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.
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.