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Mock Arbitration: Tomas Fleischmann

[With Tomas Fleischmann heading to arbitration on July 28 (barring a last-minute deal), we thought it'd be fun to do a little role playing and guess at what that hearing might look like (with some minor procedural liberties taken). Of course, we aren't going to be throwing 40-page presentations at you, so think of it as a thumbnail sketch (we're also going to stick with a one-year deal parameter). J.P. will present the Caps' side, DMG will present the player's side... and you'll make the decision in the comments.]

Capitals Brief

I. Overview

It is beyond debate that Tomas Fleischmann is a skilled hockey player. He has improved his per-game goal and point totals in each of his seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL), registering career highs nearly across the board during the 2009-10 regular season and finishing sixth in goals scored on an offensively potent Washington Capitals team.

Those totals, however, fail to paint a complete picture of the player's season and career-to-date. In 2009-10, Fleischmann benefited from prime ice time (only five Capitals forwards had higher quality linemates at five-on-five), and yet scored fewer points per sixty minutes than teammate Boyd Gordon (a fourth-line center who finished the season with ten points). He was on the ice for more goals against per sixty minutes at five-on-five than any other forward on the team, which is why he ranked only 14th on team in plus-minus. And he had the worst five-on-five penalty plus-minus (penalties drawn minus penalties taken) of any skater who played at least half of the team's games other than John Erskine.

What is more important than aggregate numbers, however, is the trend regarding Fleischmann's durability and conditioning. For the third consecutive season, Fleischmann missed a significant number of games due to injury, and for the third consecutive season, Fleischmann's play tailed off towards the end of the season. In 2009-10, he closed out the regular season with just three goals and one assist in his last 13 games and now has just 15 goals and 27 points in 91 career games from March through May. The results have been predictable - come playoff time, Tomas Fleischmann hasn't been able to contribute, totalling just three goals and two assists in 22 career NHL playoff games (the same point total as fourth-liner Gordon over the same span), highlighted by a healthy scratch in the most important game of the Capitals' 2009-10 season. As the games get more critical, Tomas Fleischmann becomes more invisible.

And while some would seek to present Fleischmann as versatile, it should be noted that he was arguably the team's worst penalty-killing forward (considering his goals against on ice per sixty minutes at four-on-five and the quality of competition and teammates contributing to that number), and his 43.1% face-off winning percentage and lack of defensive responsibility rendered him largely unplayable at center. Fleischmann is versatile to the extent that he can center a line or kill a penalty poorly.

In sum, Fleischmann is a talented forward whose aggregate offensive numbers mask his significant defensive and disciplinary shortcomings and the the fact that he has yet to show that his body can withstand the rigors of an NHL season and still be relied upon when it matters most.

II. Comparables

Below are some of Tomas Fleischmann's career statistics, through 2009-10 (age as used herein is the player's age on February 1 of the given season):

Age GP G A P P/G +/-
Tomas Fleischmann 25 260 56 72 128 0.49 -14

And here are some statistics of like-situated (i.e. comparable) forwards through their platform seasons from recent seasons:

Season Age GP G A P P/G +/- Salary Years
David Perron 2009-10 21 225 48 76 124 0.55 19 2,150,000 2
Tomas Plekanec 2008-09 26 311 78 106 184 0.59 20 2,750,000 1
Christopher Higgins 2008-09 25 282 84 67 151 0.54 -13 2,250,000 1
Kyle Wellwood 2008-09 25 263 49 86 135 0.51 -8 1,200,000 1
Petr Prucha 2008-09 26 256 65 58 123 0.48 -2 1,200,000 2

Perron has just completed his third season in the League and did not have arbitration rights when he signed his two-year deal that will pay him an average of $2.15 million per season. But the now-22-year-old wing had a strikingly similar 2009-10 season to Fleischmann, totaling three fewer goals and one less assist than Fleischmann in similar ice time, albeit for a far less offensively gifted team. Perron has also demonstrated a consistency and durability that Fleischmann has not.

The other side has made public mention of Plekanec as a comparable player, but his platform season was his third consecutive 20-goal campaign, his career-to-platform points-per-game are significantly higher than Fleischmann's (while playing in less-potent offensive systems), and, perhaps most importantly, Plekanec's playoff point production was an improvement over his regular season numbers (quite unlike Fleischmann). Based on consistency and post-season performances, Plekanec's one-year, $2.75 million is quite a bit higher than what Fleischmann can reasonably be expected to earn.

Higgins was a far more prolific goal scorer through his platform year than Fleischmann has been, and had similar assist and plus-minus totals, again on teams that did not score nearly as much as the Capitals have over the past few seasons. Higgins received a one-year, $2.25 million contract following his platform season.

Both Wellwood and Prucha had career-to-platform numbers that compare favorably to Fleischmann's, though both players were not on the same upward trajectory that Fleischmann was entering his platform year. Still, the lack of consistency those players showed through their respective platform years is not wholly dissimilar from that which Fleischmann has shown to date, and each of those players earned contracts paying them $1.2 million per season (Wellwood on a one-year deal, Prucha on a two-year contract). 

