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Top 10 2014 NHL Free Agent Centers

Paul Stastny

First expanded look at unrestricted free agency this week by Todd Cordell, who can be found on twitter @ToddCordell.

NHL free agency is just a few days away, and with this year’s free agent crop arguably more underwhelming than usual, teams will be forced to overpay for high-end players so much so that the dollars may far exceed the production.

As mentioned, this is a poor class, which is indicative by Brad Richards being ranked among the top centers available despite recently being bought out by the New York Rangers.

In this post we’ll be looking at the top 10-centerman set to test the open market. The rankings will take into account standard stats such as goals, assists, and points as well as advanced stats such as Corsi For% relative to the team, and points per 60 minutes of 5 vs 5 and/or 5 vs 4.

Notes: Corsi For% is simply used to track shot attempts taken while a player is on the ice. If Player X is a 60% Corsi player, that means 60% of all shot attempts when he’s on the ice go towards the opposing net, while only 40% head in the direction of his goaltender’s net. This number is used to see who’s driving play, and generally having higher Corsi numbers leads to more production. Corsi For% relative to the team compares a player’s numbers to those of his team when he’s not on the ice. If Player X is a 60% Corsi player and his team is 55% without him, which gives him a Corsi Relative% of +5%.

Points per 60 minutes is simply how many points Player X records per 60 minutes of any given situation. If Player X had 10 5 vs 5 points in 120 minutes of ice, his 5 vs 5 points/60 would be 5. The same goes for goals and assists.

All numbers are via CapGeek, HockeyAnalysis, and ExtraSkater.

Without further ado, here are my rankings for the top-10 free agent centerman available this summer.

Honorable mentions: Saku Koivu (29 points in 65 games played – may retire), Brian Boyle (18 points in 82 games) and Steve Ott (23 points in 82 games).

10. Dominic Moore – New York Rangers – 33-years old

Prior contract: one year, $1 million ($1M cap hit)

When you factor everything Moore has had to go through over the last year with the loss of his wife, it’s quite miraculous that he’s been able to return to hockey and be so effective.

Playing in the bottom-6, Moore scored six goals and recorded 18 points in 73 regular season games, and added eight points in 25 playoff games during the Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Like Goc, Moore can skate, kill penalties and chip in offensively here and there. Given his experience and effectiveness in the playoffs, he’ll probably be highly sought after if he tests the market this summer.

9. Marcel Goc – Pittsburgh Penguins – 30-years old
Prior contract: three years, $5.1 million ($1.7M cap hit)

I believe Goc is one of the most underrated and underappreciated free agents in this year’s class. While the common fan probably doesn’t know who he is, Goc is one of the better bottom-6 forwards in hockey. He can skate, kill penalties and he produces more offense than most people realize.

Goc scored 11 goals and tallied 25 points 74 regular season games with the Florida Panthers and Penguins last season, and was good in the playoffs despite posting just one point in nine games.

He was better than a 50% Corsi player, and his numbers relative to the team without him on the ice were positive.

For any team looking for a possession-driving center that can kill penalties and chip in offensively, Goc is your guy.

8. Dave Bolland – Toronto Maple Leafs – 28-years old
Prior contract: five years, $16.875 million ($3.375M cap hit)

It’s tough to gauge how much money Dave Bolland’s going to make on his next contract, but it’ll probably be a lot more than he’s worth.

In a lockout shortened campaign playing primarily with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane – two Olympian wingers on hockey powerhouses – Bolland was only able to muster up 14 points in 35 games.

While some praise him as if he’s coming off a magical season in Toronto, the reality is he posted 12 points in 23 games – which is about a 40 point pace – and suffered a severe ankle injury that could hinder his play going forward.

There have been rumors that he’s looking for a long-term deal worth upwards of $5 million per season, and at that price I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole even if there were no injury concerns.

Bolland is definitely a candidate to get grossly overpaid in the near future.

7. Derek Roy – St. Louis Blues – 31-years old

Prior contract: one year, $4 million ($4M cap hit)

Roy wasn’t the best fit for the Blues given his style of play, but he managed to post respectable totals, as he had 37 points in 75 games.

While his overall production wasn’t overly appealing, he certainly made the most of the opportunities he was given on the power play. With the man advantage Roy averaged 5.64 points/60, which ranked 2nd behind Grabovski among free agent centers who took a regular shift on the PP.

He’s not the player he once was, but he can still help out any team looking for offense and a boost to their power play. It shouldn’t break the bank to sign him, either.

6. Mike Santorelli – Vancouver Canucks – 28-years old

Prior contract: one year, $550,000 ($550K cap hit)

Santorelli was one of the NHL’s biggest bargains this past season, and is in line for a nice raise this summer whether he stays with the Canucks or not. He scored 10 goals and added 28 points in 49 games with the Canucks before suffering a season ending injury. The Canucks were a better possession team with him on the ice than without (his CF% relative was 1% higher) and his 1.91 points/60 of 5 vs 5 was higher than everyone but Stastny among players with 45+ games.

His speed, versatility and ability to produce at full strength make him an attractive option for any team.

He probably won’t strike it big this summer – he’ll need a larger body of work before someone commits big money and/or term – but he’s definitely going to get a nice raise.

