Thursday, May 01, 2008

2007-08 Rink Wrap: John Erskine

From Backstrom to Steckel, we're taking a quick look at and grading the 2007-08 season for every player* who laced 'em up for the Caps during the campaign (and is still with the team) with an eye towards 2008-09. Next up, John Erskine.

Contract Status: $537,000 cap hit in 2008-09; UFA after 2008-09
Age (as of October 1, 2008): 28
NHL Seasons (including 2007-08): 5+
2007-08 Regular Season Stats: 51 games played, 2 goals, 7 assists, +1, 96 PIMs
Key Stat: Despite playing 25 fewer games than his closest competition in this category, Erskine had 24% more minor penalties than anyone on the team.
Surprising(ly depressing) Stat: Erskine had as many goals on the campaign as Tom Poti (who played in 20 more games).

The Good: Erskine set a career high in points and assists this season and tied his career best in goals and plus/minus, all of which foreshadowed the offensive explosion we witnessed in the playoffs (two assists and a plus-one rating in seven games). When it mattered most - in March and April - Erskine had a plus-five rating in ten games and didn't have a single game in which he was minus. Big John was also second among the team's blueliners in blocked shots per minute of ice time (Milan Jurcina was first, but Quintin Laing, of course, kicked both of their asses in that stat).

The Bad: Erskine had the most penalties taken per sixty minutes of ice time of any defenseman in the NHL who played at least 20 games, the most penalties taken per sixty of any Cap, and the most minor penalties of anyone who played 51 or fewer games (the next closest was Andy Wozniewski who had ten fewer minors in three fewer games). And while he may be "a willing pugilist," his fight totals have dropped from 13 in 2005-06 to five last season and four this season. Despite the high blocked shot totals, opponents averaged more shots on goal per sixty minutes (and the Caps averaged fewer shots for) when Ersky was on the ice than any other Cap rearguard.

The Vote: Rate Erskine on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.

The Questions: What role do you see Erskine playing on the 2008-09 Caps? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?

If you've missed any of the previous 2007-08 Rink Wraps, click here, get caught up, and vote - polls will stay open for a while.

* And by "every," we mean every one who played more than just a handful of games.



1) Nothing against John, he probably played to his potential/the best he can the past season, but can't see him improving his game further, and his lack of foot speed is probably why he takes so many minors
2) If he's still on the roster in October, hopefully its as the 'extra' defensemen, and not in the top 6. Certainly his salary makes him an attractive alternative. Best case scenario for the Caps is if they don't need Erskine to play as much (if at all) as he did this past year.

JP said...

All I need to know about Erskine is in the stat "the most penalties taken per sixty minutes of ice time of any defenseman in the NHL who played at least 20 games."

On a team that doesn't kill penalties well at all, you can't afford to be giving a guy like that significant minutes.

Marky Narc said...

I second Faux here. Erskine is a 6 or 7 d-man. He's got a limited skill set and limited potential, but at least he utilized what he had and could do. I gave him a 7.

I would like to see Erskine on the roster next season. He -can- play. He is a capable defenseman who can easily be plugged into the lineup should someone else be out. And for some reason, Steve Eminger has always played well with him as is D-partner. Wish I could explain that one!

JP said...

I've got to continue to disagree. His lack of mobility and/or discipline forces the team to have to pick their spots with him and focus on making sure he isn't out against speedy forwards, etc. I hate when the team has to, in essence, hide players.

Keep him around as a 7th defenseman, perhaps, but if he plays 51 games again next year, things aren't going according to plans.

b.orr4 said...

I'm not going sugar coat this, I absolutely cannot stand watching Erskine play. Not only is he slow and constantly being beaten to the outside, but, as JP cited, he's repeatedly taking penalties (which is often the result of being beaten). Worse he takes bad penalties at bad times. He's supposed to be a tough guy, but he hardly ever fights anymore and when he does he usually ends up on his back. I gave him a three just because he tries, but if he's playing next season for the Caps in anything other than an emergency role, this defense is in trouble.

