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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What does Nash at center really tell us?

I said yesterday it was time to panic. Well in a certain way I think Hitch's trial of Nash at center shows he agrees. Although you'd never hear it described that way.

How else can you describe the move? Panic, desperation...same thing to me.

Even more importantly I think it sends a message to upper management that he is very unhappy with his center situation.

..and who can blame him?

The only guy up the middle doing anything is a rookie in Derek Brassard. He's played wonderful actually and certainly looks like the real deal. Through 9 games he has as many points (7) as Malhotra, Peca, Umberger and Novotny have combined. Not nearly good enough.

Lets be honest here, I give the Nash experiment at center a period...maybe two. Its not going to work. Just to cover everyone neither will Modin, Voracek, Filatov. Only a few select players can make that transition and have an immediate impact -- Zetterberg is a guy who comes to mind.

After 8 games with RJ up the middle that move has proved to be a bust...he's back at wing at least for now.

Peca, Manny, Novotny and Murray are in no/way/shape/form top six centers. They are not the answers.

However after thinking about this move through the night I now understand its importance as a signal to management that if we are serious about contending, if you really want to "win now" then something has to be done.

The bottom line is that Howson has got to make a move here.

Now I'm not talking about giving up the world to land some elite center. While an elite center would be nice, trading away the young players like Brass/Voracek/Filatov/Mayorov/Mason would be counterproductive to the long term success of the franchise as it appears that we are finally hitting on these guys.

No, what we need is a capable competent player. Now this player isn't going to be perfect. I mentioned in the comments that a Robert Lang type...a veteran guy who knows the game, can put up points and has a short term contract and could be had for a reasonable price could work.

Now if they are willing to part with some young assets then maybe you look for something different which I have an idea I'll share in a bit.

So who do the Jackets target?

If I'm Howson I start with other teams that are struggling out of the gate that may need a shakeup. Ottawa, Islanders, Tampa, Phoenix, LA, Dallas, Atlanta...

Then there are the teams up against the cap like your Wings, Bruins, Ducks, Flyers, Captials. These teams aren't struggling but may want to clear out some salary or make some early adjustments to their squads.

Now its early so teams may be reluctant to deal but I at least get conversations started with them.

Two ideas I'll throw out there.

Michael Nylander. Now stay with me for a sec. I know he's older at age 36 and doesn't have the best contract out there (3 years left at 4.875) but he fills the hole and he's productive (has 8 points in 9 games). He's veteran who is great on the PP and really good with the puck and finding the open man. The risk is that he becomes the new "Fedorov" and he has been injury prone lately. The Caps would likely move him relatively cheap to get out from under his contract.

Profile:
ASSETS:
Has terrific playmaking ability and excellent vision. When hot, he's an assist machine. Is improving his defensive game with experience.
FLAWS: Does not possess a knack for scoring goals, and too often will pass up a shot in the slot area. Plays a passive game and can get pushed around physically.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Second line center.

David Krejci. Now here is a guy at the other end of the spectrum. He's a 22 year old center for the Bruins who is just now finding his way in the NHL. He had 27 points in 56 games last year and has 6 in 10 so far this season. I have watched this kid a lot and I absolutely love him. The B's have Savard, Bergeron, Axlesson, Yell and even Kessel playing some center so may want to unload one as they need puck-movers on the backend. The risk is that he gets to Columbus and flames out or that he commands the world this offseason as he's an RFA. That would also give Hitch two young 22 and under centers as his top 6 guys....and we know how Hitch likes his vets.

Proflie:
ASSETS: Has excellent vision and passing skills, and profiles as a classic playmaking center. His head is always in the game, and he possesses great hockey sense.
FLAWS: Must get physically stronger in order to maximize his offensive potential at the highest level. Needs to work on his play without the puck.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Second line center.

So there are two names for you. Again not perfect answers but they are top 6 centers who could help this lineup and shouldn't take the sun (and the moon) to acquire.

If Dallas continues to struggle another guy I would love to have as a stop gap is Mike Modano. He has one more year left after this one at 3.45 mil and there is the Hitch connection and I think he could really help this Jackets lineup. Would the Stars part with their life long player (including his Minny years) is a very good question?

There are some other names as well. Spezza is getting tossed around a lot in the rumor mill. Would the Jackets revisit the Brad Richards scenario as he's not exactly setting the world on fire in Dallas?

So what would the Jackets have to give up to get someone? I think anything short of Nash, Leclaire, Voracek, Brassard, Filatov, and Mason has to be on the table. I can't see any of the new faces going anywhere in Commodore, Tyutin, Huselius, Backman or Torres yet.

For a young guy like Kreci I think it starts with Russell going the other way -- in fact that is really the only asset the Jackets have defensively that would be of any attraction to the Bruins. They won't want prospects or picks back -- they are in "win now" mode as well.

For a guy like Nylander the Jackets would have to send some salary back. The paper has mentioned a few times now that the Jackets are deep at wing. The obvious name for me would be Freddy Modin. He would give the caps another big body who is playoff tested and after Ovechkin they could use some help at LW. His contract has one year left after this at 3.35. Both teams take some risk with the injuries. He could be had for a draft pick/prospect I think but ownership would really have to step up financially in addition to what they already have which, judging by Monday's attendance -- ain't happening anytime soon.

So there is a couple of scenarios. I love Russell and like Modin but something has to go the other way.

Now I don't see Howson doing anything for a few more games, if at all, but I would be burning up the phone lines right now to see what's available in the middle. This team can't afford to dig a bigger hole that what it has and this franchise can't afford another top 10 draft pick year.

