directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: 2009 Free Agency Preview - Centers

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Monday, June 29, 2009

2009 Free Agency Preview - Centers

This is the third and final entry in a series of posts I will be presenting this offseason as we build up to the July 1st free agency period.

You can view the first entry on defensemen here.

You can view the second entry on goaltenders here.

This entry will focus on unrestricted free agent centers.

The Jackets appear to be set in their top 6 with both Derick Brassard and Antoinne Vermette expected to anchor those top two lines center slots.

What they need is to address their 3rd and 4th line center positions.

The organization would like to bring back Manny Malhotra to anchor that 3rd line but with July 1st being less than a day away the chances of that happening are slim.

Scott Howson has publicly stated that the organization will look to fill the 4th line center hole from within. The names of Mike Blunden, Derek MacKenzie, Andrew Murray and Derek Dorsett have been bandied about.

This post will focus on players that can fill that 3rd line center role. What the Jackets will be focusing on is a cost effective player that can shut down other team's top players, PK, win faceoffs and contribute some offensively.

If Malhotra ends up re-signing then this list becomes moot.

John Madden
ASSETS: Is an outstanding penalty-killer and versatile enough to play any role on a hockey club. Has great speed, sound fundamentals and an excellent work ethic.
FLAWS: At this point he will never put up huge numbers in the NHL, which makes him a less-than-ideal top six pivot. Can go long stretches without a point.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking line center.

Age: 36
2008 stats: 76 7 16 23 -7 26
2008 salary: 2.93

Outlook: It looks like Madden's time in New Jersey has come to a close. I can see the Jackets being very interested in obtaining Madden's services. He is Hitch type competitor in every sense. He does alot of things extremely well. The questions are how much and how long? I can't see Howson going much higher than a 2 year 4 million dollar offer as he is 36 and his point production did take a sharp drop last season.

Brendan Morrison
ASSETS: Is an excellent skater and playmaker. Has racked up points at every level. Is an important player on special teams and a decent face-off man.
FLAWS: Usually avoids heavy traffic areas, since he's smallish in stature and not physical. Lacks the offensive consistency to play a first-line role.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Versatile forward.

Age: 33
2008 stats: 81 16 15 31 3 32
2008 salary: 2.75

Outlook: Morrison spurned the Jackets offer last offseason as he wished to remain on the west coast. However if he wants a job this offseason he'll need to keep his options open. What may interest Howson this time around is even though Morrison's numbers dropped, he is a guy who can play just about anywhere in your lineup. He could look good next to a Filatov on the 3rd line or if there is an injury would certainly not look out of place next to a Rick Nash. If he hangs out there I wouldn't rule him out. A big drawback is he isn't a defensive shutdown guy.

Todd Marchant
ASSETS: Has a strong reputation for his penalty-killing, checking and leadership ability. Is still an above-average skater.
FLAWS: Doesn't have great hands and lacks the confidence to consistently finish off plays. Isn't big and tends to wear down against big centers.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Two-way center.

Age: 35
2008 stats: 72 5 13 18 -2 34
2008 salary: 2.66

Outlook: We've seen this episode before eh Jacket fans? This time around if Marchant is brought on board it won't be billed as a 1st line center savior like a certain other general manager sold it as a few years back. With new management in charge there may be a fit here although I see Marchant pretty far Howson's wish list mostly because he doesn't add much, if any, offense.

Mike Sillinger
ASSETS: Possesses good two-way instincts and playmaking ability. Does anything asked of him. Excels on face-offs and can line up at all three forward positions.
FLAWS: Struggles in the goal-scoring department, and is much more suited to playing on a checking line than as a top-six forward.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Two-way center.

Age: 37
2008 stats: 7 2 0 2 -5 0
2008 salary: 2.30

Outlook: Another former Jackets who has played for just about every NHL team out there -- heck wasn't he a Colorado Rockie at some point? Although extremely experienced Sillinger has suffered some big time injuries over the past year and it does appear father time has caught up to him. I don't see a fit.

P.J. Axelsson
ASSETS: Possesses work ethic that is second to none. Has sound two-way and penalty-killing ability. Can play in any situation.
FLAWS: Will never contend for any scoring records. Is a dedicated checker, but his lack of bulk can be a disadvantage when he's trying to shut down big power forwards.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Two-way winger.

Age: 34
2008 stats: 75 6 24 30 -1 16
2008 salary: 1.85

Outlook: His strengths and salary certainly fall in the ballpark but I believe Axelsson is more of a winger than a center. You certainly know what you'll get with P.J every night. I put him squarely on the "maybe" list if other preferred options fall through and the Jackets brass believe he can play full time at center.

Radek Bonk
ASSETS: Possesses a great package: Size for the center position, hockey sense, excellent defensive skills and sound fundamentals.
FLAWS: Doesn't play a physical game at all, despite his size. Appears to have lost his scoring touch. Lacks grit and passion.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking line center.

Age: 33
2008 stats: 66 9 16 25 -12 34
2008 salary: 1.60

Outlook: Personally I'm just not a fan of Bonk. Some of his strengths fit what the Jackets are looking for but his game is too invisible too many nights for my liking. I hope the Jackets pass.

Samuel Pahlsson
ASSETS: Has good instincts and defensive prowess. Is strong on his skates and works hard. Excels in defensive situations.
FLAWS: Needs to produce more points at the NHL level. Doesn't shoot enough when in good scoring position.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking line center.

Age: 31
2008 stats: 65 7 11 18 -17
2008 salary: 1.40

Outlook: If the Jackets don't really care about picking up a center who adds some offense then Phalsson may be their man. He's definitely a guy whose proven he can shut down other team's top lines and I can see Hitch absolutely loving this guy. He did have some injury issues last season and his lack of offense is a concern.

