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Offseason Evaluation: John Erskine

As the 2011-12 season has come to a close, the time has come to evaluate what it meant for the Capitals, both as a team and as individuals.  As such, as the summer progresses, I will be writing a report card, or individual evaluation, for each player who played in 9 (~10%) of the team’s games, or 4 playoff games. Next up is rough and tumble defenseman John Erskine, who completed his sixth, and most frustrating, season in the Capitals organization this year.

Season Summary: During this campaign, Erskine suffered through by far the most turbulent season in a Capitals uniform.  After being injured at the start of the year, he was in and out of the lineup for a prolonged period before finally being yanked for basically the remainder of the regular season in early February.  Overall, Erskine posted zero goals, two assists, a plus-three rating, and 51 penalty minutes in 28 games, the second fewest he has ever played at the NHL level.  Erskine also had the sixth-best even strength corsi rating among Capitals defensemen (-5.07) who played more than 20 games, and he did it against the second-easiest competition on the team. Grade: C-

Role Play: John Erskine is a guy who is on your team to hit people and clear out the front of the net.  He’s not offensively gifted, he’s not a shot blocker.  He’s a low-end sixth defenseman/healthy scratch.  That’s what he was this year.  When Erskine was in the lineup, he was physical, he was mean, and he was tough.  He cleared people out in front of the net and he hit people.  But that’s what is expected of him, and it’s not particularly valuable to this team, or any team, really.  Nevertheless, he did what many people pegged him for heading in to this season, which was, quite frankly, not much. Grade: C+

Playoffs: Erskine saw action in four playoff games, compiling a single assist, a minus-one rating, and zero penalty minutes.  He also had the second worst corsi rating (-21.35) at even strength, but this time, he did it against the toughest competition among Capitals defensemen.  I thought Erskine’s playoffs were not that bad, all things considered, but his insertion into the lineup, it seemed, was almost always a reactionary move.  He was big and physical against big and physical teams, so I don’t slight him for that.  But the fact remains that he simply isn’t a very good defenseman, particularly in Hunter’s system because of his lack of shot blocking skills. Grade: C

Future Potential: Erskine has one more year left on his contract at a minimal salary cap hit of $1.5 million.  That’s not a ton, but it’s not even close to ideal for a defenseman who plays fewer than 30 games.  With the uncertainty surrounding Dennis Wideman, Mike Green, and John Carlson, who are all free agents in some capacity this offseason, I expect Erskine to stick around.  If (when) Wideman leaves via unrestricted free agency, and Green and Carlson stay put as restricted free agents, as I expect them to, that would leave one lineup spot, which I would hope would be filled with Dmitry Orlov, meaning Erskine would be the 7th defenseman once more.  For someone who will be 32 at the end of June, Erskine’s career arc is firmly trending downward.  Don’t expect much from him this year or in any years after that.  Grade: D+

The next report card will feature center Cody Eakin.

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