The Washington Capitals’ defense has been an issue for years now. Similar to previous trade deadlines and offseasons, they were once again very active in making changes to their defensive core. The notable moves were letting Radko Gudas walk, re-signing Brenden Dillon, and acquiring Justin Schultz, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Paul LaDue, and Cam Schilling. But one of the most important moves that is getting very little attention was the re-signing of Jonas Siegenthaler.
The Capitals re-signed Siegenthaler to a one-year, $800,000 contract. While this move seems rather minor — Siegenthaler does not bring the offensive impact that Carlson and Orlov do — he’s one of the Capitals’ best shutdown defenseman. Not only is this a strong signing for the upcoming season but for the future of the Capitals. They’re the fourth oldest team in the league, with an average age of 28.88 years. Besides Siegenthaler, who’s 23 years old, the entire defensive core is over 28 years old. Another strong year from Siegenthaler and the Capitals should be looking at signing him long term.
Siegenthaler by the Numbers
The Capitals drafted Siegenthaler in the second round of the 2015 Draft. While he made his debut in the 2018-19 season, last season was his first full one in the NHL, playing 64 games and registering two goals and seven assists while playing on the Capitals third pair. It is important to note that since he’s playing on the third pair, he isn’t out there to drive play and score goals. He’s on the ice to be a shutdown defenseman, and he did just that last season.
Siegenthaler only averaged just over 15 minutes a night, but he averaged three minutes per game on the penalty kill alone, the most on the Capitals. His three minutes on the penalty kill per game ranked 11th most in the NHL. His 105 blocks ranked second on the team only to John Carlson (108), 39th in the league, but ninth among players that skated less than 20 minutes per game. Siegenthaler’s 6.25 blocks per 60 minutes ranked 13th in the NHL last season.
Third pairing defensemen are usually on the ice so that the top pair blueliners can get some additional rest. But with Siegenthaler, he is the Capitals’ most reliable defenseman, at least defensively, when on the ice. He ranks in the 99th percentile in expected goals against (2.13 xGA per 60 minutes). This means that when Siegenthaler is on the ice, it is very unlikely that other teams score. In comparison, known shutdown defender Brenden Dillon ranked in the 91st percentile.
Building a defense that has more shutdown capabilities is extremely important considering that at 5v5, the Capitals were sixth-worst in high danger chances against per 60 (11.32) and had the 13th most expected goals against per 60 (2.33), per Natural Stat Trick. Siegenthaler managed to outperform both numbers, as the Caps only gave up nine high danger chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 with Siegenthaler on the ice and had an expected goals against of 2.13. Even with Siegenthaler not having a strong offensive output, he still managed to have an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 51.36 at 5-on-5, third-best among Capitals’ defensemen and slightly better than John Carlson at 50.85%.
As one of the oldest teams in the league, the Capitals must be preparing for the future. While the Capitals have Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev, two recent draft picks, on the horizon, Siegenthaler should still be the front runner for the Capitals’ defensive future. He’s managed to prove himself in his short time in the NHL, something that many defensemen struggle with when they first enter the league. Defensemen tend to take longer to develop in the NHL due to the level of competition and pace of play being much better than what they are custom to in either the AHL, college, or international play.
While the Capitals’ Stanley Cup window is closing, and they want to extend it for as long as possible, sacrificing the future of the organization should not be the tradeoff. The Trevor van Riemsdyk signing appears to have been a plan for the loss of Michal Kempny, who injured his Achilles and will be out for 6-8 months. In addition, with the signing of Justin Schultz, the Capitals now have five right-handed defensemen, making it likely they move Nick Jensen so they can navigate the tight cap.
But the Capitals did not make any significant moves for the left side of their defense, making it appear that there is a plan for Siegenthaler and his future with the organization. While the team does not have many young players on their roster — just three under the age of 25 — Siegenthaler’s lockdown defense can help with not only the present but the future of the Capitals as other young defensemen look to make their way into the league.