Not Easy to Play EightyPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
I had a brief conversation about durability with Caps' assistant general manager Don Fishman yesterday, and it led me to do some light research. Since we're in the single digit days of August and there's literally nothing happening outside of the Kovalchuk drama, I figured I'd share my findings. Anyone who listens to our "Capitals Report" podcasts at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays (shameless and timely plug) knows that I've said for years that you need about 10 defensemen to get through an 82-game regular season schedule. I might want to amend that to 11 now. The Capitals just finished playing the 35th season of their NHL existence. Only 25 times in those 35 seasons has a Capitals defenseman played in as many as 80 games in a season. Over the same time span, forwards have turned in seasons of 80 or more games played 94 times. I think we can all see why defensemen are more susceptible to injury, and thus more prone to playing fewer than 80 games in a season. They log more ice time than forwards. They block more shots. They deliver more hits. In short, they generally spend more time in harm's way. [/caption] A long memory isn't required to remember the Caps using forward Sergei Fedorov (and briefly, forward Brooks Laich) on defense. Around that same time (a third of the way through the 2008-09 season), the Caps played games in which recent Hershey recalls Karl Alzner, Sami Lepisto, Bryan Helmer and Sean Collins were all in the lineup on the same night. A depleted blueline may have kept the 2005-06 Buffalo Sabres from advancing to the Stanley Cup finals. When the Sabres took to the ice for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes that spring, Toni Lydman (360 career regular season games) was the team’s most experienced defenseman. He and Brian Campbell (246 games) each logged well over 20 minutes that night. They were joined on the Buffalo blueline by Rory Fitzpatrick (210 games), Jeff Jillson (140 games, and none since), Doug Janik (10 games) and ex-Caps draftee Nathan Paetsch (one game). The Sabres hung in gamely, but lost 4-2. On the sidelines for the Sabres that night: Teppo Numminen (1,235 games), Jay McKee (582), Dmitri Kalinin (338) and Henrik Tallinder (249). Let’s steer this back to the Caps now. Here are a few facts about those 80-game seasons: • Calle Johansson is responsible for five of the 25 seasons. • Johansson is the only Caps defenseman over the age of 30 to play in 80 or more games. He did it twice (at ages 32 and 35) past the age of 30. • Nothing cheap about Calle Jo’s 80-game seasons in his thirties. He logged 23:55 a night with 24 PIM as a 32-year-old and skated 21:45 a game with just 22 PIM as a 35-year-old. • Johansson has the three lowest PIM totals (22, 23 and 24) of those 25 seasons with 80 or more games from Caps defenders. • With three, Scott Stevens is the only other Caps defenseman to play 80 or more games in more than two seasons. • Stevens was the youngest to do it, he was 20 when he logged 80 games in 1984-85. • Only 16 teen-aged defensemen have played in 80 or more games in a season, and they were all 19-year-olds. Six of the 16 did so in the last decade, and three of them (Zach Bogosian, Michael Del Zotto and Tyler Myers) did so last season. The 2009-10 campaign is the only one in league history in which three teen-aged defensemen played in 80 or more games. • Twice as many (32) players have played in 80 or more games on the blueline past the age of 35. Raymond Bourque, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy and Stevens each did so three times. Chelios (44) and Bourque (40) are the only ones to do so past the age of 39. • Three Caps defensemen played 80 or more games in the 1970s, seven did so in the 1980s, 10 in the 1990s and five in the 2000s. • Only two Caps defensemen (Shaone Morrisonn in 2005-06 and Mike Green in 2007-08) have played in 80 or more games in the five seasons since the lockout. • The most common ages at which Caps defensemen have played 80 or more games is 26 (six times) and 23 (five times). • Playing in 84 games in 1993-94, Sylvain Cote was plus-30, the best mark of any Caps defenseman playing 80 or more games in a season. • Playing 80 games in 1975-76, Yvon Labre was minus-38, the worst mark of any Caps defenseman playing 80 or more games in a season. • Kevin Hatcher scored 34 goals in 83 games in 1992-93. • Morrisonn scored one goal in 80 games in 2005-06. Bottom line, it’s hard to get into 80 games as a defenseman in the league. That’s why Karlis Skrastins’ feat is so remarkable.
Two days ago, I wrote about the busiest month in Capitals franchise history, August 2005. That month is quite likely the busiest in NHL history as well, at least as far as off-season months are concerned. Mere days after the official end of the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season, the 30