Unless something extraordinary happens over the weekend, next Wednesday, July 28, Tomas Fleischmann, his agent, Rich Evans, and the Washington Capitals will meet with an arbitrator to determine the forward's compensation for the 2010-2011 season.
Flash missed the first 11 games of the 2009-2010 season recovering from a blood clot in his leg, and when he returned he immediately showed off his skills, posting 14 goals in his first 25 games. He could not sustain that torrid pace, and only netted nine in the team's last 44 games, before disappearing in the playoffs, where he had one point in Games 1-6 against Montreal and was scratched for Game 7.
The 26-year old forward -- and we'll call him a forward for now since that is one of the points of contention -- feels like he should be paid like a prominent No. 2 center, which is precisely an area of need for this Capitals team.
Fleischmann had some success in the pivot last season -- he had some of his finer offensive outputs at center. But his face-off technique (43.1%) and defensive skills still leave too much to be desired to seriously consider him "the answer" at 2/C. And then there's the complicating factor of his playoff performance, or lack thereof.
Would the Caps seriously consider a candidate at second-line center as a free agent if he had been left off his team's playoff roster for a Game 7? Probably not.
It's no secret Flash is popular with his coaches and amongst his teammates. By all accounts, he's the type of guy you want in the room. But is he going to take the next step -- and more importantly, should he be paid like it before he gets there?
It's an interesting question, and only GM George McPhee can make that determination.
McPhee was able to come to deals with the team's other RFAs, inking Jeff Schultz and Eric Fehr to multi-year deals and Boyd Gordon to a one-year deal, avoiding arbitration with those players. If McPhee is willing to allow the Fleischmann negotiations to go to the arbiter, it could be telling that he believes the player needs another "show me" year.
Or worse. If McPhee is willing to go through the arduous process and risk being forced to -- in his mind -- overpay for Fleischmann's services, perhaps McPhee doesn't see the player as part of the eventual equation and is willing to live with the consequences for this season.
This strategy is risky in itself. Say Fleischmann does take the "next step" this season, settles into the second line center spot and puts himself in position for not just a nice salary, but a HUGE raise after next season. With the impending free agency of Alex Semin as well, would exellent performance by the pair actually be a distraction for the Capitals as they chase Lord Stanley's Cup next spring?
McPhee might have tipped his hand already by not acquiring a veteran second line center via free agency this off-season. It looks more and more every day like the slot will be filled by someone in-house. There is no shortage of candidates, but all are seriously flawed in some manner.
In addition to Fleischmann, Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johansson are both options to helm the second pivot. But Perrault, despite his 50 points in 56 games with AHL Hershey and nine points in 21 games with the big club, is very undersized to compete with the elite centers of the NHL. And Johansson, who had a tremendous development camp by all accounts, is just 20 years old and has never played on North American soil.
Of course, Coach Bruce Boudreau could turn back to old reliable, Brooks Laich. But he'd much rather keep Laich on a wing, where he can get into the crease and create havoc without some of the defensive responsibility at center.
It's a curious situation all around. How Fleischmann's contract works out could go a long way in telling us what McPhee really thinks of the situation. But even then, it won't give us all the answers.
One thing we do know: McPhee wasn't impressed with the free agent options, or he could have already eliminated this headache.