Sunday, May 16, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Matt Bradley

Matt Bradley

Theme: “The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.”

-- Theodore Roosevelt

Matt Bradley might not be the greatest fighter in the NHL; he might not be the biggest hitter. But if you’ve ever watched “Band of Brothers” or “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Pacific,” he’s the guy in the foxhole or the beachhead the other guys want by their side, because he’s going to be the guy who will lay all he has on the line for his teammates.

The bonus for Bradley this year is not that he won a fight, if was that he set a personal best for goals scored (ten), assists (14), points (24), and game-winning goals (five). In fact, the game-winning goal total put Bradley in the top 25 in the league in that measure and was a greater number than such as: Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, Mike Cammalleri, Pavel Datsyuk, Bobby Ryan, Mike Richards, and Jonathan Toews, among others. In fact, five of the last seven goals Bradley scored this season were of the game-winning variety.

Bradley’s tens suggested he was going to have a sluggish finish, but he did ramp it up over his last five games with a pair of goals (both game-winners) to get that career high…

Bradley wasn’t saving himself for the tamata cans of the league, either. In 37 games against teams that would make the playoffs, he was 6-7-13, plus-5. The mystery was how he came to be 0-0-0, minus-6 in 11 games against the Islanders, Maple Leafs, and Lightning.

Bradley also had a strange split in this regard – he was 5-7-12 in 39 home games and 5-7-12 in 38 road games. He difference was that while he was a plus-9 on the road, he finished a minus-3 at Verizon Center. And, he was an “every other day” sort of player… 10-10-20, plus-13 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and 0-4-4, minus-7 on the other four days of the week.

Perhaps the oddest number in Bradley’s season is this –12. Although Bradley had a respectable 47 minutes in penalties this season, only 12 were earned as minor penalties, and one of those infractions was an instigator penalty that he earned when he stepped between Alex Ovechkin and Steve Downie in a game against Tampa Bay on January 12th. Otherwise, his minor penalty rap sheet looks like this: holding, high-sticking, slashing, and a pair of tripping calls. When he took two minors in a three-game stretch in mid-March, it was the Bradley equivalent of a crime spree. Certainly an unexpected result for one whose game is predicated on creating a certain level of havoc. That is, until one realizes that it is not out of the ordinary… Bradley took seven minors in 2008-2009, 12 in 2007-2008, and six in 2006-2007.

One of the things that got some play on Twitter this season among Caps fans was the whole #needsmorebradley theme. Well, maybe there was something to that, at least in the playoffs. Game 1-3, Bradley averaged 12:14 of ice time and was 1-2-3. The Caps were up 3-1 in games. In Games 5-7 Bradley averaged 8:24 in ice time, went without a point, and the Caps lost all three games. Just sayin’…

Bradley is one of only seven roster forwards under contract for next season (although that likely becomes eight when the Backstrom deal is announced later today). He and Jason Chimera are probably the only roster forwards coming back next season who can provide a measure of grit to their game that will make opponents uncomfortable. Bradley plays physically (fifth on the club in hits despite barely 11 minutes a game), plays within the rules, plays responsibly (a takeaway/giveaway ratio of 3.4:1), and pots the timely goal. His $1.0 million deal looks like something of a bargain heading into next year. He might need the money after losing this gig…

Grade: B

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “Loyal and efficient work in a great cause, even though it may not be immediately recognized, ultimately bears fruit.”

-- Jawaharlal Nehru

There is, perhaps, no more efficient goal scorer in all the NHL than Eric Fehr. Fehr finished the season with 21 goals. Of the 86 players who finished ahead of him in the goal-scoring standings, none had less average time-on-ice than Fehr (12:07), and the closest to him in that regard – Tampa’s Steve Downie and Dallas’ Jamie Benn – skated an average of 14:42 a game.

All in all, not bad for a player who had both shoulders operated on over the off-season (he missed the first four games of the season while completing his rehab), then missed time early on when he sustained a rib injury. He ended up missing ten of the season’s first 16 games. But after that he had a solid season, at least by looking at his ten-game segments…

Fehr’s problem was not so much production as much as it was getting time to produce. Only once in his first ten games – his tenth game – did he get as much as 15 minutes of ice time. It did not get better. Only five times in 69 games did he skate more than 15 minutes, only once in his last 50 games.  He had three goals in the five games.

