Coming into this season, Capitals Coach Adam Oates was a little worried about how the start might go for veteran left wing Jason Chimera. The Edmonton native had the worst offensive output of his career in last year’s lockout-shortened season but there were encouraging signs as Chimera began to rebuild his confidence.
He posted all three of his goals and six of his 14 points in the final 20 games of the season. Then in the playoffs Chimera helped drive the third line, which was arguably the Capitals’ best unit in their first-round series against the Rangers.
Oates wanted to make sure that Chimera carried that momentum into this season and focused on how the winger could up his overall involvement when they had a long chat in the offseason.
“I wanted him to challenge himself and demand more time from me. Demand more,” Oates said. “I think he’s done that.”
Oates’s encouragement motivated Chimera to prove he was better than he showed last season.
“You go through the bad times but you’ve got to pull yourself out of it, kick yourself in the butt,” Chimera said. “I felt really good going into the season. I knew I had a lot more to give.”
Through the first 16 games this year, Chimera has made that point loud and clear. He has five goals and 11 points and is averaging his highest ice time in his five seasons with the Capitals at 15:11 minutes per game. That includes nearly two minutes of short-handed time per night after playing only 5:30 on the penalty kill all last season. He’s also teamed with Joel Ward to make the third line Washington’s most reliable and productive combination at even strength, one that Oates doesn’t hesitate to use in any situation.
Chimera, 34, received a vote of confidence from the Capitals on Friday when they signed him to a two-year, $4 million contract extension that will keep him in the fold through the 2015-16 season. The deal, which features an annual salary of $2 million, brings a raise for Chimera, who will earn $1.7 million this year in the final season of his current contract.
“I don’t see myself playing anywhere else,” said Chimera, who is happy that he, his wife and two young children will continue to call Alexandria home. “If you go to free agency, test the market and go somewhere else and these guys win a Stanley Cup then you’re kicking yourself. That’s how good this team is. You don’t want to miss out on that and it’s one of those teams you want to be a part of for a long time.”
It’s a familiar type of deal for General Manager George McPhee, who has signed nine players to two-year contracts since February and has a history of re-signing complementary players long before they reach free agency.
If the salary cap increases this offseason as it’s expected to, Chimera’s new contract shouldn’t prohibit the Capitals from making other additions or signings. It’s important to note, though, that because Chimera will turn 35 years old before this contract begins his salary will count against Washington’s salary cap calculations regardless where or if he is playing.
Even with Chimera’s age and the reality that his offensive production won’t consistently match his pace from the first five weeks of this season, as long as he has his speed he will serve as a catalyst for the Capitals’ forecheck. Off the ice, Chimera is an outspoken veteran presence and the dressing room’s resident comedian.
“He gives energy to the team with his speed and he’s a funny guy, he’s a loud in the locker room,” said Nicklas Backstrom, whose stall at the team’s practice facility is next to Chimera’s. “I’m happy he’s going to be here the next two years.”
With Chimera’s contract extension, center Mikhail Grabovski is the only pending unrestricted free agent on the roster. Four others — Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov and Alex Urbom — are set to become restricted free agents this summer.