jaskin when they claimed him off waivers and I believe they are going to give him more time to get his legs under him. Having said that, they aren’t going to wait much longer.
Through the Caps’ first five games, the only bottom-six forwards with goals are Nic Dowd and Lars Eller. Chandler Stephenson has scored as well, but he scored while playing on the top line. This team needs more depth scoring and they need it now.
On Friday, Sergei Shumakov scored two goals for the Hershey Bears. That’s an encouraging sign, but it is also important to remember that those are his only two points in five games so it’s not as if he’s been lighting it up in the AHL. He also suffered an upper-body injury on Sunday and had to leave that game early.
But, the bottom line is that Jaskin has shown little offensive upside at all to this point. I could definitely see the Caps recall Shumakov or someone like Shane Gersich in the near future to try and boost the offense on the third and fourth lines.
@jett_mahler writes: Caps found combining speed and physical play allowed them to be successful last year. Early this season the speed is there, but it seems like the physical play is missing. Is this the greater significance of missing Wilson?
The interesting thing about Wilson is that, with the NHL becoming a faster, more skill-based league, it actually makes Wilson an even more valuable player (when he’s not suspended). Wilson is a very good skater with offensive skill and who is an absolute wrecking ball on the ice. He can play and be successful in today’s NHL while also bringing that physicality the game is starting to lack. There just are not many players like him in the league anymore and that was especially true in the playoffs when no one really seemed to know how to deal with him.
The Caps are very conscious of the direction the league is going as is evidenced by the type of players they have drafted in recent years, but they also like being a physical team and found success doing that in the playoffs.
There has been less physical play from Washington to start and there’s no doubt in my mind that is largely the result of the most physical player being out of the lineup. I think it is no coincidence they picked up a player like Jaskin off waivers who, at 216 pounds, is among the bigger forwards on the team (Wilson is 218 pounds). If Jaskin had shown any offense at all, I think we may have seen Todd Reirden move him to the top line instead of Stephenson because adding that physical element there clearly works.
Nathan S. writes: On one hand the NHL came down very heavy on Tom Wilson for his dangerous head hit, yet in other ways the NHL has been slow to improve safety. Do you see NHL improving sorting this out or adopting new restrictions on fighting and head hitting any time soon?
There is undeniably something strange about suspending a player for a hit to the head while also being the only sport that allows fighting. OK, technically fighting is against the rules, but in most leagues taking a swing at an opponent would earn you a lengthy suspension rather than just a five minute timeout.
Let’s be fair. The league has made great strides in player safety as evidenced by the suspension to Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson. Matheson checked Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson into the boards, pinned him, then intentionally slammed him down to the ice causing a concussion. It launched this weird debate within the hockey community about whether physicality was being taken out of the league, but hey, I’ve got a crazy idea. Maybe Matheson should have just checked him and not intentionally slammed a player down onto the ice in a way that absolutely could cause an injury? The NHL rightfully suspended Matheson, but I don’t think they would have 10 years ago or five years ago or maybe even three years ago. That’s progress.
The direction I believe the league is going is that eventually fighting is going to be a thing of the past and will ultimately be banned altogether. From the league perspective, it doesn’t make sense in terms of player safety to keep it in the game. From a growing the game perspective, clearly the culture is changing and people are less attracted to the violent aspects of the game (just ask the NFL). Even from a strategic standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense. Teams have already moved on from the fourth line goons who would play six minutes a night and contribute nothing offensively. That means instead of losing a fourth-line player with little value for five minutes, teams risk losing a contributor to the penalty box.
I say this as someone who grew up watching the game and players like Craig Berube, Brendan Witt and Stephen Peat. It made sense back then, but I don’t think there’s much of a future for fighting in the NHL.
Jedd H. writes: Aside from when McDavid comes to town, what non-divisional games are a must watch/attend this season?
For a non-divisional game, circle March 10 in the calendar. That’s the day the Winnipeg Jets come to town. Not only are the Jets one of the bright young teams in the league and considered among the Cup contenders, but Patrik Laine may well turn into the best goal-scorer in the NHL since Alex Ovechkin (if Auston Matthews ever stops scoring at the torrid pace he’s on).
Two other interesting games are Jan. 14 against St. Louis and Feb. 3 against Boston. It seems like there may be some bad blood between the Caps and Blues given that someone has gotten suspended in each of the last three preseason games these teams have played. We know there’s bad blood between the Caps and Bruins as well. The fact that Washington has to travel to St. Louis and Boston before either team makes a return trip to Capital One Arena takes some luster of those two games, but if there’s any holdover from what are sure to be contentious matchups, these will definitely be games to watch.
Thanks for your questions! If you want to have your question answered on next week’s mailbag post, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com
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