Sunday, September 12, 2010

30 Caps in 30 Days: Tomas Fleischmann

During the thirty days of September, I'll be trying to preview the seasons of thirty players currently under contract with the Washington Capitals and who have a good chance of spending some time in red, white, and blue this season. Advanced stats are given from ranked against other players at the same position--forward, defense, or goalie--in the same organization, at 5-on-5, unless otherwise noted. Age is on opening night, and linemates are only those listed at 10% or greater. Today, Tomas Fleischman)
(Photo courtesy Caps Snaps)

Tomas Fleischmann: age 26, 6'1", 190 pounds, shoots left.
Contract: $2.6 million, UFA in 2011, per Capgeek.
2009-2010 linemates: 23% Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin
2010 playoff linemates: 28% Eric Belanger and Alexander Semin, 19% Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin

2009-2010 raw stats:
NHL: 69 GP, 23-28-51, +9, 121 shots, 28 PIM
Playoffs: 6 GP, 0-1-1, -1, 8 shots, 6 PIM
AHL: 2 GP, 0-1-1, -2, 6 shots, 0 PIM

2009-2010 advanced stats: 13th (fifth-to-last) in Corsi QoC, 5th in Corsi Rel QoC, 5th in Corsi QoT, and 6th in Corsi Rel QoT. Zonestart 50.0% offensive zone (eleventh) with Zonefinish 48.3% offensive zone (thirteenth).
2010 playoffs advanced stats: 5th in Corsi QoC, 3rd in Corsi Rel QoC, 5th in Corsi QoT, and 4th in Corsi Rel QoT.

WOWY (yellow is how much better the player is with Fleischmann, green how much better Fleischmann is with the player):

Back in 2004, after the Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin, I used to pretend that a Caps' top line of Ovechkin, Jeff Halpern, and recently-acquired Tomas Fleischmann would tear up the NHL (especially the Lightning, since the 2003 ECQF loss was still fresh on my mind). I was mildly surprised when I failed to notice Fleischmann for the first two years after the lockout, but in 2008 he became an impact player. He remains an impact player, for better or for worse.

Fleischmann's skill is undeniable. In the AHL, he scored better than a point-per-game during his best years, winning a Calder Cup in Hershey (and under Bruce Boudreau) in 2006. Boudreau, maybe because of this, gives Fleischmann a "long leash" in the NHL. He has called Fleischmann his "Ovechkin of the AHL," in fact, and repeatedly decides to give this "Ovechkin" chance after chance to perform at the NHL level. In fairness to Fleischmann, he has performed strongly over the fall and early winter. By the time spring rolls around, though, Fleischmann is a shadow of what he was previously. I can count Fleischmann's goals of note from March onward in the past three years on my index and middle fingers. For a player that looks to score on average every four games, and having played about 60 March/April/May games over that time, that is unacceptable.

If Fleischmann is scoring at a low rate later in the season, then he must be scoring at a higher rate earlier in the season. This is a noticeable trend in Fleischmann's game. In 2009-2010, through about half the season, Fleischmann was scoring goals at a full-season rate around 35. I'm not sure whether this strong-start-weak-finish, visible over the last two or three seasons, is just coincidence or reality. I'd guess his Corsi is a bit better earlier on in the season, before he seems to wear down and get scratched in Game 7s--and if you're above six feet tall but under 200 pounds and a hockey player but not a goalie like Ryan Miller, you'd best be putting on some muscle, methinks. It really is intuitive that Fleischmann would wear down. The question is whether he will again after having likely worked on his strength some more this offseason.

Fleischmann has been mentioned in trade rumors by the Alberta and British Columbia press as possibly being part of a trade the Capitals are negotiating; presumably, Fleischmann would head to, say, Vancouver for Kevin Bieksa, or Edmonton for Sheldon Souray, and after that the Belanger signing would become official. I think a Fleischmann trade is unlikely at this point, since a) Vancouver needs Bieksa now that the team found out Sami Salo will be spending a few more months on LTIR, and b) I don't think McPhee is silly enough to trade for Souray. These are the possible scenarios I see:

Fleischmann starts hot--this either makes pending UFA Fleischmann a hot commodity for trade, or causes the Caps to hope he'll play well late in the season too and hang onto him.

Fleischmann starts cold--Fleischmann's trade value gets very low and the Capitals can't get good value for him.

Either way, McPhee will have tough choices to make this season regarding his scoring depth. I'd just like to throw out there that
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble, Semin-Belanger-Fehr, Chimera-Gordon-Laich, King-Steckel-Bradley is a lineup that doesn't miss Tomas Fleischmann. He's good, but now that he's ceased to be a terrific bargain--his salary was $725k prior to this season--he's expendable. The Capitals need to do what will help the team most come the playoffs (I can't see the team missing the playoffs bar a rash of freak injuries to all the Young Guns) and having such a weak Corsi player, I think, is not the way to go. Fleischmann just doesn't have a good spot on this roster--he's not good enough for the top line, Semin suffers when Fleischmann is on the second (and Fleischmann isn't a responsible-enough player defensively to be a center), Fleischmann doesn't have too much scoring talent around him on the third line, and isn't responsible enough defensively to hold his own as part of the fourth. And we didn't even look at his crazy shooting percentage, his good and undeserved quality of teammates (as compared to, say, Eric Fehr), his top-unit power play time, or his sheltered minutes yet. Other teams try to get their top line out against Fleischmann, and we know Boudreau would too.

Projection: 73 GP, 21 goals, 43 points, +5, with most of the points coming early in the season as Fleischmann looks to have the inside track to start at second-line center on opening night, and none of those games played after April 11.

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