5 Reasons Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie Are Perfect for the Washington Capitals
For fans of the Washington Capitals, this has to be one of the most exciting free-agency periods in franchise history.
And that’s no disrespect to valued rearguards Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen (both signed in July of 2014), but the acquisitions of three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams and U.S. Olympian T.J. Oshie immediately turn this team into a top-tier contender.
Since the Caps were eliminated in Round 2 by the New York Rangers, it seemed obvious that Barry Trotz’s lineup needed an additional scoring threat, and general manager Brian MacLellan has managed to get two less than 24 hours apart.
While it’s too early to tell where exactly the two wingers will fit into the team’s forward group, here’s a look at why Williams and Oshie are perfect additions to the Washington Capitals.
5. Filling Voids
While seeing the Caps fall in heartbreaking fashion to the Rangers, it was clear that Washington lacked a legitimate threat to spell Alex Ovechkin when the four-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner is blanketed by opposing defenses.
With one of Oshie and Williams, the Caps certainly have that, as each player has produced at least 60 points in a single season, and they both bring top-end offensive upside to a lineup that seemed to have one too many grinders in 2014-15.
Over the last few seasons, the Caps have tried a number of talented forwards alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin on the top line, including Alex Semin, Mike Knuble, Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward.
Regardless of who gets that assignment, the second line—which should feature Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky—will benefit from these moves as well.
The search for that top-line winger to play opposite Ovechkin is now over—it’s just a matter of Trotz deciding between the two.
At least on paper, he really can’t go wrong with either.
At first glance, Williams’ 582 points in 918 career games may not seem like the type of numbers you’d like to give $6.5 million over two years to a 33-year-old scoring winger.
But with the Cobourg, Ontario, native, the stability he provides up front is invaluable to the Caps. Yes, they’ve lost Mike Green and will likely see Joel Ward leave town as well, but with Williams, Washington’s getting a consistent 20-goal producer who’s topped 57 points on four occasions.
Williams was a fixture alongside Anze Kopitar in L.A., and with the Caps, he’ll provide the secondary offensive threat on the top line that’s been missing since Semin departed.
In Oshie, the Caps are getting a dynamic two-way forward who’s posted at least 19 goals and 54 points in each of his last three full seasons. Assuming Oshie sees ample power-play time, he should better the three goals he put up with the man advantage in 2014-15.
Blessed with great wheels and a quick release, Oshie can score in a variety of ways, and that quality may help land him a spot on the vaunted No. 1 line.
3. The Fancy Stats
“This is where Williams really shines. He was the top possession player in the NHL for a few years, and even over the last couple still ranks in the top 60 in relative Corsi. He seems to do it at least partly with liberal shot selection—he's a fairly high-volume shooter himself, and the Kings shoot for a slightly worse percentage with him on, but he's also in the top 60 in relative scoring chances over the last two years.”
The Caps, with an abundance of talented European centers who thrive on playing possession-heavy style, fit Williams’ skill set and strengths perfectly. As noted in the Japers’ Rink piece, since 2007, Williams sits behind only Pavel Datsyuk and Tyler Toffoli in Corsi For percentage at 58.2. Last season, he ranked sixth at 57.1, and no Capitals finished among the NHL’s top 30 in that regard.
While Oshie’s not quite the possession player that Williams is statistically, he’s certainly no slouch either. Of players to play 1000 minutes or more, he finished 29th in the league in CPDO and 61st in CF% (behind only Ovechkin, Johansson and Backstrom among then-Capitals) in 2014-15, so the 28-year-old figures to fit the style of Washington’s top-six as well.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Washington’s top six from 2014-15 and this year’s edition is the injection of skill that Williams and Oshie bring. Brouwer and Ward are both quality two-way forwards, but neither possess the raw offensive abilities MacLellan’s prized acquisitions do.
2. Postseason Production and Shootout Prowess
Up front, the Caps benefited from key offensive performances from Ovechkin and Kuznetsov during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there was still much to be desired from the top-six.
Assuming Brian MacLellan’s able to ink Kuznetsov, Johansson and Braden Holtby to reasonable multi-year extensions, Ward won’t be back, and that means Trotz will need someone to pick up the slack come playoff time.
Williams is that guy. His 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy says a lot, but his overall track record in the postseason is almost equally remarkable. During his last three postseason runs, Williams has posted 19 goals and 49 points in 64 games, which in itself would put him ninth among Washington’s all-time playoff point leaders.
Oshie’s playoff pedigree is less impressive, with just nine points in 30 career games, but obviously that’s as much a reflection of the underperforming Blues squads he was a member of as it is his individual production.
But like it or not, during the regular season, shootouts matter. And though Oshie didn’t find the net as much as he would’ve liked in 2014-15, he still had more successful shootout attempts than any Capital aside from Kuznetsov, as well as a better conversion percentage.
1. The Clutch Factor
Washington brought in Orpik and the recently departed Brouwer partially due to their playoff experience, and the same certainly can be said for Williams as well.
Yes, he has three Stanley Cup rings, but what’s more important is the type of role he’s played on each of those championship teams during each of their respective postseason runs.
Known as “Mr. Game 7,” Williams earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff MVP in 2014, and he holds the league record for goals and points in postseason Game 7 situations. There's no questioning his big-game chops.
As for Oshie, his spectacular shootout performance against host Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics speaks for itself. With a critical victory in the balance against Ovechkin’s Russians, Oshie buried four of six shootout attempts in spectacular fashion to lift the American squad, so it’s safe to say he doesn’t mind the role of hero.
And all of that sounds pretty good to the Capitals, a team fresh off yet another Game 7 disappointment.
CBS Sports’ Adam Gretz couldn’t have put it much better:
And with that, the team that can't seem to win Game 7s has managed to land the one player in the league that never seems to lose them.
With Oshie and Williams now in the fold, the Caps will be that much scarier to opposing goaltenders (such as, say, Henrik Lundqvist) than they were when finishing a goal away from the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015.
All stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.