“Our deeds disguise us. People need endless time to try on their deeds, until each knows the proper deeds for him to do. But every day, every hour, rushes by. There is no time.”
-- John Locke
On July 1, 2015, the Washington Capitals signed free agent defenseman Taylor Chorney to a one-year/$700,000 contract. It was one of those deals that show up in the list-keeping of web sites tracking free agent signings, but it was a “depth defenseman” signing that merited little more attention. Small wonder. In parts of five seasons with three NHL teams, Chorney appeared in 68 games, only once appearing in more than a dozen games in a season (42 games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2009-2010). The Caps looked rather set on the blue line with John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and Nate Schmidt penciled into the six regular roster spots. Chorney was a seventh defenseman, a player with some NHL experience who served as insurance against injuries.
And so it came to pass. John Carlson missed 25 games in two blocks with an ankle injury. Brooks Orpik missed half the season with a cracked femur. Chorney was pushed into service, appearing in 55 games (14 more than Orpik and just one fewer than Carlson), almost doubling his career total. If he was a liability filling an emergency role, it was not readily apparent, at least in the regular season. The Caps were 40-10-5 in the 55 games in which he appeared (a 127-point pace) and 16-8-3 in the 27 games he sat out (a 106-point pace).
Despite not being an obvious liability, at least as far as his presence for wins and losses is concerned, his contributions at the offensive end were rather meager. He did tie a career high in goals (one), and he set career bests in assists (five) and points (six). On the other hand, he exceeded his career total going into last season in hits (56 to 54) and penalty minutes (21 to 16). Chorney contributed in other, less obvious ways, the Caps going 15-3-1 when he recorded two or more blocked shots and 14-2-1 when he recorded two or more hits.
Taylor Chorney had the third fewest Corsi events against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 among the eight Caps defensemen logging at least 100 5-on-5 minutes. He wasn’t facing opponents’ top scoring units at fives, but it is still a respectable result.
That Corsi-against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 doesn’t mean as much when your Corsi-for at fives is second worst on the team among that same group (only Mike Weber was worse). He skated at least 50 5-on-5 minutes with three defensemen -- Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Aaron Ness -- and each of them had better Corsi-for numbers at 5-on-5 than they had with Chorney (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com). And cuz, you can’t hide in the playoffs. Chorney getting a sweater was, well, less than the Capitals hoped for. The Caps were 1-6 in games in which he played, including all four losses to the Penguins. He had one point, two shots on goal, and was on ice for only one goal that the Caps scored in the postseason (the one he assisted on in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 4).
The Big Question… Is Taylor Chorney the preferred option as “seventh defenseman” for the Caps?
The Caps though enough of Chorney’s ability to fill in when Brooks Orpik and John Carlson went down to re-sign him to a two-year deal at $800,000 a year. Now that he is in the fold, and Mike Weber (obtained in a late season deal with the Buffalo Sabres) no longer with the club, Chorney appears to be the default option as the seventh defenseman. As last season suggested, though, it is one thing to fill in capably in that role in the regular season, even to log significant game time, but the playoffs are another matter. Madison Bowey might be a year away from stepping up to the big club, Jonas Siegenthaler and 2016 first round draft pick Lucas Johansen is likely to be further off still. Aaron Ness got a brief look last season but has only 37 games of NHL experience. For the moment, Chorney is the guy to fill that seventh defenseman role, but one has to wonder if the Caps won’t be looking, just as they did last spring when they traded for Weber.
In the end…
Taylor Chorney’s 2015-2016 season was something of a double-edged sword. Circumstances forced him into a larger role than he played with any other club for which he played, and he performed capably in many respects. But seventh defensemen are in that role for a reason, and in that respect Chorney was dealt something of a bad hand in the postseason. No one would have thought he would appear in seven playoff games, and in retrospect the decision to play him in Game 6 against the Penguins in the second round in place of Nate Schmidt is one that is open to second-guessing (the Caps were 6-4 in postseason games in which Schmidt played, including both wins against the Penguins in the second round). He had to take the minutes that Karl Alzner had to forfeit when his groin gave out in the first period of Game 6 and was on the ice, and had the misfortune of being not quite capable of tying up Carl Hagelin as the game’s final scoring sequence began.
What last season demonstrated is what might be said of many players in his role. Some exposure is not necessarily bad, but more is not necessarily better. And, he can be overexposed when having to play more minutes against tougher opposition. The postseason rushes by so fast that any player in that role thrust into that situation just has to go out and do what they can, but it is not a situation the Caps will want to repeat in 2016-2017.
Projection: 28 games, 0-3-3, plus-2
Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America