Saturday, September 25, 2010

30 Caps in 30 Days: Tom Poti

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, Tom Poti)

Tom Poti: age 33, 6'3", 210 pounds, shoots left.
Contract: $3.5 million in 2010-2011, then $2.875 million cap hit, UFA in 2013, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 linemates: 15% Milan Jurcina, 12% John Erskine, 12% Shaone Morrisonn, 10% Joe Corvo
2010 playoff linemates: 62% John Carlson

2009-2010 raw stats:
NHL: 70 GP, 4-20-24, +26, 69 shots, 42 PIM
Playoffs: 6 GP, 0-4-4, +9, 6 shots, 5 PIM

2009-2010 advanced stats: 1st in Corsi QoC and in Corsi Rel QoC, 4th in Corsi QoT and in Corsi Rel QoT. Zonestart 47.0% offensive zone (second-to-last) with Zonefinish 51.1% offensive zone (fifth, right in the middle). Corsi Rel 1.3, 9th on team, behind Corvo, Green, and Schultz among Caps defensemen.
2010 playoffs advanced stats: 7th in Corsi QoC and in Corsi Rel QoC, 5th in Corsi QoT and in Corsi Rel QoT.

(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)

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

Tom Poti. As late as March 2010, the guy's name instantly struck fear into the hearts of Caps fans. He can't clear the puck on the PK. He scores into his own net. He can't move the puck effectively on offense. The list goes on. Over the past season, though, Tom Poti has shown his value to the Capitals, again and again.

Tom Poti, even if not great on the penalty kill (he's one of the Caps' worst), still offers a wealth of stability. He's the only veteran blueliner the Capitals have and he eats a lot of the tough minutes in all situations, taking tough zonestart as well. At even strength, Poti hasn't lost his offensive touch--in fact, his points per sixty at even strength, by my quick math, since the lockout:

2005-2006, Rangers, 0.51 (9 ES points with 1060 ES min)
2006-2007, Islanders, 0.51 (11 ES points with 1284 ES min)
2007-2008, Capitals, 1.04 (21 ES points with 1207 ES min)
2008-2009, Capitals, 0.75 (10 ES points with 797 ES min)
2009-2010, Capitals, 0.92 (18 ES points with 1171 ES min)

This 0.92 contributed to Poti's solid plus-minus per sixty and "rating" (considering no one ahead of him faced stiffer competition and only two had worse teammates). The source of Poti's declining point totals since leaving New York has been his relative lack of power play time. Even after having been surpassed by Mike Green, Poti was the Caps' best power-play player this past season in just over a minute per game with the man advantage. In non-PK situations, Poti was one the Caps' top defensemen, if not the team's top one, with a zone differential second to Alex Ovechkin. I'd argue no one risked more in the Caps' brief playoff run in 2010 than Tom Poti (remember the puck to the eye?), save Eric Belanger's mouth. It's no coincidence that the Capitals looked a bit more discombobulated than usual without the services of Poti in Game 7.

Then again, there is the issue of Poti's age. At 33, defensemen tend to start regressing. While management thought he was worth giving about $3 million to for the next three years, as shown by his fresh-off-the-printer contract extension, he could be overpaid by the end of that contract. John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz are all expected to pass Tom Poti on the depth chart soon, possibly even this year, and $3 million for a fifth defenseman is too much. His level of contribution on a per-sixty basis simply won't offset his reduction in overall ice time.

At any rate, for 2010-2011, Tom Poti looks to be the tougher-minutes (although not quite "shutdown") defenseman on the Capitals, the anchor of the second defensive pairing and the penalty kill. If he shoots more than just once per game, he could raise his goal totals and keep his spot on the power play, which looks to be leaning more and more towards young John Carlson.

I'm not looking for too much out of Poti. I think his numbers will more-or-less reflect his 2008-2009 season, but slightly better (unfortunately, he too had a PDO on the high side in 2009-2010): 71 GP, 3-15-18, +14.

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