If you missed it, our last piece on free agent defenders contained a quick primer on Hockey Abstract's player usage charts. We'll be using these extensively going forward, so it's good to get familiar now. Let's take a look at this year's free agent centers. (Note: I'm only looking at guys officially listed at center. Versatile forwards who can play any position will get addressed later when we look at wingers.)
Its going to be slim pickings this year at the center ice position. Very few Top-6 forwards are available. But this class is chock full of sheltered bottom 6 forwards and veteran players in steep decline. This might be a good year to hold on to your chips if your team needs help up the middle. All the same, lets pick through the names and see if we can find some value.
- Steve Ott (The Quintessential Agitator) - Earns far too much praise for his physical style and annoying presence on the ice. He doesn't help a team win where it matters, which is on the scoreboard. Drawing penalties might be the final reserve of any value in his game, but unfortunately Ott often gets more penalties than he draws from the opposition. St. Louis would be wise to let him walk. Similar Players to Avoid: Brain Boyle(NYR), Joe Vitale(PIT), Colin Fraser(LA), Vernon Fiddler(DAL), Bracken Kearns(STL)
- Michal Handzus (The Declining Veteran) - Handzus has benefited from playing on a top-3 team in Chicago and an increasingly sheltered deployment. Yet he's been a drag on nearly every line he's placed on and was recently demoted by head coach Joel Quenneville in the Western Conference Final. While still thought of as a capable defensive center, his rapidly declining speed has killed his game in all three zones. Similar Players to Avoid: Saku Koivu(ANA), Manny Malhotra(CAR), Scott Gomez(FLA), Jeff Halpern(PHX), Derek Roy(STL), Olli Jokinen(WPG)
- Dave Bolland (The Depth Checking Center) - Folks may be surprised to see Bolland on this list given the big blue circle next to his name on the usage chart. This is a case of career numbers out-weighing a single fluke season. Bolland was dramatically worse than his teammates in Chicago, and it wasn't until he landed on a historically bad Toronto team that his numbers rebounded relative to his team. That probably puts his true talent somewhere in the middle. If you buy on Bolland, you're betting he can be the 40 point guy he was on a stacked Chicago club. With an asking price in the 3 to 4 million range, inquiring teams would be wise to look for checking depth elsewhere. Similar Players to Avoid: Jay McClement(TOR), Dominic Moore(NYR), Ryan Carter(NJ), Derek MacKenzie(CBJ),
Time for the usual disclaimer, not all of the guys listed above are necessarily bad NHL players. Some of them could be serviceable pick ups and depth guys. But remember, we're trying to get the most bang for our buck in free agency.
- Paul Stastny (Expensive Playmaker) - Unequivocally the best center on the market this summer, Paul Stasny can put up Top-6 point totals in a good situation. And he can do it while taking on the other teams best players. He's consistently been a strong possession player in his career so there are no worries about a fluke season. At 28-years-old, he's got plenty of solid years left in the tank. Of course, there is a catch. With such a thin market of Top-6 caliber pivots, Stastny is likely looking at a huge payday. The rumor mill in Denver has Stastny keen on testing free agency but only teams with deep pockets need apply.
- Mikael Grabovski (Best Value) - For inexplicable reasons, Grabovski has seen his NHL value decline in recent years. Despite excellent on-ice results, he's likely to be on his 3rd team in just over a year. But enterprising general managers would be wise to lock up this fancystat hero. Grabo is a more than competent playmaker and has the skating ability to thrive in the new NHL. If he lands in a favorable situation flanked with good scorers, he could be a 50-60 point 2C. He's ideal for a an offensively oriented scoring line. Grabo is almost guaranteed to be cheaper than Stastny, yet could produce at nearly the same clip next season. Similar Players: Mike Santorelli(VAN), David Legwand(DET)
- Marcel Goc (Effective Checking Center) - The German born two-way center has never been a huge point producer, but for teams looking for a defensive presence in the bottom-6 forward group, he's undoubtedly going to come cheaper than Dave Bolland. A dependable checker and faceoff guy, Goc can eat up tough minutes. The only concern is a history of injuries. If he can stay healthy, he's a solid, cheap depth option for team's to explore.
As previously mentioned, you should never buy on a player without considering his career numbers, his quality of teammate, injuries, age, and previous contract. That's it for this year's pivots! Don't forget to check back soon for our overview of free agent wingers.
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Andrew Devitt is an avid stat nerd and passionate Flyers fan living in Horsham, PA. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewski89