Saturday, March 03, 2007

Offseason Shopping List: Centers

Let's go shopping, shall we? It's no secret that the Caps will be in the market for a first-line center this offseason, and should they choose to go the free agent route to fill that hole, there are a number of options out there. Unfortunately, that number is three or four. Who are they and who would be the best fit? Let's see.

First, a look at likely market conditions. In the offseason leading up to the 2006-07 season, teams were working with a $44 million salary cap. The top (unrestricted) free agent centers available were Marc Savard, Jason Arnott, Doug Weight, Eric Lindros, Mike Sillinger... and Jeff Halpern. A quick look at the deals each got:
  • Savard (28 years old at signing): 5 years, $20 million ($4 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 28-69-97
  • Arnott (31): 5 years, $22.5 million ($4.5 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 32-44-76
  • Weight (35): 2 years, $7 million ($3.5 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 15-42-57
  • Lindros (33): 1 year, $1.55 million ($2.5 million with performance bonuses); 2005-06 stats: 11-11-22
  • Sillinger (35): 3 years, $6.6 million ($2.2 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 32-31-63
  • Halpern (30): 4 years, $8 million ($2 million per year); 2005-06 stats: 11-33-44
Now, that's a pretty weak (certainly shallow) class of centers - a couple of old guys, a few injury-prone guys and a checker. Compare that to this year's top-five UFAs (in no particular order): Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury (hey, look - a UFA reunion of the Avs' Cup team pivots!), Daniel Briere, Pavel Datsyuk and Scott Gomez. I included six guys because Sakic might as well not be a UFA, as he's not going anywhere (so we can stop talking about him, though his contract will impact the market). That leaves us with one old, injury-prone guy and four guys - none of whom is over 30 years old - who have combined to win four Stanley Cups and two Calder Trophies.

I think we can all agree that the Caps will not pursue Peter Forsberg (though in Dreamworld he centers the 2007-08 Caps' first-line, has 100 assists and mentors fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom to a Calder Trophy-winning rookie season before retiring after being handed the Stanley Cup by Olie Kolzig in late-May in front of 18,277 people at Verizon Center... sigh). So we're talking about "the big four." Given the ages of each of the four, I can't see any of them signing a contract for fewer than four years. Most likely, each will get a five-year deal. But at what price?

For 2007-08, the salary cap is expected to rise to between $46 and $47.5 million, but for the ease of this exercise, let's call it $48 million, a 9% increase over 2006-07. It would stand to reason that the top free agents, then, will cost around 9% more than they did last offseason (of course this assumes that some other factors, such as supply of and demand for these players holds constant, but again, pinpoint accuracy isn't important here). Add in the ages and accolades of the players we're talking about, and the price goes up further. In other words, get ready to shell out around $5 million - bare-minimum - for the next five years. So who's worth that much? A look at "the big four" (stats through 2 March 2007):
  • Daniel Briere
    • DOB: October 6, 1977
    • Nationality: Canadian
    • 2006-07 salary: $5,000,000
    • Honors and Awards: 2007 NHL All-Star
    • 2006-07 stats: 62 GP, 27-50-77
    • Career regular season stats: 464 GP, 157-201-358
    • Career playoff stats: 24 GP, 10-12-22
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 290/328
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Great combination of- oh, forget it.
    • Why he's not: If you have to ask...
  • Pavel Datsyuk
    • DOB: July 20, 1978
    • Nationality: Russian
    • 2006-07 salary: $3,900,000
    • Honors and Awards: 2002 Olympic Bronze Medal, 2002 Stanley Cup, 2004 NHL All-Star, 2006 Lady Byng Trophy
    • 2006-07 stats: 61 GP, 19-46-65
    • Career regular season stats: 345 GP 100-206-306
    • Career playoff stats: 42 GP 3-12-15
    • Games played over the last four NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 284/328
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Datsyuk is a great passer, a dangler that makes the highlight reels as often as the guy he'd ostensibly be setting up in D.C. - a true #1 center. Oh, and he's Russian.
    • Why he's not: He has pulled disappearing acts in the playoffs (playoffs? what are they), and is so weak in the faceoff circle that his linemate, Henrik Zetterberg, takes more draws than he does (yet somehow Datsyuk has won 56% of his 500 faceoffs - I'll take it).
  • Chris Drury
    • DOB: August 20, 1976
    • Nationality: American
    • 2006-07 salary: $3,154,000
    • Honors and Awards: 1998 Hobey Baker Award, 1999 Calder Trophy, 2001 Stanley Cup, 2002 Olympic Silver Medal
    • 2006-07 stats: 60 GP, 33-24-57
    • Career regular season stats: 611 GP, 189-263-452
    • Career playoff stats: 98 GP, 35-33-68
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 390/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Drury is a proven winner (he even won a Little League World Series). More than that, he's a great faceoff guy, taking the seventh most draws in the League and winning an outstanding 59% of them (only Rod Brind'Amour and Yanic Perreault are better among center with 100 or more faceoffs). Finally, with the lowest 2006-07 salary of the four, he may be the cheapest come July.
    • Why he's not: He's a bit more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker, which doesn't necessarily fit what the Caps are looking for in a first-line pivot. In fact, ideally he's better-suited as a second-line center.
  • Scott Gomez
    • DOB: December 23, 1979
    • Nationality: American
    • 2006-07 salary: $5,000,000
    • Honors and Awards: 2000 Calder Trophy, 2000 Stanley Cup, 2003 Stanley Cup
    • 2006-07 stats: 56 GP, 10-40-50
    • Career regular season stats: 532 GP, 113-327-440
    • Career playoff stats: 86 GP, 17-34-51
    • Games played over the last five NHL seasons prior to 2006-07: 394/410
    • Why he's a prime target for the Caps: Gomez is a brilliant, durable playmaker - a true first-line center when paired with an elite goal scorer.
    • Why he's not: His $5 million salary this season means that he'll be due for a raise when he hits free agency, and for all the talk about Gomez's playmaking skill, he's never had 60 assists in a season (three players are better than that already this season). Is $5.5 million or more really a wise deal for a guy who has only once had a season where he was better than a point-per-game?
From a quick glance at the above and my gut impressions of the four, I'd rank them Drury, Datsyuk, Gomez, Briere in terms of how they'd fit what the Caps are doing, but I don't think I'd be too upset with any of those first three.