As far as what to do now in the immediate short term?

1. Its wake up call time. I play the best players in the moment. Brass and Voracek may not be the best players, yet, but they are currently playing like it. They get prime ice time.

2. I sure don't break up the only thing that is working for me in the Chimera-Brassard-Voracek line. In fact I elevate them to #1 until the Nash line takes it back over or this line goes sour.

3. I take the next best option I have at center and elevate Peca to the #2 hole between Nash & Huselius. Its not ideal but its all we've got.

4. Time to take the kid gloves off with Nash. If he's playing well, play him. If not, then play who is. He certainly stays at wing.

5. I shake up the defensive pairings. Tyutin goes with Commodore. Hedja goes with Klesla.

6. I start LaCosta for a game and give the kid a chance. Its a risk but so is starting Norrena.

My lineup tomorrow night:

Chimera Brassard Voracek
Nash Peca Huselius
Umberger Malhotra Boll
Murray Novotny Dorsett

Klesla Hejda
Commodore Tyutin
Backman Methot
Tollefsen

LaCosta
Norrena

Bottom line is that while I don't agree with moving Nash to center Hitch knows you can't just sit still and hope something happens. I think the same applies to Howson.

Fire away - time to make a move or to early?

-LTL

10 comments:

LTL said...

I just read that Zetterberg actually played center in Sweden before breaking into the NHL. So he's not even a good example.

I believe he broke into the league as a wing though (Wings fans lookin at you for help on this one!) and I know a lot of centers break in as wings which is what it looks like we'll do with Filatov and what Boston did with Kessel.

Just proves how difficult it really is to make the transition from wing to center, especially at the NHL level.

Another name that came to mind was Tkachuk. I believe he was a wing for the Jets/Yotes but has played some center for the Blues and has done okay.

-LTL

BZArcher said...

Just thinking out loud, if we wanted to try to get Krejci, do you think Boston would go for Klesla? It seems like there was interest in him from the Bruins last year.

I wouldn't mind trying Nylander, either, honestly. I wished we'd gone after him when he left NY originally. If he can center Jagr, I think he could easily center Nash!

LTL said...

Good question BZ. Just reading what some of their fans are looking for they want a puck-mover...which at this point I think its safe to say Klesla isn't that.

You never know though. I would certainly hope he'd be on the table if there were some interest.

-LTL

Anonymous said...

Now that you mention it, Hitchcock could very well be doing this "Nash to Center" move to show up Howson and force his hand. I get the feeling that the Filatov fiasco might have turned into a big pissing match between the two of them and Hitchcock won that round.

If that is true and Hitchcock is already showing up your GM, this team is heading for an implosion of 06-07 Flyers proportion. Not a coincidence that Hitchcock was involved in that one too.

BK said...

Howson has two problems: Get a center and get a back-up (or #1) goalie. Unless Freddie N turns it on, the team has two holes. So which do you fix first?

Sean said...

I think you fix the center problem first. If we could score 4-5 goals a night and play anything that resembles better defense then Freddie and LeClaire can get the job done, not to mention LaCosta. Hitchcock would never go for it.

dan said...

Solid ideas as always LTL.

Nylander would be a tough contract to swallow, but the skill is there and it'd be more palatable depending on the money going the other way.

I like Krejci and would be open to him (depending the cost) but would also suggest chatting with the Bruins about some of their other centers too -- Savard, Kessel and Bergeron. Why not?

Anonymous said...

does anyone else feel the miss handling of FILATOV was nothing more than HOWSON trying to fill the building on HOME OPENER NIGHT due to lack of pre game ticket sales... and in hopes of hitch wanting to play him... and possibly at center..?

im sure HITCH wasnt happy that HOWSON didnt land an NHL center... so hes doing whatever he can to force HOWSONS hand...

personally i am in TOTAL agreeance about your line up for the COLORADO game... is love to see that happen... i think alot of COLUMBUS fans couldnt fathom NASHER ( OUR CAPTAIN ) being put on a second line or lower but fact is ALOT of NHL CAPTAINS arent first line guys...

it would be great if we were to make a move and land a quality and competant center but not at a cost of trading away anyone who we belive in ( VORACEK,BRASSARD,FILATOV,MAYOROV )

personally i cant wait to see FILATOV and MAYOROV out there when they are seasoned and ready...

but i fear hitch will still keep these guys held down to a point...

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis until you get to your strategy for the short term, but you are totally forgiven for that for the great stuff above.

The reason I don't agree with your choice for a short term solution is really the whole problem, which is a sense of stability. Everyone wants to 'shake things up' which is what we've been doing through our whole history. Minnesota and Nashville both have the same coach they started the league with. We are on our what, fourth? Stay the course folks. I agree with the analysis of the situation, and the potential moves, but the lineup needs some stability, so I don't see shaking up the defensive pairings as being productive when we are only 10 minutes from putting together complete games. At some point you have to ride your pony, and see where it gets you.
gallos

LTL said...

Dan,

Yeah I see the B's as a great trading partner as they have a glut of centers. I'd take any one of Begeron, Savard, Kessel or Krecji (I just really like that Krejci!).

Last anonymous. Solid points as well. There is definitely something to be said about stability in a lineup.

The problem for me is when do you shake things up? How many losses does it take before its to early or to late? I look at past seasons and those starts and I get an itchy trigger finger :)

Hey...that's why I get to play armchair GM/Coach/Younameit behind a keyboard and the big guns get the big bucks to make the decisions!

As always thanks for the comments. We have some great posters here.

-LTL