Washington Capitals: The Fleischmann Dilemma
During this offseason the Capitals have been unsurprisingly (at least I’m not surprised) inactive. All the restricted free agents have now been signed, but other than that, the only notable move in Washington was acquiring enforcer D.J. King from the St. Louis Blues. News did break a couple of weeks ago that Eric Belanger had a one-year, $1.85 million, deal in place with the Caps and was it would be announced after a trade was made. The obvious conclusion was that Thomas Fleischmann, the odd-man out on the roster, would be traded, most likely bringing in a top-line defenseman. But it’s been over three weeks now since that news was reported and still no announcement. What happened? Nobody seems to know. Perhaps a deal fell through, perhaps those involved were, like so many expected may be the case with some organisations, waiting for the news-dominating Ilya Kovalchuk saga to be over. But, like I say, still no announcement.
But this led me to think what options the Caps’ have regarding Thomas Fleischmann. The 26-year-old Czech forward was this summer signed to a one-year contract extension for $2.6million, avoiding arbitration by just one day. The problem the coaching staff has is fitting him in the team. Flash is too good to be playing on the third or fourth line, but he doesn’t fit in the top two lines. The top line combo of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble was settled on mid-way through last season and will stay that way at least for the start of this season. Brooks Laich has proven his worth as second line left winger, and Alex Semin is, of course, not going to be dropping out of the top six any time soon. This leaves the second line centerman spot. However, Fleischmann isn’t reliable enough at center. He was given a chance to fill that role last season when Brendan Morrison slumped, but was terrible at face-offs and was nowhere near his best, failing to give good enough chances to the explosive Semin. So, it appears, the Caps management have decided to go with youth in the position, with either Mathieu Perreault or Marcus Johansson slotting in on the second line next season. And even if he were to drop further down the line-up, the only position left is at third line center, where Flash would once again struggle. So there isn’t really a place for Fleischmann on the roster.
Trading Fleischmann is obviously the best option for the organisation; however this could also be problematic. Defense is, of course, the Caps’ main area to improve. However making a trade for a good defensive d-man who will fit in the team, and under the cap, whilst not giving up vital players in the organisation will be tough. The Capitals currently have around $5.3million in cap space, with two roster spaces remaining. Taking out Fleishmann’s salary, and adding those of Eric Belanger and Marcus Johansson, who I expect will fill the positions at second and third line pivot, leaves around $5.2million to play with. However, George McPhee is known to like to leave a couple of million dollars in cap space to give himself plenty of flexibility for trading during the season. But he may be willing to go closer to the salary cap if he needs to in order for this team to be a serious cup contender.
With that much space, it would appear that acquiring a top defenseman should not be too difficult. But as the Caps have their problems with Fleischmann, so might other organisations. GMs know the risk with Flash, and finding a place for him will be tough, and this late in the offseason there aren’t many roster spaces left on any teams. He doesn’t have a fixed position or role in a team, which will worry some teams; he has played in a variety of positions for Washington and has both excelled and failed in any position, he doesn’t bring too much experience but nor is he really youth now. He’s a
player who has always had potential and has always been on the cusp, but not (yet) shown his best. So selling the Fleischmann stock is a struggle.
The strongest rumours regarding Washington surround Sheldon Souray. The Caps have been linked with Souray for a long time, and despite his injuries, inconsistencies, age and salary, he could be a decent acquisition for the organisation, as they have the cap space (just about), need the experience, and could get the best out of him. There are other possibilities, such as Kevin Bieksa or perhaps a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs for one of their many good defensemen, but with all the intricacies of trading, it could take some time to get a good deal done.