Soulie said...

I just wanted to say I really hate these posts. Not because they aren't useful, or that the discussion is entertaining. It's just like breaking up with this team again, every day. It sucks. I want more Ovechkin jumping into the boards in my life again. *sigh*

I felt the Erskine thread would be the most appropriate to say this. Didn't want to piss on the Chris Clark or Emmy discussions. *grin*

false_cause said...

I was pretty much done with Erskine at the end of the season and he reproved this early in the playoff series. But the last three games or so of the playoffs, he was working as hard as I've ever seen him work, and he was doing well. Not sure that means I want him back next season, but he was definitely capable of elevating his game and if he could do that consistently, he could be a keeper.

Tyler said...

I agree with JP on 4's penalites and his place in the plan and with 4 Jr. on forwards blowing by Erskine on the outside. I think those are the key points.

However, Erskine has one point in his favor: He's cheap. In today's NHL that's always a factor.

If you keep him as your No. 7 D I'm not sure how you 'make sure' he doesn't play 51 games. Maybe Sami Lepisto's speed magically improves, or maybe a call-up option emerges. Of course: if No. 7 D is the Caps' most pressing D issue, I guess that's a positive.

I'm glad we all know how Soulie feels?!

exwhaler said...

I think the main problem is that the Capitals don't have a stay-at-home defenseman like Erskine (or, at least, a better version of him). In today's game, that type is not as essential as in the pre-lockout era, but it's still an element of the game that's lacking.

I agree with the assessment that Erskine will be back only as the 7th guy to plug in against certain teams. He's capable, but not talented, and has a few weaknesses that prevent him from being an everyday player. I really don't see him as more than a placeholder for Joe Finley or Andrew Thomas (if the Caps decide to sign him before August).

Tyler said...

The Caps don't have stay-at-home D? 26? 55? 23?

How many D jump right out of US colleges into the NHL? I don't know the answer to that (but I bet someone here does), but I'd guess it's very, very few. I think Finley has to play a year in the A before we can begin to assess his potential.

Anonymous said...

He doesn't fight as much anymore? Jeez, dump him.

Chuck G. said...

I say replace Erskine with Eminger and I'll be happy. I thought his spotty play cost the Caps in the playoffs and was never really impressed with him this year.

breed16 said...

I usually like to argue the finer points, but all I can say is: John Erskine is terrible. Every second he was on the ice in the playoffs was a penalty or a goal or both waiting to happen.

exwhaler said...

>>>"The Caps don't have stay-at-home D? 26? 55? 23?", they're not. They're puck-handling shutdown defensemen, which have taken the place of physical stay-at-home guys.

Shaggy said...

To JP's point, the brutality of Erskine's penalties is the deciding factor here. But is this really unexpected from a slow, marginally talented defenseman? Not really. And he was a plus 1. which is huge in my book.
I like what Erskine has done with his few skills, which are willingness to take the body, good hands, and decent PK work.
His placeholding for Karl Alzner seems pretty short lived now.

Jed said...

with all the young d-men I keep hearing about in the caps system I would have no problem seeing Erskine and Jurcina leave town to make room. I know both of those guys bring size and intimidation to the line-up, but in today's NHL I see the teams with fast, mobile d-men making the most impact. Use Sami and Carl as your 5-6 and maybe keep Jurcina or Erskine as the 7th guy, but there isn't any room on the team for two slow guys who take too many penalties.

Jed said...

the thing about +/- for me is that a goal allowed on the penalty kill doesn't count against it, and Erskine was out on far too many penalty kills (when he wasn't the one in the box). How many of those penalty kills would have been more successful with a more skilled guy on the ice?

Ogre said...

