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 right winger Mike Knuble, who finished his third season with the Capitals and his 16th NHL season overall on this past campaign.
Season Summary: To say it was a rough year for Knuble would be an understatement. The aging power forward saw his streak of 20-goal seasons end at nine, for one, and he scored six goals, his fewest since 1999-2000. For another, his ice time plummeted, and he played 72 games, his fewest without an injury in more than five years. Knuble saw himself go from top-line right winger under Bruce Boudreau, to the fourth line under Boudreau, to the fourth line under to Dale Hunter, to the dungeons under Hunter when he was benched late in the season. In addition to those six goals, Knuble had 12 assists, a -15 rating (tied for worst on the team), and 32 penalty minutes. His puck possession metrics were not very good, either, checking in with a -11.48 5v5 corsi rating (the worst on the team), though this did happen against the fourth-toughest competition a Capitals forward saw. It's also important to note that he had the second-worst PDO on the team at 982, so that could have been a reason for his bad scoring output. Grade: C-
Role Play: This is tough, because Knuble's role off the ice as an alternate captain and a Stanley Cup champion is almost as important to what he brings on the ice. Knuble's salary was pretty outlandish for what he accomplished on the ice, but after the fan base, and I think Knuble to an extent, accepted his checking line role, I actually think old Mike was pretty good and was a good sport about the whole thing. He was strong on his skates, forechecked well, and crashed the net, hitting the post it seemed a countless number of times. But he didn't complain and came in to work every day to play his tail off. Still, his preseason expectations were at least 15 goals, and he didn't get that done or even come close. Grade: C+
Playoffs: It took a suspension to Nicklas Backstrom for Knuble to enter the lineup against the Bruins, but once he started to play, Knuble was a beast against the Cup champs. He created offense, forechecked well, and it was his net drive that let to the winning goal in game seven against Boston. Overall, in 11 playoff games, he had two goals, three points, a plus-three rating, and six penalty minutes. His puck possession also swung dramatically, from team-low in the regular season to the second best among forwards in the playoffs (-0.60) - though he saw very soft minutes, the second-easiest among all forwards. Grade: B
Future Potential: Knuble, who will be 40 by the time next season starts, is an unrestricted free agent. He said in his end of year media availability that he feels great and that he wants to keep playing, and I would be happy to have him back in Washington at a price of no more than $1.1 million. I think his playoffs proved he has a little bit left in the tank, and his terrible luck in the regular season indicates the same. The 20 goal, 40-point Knuble is almost certainly gone, but the Caps could do a lot worse than a veteran who's won to help fill out their roster at a discount. Grade: C-
The next report card will feature center Jay Beagle.
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