Sunday, September 19, 2010

30 Caps in 30 Days: Mike Knuble

During the thirty days of September, I'll be trying to preview the seasons of thirty players currently under contract with the Washington Capitals and who have a good chance of spending some time in red, white, and blue this season. Advanced stats are given from ranked against other players at the same position--forward, defense, or goalie--in the same organization, at 5-on-5, unless otherwise noted. Age is on opening night. Teammates are those listed at 10% or greater and at even strength (though the percentage includes all manpower situations). Today, Mike Knuble)

Mike Knuble: age 38, 6'3", 232 pounds, shoots right.
Contract: 35+, $2.8 million, UFA in 2011, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 linemates: 46% Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, 12% Brooks Laich and Brendan Morrison
2010 playoff linemates: 66% Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom

2009-2010 raw stats:
NHL: 69 GP, 29-24-53, +23, 121 shots, 5 PIM
Playoffs: 7 GP, 2-4-6, +2, 23 shots, 6 PIM

2009-2010 advanced stats: 4th in Corsi QoC, 5th in Corsi Rel QoC, 2nd in Corsi QoT, and 1st in Corsi Rel QoT. Zonestart 55.9% offensive zone (fifth) with Zonefinish 50.8% offensive zone (eighth).
2010 playoffs advanced stats: fourth-to-last in Corsi QoC, second-to-last in Corsi Rel QoC, 1st in Corsi QoT and in Corsi Rel QoT.

(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)

WOWY (yellow is how much better the player is with Knuble, green how much better Knuble is with the player)

Mike Knuble almost perfectly rounds out the best duo (who always play together) in hockey. His net-crashing style, while it didn't mesh immediately, become increasingly effective and efficient as the 2009-2010 season wore along, earning Knuble a permanent spot with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. His skillset is not terribly abundant on the Capitals--Brooks Laich has some of that, but isn't as good an even strength player, and Eric Fehr is still developing. He's an important player and his signing I believe is the smartest one (among unrestricted free agents) McPhee has made since the lockout (aside from the Fedorov deal). Oh, and he's a Penguin killer.

Knuble is extremely durable, having played 82 games six times in his career, including four of the last six seasons. Since he only started getting good ice time in 2002, I'm not too worried about his body feeling the wear and tear of seasons of play, even if his work is some of the hardest and punishing on the rink. He scored goals at the highest rate of his career in 2009-2010, and while he may not be able to match that rate, more games (I'm thinking closer to 82) may net him 30 goals yet. Alex Ovechkin saw a low shot rate last year and that should go up closer to his career level (around 470 a season) next season. With Nicklas Backstrom's likely improvement, Knuble looks to be in a pretty good spot for himself.

I'm trying not to be too optimistic about Knuble, but I can't really help myself. He'll see a regression like all the other Capitals--who thinks a 101%+ team PDO is sustainable?--but I think his raw offensive totals won't see too much of a hit since he really just shoots from short distances and gets lots of chances to do it too. 25 goals and 55 points is right around where he fits in, I think, feeling age a little. His value should spike in the playoffs, though, during which he can take the beating, maximizing the chances to use his skillset and letting Ovechkin and Backstrom play more to the outside.

One thing is for sure, in my mind: Knuble will bring the same game every night and it's not one that will hurt the Capitals. There are only two Capitals I'm less worried about on a day-to-day basis.

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