During yesterday's press conference, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said that the team would be looking to sign a fourth line center for this coming season. The ideal candidate would be a natural center who is good at winning faceoffs, someone who can kill penalties, and of course a player who can contribute offensively on occasion.
Rutherford also said that in a perfect world, this player would also be physical. Are there any such players available this offseason? Let's take a look at some possibilities.
Keep in mind that a few of these guys played some third line center last season, but their past salary indicates that they could be slotted to the fourth line. Each of the following players will be unrestricted free agents this summer unless their current team signs them between now and July 1.
(I graded them from one star to four stars based upon qualifications for the job)
#15 / Center / Montreal Canadiens
May 03, 1976
|2010 - Jeff Halpern||72||11||15||26||6||29||0||1||3||62|
Halpern might be looking for a bit of a raise from last year's earnings of $600,000, but the Canes would probably consider giving it. Year in and year out, the center seems to finish above 50% in the faceoff circle, (last year he was 56.9%) and he is a solid penalty killer. He had the second highest average shorthanded ice time of any forward on the Habs this past season, (2:20 per game).
The center is a bit smallish, is not necessarily physical, and is getting up there in age, (35), so he's not going to get a perfect score, but he's a viable candidate. (Three Stars)
#19 / Center / Florida Panthers
Feb 26, 1977
|2010 - Marty Reasoner||82||14||18||32||2||22||0||0||4||124|
Reasoner played more minutes and is a bit higher priced than the average fourth liner, ($1.2 million last season), but he could be worth the extra money if he's willing to play fewer minutes for the Canes. Last season he led all Florida forwards with an average of 2:45 per game on the penalty kill, so that's a big plus. His faceoff percentage was 54.5%.
The bad news is that he averaged playing over 17 minutes in total per game and there is no way he would see that kind of action on Carolina's fourth line. He's definitely a long shot, but you never know, he could be waiting for his phone to ring this summer and he might be worth a phone call by Jim Rutherford. (Three Stars)
#38 / Center / Phoenix Coyotes
May 09, 1980
|2010 - Vernon Fiddler||71||6||16||22||3||46||0||1||2||97|
Fiddler's scoring numbers dropped a bit this past season but his faceoff percentage was solid as usual, (53.9%). He is also a good penalty killer and had the third highest average PK ice time on his team, (2:53). His overall average ice time is high for a fourth liner, (15:32) but he could be another player looking for a fresh start this summer.
Last season he made $1.1 million, but he might be looking at a reduction this coming season. (Three Stars)
#20 / Center / Phoenix Coyotes
Dec 16, 1977
|2010 - Eric Belanger||82||13||27||40||11||36||1||1||2||127|
Here is an interesting possibility. Belanger originally came to Raleigh in the summer of 2006 along with Tim Gleason in exchange for the rights to Jack Johnson and Oleg Tverdovsky, so he has some history here. It's not necessarily good history though as things never worked out and he was eventually traded in mid season to Atlanta.
The center never seemed to fit with the Canes and coach Peter Laviolette was given the blame for that. But no one in the league seemed to want to give Belanger a shot last summer and he ended up signing a cheap deal for $750,000 with the Coyotes.
He's always a beast in the faceoff circle, (55.3% last year and 56.4% the year before), he kills penalties, (1:47 per game), but he worked his way up to the third line in Phoenix and averages over 17 minutes per game. His numbers indicate that he should get a raise this coming season.
Belanger is another long shot, but for some reason he seems to have trouble finding a home. This is another case where his phone might not ring much after July 1 and he could fall to the Canes if they want him. There is also the "X-Factor" in that Rutherford might bring him back for redemption sake. (Three Stars)
#21 / Center / San Jose Sharks
Dec 31, 1974
|2010 - Scott Nichol||56||4||3||7||-3||50||0||0||0||61|
Nichol is getting up there in age, (36) and he might not be returning to San Jose next season. But he can still kill penalties, (average PK ice time of 2:05) and most importantly, he knows how to win faceoffs, (59.4% last season and 60.6% the year before).
He signed for $760,000 last year and can come pretty cheap if the Canes want to give him a shot. But he is smallish and usually doesn't provide much offense. (Two Stars)
#11 / Minnesota Wild
May 04, 1973
|2010 - John Madden||76||12||13||25||-9||10||1||1||4||107|
Speaking of getting older, John Madden is creeping up there in age as well, but the 38-year-old had another solid year last season. He averaged playing over two minutes a game on the PK and chipped in with some offense at times as well.
He's another guy who played over 15 minutes a game but might accept a reduced role if the price is right. (2010-11 salary was $1 million). His faceoff percentage dropped a bit to 51% from 53.7% the previous year. (Two Stars)
#28 / Center / New York Islanders
Jan 02, 1981
|2010 - Zenon Konopka||82||2||7||9||-14||307||0||0||0||56|
Could Konopka be in Rutherford's "perfect world"? With 300 plus penalty minutes, there is no questioning his physicality. But there isn't much help from him on offense and his defensive acumen and hockey sense is questionable. He did average 1:32 a game on the penalty kill, but he's a career double digit minus player.
The most amazing stat of all? He won 57.7% of his draws this past season and 62.3% the year before.
Last year he was pretty much a minimum earner at $600,000, so the price is right, but is he smart enough to stay out of the box on occasion? (Two Stars)
#15 / Center / Washington Capitals
Oct 19, 1983
|2010 - Boyd Gordon||60||3||6||9||-5||16||0||1||1||77|
Gordon is on the fringe and might be a decent pickup. His faceoff percentage was an outstanding 58% this past year and 61% the year before, but can he add enough offense to make it worthwhile?
The center had the second highest penalty kill minute average among all forwards on the Caps, (2:14 per game average). He earned $800,000 last season. (Two Stars)
#37 / Center / Toronto Maple Leafs
Mar 10, 1984
|2010 - Tim Brent||79||8||12||20||-4||33||0||1||1||60|
Brent won 52% of his draws this past year, not exactly noteworthy but he's pretty young and still learning. He earned $575,000 last year.
The center averaged 1:57 per game on the penalty kill and had over 100 hits for the season along with 58 blocked shots. He averaged playing over 11 minutes a game for the Leafs. (Two Stars)
Do you have any favorites from the above list? Have anyone to add? The Hurricanes probably want someone with experience but will most likely stay away from someone near retirement, (see Stephane Yelle).
These players are all unrestricted and should be available on July 1, but keep in mind, the Canes could always make a trade for player under contract that they like.