5. David Legwand – Detroit Red Wings – 33

Prior contract: six years, $27 million ($4.5M cap hit)

Legwand is quietly coming off a very good campaign split between the Nashville Predators and his hometown Red Wings. While playing in 83 games (yes, 83) Legwand scored 14 goals and tallied 51 points before going pointless in five playoff games in Detroit’s 1st round exit to the Bruins.

Legwand seems to be getting better with age, as he’s posted 50+ points in consecutive full NHL seasons, which is surprising given he’s only recorded 50+ points three times in his career.

He’s still effective at full strength, and his 4.94 points/60 on the man advantage is quite respectable.

Legwand has proven to be a consistent point producer – he has 40+ points in all but one NHL season (lockout aside) – and would be a nice addition for a team looking for an experienced 2nd line center that can produce some offense.

4. Olli Jokinen – Winnipeg Jets – 35-years old

Prior contract: two years, $9 million ($4.5M cap hit)

Like Richards, Jokinen takes a lot of beating from fans but is a better player than people give him credit for. While at this point in his career he’s not capable of carrying the load and centering a top line, he’s not a bad 2nd line option and would be very good in a 3rd line role if a team is set in their top-6. Jokinen scored 18 goals and tallied 43 points for the Jets while posting 1.64 points/60 of 5 vs 5, which was behind only Stastny in terms of centers who played in over 70 games. He can take regular shifts on both the power play and penalty kill, and would be a nice addition to any team looking for a two-way center.

3. Brad Richards – New York Rangers – 34-years old

Prior contract: nine years, $60 million ($6.66M cap hit)

Richards gets criticized a ton because he was unable to live up to expectations of that ridiculous contract he signed a few years ago, but contrary to popular belief he’s still a pretty good player.

Richards scored 20 goals and recorded 51 points while playing in all 82 regular season games for the Rangers this past season. Those numbers are not worth a cap hit of almost $7 million per season, but they’re still pretty impressive.

At this point in his career Richards is a No. 2 center and he’s not worth near the money he was making in New York, but if he was willing to sign a short-term contract (2-3 years) worth $4-4.5 million per season and is able to duplicate last season’s success, that’d be good value.

Stastny, Grabovski, and Olli Jokinen are the only top-6 centers potentially available that posted points at a higher rate during 5 vs 5 play than Richards 1.56 points/60.

2. Mikhail Grabovski – Washington Capitals – 30-years old
Prior contract: one year, $3 million ($3M cap hit)

Grabovski is coming off a solid bounce back season with the Capitals. He had some injury problems throughout the year, but found twine 13 times and added 35 points in 58 games while playing behind Nicklas Backstrom on the 2nd line.

Grabovski was +4% in the CF% relative to his teammates, which was only behind Stastny in that category. His 1.76 points/60 of 5 vs 5 was good for 2nd among free agent centers with 55+ games played, once again only behind Stastny. Grabovski was also quite effective on the power play recording 5.75 points/60, which was tops among UFA centers who were regulars on the PP.

1. Paul Stastny – Colorado Avalanche – 28-years old
Prior contract: five years, $33 million ($6.66M cap hit)

Stastny is the best free agent center – and perhaps player – in this year’s class. He’s coming off an excellent campaign where he scored 25 goals and added 60 points in 71 games while playing against tough competition and leading a surprising Avalanche team to a division title. He followed that up with 10 points in seven playoff games against Minnesota, and was arguably Colorado’s best player in the series.

Stastny leads all pending free agent centers in goals per 60 minutes of 5 vs 5 (.99), points/60 of 5 vs 5 (2.16) and posted a Corsi For Relative of +4.2%, which was the highest among the free agent center crop.

He figures to cash in big time if he leaves Colorado, as free agents tend to be overpaid and No. 1 centers like Stastny are rarely available for cash.

Potential destinations: Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Toronto and St. Louis

 

6 Comments

  1. Mark Easson

    June 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    I don’t think Stastny could have asked for a better year to be a UFA.

  2. rob

    June 23, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    I’d love stastny to go to the leafs. But I don’t see him leaving the west

  3. Jacob

    June 23, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Brad Richards’ advanced statistics were solid, but they were also a little bit deceiving at first glance. Considering that he took a startling amount of his face-offs in the offensive zone, his numbers don’t look that great.

  4. Chris

    June 23, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    The worst part is that this year’s free agent group is going to completely jack up the market for anyone re-signing centres.

    Paul Stastny is going to get 7 million plus and he hasn’t put up more than 60 points since 2009-2010 and those 60 points came this year. On average he’s a 50-60 point centre. By comparison Nazem Kadri got 50 points this year, Tyler Bozak got 49 points in 23 less games than Stastny (pro rate that and he probably would have outscored him). David Deharnais got 53 points.

    Are all these guys getting 7 mil on their next contracts?

  5. Estimator

    June 23, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Stastny I would assume gets between 6-7 million no more than 7. Probably around a five yr deal.

  6. rob

    June 24, 2014 at 12:55 am

    I think if Bolland wants to sign with the leafs as bad as he says he does. I think he will take a lot less money then he wants