Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Tomas Fleischmann

Tomas Fleischmann

Theme: “Suspense is worse than disappointment.”

Leave it to a Scot to provide the theme for a Czech, but Robert Burns gives us both sides of the coin with respect to Tomas Fleischmann. If you look passively at his line for the season – 19-18-37, -3 in 73 games – you might be inclined to think, “not bad for a 24-year old (he turned 25 two weeks ago) with less than 120 games of experience coming into the season.” In fact, he beat our projection for the year.

However, his season fades somewhat as one starts drilling into his numbers. First, his season by the tens suggests early success and late changes…

In fact, his season does seem to break cleanly into halves. In the first half, Fleischmann played in 32 games and went 12-7-19. He looked as if he’d add his name to the 30-goal scorers that Caps employ. But along with the scoring, Fleischmann was a -11 in those 32 games. Worse, he was a minus player in 14 of those 32 games. It was mixed fruit in terms of results.

In the second half, Fleischmann skated in all 41 games, and his plus-minus improved to +8. But his scoring fell off to 7-11-18. And, if one further decomposes the last half, he was 4-8-12, +13 in the first half of that and 3-3-6, -5 in the latter half. That latter half of games in the second half saw a 14-game streak in which Fleischmann failed to register a point. The slide continued into the playoffs, where Fleischman was 3-1-4, even, in 14 games.

It was not a strong finish.

If one digs even further into Fleischmann’s numbers, one finds… a mess. Scoring? He was fifth among Capitals forwards (minimum: 50 games) in five-on-five points-per-60 minutes. It’s what you’d want from a “top six” forward. But… he was third worst among forwards in goals scored against at five-on-five per 60 minutes. He was second in quality of competition (source: But… he was eighth in Corsi rating, ahead of only the checkers and Brooks Laich.

There are also certain mysteries about Fleischmann’s numbers, and they have to do with special teams. Fleischmann was fifth among forwards in penalty killing ice time per game. One might be forgiven for wondering, “why?” Among Caps forwards playing at least 50 games, he had the third worst goals scored against per 60 minutes total. And given that Michael Nylander and Donald Brashear (the two guys he beat out) skated a total of 1:53 shorthanded all season, well…

The power play isn’t as much a mystery as it is a bit of a head-scratcher. Fleischmann was seventh on the team in average ice time on the power play. He was also seventh on the team in points scored per 60 minutes on the power play. He had a total of two power play points (both goals) in the second half of the year, whereas he had eight (5-3-8) in the first half (32 games played).

The good news, though, is that in just about every respect, Fleischmann improved on his career-best numbers to date. He went from 10 to 19 goals, from 30 to 37 points, bettered his plus-minus from minus-6 (in 2006-2007, but in only 29 games) to minus-3, increased his power play goals from one to seven, increased his game-winning goals from one to four, improved his shooting percentage from 9.3 percent to 14.5 percent, improved his takeaway/giveaway ratio from 1.38 to 1.56.

But while there were statistical improvements, there was a somewhat disturbing aspect to his numbers. He was 12-10-22 in 41 wins for which he dressed, and he was 7-8-15 in 32 losses. While he did score more in wins, it isn’t that large a spread (by way of comparison, to pick a player at random, Viktor Kozlov was 11-21-32 in 43 wins, 2-7-9 in 24 losses). It suggests that Fleischmann wasn’t all that much of a difference maker in terms of his scoring contributing to wins. There are factors that could influence that, such as ice time, participation on special teams, etc. It’s worth noting, too, that the Caps were 9-0-0 in games Fleischmann missed. That’s not the sort of difference-making the Caps or their fans would like to see.

The improvements in Fleischmann’s numbers are indicative of a player who still has upside, and the suspense is in finding out just how much of it there is. But there is also a sense that the season, especially the last 35 games or so (including the playoffs) was a disappointment. Those numbers suggest a player who was running out of gas. Fleischmann might be deemed a bargain at $725,000, but he’s also been given a lot of chances to grab a top-six spot. His numbers to date, including those this year, aren’t at that level of production – his scoring numbers were roughly equivalent among forwards with Dallas’ James Neal and Pittsburgh’s Miroslav Satan. If Fleischmann can cobble together a season that reflected the pace he set in the first half – it would have projected to 32-17-49 – he would be a fairly good complement to the forward lines. But he is also a skill winger on a club with two world-class wingers on its roster. Is Fleischmann one-too-many for his level of production? We’ll see. For this year, though…

