Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sarge Demoted to Private...Inexplicably

I bet you the Lightning did not score on this play.
Ever since John Erskine had his breakout performance last season, a debate has been going on between Capitals bloggers, fans, and media: when the lineup is fully intact among defensemen, does Erskine or Jeff Schultz deserve to get the call on a nightly basis?  Under Bruce Boudreau, the answer was almost always Schultz.  Boudreau had seen what Schultz could do every night when he played with Mike Green extensively in Hershey, and so when given the choice, he went with Schultz.
Since Dale Hunter took over as head coach almost a month ago, however, Schultz has fallen out of favor spectacularly.  In the six games under Hunter in which a defenseman, presumably Schultz or Erskine, could have been scratched, Schultz has sat five times and Erskine once, this past Tuesday against Nashville.  In the game that they both dressed for, Schultz saw a third of the ice time that Erskine did (3:55 to 12:56).  Which, of course, is silly, because Jeff Schultz is a better defenseman than John Erskine.
Yes.  I said it.  Jeff Schultz is better than John Erskine.
Consider this: among Capitals defensemen who have played in 13 or more games this year, Schultz is second in 5v5 goals against per 60 minutes at 2.18, according to the website BehindTheNet.ca.  That means that at even strength, the team has allowed the second fewest goals against per 60 minutes when Schultz is on the ice, behind only to Karl Alzner.  In fact, Schultz is in second by a wide margin, with rookie Dmitry Orlov the next closest at 2.31 per 60 minutes. Erskine clocks in at fifth, allowing 2.49 per 60 minutes.
Not only has Schultz been good at keeping goals out, but he's also been good at keeping the opposition from getting the puck on net in the first place.  Again, according to Behind the Net, Schultz is first on the team among defensemen, regardless of how many games played, in 5v5 saves for per 60 minutes at 25. Like above, that means that with Schultz on the ice, the Capitals' goaltender has had to make the fewest saves per 60 minutes.  Coupled together with Schultz's 2.18 goals against, that's 27.18 shots against per 60 minutes, the best on the team.  Erskine, on the other hand, allows 26.2 saves per 60 minutes while playing at even strength.  Combined with his 2.49 goals allowed, that's 28.69 shots against per 60 minutes, again fifth.
Lastly, and perhaps least importantly because neither Schultz nor Erskine is relied on for offense, is the difference between these two players in terms of goals for. Among Washington defensemen who have played in 13 or more games this year, Schultz is fourth in 5v5 goals for per 60 minutes at 2.18, again per Behind the Net. That's not very good when you consider that John Carlson is the leader at 2.98, but it's certainly better than Erskine, who is second to last, in front of only Dmitry Orlov, at 1.93.  That's a full quarter of a goal worse than Schultz.
Even if these types of stats are not your cup of tea, Schultz trumps Erskine in most other traditional categories as well, including points, blocks, hits, average ice time, average shorthanded ice time, and plus-minus rating.
To me, this makes it totally inexcusable that Jeff Schultz has been keeping a seat warm next to George McPhee in the press box recently.  Even when he was able to get into a game, this past Tuesday against the Predators, he played 6:01.  Six minutes of total ice time for the player who, statistically, has allowed the fewest shots and second fewest goals among defensemen on the entire Capitals roster. "I thought he looked okay," said Dale Hunter after that game.  "When you're not playing for three, four days, you're gonna look a little rusty, but, he was okay." Maybe if he played more than six minutes, he might look a little less rusty, Mr. Hunter.
Yes, I understand that Schultz is "slow" and that he "does not hit people."  That's fine.  But Erskine does not exactly rival Phil Kessel's foot speed, and though he does hit people, and work extremely hard, that's just not a valid reason to keep someone in the lineup over a proven defenseman like Schultz.  I have nothing against Erskine.  He is a warrior; he gives it his all every shift, just as Hunter called him recently.  But again, that's not justification for keeping him in the lineup over Schultz every night and even when Erskine is benched, giving Schultz six minutes on the ice.

By almost any metric and almost any way you look at it, Schultz does not belong in the press box.  As you know from watching Caps games in which Schultz plays, it's almost never pretty; in fact it's usually pretty ugly.  But the man gets the job done.  When he's on the ice, the puck usually doesn't end up in the Capitals' net.

What more do you want?


  1. I think the big issue with Jeff Schultz is that when he does his job, he's invisible; when he doesn't, it's glaringly obvious, and rather painful. This is why the casual fan wants him gone.