III. Summary

Tomas Fleischmann is a complimentary scoring-line NHL left wing, despite attempts to play him elsewhere. His lack of defensive acumen, durability and discipline limit him to that stastistics-inflating role, and until he demonstrates that he can produce the same offensive numbers in the spring that he does in the fall and winter, he simply cannot reasonably command a salary in line with players on whom coaches and teammates rely in key game situations.

Fleischmann has improved as a player in each year of his career, and is fairly due a raise over the $725,000 he made in 2009-10. But he still has plenty of room to improve. The Capitals request a 2010-11 salary of $1,900,000.00.


Fleischmann's Brief

I. Overview

Tomas Fleischmann is a skilled and versatile forward who played a significant role for a President's Trophy-winning team which also dominated in the NHL in nearly all offensive categories. His combination of offensive and defensive ability, coupled with the fact that he is able to play in any role, make him the kind of player any team would be happy to have.

He is a fluid, agile skater, possesses soft hands, and aids his team both by scoring goals and setting up other players. Fleischmann was one of only 77 forwards to have at least 23 goals in the 2009-10 season, and only 90 forwards put up as many points. In short, from an offensive production standpoint, Tomas Fleischmann has shown he can produce like a first line player.

Of course, Fleischmann's talent are not limited to the offensive end.  He is a strong enough defensive player that he was entrusted to play the center position in early January and recorded a plus-five rating for the remainder of the month, and posted a solid plus-nine rating on the year. 

In fact, only 28 players in the NHL had at least 20 goals, 25 assists, and 50 points, and had at least a plus-nine rating last season.  Some are the players you would expect to see on such a list - Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Henrik Sedin - but players who came in at the low end of at least one of the categories include Tomas Vanek, Marian Hossa, and Jason Pominville, all recognized as excellent players themselves. The purpose in pointing this out is not to use these players are direct comparables, but to give an idea of just how rare a game as well rounded as Fleischmann's is.

This versatility was recognized by Fleischmann's coach, Bruce Boudreau, who used Fleischmann not only at all three forward positions, but in all situations.  Fleischmann not only received more than 16 minutes of each ice per game, he also saw an average of 2:32 of power play time and 1:10 of shorthanded time each game, totals exceeded by only one teammate.

What's more impressive is the fact that Fleischmann achieved so much while playing in only 69 games, 15% fewer than a full NHL schedule, and was hampered by the aftereffects of a blood clot he suffered over the summer as the result of blocking a shot in the 2009 postseason. Considering this - and the fact that Fleischmann has increased his points per game each year in the WHL, AHL, and NHL - there's reason to think we have not yet seen the best Fleischmann has to offer.

II. Comparables

Statistics in platform year

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPA SOG PCT Salary Years
Tomas Fleischmann, 09-10 69 23 28 51 9 28 7 13 121 19.0 - -
Ryane Clowe, 08-09 71 22 30 52 8 51 11 13 161 13.7 3,625,000 4
Tuomo Ruutu, 08-09 79 26 28 54 0 79 10 7 190 13.7 3,800,000 3
Wojtek Wolski, 09-10 80 23 42 65 21 27 2 8 195 11.8 3,800,000 2
Jiri Hudler, 08-09 82 23 34 57 7 16 6 22 155 14.8 2,875,000 2
Colby Armstrong, 08-09 82 22 18 40 5 75 3 1 101 14.9 2,400,000 1

Career Statistics through platform year

Age Games G A P P/G +/- PIM
Tomas Fleischmann 26 260 56 72 128 0.49 -14 74
Ryane Clowe 26 162 41 53 94 0.58 9 160
Tuomo Ruutu 26 324 78 95 173 0.53 -30 354
Wojtek Wolski 24 320 79 132 211 0.66 15 87
Jiri Hudler 25 255 52 75 127 0.50 33 90
Colby Armstrong 26 289 63 86 149 0.52 24 256

While we are aware that one-year contracts are preferable when drawing comparisons, we note that few players who are truly comparable to Fleischmann have signed one-year contracts in recent years, and that most players with his ability and experience negotiate multi-year contacts. Thus, though we present a number of players with longer contracts, we recognize the salaries of these players may be higher than a fair one-year contract for Fleischmann. One one-year contract - Colby Armstrong's - is presented for the sake of comparison, though it should be noted that Fleischmann exceeded Armstrong's platform year totals in goals, assists, points, and plus-minus while accumulating fewer penalty minutes.

III. Summary

Tomas Fleischmann is a highly skilled, versatile player capable of playing all three forward positions and in any game situation.  He contributes to his team's success by scoring goals, acting as a playmaker, succeeding at even strength, on the powerplay, and in shorthanded situations, and by giving his coaching staff the option to move other players in to roles they are most comfortable with.  In doing so, Flesichmann also contributes by allowing his teammates to be put in a position where they will be most successful - an important addition that does not show up on the stat sheet.

We believe Fleischmann is a clear-cut, well-rounded, top-six forward in the NHL and that a 2010-11 salary of $3,150,000 would be fair to both player and team.

[Now we turn it over to you, our readers, to play the role of arbitrator. What from the briefs do you find convincing? What don't you buy? Most importantly, how much do you award Tomas Fleischmann?]