Grade: C

Calder Cup Final - Game 1: Hershey Bears 5 - Manitoba Moose 4 (OT)

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The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “…in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”

Somewhere in there, there is a goal scorer. Somewhere in there, there is a player who has hands soft enough to gather up passes and quick enough to snap off wrist shots that leave goalies picking pucks from the back of their nets. Caps fans got a glimpse of that with Eric Fehr this year, but only a glimpse. Whether it was a product of ice time (or the lack of it) or failure to grab opportunity by the throat when he did get ice time, Fehr netted only 12 goals in this, his first “full” season with the Caps.

But his ten-game segments are somewhat revealing in a promising sort of way…

Fehr potted nine goals in his last 32 games, a 23-goal pace over 82 games. That’s not bad for a guy who only once in those last 32 games played as many as 15 minutes in a game and who averaged only 11:30 a game in that stretch. Most of that output was earned in games 51-60 (the sixth ten-game segment), when Fehr went 6-4-10, +7. It wasn’t as if he skated a lot more – he averaged 12 minutes a game over those ten games. But, Fehr shot the puck more. He had, by far, his highest shot total of any ten-game segment (29) and his best shooting percentage (20.7 percent).

The statistics are, as they often can be, misleading. Fehr feasted on the Southeast Division this year, going 8-1-9, +5 in 20 games against the weak sisters of the division. Against everyone else, he was 4-12-16, +3 in 41 games. He did not have a goal against a Western Conference opponent in ten games.

On the other hand, Fehr had some rather surprising numbers. Among Caps forwards playing in at least 50 games…

- He had the second best Corsi rating (behind only Sergei Fedorov)

- He was third in goals scored per 60 minutes (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin)

- He was fourth in total assists per 60 minutes (Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, Semin, Michael Nylander)

- He led the team in penalties drawn per 60 minutes and tied Brooks Laich for penalties drawn/penalties taken per 60 minutes differential.

- He did this without the benefit of top-end teammates. In the five-on-five quality of teammate measure, only David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Donald Brashear had lower numbers, a reflection of those four being checking/energy line forwards.

There is a “what happened?” aspect to Fehr’s game this year, and it is reflected in the playoffs. Fehr averaged only 11:14 of ice time for the year, but come the playoffs, it was cut further. In eight full games (he was hurt in game two against the Penguins and did not appear for the rest of that series), Fehr averaged barely eight minutes of ice time a game and only once topped ten minutes (a 4-0 Game 5 win over the Rangers). It is little wonder that his numbers sank to nothing – no points and minus-3 for his playoffs. He netted only 10 shots on goal, none after Game 6 of the Ranger series.

Fehr is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent this summer. With the Caps losing perhaps as many as three forwards – Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, and Donald Brashear – to Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, there will be room on the team heading into the 2009-2010 season. There will be opportunity to grab a fistful of ice time, and the Caps certainly need a bigger forward who can find the back of the net and play responsibly (Fehr has never been a “minus” player in the NHL in parts of four seasons). Fehr scored 146 goals in 275 games with Brandon in Canadian juniors. He netted 50 goals in 161 games with Hershey in the AHL. He’s demonstrated he can be a goal scorer, even in the NHL in limited time.

What he hasn’t demonstrated is an ability to stay healthy or to score goals on a consistent basis, despite the lack of ice time. We have to think the club will qualify Fehr for next season. Although we’ve been waiting for that player who scored 50 or more goals in consecutive seasons in Brandon to appear here, it might be that his time is about to arrive, even if he’ll never be a 50-goal scorer in the NHL. We’ve been waiting for Godot long enough. He has to show up… now.

Grade: B-

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Chris Clark

Chris Clark

Theme: “…regards to Captain Dunsel”

Chris Clark is the kind of player any team with Stanley Cup aspirations has – needs to have – on its team. He hits, he checks, he forechecks, he stands up for teammates, he pays a price to make a play, he doesn’t take a shift off. He’s also missed 114 games the past two seasons, 50 of them this year (plus six of 14 in the playoffs). For the team captain, that has to be agonizing, doubly so for a player with Clark’s work ethic.

