Spaced out over the next few weeks, we will feature end-of-season profiles for every player on the Washington Capitals, a year-in-review of sorts looking at their statistics, story lines and such. The full list of published pieces can be found at the end.
Next, forward Jason Chimera.
Twice during Capitals Coach Barry Trotz’s last interview with reporters, questions about unrelated topics – first on adversity faced this season and second on the development of forward Tom Wilson – pivoted into answers about disagreements between the first-year bench boss and his oldest player. Twice, Trotz cited forward Jason Chimera as an example of how players had, despite some initial tooth-and-nail struggles, adopted his beliefs.
Trotz generally avoided discussing internal conversations, paticularly negative ones, but after Chimera delivered a strong postseason, twice recording multi-point games and ranking fourth on the team with seven points, Trotz felt confident airing the once-dirty laundry.
“Me and him disagreed on a lot of things this year,” Trotz said. “And I wouldn’t give in and he wouldn’t give in in some ways, and I think we have a lot of respect for each other, and I thought at the end of the year he had grown a lot.”
Trotz didn’t delve into specifics, but they weren’t hard to notice. Chimera notched one goal through his first 18 games, contributing elsewhere on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone in a variety of roles, but not on the scoresheet. Frustration bubbled for the 36-year-old winger, who had notched a career-best 42 points and 27 assists in 2013-14, the left wing on the highly effective “Gang Green” line beside Joel Ward and Eric Fehr, so named for the color of their practice sweaters.
Then, in mid-December, Trotz made Chimera a healthy scratch for the first time since April 2013. Chimera’s late interference penalty had recently helped Columbus to an overtime win, but Trotz cautioned reporters against “reading into” the move. Shelving a veteran forward wasn’t new; by that point in the season, Trotz had benched Fehr and demoted Ward at different times, and would soon scratch Jay Beagle too. (Another scratch later that month was captured for the all-access Winter Classic show on Epix, a rare moment of tension shown during the four episodes.)
Few players inside the Capitals’ dressing room took personal struggles harder than Chimera, who at the time said “obviously you look at the stats and you feel like you’re playing like crap and want to do more.” But after Trotz scratched him four more times, Chimera found a groove. He notched two-assist outings against Columbus and Pittsburgh, scored two goals in a late-March rout over the New York Rangers and became one of Washington’s most productive skaters during the postseason. Deployed mainly with rookie forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, Chimera and the center developed strong chemistry, leading Chimera to call it “one of the [more fun] times of my career, for sure.”
Accordingly, his self-assessment balanced both sides equally. In the regular season, he skated mostly as a fourth-liner and averaged 12 minutes 56 seconds, his lowest in a full year since 2005-06. In the playoffs, he logged 15 minutes 36 seconds per game, by far his most in seven postseasons.
“Terrible season, good ending personally,” he said. “I had a bad season personally, for sure. But when playoffs come around, everything goes out the window. You want to win a Cup, and that’s all you think about. You do everything in your power. Playoffs are great, because everyone checks everything at the door. No one cares about stats. No one cares about anything. No media’s asking about stats, they’re just asking about wins and losses, which is great. You want to do everything in your power to raise the Stanley Cup in your hands, that’s for sure.”
Chimera was instead speaking at Kettler Capitals Iceplex two Fridays ago, not long before Trotz offered the uncommon glimpse into this particular player-coach relationship. It was a one-sided look, because Trotz spoke after Chimera did, but the latter would likely agree on the basic particulars: In the beginning, there was tension, and by the end, Chimera was “a hell of a player” for Washington.
“He sees what I like and how we’re going to be successful, and the great thing about Chimmer is Chimmer’s an older guy who’s been around,” Trotz said. “He can be very stubborn and at times he probably was, but at the same time he’s very realistic too. And he had a great playoff. At the end of the year, I wasn’t giving in and we were both not giving in, and then he finally came over to what I expected of Jason Chimera … He brings a lot of life to the dressing room, brings a lot of speed to our team. Sometimes everybody has their own way to get to where you want them to get to, and Jason got to where we want him to get to, so that was fantastic.”