He had a slightly higher goal-scoring pace against Eastern Conference playoff teams than he had against the rest of the league, potting eight pucks in 23 games against the other top-eight teams in the East. Perhaps ironically, Fehr managed to score goals in three of the four games he played against Montreal, four goals in all (he actually played fewer minutes against the Canadiens – 11:24 a game – than his season average).

Despite the limited minutes, Fehr did find himself in the rarified air of the elite rankings in one respect. At 5-on-5, on a goals scored per 60 minute basis, he trailed only Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Sidney Crosby among NHL forwards who played in at least 60 games. And here is an odd statistic – Fehr averaged more assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (1.25) than did Pavel Datsyuk (1.23), Ray Whitney (1.23), and Saku Koivu (1.17). And, he had a better plus/minus differential, on ice to off ice (+0.47), than Danny Briere (+0.44), Patrick Kane (+0.42), Anze Kopitar (+0.42), and Dany Heatley (+0.27), among others (according to

Fehr did find himself atop the rankings of all Caps in one area, though, regardless of games played or time on ice received (at least among those who were with the club all season). His ratio of takeaways-to-giveaways (4.33:1) was better than any Cap in 2009-2010. He was seventh on the club in takeaways (39) and had fewer giveaways (nine) than 19 other Caps.

Fehr also had an ability to get shots to the net accurately. Of the nine Caps who recorded at least 100 shots on goal, Fehr had the third best (lowest) percentage of missed shots to shots on goal (37 percent; only Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich were better).

There was one think Fehr was not called upon to do, and that was to kill penalties. No Cap skater who played more than 21 games recorded less overall time on ice on the penalty kill (a total of 34 seconds for the season in 69 games). It really isn’t even close – Alex Ovechkin recorded the next lowest figure, 4:14 of total PK time.

The playoffs were the bitter and the sweet for Fehr. Despite recording only 11:24 a game in ice time, he finished third in total goals scored. Unfortunately, third-best on the Caps this year would be three goals in seven games (Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each had five). It is arguable that only one of the three goals he scored was consequential. One came in a Game 6 loss (in which the Caps launched 54 shots at goalie Jaroslav Halak and had only Fehr’s goal to show for it with 4:50 left in the game and the Habs with a 3-0 lead), another came as a goal that gave the Caps a 3-0 lead on their way to a 5-1 win in Game 3. He did notch the first Caps goal in the 6-5 overtime win in Game 2. After skating 18 minutes in the series opener, he averaged barely ten minutes of ice time per game for the rest of the series.

Fehr is another of those restricted free agents this summer – the Caps have six in all in addition to seven unrestricted free agents. He, like Tomas Fleischmann, is coming off a cap-friendly contract ($771,750 in cap hit this past season). Fehr and Fleischmann have been fighting for more or less the same roster spot – scoring winger on one of the top two lines – ever since they joined the organization. Given how the Caps seem likely to deploy next season, with the Alexes on the left side of the top two lines and Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich on the other side of those lines, they will be fighting for what might be ice time on a third line that would be another scoring line. Fleischmann has been afforded every opportunity to secure that position, dating back to when he was given a top line assignment in the season opener in the 2007-2008 season under coach Glen Hanlon. Fehr has had a more difficult time getting meaningful minutes and dealing with the occasional gaffe that puts him in the coaches’ doghouse.

But Fehr remains an extremely efficient goal scorer who can play passable defense at 5-on-5. One wonders what he could do with, say, 16-18 minutes a game instead of 12. Were he to remain as efficient a goal scorer (not to mention getting the opportunity to play with better teammates), he could become a reliable 30-goal scorer. It certainly would not be inconsistent with his past – twice a 50-goal scorer in Canadian juniors and 47 goals in 110 games (a 34-goals-per-season pace) in Hershey. Whether his efficiency ultimately bears fruit in Washington or with another team is one of the things to be watching as the summer unfolds and training camp begins next season.

Grade: B

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Tomas Fleischmann

Tomas Fleischmann

Theme: “An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise”

If you looked at a stat line for a 25-year old winger that said 23-28-51, plus-9, with seven power play goals and four game-winners in 69 games, you might think you had a budding star on your hands. And if you looked at that same player and saw a progression in goals scored over four years of: four, ten, 19, 23, you would think that this was a potential 30-goal/70-point player.

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 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.

Grade: C-