But while Clark was dressing for only 32 games this year, the Caps were setting a franchise record for standings points, tied a team record for wins, and finished third in scoring. Clark’s having scored 50 goals over 152 games in his first two seasons with the club looks like a distant memory. What’s more, Clark’s presence in the lineup this year was something of a drag on the club. In his 32 games, the Caps were 17-15 (losses including those in extra time). His ten-game splits lack any sense of continuity…

We didn’t think Clark would come all the way back from his career years in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. But we couldn’t have foreseen his having another season that looked hauntingly like last one. In this nightmare of a season…

- Clark returned from his injury plagued 2007-2008 season to play in 20 of the Caps’ first 21 games. But he was only 0-3-3, -5 in those games, then missed 14 games with a fractured forearm.

- Clark scored his only goal on New Year’s Day, in the midst of a stretch in which he played in 12 of 14 games.

- Then, he finally succumbed to a problem he’d had since training camp – a torn tendon sheath in his wrist that required surgery and put him on the shelf for the last 33 games of the regular season.

It all ended up reflected in his final numbers – second worst among forwards (minimum 30 games) in his Corsi rating, second worst in goals scored per 60 minutes, worst in primary assists per 60 minutes, second worst in goals scored for the Caps per 60 minutes of ice time, second worst in penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice time (although he was second best in drawing them). In 2006-2007, when Clark was on his way to a 30-goal season, he skated less than 15 minutes in only four of 74 games. This past year, he skated more than 15 minutes only four times in 32 games and only once after October 23rd.

And perhaps most disturbing, in the last 23 games in which he skated this season, he accumulated 30 minutes in penalties (10 minors, two five-minute majors). In was a trend that emerged in his injury-stunted 2007-2008 season (43 PIMs in 18 games). That might have been “cheating” of a sort as a product of the injuries through which he was trying to play. But discipline has been a problem for these Caps for two years, and the Captain being a part of that is not the sort of “lead by example” the team needs, either.

And what had to be especially frustrating for Clark and the Caps was that on both occasions he went on the shelf for long stretches, he appeared to be coming out of his points-scored funk, if not his goal scoring drought. He had assists in consecutive games on November 19th and 20th against Anaheim and Los Angeles before going down to injury two games later. Then, he had consecutive games with assists once more on January 20th and 27th against Ottawa and Boston before going down for the remainder of the regular season after the Boston game.

Clark has two more seasons on a contract that will pay him $2.633 million a year. At age 33, one wonders if the injuries haven’t taken a disproportionate toll on his game, which relies on toughness and a grinding style. He was getting the ice time of a fourth liner at the time he went down to injury, which really is no place for the captain. He has shown an ability to be opportunistic, evidenced by his netting those 50 goals in two seasons playing the opposite wing from Alex Ovechkin. Whether he can regain his health to be something approaching that player next year will go a long way to determining how far the Caps go. For now, though, you don’t want to downgrade a player because of his injury absences, but this wasn’t the Chris Clark Caps fans had become accustomed to when he was playing, either. Has his absence and lack of production the last two years turned him into "Captain Dunsel?" Hopefully, he can heal this off season and put the bad taste of the last two years out of his memory.

Grade: C-

stats from

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Donald Brashear

Donald Brashear

Theme: “a distinction without a difference”

The Caps were 37-26 (losses including extra time defeats) with Donald Brashear in the lineup this past season. They were 13-6 in his absence. This is not the result one might be looking for in a difference maker. Looking at his ten-game segments, he registered at least ten penalty minutes in six of seven segments (he did not play in the last 14 games of the regular season), was a minus player in five of seven segments, did not register a point in the last 50 games of the regular season after December 16th, and scored his only goal on December 4th…

The 2008-2009 season represented Brashear’s lowest goal total (one) since failing to register a single tally in the 1995-1996 season. It was his lowest point total since that same 1995-1996 season. Among players appearing in at least ten games he was worst on the club in minutes played per minor penalty taken (23.6). Compare that to a Matt Bradley – who had two fewer fighting majors – who skated for more than 122 minutes per minor penalty taken (fifth best among players appearing in at least ten games).

With respect to enforcement duties, Brashear played in ten games in which he earned a fighting major (he had two in a December 20th game against the Flyers). The Caps were 5-3-2 in those games. More to the point is where those penalties came in those games:

Oct. 10 (vs. ATL): 19:40, 3rd period. The Caps were already trailing Atlanta, 7-4, and would lose by that score.