Having attempted to wrap our minds around that, here's one last thought to blow it all up - what about going the Restricted Free Agent route and using the money saved on a rightwing or a big name defenseman (who the Caps will certainly target anyway)? Sure, you would be giving up some picks, but with all of the prospects the Caps will have compiled by then and names like Derek Roy, Mike Cammalleri, Mike Ribeiro and Pierre-Marc Bouchard on the market, isn't it at least a little tempting?


Unknown said...

One other RW who will be available: Bill Guerin. And I think he fits what the Caps do. A Guerin-Backstrom-Semin second-line and a Ovechkin-FA-Clark first two lines would be mighty impressive.

The Peerless said...

Drury-Datsyuk-Gomez-Gruyere . . . that'd be the order in which I'd have them. Drury would appear to be a better fit into a broader team concept of what the Caps are trying to build than would Datsyuk. And, I'd be inclined to take the slightly lower skill level of Drury (as opposed to Datsyuk) for a guy who shows up in the spring. Datsyuk is 3-12-15, -1, 49.4 FO, in 42 playoff games; Drury is 35-33-68, +23, 52.0% FO, in 98 playoff games.

Unknown said...

Drury also seems like a Ted kind of guy, kind of like a pre-injuries Michael Peca in terms of leadership attributes. And we know Ted loved Peca.

Anonymous said...

shoulda signed savard last year. good luck getting anyone to come here.

JP said...

Yeah, because free agent centers wouldn't want to play with AO or take the organization's money.

I really may need to stop allowing anonymice to comment.

Anonymous said...

Trade for P-M Bouchard! The Wild need to add grit next year and the Caps have it. I think F. Bouchard has a chance next year and who would have more chemistry together than brothers...AO/Semin-PM Bouchard-F Bouchard. I like it!

donjuangoaty27 said...

Drury should be the guy and we should give him whatever he wants! take him to a Wizards playoff game like the Redskins do to their free agents! seriously, think about it...Ovechkin-Backstrom-Fehr, Semin-Drury-Flash, i likey i likey!

Anonymous said...

Drury is a coke head and beats his wife. He hates AOL, Verizon and Ovechkin, who he once called him a whiny ass titty baby, after his cheap shot on Briere.

Scott Gomez would be a great fit - email Ted and George about signing him right now.

