Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez - USA TODAY Sports

Canucks Army Year In Review: Nic Dowd

Travis Green’s insistence on running a shutdown line coupled with injuries to Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat to create a tremendous opportunity for Nic Dowd. The 27-year-old centre averaged over 15 minutes a night over a 14 game stretch that lasted even after Sutter’s return to the lineup.

That the Canucks let Dowd walk this offseason in spite of an organizational need for centres says all you need to know about his performance.

Or does it? The Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals snatched Dowd on the first day of free agency, signing him to a one-way, $650,000 pact. It’s worth examining what the Canucks lost in the former seventh-round pick after they chose to pay a significant premium for two presumed upgrades in Jay Beagle and Tim Schaller.

Player GP G A P CF%
Nic Dowd 40 3 0 3 46.7

If his performance this season is any indication, Dowd shouldn’t feature as a regular part of an NHL lineup. A fourth line player should be given a pat on the back and continued opportunities in a limited capacity if he’s simply able to keep the game close and ensure that his line isn’t making the rest of the team’s job any more difficult. At best, you’re hoping for a marginally positive impact on the shot clock and score sheet, but you’d happily settle for your fourth line’s time on ice to serve as a wash. Dowd failed miserably in that sense, with the Canucks controlled just over a third of the goals with him on the ice. As you might expect, lady luck played her merciless part with Dowd owning a team-worst PDO, though his expected goal share was almost as appalling.

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Much of this failure derived from underwhelming defensive play. The volume of shots against wasn’t the issue as Dowd finished middle of the pack among Canucks’ forwards for suppressing unblocked attempts, though quality certainly was, with Vancouver hemorrhaging high danger attempts at a rate that was worse with no other forward on the ice.

And despite what his short stretch as the team’s shutdown centre might lead you to believe, Dowd spent the vast majority of his ice-time against the opposition’s bottom-six.

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It’d be unfair to discount defensive starts, in which regard Dowd was among the 98th percentile, but high proportions of defensive zone starts aren’t as consequential for on-ice results as one may think.

Another problem was that Dowd developed a habit of putting his team shorthanded; owning a minus-seven penalty differential that was tied with Thomas Vanek as worst among Canucks’ forwards.

Things only go from bad to worse as you shift your focus to Dowd’s contributions with the puck on his stick. Dowd joined teammate Markus Granlund as one of five NHL forwards that produced less than half a point per hour at five-on-five. The former’s production in the season prior (22 points in 70 games) would suggest he was snakebitten, and while it’s a fair assertion, it’s hard to argue he deserved much of a better fate.

If you’re to look at it from an optimistic point of view, Dowd did show to be an adequate, if unspectacular playmaker in the year prior. Whether this season’s paltry playmaking performance stands as a blip in the radar or a sign of things to come requires a deeper video research — an analysis that goes beyond the scope of this article.

Obviously, Dowd isn’t going to make his living as an offensive catalyst, but he does own many of the redeemable qualities teams look for in a depth centre. For one, he’s decent in the face-off circle — a skill that sees its value amplified on the penalty kill. Given this, it’s no surprise to see that he excels shorthanded.

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Dowd also possesses ideal size (6-foot-2) and handedness(right).

Ultimately, Nic Dowd’s future as an NHL player depends entirely on which season to date is more indicative of his true value. Is he an undisciplined centre who generates virtually zero offence and owns poor underlying numbers, or is he the player of the preceding year in which he tilted the shot clock in the right direction and proved his utility on both sides of the ice?

Either way, Dowd is a cost-effective piece that provides insurance down the middle — a worthwhile investment for a contending team of the Capitals’ nature.

  • TheRealRusty

    One can argue that Dowd and Beagle bring essentially the same qualities to the team. Only thing is one of them is much cheap, much younger and on a shorter term contract.

  • TheRealPB

    “Either way, Dowd is a cost-effective piece that provides insurance down the middle — a worthwhile investment for a contending team of the Capitals’ nature.”

    I am curious how you came to this conclusion since absolutely nothing in your actual article seems to support it at all. The takeaway is that Dowd was a marginal player who had bad luck, was given pretty mediocre line mates, and wasn’t able to seize the opportunity when he did get more playing time. He has been signed as an extra skater or (more likely) AHL depth. I am mostly confused at how you make this statement about him being a cost-effective signing by the Caps if he’s unable to generate offense or function as a decent shutdown C.

    • Harman Dayal

      His performance this season was quite disappointing, but he showed enough in the year prior to suggest he can provide decent depth down the middle if he gets back on track. Given that the Capitals paid nothing but the league-minimum, it’s a worthwhile low-risk gamble. You could do a lot better than Dowd as your 4C/13th forward, but contending teams are usually pinching pennies with depth pieces(and rightfully so when considering that hockey is a strong-link sport).

      • TheRealPB

        OK, that helps — though if you look at the previous year with LA, one could ask whether his stats were inflated by a much stronger bottom six with the Kings than he had with the Canucks. He seems like a perfectly serviceable AHL player, though not much of one at the NHL level. I thought actually you made a pretty good case for why we shouldn’t have players like Dowd (or actually Megna, Shore, Cramarossa, Megna, or Chaput) — tweeners and fourth liners who are worth exactly the low cost (in dollars and/or assets) that it took to bring them here. You’re right, on strong teams like the Capitals they can afford to plug in guys like this to play 6-8 minutes a night when they can roll an Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom or Oshie in their prime. Arguably the Canucks suffered too much in the past three years from having an aging top line, a not-ready-for-prime-time young players, mid-range players that they had to acquire for too much (Sutter, Gudbranson) and who delivered way too little, and then filler that did nothing to help insulate either the younger or older players.