Oct. 25 (vs. DAL): 15:59, 2nd period. This penalty came immediately after the faceoff following a Dallas Stars goal that made the score 4-3. There would be no more scoring in that second period. The teams traded a pair of goals each, the last being Alexander Semin’s game-winner in overtime in a 6-5 win.

Nov. 6 (vs. CAR): 16:45, 1st period. Carolina scored early in the first to take a 1-0 lead. This lead would hold up until this infraction and through the period. The Caps would score early in the second to tie the game, but Carolina would regain the lead later in the period. The Caps scored twice late in the third period to win, 3-2.

Nov 19 (vs. ANA): 2:46, 2nd period. This was another of the “ensuing faceoff” variety, coming just after Washington scored to make the score 4-2. The Caps would score once more in the period (at 17:48), then score the next goal mid-way through the third period to take a 6-2 lead. They would go on to win, 6-4.

Nov. 22 (vs. SJS): 3:24, 1st period. If one of the reasons for fisticuffs is to grab momentum or give your team a charge, this didn’t so it. San Jose scored three goals after this in the first period and never looked back in a 7-2 win.

Dec. 20 (vs. PHL): 7:38, 1st period; 12:03, 3rd period. The first battle of two battles in this one – both against the Flyers’ Riley Cote – came with the Flyers already ahead, 1-0. It was lost in a 25-shot barrage the Caps leveled at Flyer goalie Antero Niittymaki. The second scrap might have been of the “frustration” variety, the Flyers having built a 6-1 lead by the time Brashear and Cote went at it again. The Flyers won, 7-1.

Jan. 27 (vs. BOS): 9:39, 3rd period. Brashear was the opponent for Byron Bitz’ first NHL fight in what was at the time a 2-2 game in Boston. It didn’t seem especially important to the result, as the teams went to an overtime before the Bruins came out on top, 3-2.

Feb. 11 (vs. NYR): 2:43, 1st period. This was one of your odd ones. Brashear had just gone off after a three-second shift in a scoreless game, then came right back on to take on Colton Orr. One could say he squared off on his first shift. Then, Matt Bradley did the same thing three seconds later, taking on Aaron Voros. Neither bout seemed especially influential on the flow of the play, although the Caps did take a 2-1 lead into the locker room after one period. The Rangers won, though, in a Gimmick, 5-4.

Feb. 26 (vs. ATL): 2:52, 2nd period. This was one of those bouts that seems to have had an unintended effect. Coming when it did, with the Caps nursing a 2-1 lead in the second period, it might have given the Atlanta Thrashers some life (or maybe not). The Thrashers scored just over a minute later. But the Caps had the last laugh in a 4-3 win.

Mar. 10 (vs. NAS): 12:27, 1st period. In what would be, by contemporary standards, a fight-marred game (there would be three bouts in this game against Nashville), Brashear got things started against Wade Belak. It would be his last moment on the ice for the regular season, as he sprained a knee in this fight. Matt Bradley would face Jordin Tootoo three seconds after this fight, and John Erskine would give Wade Belak another shot at a Capital 4:18 into the second. None of this seemed to have any influence in the outcome, a 2-1 overtime win for the Caps.

Looking at the fights, they look like a window into the past. No fewer than six of the 11 were against fellow enforcers or guys accustomed to dropping the gloves (Jody Shelley, George Parros, Riley Cote (twice), Colton Orr, Eric Boulton). None appear to have really had an impact on the decision. It calls into question just what Brashear’s role is – or might be – on this team. His hockey skills seemed to have diminished considerably. His enforcement role seems to have little demonstrable effect on outcomes. He was worst on the team (minimum: 60 games) in penalties taken per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The Caps were not, at least looking at their record, a better team with Brashear on the ice. Even with the six-game suspension in the playoffs, he didn’t appear to have merited a sweater, given that the Caps could have used some more defense and some more offense from the lower half of the forward lines.

The Caps are a club that lacks a measure of grit. But grit should not be confused with inconsequential side shows that too many fights in the NHL have become. Brashear’s trading fists with others of his type just don’t appear to have much influence on the game anymore. That certainly seemed to be the case this year, and while he gives every indication of being a fine teammate, and will hit and forecheck, Brashear’s other skills did not translate into very much production, either in his own statistics or the team’s win-loss record.

Grade: C-