Erskine did his job. He's not the best player - he's a 7th defenseman who should earn spot time who was given 4th-5th defenseman minutes. Pothier had a similar problem when he was a 3rd-4th d-man put on a 1-2 pairing.
He's not fast, but not all hockey players are. I gave him a 5, but he could have deserved more. From your 6th d-man, can you expect much more than about an even rating? I can't.
Next year, ideally, he'll be splitting 7th d-man duties with Schultz, behind Alzner and Lapisto, Poti-Pothier(Can I hope?), Green-Morrisonn. I like Jurcina, but I don't think he'll be in this log-jam.

Betty said...

I agree with b.orr4 (as usual): watching Erskine play made my hair stand on end. And not in a good way. The boneheaded penalties were the backbreakers. Or as b says with a diplomatic turn: "bad penalties at bad times". Like I said: boneheaded.

I gave him a 2 because he dressed and skated. To get a 10 from me, he'd have to be a top-4 defenseman for anyone else in the Eastern Conference.

I look forward to him being replaced with one of the kids.

Lisa said...

John Erskine scares me every time he's out on the ice for the reasons already outlined above. Yes, he picked it up a little in the playoffs but he's 28. How much more improvement can be expected from a marginal player? He's cheap but most of the time, you get what you pay for. Eminger might be salvageable but we have to ask ourselves, does Erskine belong on the roster of a team hoping to go deep into the playoffs next year? From my perspective, only if there's NO other alternative.

Lots of interesting discussion on the defensemen...for good reason.

dmg said...

I think Faux gives Erskine a little too much credit - I'd like to see him as the team's #8 or 9 defenseman in an ideal scenario. As it is I think he's likely behind Green, Poti, Morrisonn, Eminger, Pothier, Schultz, Jurcina and Alzner (which would make him 8 or 9, depending on Pothier's health).

I give the guy credit for his effort, but he has so many major flaws: the lack of speed, lack of agility (which lead to hooking and holding calls), poor puckhandling (which leads to many over the glass penalties), the lack of offensive upside. I think that, at the NHL level, you want him as a stopgap and nothing else.

Finley's not going to be NHL ready to start next season; heck he might not even turn pro. I would say the same for Thomas (though he most likely will go pro...dont see what he wouldn't). The Caps only option for a rugged defense-first guy would be the free agent or trade markets and I doubt they can afford a FA or would want to trade away pieces of a very solid farm system. But then, between Morrisonn, Poti, Alzner and Schulz, I think the Caps should be okay in their defensive end. The might not have that hard-hitting intimidating force, but no team has all the pieces.

JP said...

Even if every one of the blueliners takes a realistic step forward next year, I'm not sure the Caps have a core of guys on D who can take the team deep into the playoffs.

Maybe they do, maybe they don't.

But I'm perfectly comfortable letting October through February determine that and, if they need to add a "stay-at-home"/"shutdown" type guy at the deadline, the team has the assets to do so.

I say all of this, because I believe there's a common thought out there (though I haven't seen it expressed much here, but that's b/c you guys are smarter than commoners) that the Caps have to add a physical D-man in the offseason via free agency. I couldn't disagree more. The team as constituted now (assuming the goaltending situation gets settled with a reasonable solution) should be plenty good enough to make the playoffs - I'm fine letting things play out up to the trade deadline.

Note: This is not in any way an endorsement of John Erskine getting increased playing time.

Brian said...

To follow up on JP's comment, I would like to see a physical d-man to compliment the young studs. Someone like Chris Chelios. I like Chelios because a) he's probably the only current player older than me, b) he vaguely threatened Bettman during the strike-shortened season, and c) he wouldn't let anyone run his goaltender during the playoffs without making the bastard pay every shift for the rest of the playoffs.

Tyler is right about cap constraints, so I'm approaching these conversations like a fantasy league team. Does this team get a Cup with Erskine playing a prominent D role? My vote is no.

Anonymous said...

im fine with him as our #8 d-man

exwhaler said...

