It wasn’t that long ago that an aggressive trade deadline from Stan Bowman seemed to put the Blackhawks in a prime position to pursue their second consecutive Stanley Cup. The additions of Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise, Christian Ehrhoff, and Tomas Fleischmann all seemed like ideal rentals who could provide a boost throughout the lineup before departing as free agents.
A disappointing first round loss to St. Louis put a damper on the team’s plans to repeat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing was gained from those moves. Specifically, I believe that Fleischmann might actually be the perfect player for the Blackhawks to bring back on a cheap free agent deal this coming offseason.
Although not all of the aforementioned additions worked out as planned for the Hawks (specifically Weise and Ehrhoff), Fleischmann actually performed quite well in limited games for Chicago. For example, he posted the third best RelCF% of any regular Chicago forward from the time he was acquired until the end of their postseason, according to Corsica.hockey. This highlights the veteran winger’s ability to drive possession for his team, even while playing with a variety of line-mates.
Aside from playing with top-line players like Jonathan Toews on occasion, he was also extremely effective while playing on the team’s third line with Teuvo Teravainen and Weise. The trio had an impressive 64.71 CF% during their time together — a stat that makes me question why they weren’t played together on a regular basis at the end of the season (combination information retrieved from Corsica.hockey).
In addition to driving possession while playing a variety of roles, Fleischmann did so in a less advantageous role than he might have been accustomed to. As an offensive forward, Fleischmann was undoubtedly used to receiving a larger percentage of his starts within the offensive zone, thus shielding him from difficult match-ups in the defensive area.
However, Joel Quenneville started him the defensive zone on 38.15% of his starts, making that area the most common one for Fleischmann to begin a shift in. Despite this, Fleischmann finished 40.08% of his shifts in the offensive zone — an increase in offensive presence from the 32.53% of shifts he began in that zone. On one hand, this is again indicative of the positive possession numbers he is able to generate, while on another hand also shows how his play can have positive effects on the entire line-up.
Driving possession into the offensive zone sets up advantageous scoring opportunities for Chicago’s scoring line of Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov, and Artemi Panarin, and can also generate chances for defensemen like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook if a face-off ace like Toews is on ice for the draw. Setting up chances of this kind can pay huge dividends over the course of an entire season, especially for a team with the kind of offensive ability the Blackhawks possess.
Can He Be Re-Signed?
The clear benefits that Fleischmann offers Chicago’s line-up can only be realized if the team finds a way to re-sign him this offseason. I have already discussed how Andrew Shaw’s free agent status will likely take precedence over other roster concerns for the Blackhawks this summer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the team won’t have room leftover for other moves.
And while Fleischmann’s current value may be difficult to determine, the affordability of his most recent contract is a positive indicator for Bowman. That contract was a single-year pact that carried a relatively small $750,000 salary cap hit. Having little room under the cap won’t be a concern if the price tag for a player like Fleischmann is only slightly more than the veteran minimum.
Assuming that the price won’t be an issue, it appears that the final decision will come down to Blackhawks management as they examine whether Fleischmann fits into the team’s plans. Plenty of young forwards are coming up through Rockford at the moment, but the team still needs versatile production, something that Fleischmann continually displayed in his time with the Blackhawks.