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Free Agent Spotlight: Nick Bonino Plays A Role, But Does He Fit in Raleigh?

One-third of the vaunted “HBK” line could make his way out of Pittsburgh this summer, and brings a depth-scoring pedigree with him.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

So, let’s say the T.J. Oshie sweepstakes go in favor of a team closer to the Stanley Cup. And Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog make other choices. Is that the end of the road for the Carolina Hurricanes?

Enter Nick Bonino. Known mostly for his performance in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2015-16 playoff run, the well-traveled center finished seventh in scoring on the high-flying Penguins roster in 2016-17 with 37 points. It wasn’t his strongest year in the N.H.L., but it was his third in four years with at least 35 points. Would his secondary production help solve the Hurricanes scoring woes?

Tale of the Tape

  • Age: 29
  • 2016-17 season: 18 goals, 19 assists, 37 points
  • Career (ANA, VAN, PIT): 75 goals, 112 assists, 187 points in 407 games
  • 2016-17 Advanced Stats: 46.3% Corsi for, 99.5 PDO, 43.03% zone starts, 46.2% goals for
  • 2016-17 Salary: $2,100,000
  • Contract ending: 3 years, $5.7 million, $1.9 million AAV, signed November 28, 2013 (UFA)

Making the Case

Well, Carolina could certainly use a center. Bonino fills that need as an N.H.L veteran with a Stanley Cup pedigree and the unique ability to turn up in big games.

(Come on, you can’t post a Bonino article without this clip.)

Jeff Skinner has come up large in his share of crucial moments in the past few seasons, but another “clutch” player like Bonino could make the difference late in a few one-goal games here and there.

And while Bonino’s face-off statistics aren’t mindblowing, some time with noted face-off wizard Rod Brind’Amour would do him some good. He could move up and down the lineup, and though he doesn’t present superstar statistics, Bonino is a versatile center and could wear many hats in the Canes offense.

Bonino presents an opportunity to have a proven N.H.L. center in the lineup to bring support to the Canes leading scorers, as well as some welcome mentorship to the numerous young forwards in the Hurricanes’ organization.

On the Other Hand...

While Bonino brings a few positives with him, he doesn’t actually meet Carolina’s need down the middle. Their lack of a true #1 center was noticeable in a bad way last season (Victor Rask is serviceable, but seriously lacked the production of a #1), and another depth signing would miss the mark on the team’s goals this offseason.

A veteran presence with a Stanley Cup ring isn’t a bad idea, but Bonino’s impending contract is of the “next-step” variety, meaning he is due for a healthy raise in salary and term. At 29, he may be out of the Canes’ unofficial forward age range for a $3-4m/3-4yr contract. They could be better served to spend that money on new contracts for their young defense in the coming years.

Bonino has put up solid numbers for a depth center in his career, but has been on a downward trajectory over the past four years. Granted, he has improved on his 29 points from 2015-16, but he has yet to show the form he did in 2013-14 — his only 20-goal season and the only one in which he put up at least 40 points.

His knack for big-game playoff production is no good if the team can’t even make the playoffs, which is the Hurricanes’ goal for the moment.

The Verdict

There’s a lot to like about Bonino — his versatility, his clutch potential, his championship credentials, plus the fact that his name is fun to say, to name a few things — but it just doesn’t seem right for Carolina. His new contract won’t be monumental, but it will certainly be an investment. Given the Hurricanes’ youth movement, Bonino just isn’t the right investment for Ron Francis to make.