Dominic Moore
ASSETS: Has excellent hockey sense and two-way instincts. Always gives maximum effort on the ice. Leads by example with every shift.
FLAWS: Is smallish in stature. Lacks offensive acumen. Will have to battle extra hard just to keep a job at the NHL level.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking center.

Age: 28
2008 stats: 81 13 32 45 -2 92
2008 salary: 900k

Outlook: Moore is a guy I'd love for the Jackets to add to their mix. He had a bit of a breakout year last season notching a career high 45 points so the risk you take in signing him is if he can duplicate that performance. He got plenty of PP time and top 6 minutes in Toronto which he wouldn't get here so that will effect is point production. Like Morrison though by signing a guy like Moore you hedge a bit against injury to Vermette/Brassard which is never a bad thing. Moore will probably be too rich for the Jackets blood however.

Chad LaRose
ASSETS: Displays a ton of energy with every shift, and isn't afraid of mixing it up--despite a lack of size. Possesses decent offensive instincts.
FLAWS: Must prove he can play aggressively at the NHL level over the long haul. Needs to add more upper-body strength. Is not a natural goal-scorer by any means.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking line winger.

Age: 27
2008 stats: 81 19 12 31 6 35
2008 salary: 875k

Outlook: Appears to be more effective at wing than at center which is unfortunate for our needs. If Howson and co. believe LaRose can be an effective center he is certainly a guy who would have to interest them. He put some up some decent numbers and plays a strong 2 way game. He really impressed in the playoffs but as forecaster suggest - can he keep up that strong level of play?

Vernon Fiddler
ASSETS: Plays with hockey smarts, displays two-way capability and sound face-off skills. Can play either wing or center.
FLAWS: Lacks offensive upside, isn't big or overly physical. Doesn't display enough offensive consistency to secure more ice time.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Bottom six forward.

Age: 29
2008 stats: 78 11 6 17 -13 24
2008 salary: 900k

Outlook: Fiddler is a guy we Jacket fans are very familiar with. He has a motor that doesn't seem to ever stop (at least against the CBJ). He doesn't put up a whole lot of offense but he just the type of guy you always notice out there on the ice. He still in his prime at 29 and is certainly on Howson's radar. The -13 stands out though.

Blair Betts
ASSETS: Has good size for the pivot position and solid two-way skills. Displays leadership qualities and a sound work ethic.
FLAWS: Has limited scoring and/or playmaking ability. Also doesn't have the greatest skating ability, which limits his effectiveness in the NHL.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking line center.

Age: 29
2008 stats: 81 6 4 10 -5 16
2008 salary: 615k

Outlook: Certainly has the size Hitch would love but not a whole lot offensively. If the Jackets were lookin for a 4th line center Betts would look really good there. Maybe a guy the Jackets feel could be coached up a bit. Wouldn't completely rule him out but it would take a lot of strikes before they seriously consider him -- at least for that 3rd line hole.

Tomas Kopecky
ASSETS: Has a very projectable frame, sound two-way instincts and plenty of scoring potential. Is also a versatile forward in the Red Wings mold.
FLAWS: Must add significant bulk in order to make his mark on the NHL. Has a tendency to take games off, which won't cut it in the big league.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Third line winger.

Age: 27
2008 stats: 79 6 13 19 -7 46
2008 salary: 525k

Outlook: Another guy who has played more wing than center. The price could be right here but the Jackets would have to be convinced Kopecky could hold down a center spot. I think they look for more experience playing in that shutdown hole.

I would be fine with Manny coming back for the right terms but if he doesn't here is my personal wishlist:

1. John Madden
2. Dominic Moore
3. Brendan Morrison
4. Samuel Phalsson
5. Chad LaRose (only if the org was confident he could play center)

We'll see how it shakes out over the next couple of days.



Rick said...

From Portzline: "C Manny Malhotra will definitely head to free agency on Wednesday. Both sides agreed to test the market."

Stephen said...

I agree on the Madden call, however can we afford a salary of a Madden, or Morrison for a 3rd Center? If that is the case, why not resign Manny, who is less expensive?

LTL said...

I guess that will be the question Stephen. How much does a Madden or Morrison want vs. a Malhotra?

Both Madden and Morrison are older with worse numbers last season so perhaps that plays into it.

I've watched Madden alot and I just love this guy's game. He'd be a great fit as a player on that 3rd line but we'll have to wait and see if he's a great fit in terms of dollars and cents.

Morrison intigues me b/c I think he adds some good verteran offensive depth and I think he could be had right around that 2 mil mark.


eplagge said...

Manny wouldn't be less expensive.. I am guessing Howsen's offer was in the 1.75M range. .while Manny believes (and he might be right) that he could fetch 2.25M or more.. so he wouldn't be less expensive.. he might fetch the same amount.. anyways....

I somewhat disagree with LTL.. my favorite hands down.. Pahlsson... he's the gritty Anaheim style 3rd line center we would love... sure he's all D and virtually no Offense.. but I think that's exactly what we need.. reason being Filatov... there is a good chance he will be Pahllson's linemate... and let's face it... Filatov is almost pure offense... and we need someone who can help setup Filly and cover some of his defensive flaws... can you imagine how much more confident Hitch would be if he knew Pahlsson would be on Filly's line..

Bruce said...

TSN is reporting that Chicago signed Kopecky for 2 years at $1.2M per year. That seems low, and may be an indicator that the market is not as good as the players would like.

LTL said...

eplagge nailed this one -- nice work my man!