Spaced out over the next month, 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.
Up first, unrestricted free agent Jason Chimera.
Throughout the year, Jason Chimera expressed confidence that this wouldn’t be his last season with the Washington Capitals, but with the team’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, uncertainty finally crept in. The 37-year-old forward faces unrestricted free agency this summer, and the organization has four restricted free agents to pay before it gets to him.
“This loss was maybe a little more — not taxing, but I guess you don’t know what’s going to go on next year,” he said on Monday. “You don’t know if you’re going to be with these guys. You want to be with the guys, but you understand the business side of it, too. That’s why I was disappointed the way it ended, for sure, because you want to win with these guys and you don’t know if you’ll have that chance. Maybe it’ll all work out, but it’s one of those things that it’s a business, and I realize that, too.”
Chimera certainly helped himself in a contract year, posting one of the best seasons of his career. He played in every game, scored 20 goals and 20 assists, the third-line left wing all year. He was also on the second power play unit for most of the year, scoring a career-high four goals as a net-front presence there. In Coach Barry Trotz’s first season, Chimera’s season featured frustration, slumping production and a healthy scratch coupled with diminished ice time. But this year, he more than doubled his point total.
“I think the understanding with Trotzy was a little better this year,” Chimera said. “… It was a fun year. Our team probably had the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life of playing.”
Few people seem to have more fun than Chimera. He’s notorious for interrupting locker-room interviews, a top prankster on a team full of them. Whether he returns will be largely dependent on how much cap room is left after the team pays restricted free agents Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, Tom Wilson and Michael Latta. Chimera had a salary cap hit of $2 million, and considering Chimera’s age and that Washington will have young stars Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky due for pay raises after next season, it’s unclear how much the organization would want to commit to him. His playoff production was disappointing, as he scored just two points, with the one goal being a fluky deflection from the red line against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I still think I’m going to be back,” Chimera said. “I’m not confident in anything. In this game, I think you’re not guaranteed anything to be back. I want to be back. You don’t think of playing anywhere else. You know the business side of it, but I still don’t think I’m going to play anywhere else, but you’ll see what happens, right?”
Said General Manager Brian MacLellan: “Yeah, there’s a chance. I mean, I think our priorities are going to be our restricted guys. I think everything will fall into place off of that, depending on what level of salary we need to get our guys signed and what do we have left and what his contract demands are. I mean, we’re going to have to weigh all those options out, and what the free agent market’s gonna look like, too, we think, salary-wise. We’re going to have to balance all those things out, whether we bring him back or not.”
Chimera’s speed should be an advantage for him in contract negotiations — with the Capitals or elsewhere. Despite being Washington’s oldest player, he was its fastest. In his end-of-season meeting with reporters, MacLellan remarked that while the Capitals weren’t a slow team, they tended to get exposed by the really fast teams in the league, like second-round foe Pittsburgh. MacLellan said speed will be a factor considered for construction of next year’s roster. Chimera has plenty of that.
“I always said you [are like a] fine wine. You get older, you feel better,” Chimera said. “… This year I felt better than I ever have on the ice, I think just confidence-wise and skating-wise, too, I don’t feel like I’ve lost a step, for sure. You want to keep that and you want to keep that advantage and hopefully play for many more years to come.”
“I mean, he’s a freak,” center Jay Beagle said. “He’s going to play for I think a lot more years. I mean, he’s still one of the fastest guys in the league, he’s got those young legs that seem to never slow down, a great guy in the locker room, great guy to be around.”
If Chimera is forced to move on from Washington, he said he wants to be on a contending team. While he wants to be with the Capitals, he knows there’s still more hockey in his future, regardless of where he lands next season.
“I’m not putting a number on it,” Chimera said of retirement. “I think you’ll know the writing’s on the wall when you’re kind of walking out the door. I haven’t seen any writing yet, so hopefully I don’t see any in the near future. I want to play as long as I can. I won’t put a number on it. I know a lot of players in the past I’ve talked to said, ‘Don’t let go unless you’re ready to let go’ because a lot of guys said there’s nothing like it other than playing. I’ll play as long as I can, whatever role I have to. It’s one of those things, I might not score as much as a [Jaromir] Jagr at his age, but you hopefully keep going to his age. This game’s treated me really well. Hopefully it treats me really well moving forward. You don’t see stopping anytime soon.”