The contenders: Chris Clark, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich
The stats (all stats are 2007-08 numbers and courtesy BehindTheNet):
- Games Played: Laich (82), Fleischmann (75), Fehr (23), Clark (18)
- 5-on-5 TOI/60: Clark (13.21), Fleischmann (10.68), Laich (9.93), Fehr (9.09)
- 5-on-5 Points/60: Laich (1.55), Clark (1.51), Fleischmann (1.42), Fehr (0.57)
- 5-on-5 Goals/60: Clark (1.01), Laich (0.74), Fleischmann (0.60), Fehr (0.29)
- Caps 5-on-5 Goals For/60 with Player X on Ice: Fehr (2.58), Clark (2.52), Fleischmann (2.47), Laich (1.77)
- Quality of Teammates 5-on-5: Clark (0.53), Fleischmann (-0.15), Laich (-0.15), Fehr (-0.21)
- Quality of Competition 5-on-5: Clark (0.04), Fleischmann (-0.01), Laich (-0.04), Fehr (-0.06)
- Most Frequent Even Strength Linemates: Clark (Ovechkin, Kozlov), Fehr (Laich, Fleischmann), Fleischmann (Nylander, Semin), Laich (Fehr, Fleischmann, edging out Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley)
But the game is played at two ends of the ice, so let's take a look at that other end:
- Caps 5-on-5 Goals Against/60 with Player X on Ice: Fehr (1.44), Clark (1.77), Laich (2.51), Fleischmann (3.07)
Finally, a quick look at 5-on-5 penalties:
- 5-on-5 Penalties Taken/60: Fehr (0.0), Fleischmann (0.6), Laich (1.0), Clark (2.8)
- 5-on-5 Penalties Drawn/60: Fehr (1.7), Laich (1.6), Fleischmann (0.4), Clark (0.3)
It's almost bottom line time, but before we get there, a couple of points. First of all, it should be abundantly clear by now that Tomas Fleischmann - unless he had a tremendous transformation this summer - does not belong in an NHL lineup.
Second, Brooks Laich may currently be suing a Led Zeppelin biographer, claiming that Hammer of the Gods is the trademarked name of his hockey stick, but he has not been a great 5-on-5 hockey player to this point in his career, as his -0.74 goal differential demonstrates (though I did thoroughly enjoy his work with Semin and Backstrom in the Philly series).
Which leaves us with Clark and Fehr. Clark is a more known commodity, as he has put up points when skating with playmakers and snipers, and certainly lends some defensive responsibility to any line on which he skates, but his penalty ratio last year was bad and the year before was nearly even.
Fehr, on the other hand, has yet to show he can produce at 5-on-5, but some of the signs are there - his penalty ratio was very solid, and he proved to not be a liability, as his 1.14 goal differential showed (even better than Clark's 0.75, though both samples were somewhat limited, of course), all despite playing with some of the Caps' weaker forwards. In fact, he had the second-best 5-on-5 goal differential on the team two years ago as well. And, of course, he's scored at every level before getting to the NHL.
Alright, as promised, bottom line time: give the kid a playmaker and a dangler/sniper and see what he can do.
Oh, and pitch Flash in the Atlantic.
H/t to Gorilla Crouch on the inspiration for this post