On Finley and Thomas not being ready for next season...Erskine is signed through next season. I'm pretty sure the organization is looking at him as a roster piece until at least toward the end of next season. Any roster moves for the blueline will depend on two things: Pothier's health and whether Alzner makes the jump from juniors.

sheesh said...

tyler, im not sure lepisto's speed ever has been or will be a problem

Paul said...

I gave him an 8 because I thought going into the season he was a complete stiff. And he is a complete stiff, but he played the best hockey of his career in the last three games of the Flyers series, and I wanted to give him credit for that.

I pray that next year we are good enough on D that he isn't even our 7th or 8th D-man. In fact, I'd like to see Jurcina in that role.

Scott said...

I gave him a 7 because I think he's worthless and he did an okay job. So yeah, i have extremely low expectations and I was surprised by his mediocre shittyness. Here's to no Erskine next year, even though he's cheap. I would be okay if he's the extra d-man.

Anonymous said...

Obviously most had very high expectations for him, unattainable and I question why the posters here set the bar so high. Bruce believed in him and he did just fine this year. If they didnt call him for minors they would have called someone else. I don't remember him costing us any games this year. It was interesting seeing the Flyers expose our fleet and mobile puck movers for their lack of physical play, and it should come as no surprise to see that Erskine and Eminger (our second most physical D player) were arguably our best pair against the flyers. Bruce had them getting lots of big minutes. Until we get someone that can bring some toughness and respect for Huet and our D, lower the bar and believe in what Bruce thinks is ok for team. That is, a big tough slow 6/7.

RandyD said...

I gave Erskine a 6. He's slow, his positioning isn't always very good, and yes, he takes too many penalties. But he is the most physical D-man the Caps have, and he showed a lot of improvement during the season. I like his physical game a great deal, and it was needed during the playoffs.

The Caps glaring weakness is on the defense, and while there was tremendous improvement this year (shots against and goals against are down considerably), Erskine is one of the weaker links. At 28, he's one of the older defensemen, and should be one of the more reliable ones.

Boudreau showed confidence in him, and I don't know what he's like off the ice or how coachable he is. But on the ice he's still a potential liability.

Kudos to you guys or some great comments too.

RH said...

Didn't Witt compete year after year for the league lead in minor penalties? Yet when it comes trade time, teams are drooling over big tough (meaning yes they take lots of penalties) defenseman like Witt. Heck we want one now, dont we? The closest thing we have is Erskine until Finley gets a sniff. My point is that Erskine while taking lots of penalties, is not tackling and holding guys all over the ice like you'd think. The refs always singleout the toughest dman, and many calls against him were phantom. But he takes his share of meaner penalties that will make a forward think twice before running over our goalie. Those qualities in a defenseman cannot be measured in footspeed. Old schools guys like Bruce know that guys like Eminger Huet and Green are going to be better players having some protection.

dmg said...

Didn't Witt compete year after year for the league lead in minor penalties? Yet when it comes trade time, teams are drooling over big tough (meaning yes they take lots of penalties) defenseman like Witt. Heck we want one now, dont we?

According to the only source I could find (CBS Sportsline), Erskine had 38 minors this year:

Tripping: 8
Hold: 7
Cross Check: 5
High Stick: 4
Roughing: 3
Interference: 2
Hook: 2
Board: 1
Elbow: 1
Holding the Stick: 1

Now, that only adds up to 35 and I know that's at least in part because I can't find a puck-over-the-glass counter. Anyhow, my point is: Erskine isn't racking up the minors because he's getting a lot of roughing calls. It's because he lacks speed. STATS Inc used to keep a category called HHT (holding, hooking, tripping), the idea being that these penalties were the most indicative of a player getting beat on a play and taking a penalty as a result. Erskine had 17 penalties, nearly half his total, in this category.

dmg said...

To add on to that: Witt had 8 HHT penalties in 1288:34 of ice time this year, to Erskine's 17 in 800:13.

JP said...

Good stuff, DMG, and check here (towards the bottom) for more details on Erskine's penalties.

For example, he had the same number of "delay of game - puck over the glass" penalties as roughing minors this year.