  2. It's fairly obvious that Dale wants guys who are either hard-nosed/physical players or guys who can skate; on the back-end at least. Schultz can do neither. As much as I love metrics and traditional stats, they should not have the same meaning for a guy like Jeff Schultz... remember when he lead the league in +/-? still didn't make him a good defenseman? I have faith in Dale and Jim Johnson, more so than I ever did in Bob Woods in running the D. Let's let them do it their way for now. Hopefully, other GM's will take notice of the stats you used and we won't have a 2.75 mil cap hit sitting in the press box on a nightly basis.

  3. You're so far off of track that its not even funny. Schultz looks great stat wise but when you watch him play you know the guy is a gutless coward who just floats around. Just look at his performance decline in the playoffs with even BB benching him at points in series. Erskine is our only true physical crease clearing dman and by far our toughest customer. He fills a niche or two and Schultz is just there as a pillar of pansy.

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  5. I generally agree.

    However, being a warrior and leaving it on the ice every shift is absolutely justification for keeping Erskine in the line-up, especially on this team.

    Mine is not directly an Erskine VS. Sarge comment, but if anyone's asking, I take the former.

    The snarl on a team will take it farther than will its stats. Caps fans have to know that by now.

  6. I understand that everyone seems to dislike Schultz because he is so frustrating to watch. You all have valid points about Erskine being DC's only "crease-clearing" defenseman, if you will, but let me ask you this: If you're a forward in the NHL, and you get cleared out in front of the crease and still score, you don't care. If you stay in front and don't score, you get upset. Schultz keeps the puck out of the net. You cannot argue with results. Its like people wanting Neuvy to play over Vokoun long term...it makes no sense.

    I yell at schultz in front of my TV when I'm not covering the team all the time too. But he gets the job done.

  7. Umm, what job? Looking like he's standing in cement on the ice? Being afraid to check or clear the crease? Being unable to pass out of his own zone? Did you see the shot of him when Jim Johnson tried to offer him some advise during the Nashville game? Didn't look to receptive to me. Jeff Shultz is not a NHL caliber defensemen, I don't care what the stats say.

  8. Yeah, sorry, this is off the mark. And to be honest I don't even think those stats prove your point enough either. Yes, Schultz has better numbers, but they really aren't better enough to justify a decision being made between Erskine and Schultz, and I don't think it should be surprising at all to find Dale putting in someone he feels plays like a 'warrior' rather than, well Jeff Schultz.

    I don't think anyone can argue that either of these two players has a huge advantage over the other, but I will say that this season Schultz hasn't really seemed to even care. Like the above posters said, it seems like Schultz floats almost aimlessly. He hasn't looked confident on the ice this season. Most of all though, coaching definitely isn't about playing the guy who has a slight edge in a bunch of random stats.

  9. yes, because people coaching in the NHL don't know what they're doing....RIGHT.

    Schultz has regressed greatly in the last 2 seasons after his +50 campaign. you don't need all the advanced metrics and stats...you need EYES. he turns the puck over in spectacular fashion, and even Boudreau has noticed it as he was regularly the d-man with the least amount of minutes played this season before he was fired.

    Schultz has good size and reach, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't use it. he's like a pylon out there and his confidence is absolutely shot. he needs a fresh start somewhere else.

  10. You all can hate on Schultz all you want, but the numbers are there. He keeps the puck out of his net better than Erskine does. By definition, that means he is better at his job than Erskine.

  11. These stats don't make sense. The relevant stat should just be even strength goals against versus even strength time on the ice. The Behind the Net website adds in this per 60 mins calculation which arbitrarily skews things to make the gap look bigger than they really are.

    They have very similar goals against numbers, while Shultz has a better goals for (of course a lot of that is during the opening stretch when the team was scoring).

    The numbers don't suggest that Schultz should be playing instead of Erskine -- if anything they show that Schultz should be playing instead of Hamrlik, who has the worse GAA behind Sean Collins who only played 2 games.

  12. +/- and their basic goals-for/goals-against stats don't tell much of a story and are frankly almot useless for getting a real measure of player strength. Take a look at the CORSI side of things and you'll see that Shultz and Erskine are about equally terrible (and even worse when you take all of the Quality of Competition and Quality of Teammates bits into account). 55's takeaway/givaway ratio is also by far the worst on the team, almost 3x worse than anyone else's.

    On the level of simply watching them play, Erskine can at least act as enforcer and launch a shot at the net himself from time to time. Double-Nickels adds nothing but terrible defense while on the ice and makes the offense drag to a halt.

  13. UP TO DATE # 55 = +1 , # 4 = - 1 what are you talking about !