The following post was brought to you by fans of the Buffalo Sabres.

Unknown said...

PM Bouchard is a third-line center. How many of those do we need?

JP said...

I think PMB has higher upside than 3rd line center. He's a good passer, plays either wing and is settling in as a 20 goal, 40 assist guy on a team that doesn't score. First-line center? No. But he's a guy who has more creativity than anyone on this team with very few exceptions.

Unknown said...

I defer to ye with Center Ice, but... PMB goes 5-9, 180. How many contenders have second-line pivots who go 5-9, 180? And who wins 35 percent of his faceoffs? (Yes. Really.)

JP said...

I can think of one contender with a first line right wing who's 5-9, 180 and wins 33% of his faceoffs (and has actually taken one more draw than Bouchard).

Abhinav said...

Biron to Crosby:

"I don't lie and I don't whine."


Anonymous said...

You did not just call Marc Savard weak...

He has found is game and is a major reason Boston is scoring. Patrice Bergeron is once again going through an inconsistent season.
Ilya Kovalchuk did NOT make him. He will get 80 points on his own.

Unknown said...

But Bouchard is a C and MS-L isn't. MS-L takes draws when other guys get tossed, and the Wild (apparently) don't trust him enough to allow him to take too many.

All this said, I'm not seeing the Wild a ton. They ain't on OLN much.

JP said...

St. Louis has taken 18 faceoffs.

Bouchard has taken 17. lists him as a wing. I haven't watched him much either - the Wild put me to sleep. His was just a name I threw out there and now am stuck defending. I'll stop now.

And SGTD - I didn't call Savard weak at all. I called his free agent class of centers weak and shallow (i.e. he was really the only star in it).

Anonymous said...

I love watching Gomez go coast to coast making the other team's players miss. He's never been a point per game player, but he's also been playing in the devils defense first system. Put him in a more offensive minded system and he's a point per game, easy. Put him with AO and I'd put him about 20 goals and 70 assists, plus he's defensively sound. If there's no other reason to watch a devils game, watch one just to see him carry the puck.

Anonymous said...

Gotta be Drury. Please. Kid has got heart. They're still talking here in Denver about what a mistake it was to let him go to Calgary. GM Lacroix's biggest blunder was giving up Drury for Derek Morris. They needed an offensive defenseman at the time and paid dearly. Drury has skill and a heckuva lot of heart. He could bring serious leadership to this Caps team.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd like Drury best like most. But the main issue is who would like to come here and who wouldn't just be attracted by the overpayment.

I think honestly, Datsyuk might be the only one remotely interested or intrigued in coming here. Sure, money talks, but losing does as well. Ovechkin's a key marketing piece, but I think there are going to just be too many people looking for their services to be a top choice of pretty much all of them.

Trade might end up being the main option.

I also defend Datsyuk a bit on his playoff performance. The first 2 times in the playoffs, he was not a key cog on the team, and the last few he both ran into a hot goalie once (the Giggy man) and really has averaged about .5 or so a game. He isn't a perfect fit, and honestly, a good showing this year (while not still kinda banged up) would go a ways to alleviate any concerns, I don't think it is a deal breaker.

JP said...

I agree re: Datsyuk's playoff woes being somewhat overrated - we'll see how he does this year.

I think I'll need to poll this question.

Unknown said...

Call me crazy, but I like Briere best, then Drury. And I know there's a history there, but money talk$.

Drury and Guerin combined: About $6-7M a year. Which leaves the Caps plenty for a D.

Anonymous said...

no way that little hobbit is 5'9"

JP said...

Alright, the poll's up now. Be a good American and go vote.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that so many favor Drury over the rest. He will doubtfully be less expensive simply because of his current salary, and if Buffalo goes far and god forbid wins the Cup, he's really going to demand a lot. What concerns me the most is the lack of assists. We need a passer up front.

Gomez seems far and away the best option. He wins (repeatedly!) is younger and the point about playing in a defensive system is well taken. Sure he will be expensive (also see comment above re: winning the Cup) but when we're talking about spending other people's money, what's another million per?

I'd rank Datysuk last. Sure Ovie would be happy initially, but the comments about his somewhat soft play, if not playoff point totals, should sound alarm bells.

Unknown said...

I know everyone has their favorites, but right now, just getting any of these four to sign this summer would be awesome.

If I had to pick, I would lean toward Drury.