Theme: “An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise”
Meet Tomas Fleischmann.
It is something of a deceiving line in several respects, but we’ll get to that. First, Fleischmann almost didn’t have a season of hockey this year. He almost didn’t have a career. And it likely came about as a product of things that he isn’t known for or, as it turns out, perhaps given credit for. Fleischmann was diagnosed with deep-vein thrombosis in his left leg after the Caps were eliminated by the Penguins. It was attributed to “the combination of blocking shots in the playoffs against Pittsburgh and the long flight, sitting on one spot,” according to Fleischmann. The odd part of this is that Fleischmann, at least officially, was credited with no blocked shots in 14 playoff games in 2009 (a reflection of the somewhat arbitrariness or lack of accuracy in keeping certain statistics). Deep-vein thrombosis, though, is a serious matter, whatever the cause, and it cost Fleischmann all of training camp (he was unable to practice due to the medication he was taking) and the first 11 games of the season.
Once given clearance to play, Fleischmann was fast out of the gate, going 7-4-11 in his first ten games. And here is the first instance of his overall line being somewhat deceiving. Fleischmann scored seven of his 23 goals in the first nine games he played this season, 16 in the last 60 (no more than four in any ten-game segment). Here is the way his ten-game segments played out overall…
Fleischmann had a respectable record against playoff teams in the East. In 23 game against the other seven teams making the playoffs, he was 8-8-16, plus-4. Against all playoff teams he was 10-9-19, plus-4, in 30 games. But, again, the overall numbers are somewhat deceiving. He recorded only four goals in 17 games against playoff teams in the 2010 portion of the season.
On special teams, Fleischmann had seven power play goals on the season, but three of those came in those first nine games, four in his last 60 contests, one in his last 33. Fleischmann did not lack for power play ice time; he was fifth among forwards in average power play ice time (more ice time, for example, than Mike Knuble). See a pattern here?
All of that speaks to his offense, which was somewhat uneven. However, his defense was almost uniformly poor. Among Caps’ forwards playing at least 60 games (a group of 12), Fleischmann had the worst – by far – goals against on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (according to behindthenet.ca). Only Matt Bradley and David Steckel – checking forwards both – had a worse plus-minus differential per 60 minutes, on and off the ice (minus-1.24 and minus-0.96, respectively), than did Fleischmann (minus-0.80).
Was the slow finish a product of Fleischmann’s medical situation last summer and his missing training camp? Did he run out of gas over the last 30 games (6-12-18)? Well, the playoffs would suggest that perhaps something was wrong. In six games, he managed only a single assist and only eight shots on goal while averaging almost 13 and a half minutes of ice time. He was given a seat in the press box for Game 7 of the Montreal series.
But was this year’s playoff performance all that unusual? Fleischman has appeared in 22 career playoff games in which he is 3-2-5, minus-3, and has only 31 shots on goal. His performance is actually worse in this respect. Two of those goals have come in the opening game of a series (Game 1 of each series played in 2009, against the Rangers and the Penguins). One goal in 18 games after the opener in four career playoff series. You cannot make the argument that Fleischmann has been a clutch performer in the post-season.
The questions going forward concerning Fleischmann number more than you might like to have to answer for a player who has more than 250 games of NHL experience and is in a restricted free agency year. Can he finish as strongly as he starts? Can he eventually play passable defense? Will he show up when the games really matter? In the present, those questions have to be answered in the negative, but they are not a final judgment on his promise as a player. One has to wonder though, if he is still – at least in the eyes of the coaching staff – still living on the reputation he earned in the 2006 Calder Cup tournament, when he was 11-21-32, plus-14 in 20 games for the Hershey Bears. But even in that instance, it bears noting that Fleischmann did not register a goal in the last four games of the finals (he did have four assists) as the Bears took home the Calder Cup.
At the moment, Fleischmann is a one-dimensional player. If he isn’t scoring, he doesn’t have other weapons in his arsenal with which to make a contribution. And even as far as his offense goes, he has tended to fade late in to the season and the playoffs. It is difficult to see clearly what his role is on the Caps going forward if he doesn’t provide more consistency on offense, improves his defense, and doesn’t fade into the background in the playoffs. He has the skill of a top-six forward, but he cannot at this point be a front-runner for such a spot on the club that will likely skate next year. With the Alexes, Mike Knuble, and Brooks Laich occupying the top-four winger spots, the Caps would have to use a third line as a scoring line for Fleischmann to have some clarity for his role. Despite a number of opportunities to get a top-six spot as a center, he showed himself lacking the rounded sort of game that the position requires.
He had a cap-friendly contract this past season, and if he could be signed to a similarly cap-friendly deal, it would seem likely that he will return. He also provides something of an insurance policy in the event Alexander Semin is not re-signed after next season. But does that outweigh his disappointing finishes in the last two seasons, and do the Caps have any more patience to see if his promise – not to mention other skills he needs to develop – is fulfilled.