Oh No: Wojtek Wolski is an Enigma

No big. Anyone can score on a Philly goaltender.

Robert Vollman of Hockey Prospectus called the Washington Capitals’ new forward Wojtek Wolski enigmatic. Heaven help us; that whole thing is supposed to be over. But here we are: dealing with an all-new, all-Polish, puzzling player.

Wolski earned between $2.5M and $4M over the last four seasons, but his deal with the Caps is for just $600,00. This could either be an epic bargain on a top-six forward or a waste of time and money. I’m not sure yet what we can expect from him next season, but maybe we can figure it out together.

Let’s start with the obvious, un-fancy stats. Here are Wolski’s lifetime stats, followed by my notes.

           Age  GP  G   A  PTS  PIM   S    S%  ATOI
2006-07    20  76  22  28   50  14  165  13.3  15:31
2007-08    21  77  18  30   48  14  158  11.4  15:56
2008-09    22  78  14  28   42  28  169   8.3  18:23
2009-10    23  80  23  42   65  27  195  11.8  18:44
2010-11    24  73  12  23   35  18  135   8.9  14:35
2011-12    25  31   4   8   12   2   50   8.0  13:46
Career        424  95 163  258  94  881  10.8  16:19

NOTE: I shaved off Wolski’s 9-game season in 05-06, when he was 19.

Looking past that, we see a sturdy player (70-80 games per season until last year) who got the ice time of a top-six forward for four straight seasons– when he put up between 42-65 points a season. At a glance, those is an awesome career. And then 2011-2012 happened.

Wolski missed most of last season due to a groin/abdominal injury, and as a result he put up his worst numbers since his 9-game rookie season. He hardly saw the ice until New York dealt him to Florida at the deadline for a song. He finally produced in Florida, but the team balked at the chance to re-sign him, perhaps dreading a salary two or three times larger than what he and George McPhee eventually agreed to.

Wolski’s health is uncertain, and we Capitals fans know better than many how mysterious groin injuries can be. That goes a long way to explaining the modest contract. Wolski’s cap hit is tiny, the risk is non-existent, and the upside may be massive. Dan Lipson of Jets blog Arctic Ice Hockey is envious:

Wolski had scored 35 points or more in every season in which he’d played. He has cracked the 45 point level three times and scored 17 or more goals three times in his six year career. At $600k Wolski is an incredibly cheap gamble with 50 point upside.

That’s a glowing review, but I’m not quite as confident about that 50-point figure– so much depends on deployment. For example, Chris Robert of Litterbox Cats tells us that Wolski’s production depends very much on his linemates:

Wolski scores 70% of his points in the 55% of the time he’s playing a top 6 role. When he’s placed in the bottom 6 45% of the time, he only scores 30% of his points.

Behind the Net’s Player Chart for Wolski’s 2011-2012 Season (Florida only)

Yeah yeah. Players play better when they play with better players. I know that sounds like a platitude, but it’s important to consider when setting expectations– especially for a player as uncertain as this.

Wolski started a walloping 58% of his starts in the offensive zone while in Florida, and he saw the better half of shots and goals go in his team’s favor as a result. According to Vollman’s player usage charts, that deployment and the quality of his competition classify him as a borderline “sheltered” player. That means if Adam Oates wants to get similarly sterling results out of Wolski, very soft minutes need to be found.

(For comparison, no Caps forward got over 53% of his starts in the o-zone last season.)

There’s a lot of ambiguity here. Wojtek Wolski is about to play for his fifth coach in as many years. He’s recovering from a groin injury that cost him the majority of his most lucrative season. He’s dropped from a four million dollar cap hit to the NHL equivalent of minimum wage. He’s been given optimized shifts against weaker talent and performed admirably, but dropped off when things aren’t so cozy.

If he has a healthy season with favorable deployment and good linemates, we might expect Wolski to score somewhere around 15 goals and 35 points.  That’s a lot of ifs, and thus Wojtek earns his enigma status. Maybe it’s the prudent thing just to hope for a couple stolen points thanks to his skills in the shootout.

P.S. RMNB reader Andrew tells us that Wojtek is the name of a famous soldier bear from Poland. Make of that what you will. It made me smile.

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  • Dark Stranger

    Turns out the Russian and Polish both have the same word for “enigma” which is zagadka (or in Cyrillic characters: загадка). For that matter, it’s the same word in Belorussian and Ukrainian.


  • Margaret

    At $600,000 I don’t really think any negative terms or history really matters. He’s obviously very low risk and either way it’s a smart signing

  • This article isn’t about evaluating the signing; it’s about setting expectations for the player.

  • So now the Caps have THREE sick shootout specialists–Hendricks, Ribeiro, and Wolski–with a fourth–Ovechkin–if necessary. Damn these guys. I just may start liking the shootout.

    And I think that clip where Holtby got faked out of his skates was one of his first shootout experiences in the NHL.

  • MakeAMoveMcphee

    I am hoping this is insurance for the possible trade of a current top six forward MP85 or MJ90. I think WW’s upside is only possible in a complementary role. I would have been very excited about a wolski-ribeiro-semin combo and it would have made Marc Crawford’s head explode.

  • But the jury is still out on Hendricks’ playoff skills, and I doubt Ovechkin is ever left off the shootout roster.

  • Ditto 100% to your first point.

  • Bryzgalov will just leave the ice for a shoot out when Wojtek is tapped for the shoot out.

  • Sarah

    I seem to remember hearing he was once arrested for assault because he beat up a guy who pushed his girlfriend off a porch…so I guess he’s willing to defend people?

  • CCCP74

    He’s good for 30-40 points, provided the stars are aligned and has chemistry with his linemates. Stats analysis aside, I’m on the fence for this guy. To be on so many teams this early in his career has to make you wonder about the intagibles he brings and/or lacks. At least GMGM is shoring up the roster.


    Setting aside the logical fallacy of the following statement – I’ll take the enigma I know over the enigma I don’t know any day.

  • Wow. That would be a dank line. And they would do SO WELL. AO8 and NB19 would need to work hard just to put up better numbers… Crawford would be apologizing for his ignorance by the end of the pre-season..

  • Interesting angle for a response..

  • Troy

    Wolski can get his soft minutes pretty easily, call me crazy but i would enjoy a 8,19, 22 line and a 90, 21, 86 line (or 85 instead of Mojo) and i would pick him for 45-60 points, easily. Wolski has to be on the PP he’s got the wrist shot of Semin without the expectations, which could be good AND bad

  • Hale

    I’m really in deep depression about Sasha ultimately not coming back. I won’t be able to stand it when/if you take his name off of the masthead. Instead of replacing it with a specific name, just put “Enigma,” then you can continue to write about him and any other Caps player thus described. If there really is no chance he’s coming back, either on his part or the Caps, I sure wish GDGMGM would just say so and put us out of our collective misery so we can get on with grieving!

  • Haha.

    Here’s an article from WT about McPhee being open to Semin coming back