Is Johansson a viable option for second-line center?
First off I’d like to offer a mea culpa on my post last week. I misunderstood the salary cap numbers on CapGeek which consequently affected my conclusion, which was that the Caps would likely need to give up a top-nine forward to add an impact center. That trade-off may indeed happen, but it wouldn’t be because of salary cap limitations. The Caps have plenty of “bank” for late-season acquisitions. Please accept my apology. I’m just a blogger, unpaid, with no (salary cap) editor, and I clearly didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express the night I wrote that article.
The main point of my last post was that I believe Marcus Johansson is not an alternative at 2C this spring for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations and that I hope George McPhee addresses the position before the playoffs. Some of the feedback I received disagreed with this assessment, with some commenters stating that Marcus Johansson should indeed be considered a viable option. Here’s why I think that’s an unwise move.
A top-six center (1C or 2C) has to do several things: control the puck/maintain possession, generate more scoring chances for than against, and finish (i.e., put points on the board). This requires a focus on both defense as well as offense, a responsibility wingers don’t share as intensely. Over the course of a season, a good 1C should be dominant in the three above-mentioned facets of the game. Nick Backstrom gives the Caps that. A good 2C – the type you need to win Stanley Cups – should have above-average stats in those same three areas. Johansson isn’t there yet. His 5-on-5 puck possession percentage (CORSI %) is a middling 50.7 percent through his first 18 games (courtesy of Red Line Station); his 5-on-5 scoring chance differential is negative 0.6 per 15 minutes (courtesy of RMNB); and his ability to set up and finish – demonstrated by his offensive output – is a meager 0.26 points/game. All four semifinalist teams last season had at least two centers that averaged no less than 0.75 points/game. Add a 39 percent faceoff win percentage and Johansson’s stats simply won’t cut it for a 2C in the playoffs.
I understand that stats don’t always tell the full story and that sometimes a subjective assessment is required to supplement conclusions. Despite his marked improvement since the beginning of the season, Johansson has yet to demonstrate the creativity required to lead a scoring line, especially one with all-world Alex Semin on it. It’s improbable that Johansson will reach that level in the 30 games before the trade deadline.
Now don’t get me wrong. Johansson is progressing very nicely considering that this is his first year playing on North American ice. I love the fact that Boudreau is giving him game experience at 2C and all signs point to Johansson becoming a very good 2C for the Caps. But he’s not there yet. Rookies need time to develop. And this isn’t the year to experiment with a rookie at 2C for a Cup run. (The same goes for Mathieu Perreault, although if he wants to prove me wrong by scoring two goals every game I’ll be happy to reconsider!)
Johansson is better served as the third-line center for the upcoming playoffs. The 3C’s job is, first and foremost, to keep the puck out of his net when playing against opponent’s top lines - without the added burden of consistently chipping in points – and to outplay other team’s third and fourth lines when directly matched up against them. Johansson gives you that ability. Let’s also not overlook the matchup problems created when pairing Johansson and his speed with a lightning-fast Jason Chimera. Opposing coaches will think twice before throwing out their fourth line or slow-footed bottom pair defensemen against a Caps third line that can create chances on speed alone.
From a strategic perspective, the Caps need to acquire a 2C that has demonstrated the ability to control the puck, generate chances for, limit chances against, and score. Additionally, an experienced center can coax more out of Alex Semin and allow the Caps to distribute their scoring capabilities across multiple lines. As much as I like Johansson and believe he solves the Caps future needs at center, it’s black-and-white to me that neither he, nor any other rookie, is the solution for this year’s playoff run. The Caps need to upgrade 2C before the trade deadline.
| December 8, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
Categories: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily | Tags: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily
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