Late this morning the Caps announced that they had re-signed winger Tomas Fleischmann to a two-year deal that will pay the 23-year-old Czech $725,000 in each of the next two seasons.
Flash's stats haven't been terribly impressive - six goals, 15 assists and a minus-four rating on the season; 10 goals, 21 assists and a minus-17 rating in 96 career NHL games - so the signing begs a number of questions. Let's look at some of them:
1. Why sign him now?
It sounds as if the Fleischmann camp didn't much enjoy being unsigned through last summer, so they pressed to get a deal done sooner rather than later. But why were the Caps so eager to make it happen now? If they're certain he's "developing at the right pace," why not give him another 25 NHL games to be even more certain? I doubt his play and price will jump substantially between now and what would be restricted free agency this summer.
Perhaps the team feels that Flash will play better, unburdened by pending free agency. Perhaps it's a reward to coach Bruce Boudreau - taking care of one of "his guys" as payback for the job he's done so far. Or (cue foreboding music) perhaps it's easier to trade a player who is under contract for two more years than a guy who will be an RFA on June 1.
Frankly, I don't buy any of those and am fine with "the player wanted it, the team named their price and the player took it." But with at least four other arguably more important RFAs left to sign, the timing of this deal is, if nothing else, something to talk about.
2. Where does Flash fit in next year? And the year after that?
This is the better question. It's a given that Flash is a top six forward, if he's an NHLer. And one would like to think that the Caps' top six forwards for next season are more or less set in stone - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Alex Semin, Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov.
Barring a big-time breakthrough, signing Flash is insurance in case Fehr's development is slower than hoped and/or he gets bitten by the injury bug again and the team actually commits to Chris Clark as a third-liner (something we've been harping on for a while).
As for 2008-09, after next season, Kozlov is a free agent and we'll have a much clearer view of what kind of NHLers Fehr and Flash (and perhaps others) will be.
Besides, you know how many games all five of the current top five forwards on the team have played in this season so far? Twenty-one (and it'll be 21 of 82 when the season's over). It doesn't hurt to have some depth up top.
3. So is it a good deal?
Sure. At $725,000, Flash is a low-risk/medium-reward signing. Since Nylander's injury, Flash has just one goal and seven assists in 13 games (a 50-point/82 games pace), but he has been playing on a line with a fourth-line center and a guy who's not exactly known for distributing the puck. More importantly, he's not shying away from high-traffic areas as much as he was early in the season.
Fleischmann is a guy who scored 52 goals and added 62 assists in 102 games for Hershey (and added 53 points in 39 playoff games), so the skill is there. The size and strength, we're told, are coming. The heart and determination? I guess we'll see.
As CapsChick said, "If he performs, he's a bargain; if not, it's a contract that is easily moved if necessary." Put another way, Flash's cap hit next year will be just over 1/10th of Tomas Vanek's. I'll take the over on him scoring 1/10th as many goals and points as the Sabres' stud.
Low-risk. Medium-reward. Good deal.