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At this point, everyone reading this has probably heard from multiple sources who state, in some form or fashion, that the Carolina Hurricanes are just a top-line center away from being serious contenders. “They need a top center! Gotta get a 1C! The offseason isn’t complete without acquiring a bonafide top center!” While some may be disappointed with general manager Ron Francis not addressing this supposed glaring need, let me be among the first to say:
“I don’t care if the Canes acquire another center!”
Really, I don’t. I have a few reasons, but let me begin with the most obvious:
Top-line centers are basically an endangered species, and the ones who are around either are not available or do not come cheap
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews and their other contemporaries are not leaving their team anytime soon. And wouldn’t you know it, of those five examples all of them are still with their original organization. It is almost as if when teams have one of these type players, they never let them go!
While the actual term “top-line center” is very much the hockey cousin of the NFL’s “elite QB,” we can also look to other players who may not universally be considered a elite top-line center but have filled, to some extent, that illustrious role in their recent history. Matt Duchene has been available. Really, really available. While his price tag may be what is keeping a team from pulling the trigger on this deal, it is also worth noting that Duchene himself, while billed as the real deal, has registered under 60 total points in each of the previous three seasons. You know who blew right past 60 points this season? Former Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who the team jettisoned in a trade less than 18 months ago, and who notched 65 points with Minnesota this past season.
Why would the Canes buy in on a Matt Duchene deal when his actual production has not been up to “top-line center” standards? The bottom line, there are few actual top-line centers. The ones that are legit tend to not go anywhere. The ones who are available...well, they’re available for a reason. Just like store-brand products, sometimes they are as good as the name brand, but often times, you end up full of disappointment.
Jordan Staal, Top-Line Center
I will be brief here, as my colleague Zeke Lukow articulated this discussion of the true value of Jordan Staal much better than I ever could. I think we can definitively say that, while the point production of Jordan Staal has left something to be desired, the impact Staal makes on the game night in and night out falls in line with that of many top centers around the league. His ability and willingness to take some of the toughest matchups has given the Canes a better chance to win, even if they have caused his overall offensive numbers to take a hit because of it.
There is a Number One on This Roster or in This Organization, We Just Don’t Know Where Yet
Players evolve. They change from one season to the next. They improve, injuries or other factors take away abilities that were theirs previously. Young players especially experience high-volatility. It would stand to reason, then, that a team loaded with younger talent could have a top-line center on their hands without reaching outside of their own organization.
Look no further than the leaps and bounds development of Elias Lindholm over the final months of the 2016-17 season. He spent much of the early months of the season looking as if he had stalled in his progress, but then exploded as a high-impact player in the second half. Victor Rask has shown a knack for scoring at times, but has also been prone to disappear for weeks at a time. Teuvo Teravainen still has yet to tap into the enormous potential he has. Perhaps there is a “leap” left for him that would bring him to something approaching that top-line level of player.
These guys are young, even if they have multiple NHL seasons under their belt. Let them grow. Who knows, maybe Nicolas Roy or Martin Necas develop within the next 3 years and become NHL stalwarts in the middle. Development is more likely the answer to these questions long term, not the trade market.
All I ask if that we stop talking about a number-one center. A trade is unlikely, and even if one is made, it is likely an over-pay for a guy who will still have to prove that he is who they claim he is. Until that time, the Canes should just continue to develop what they have and hope to unearth the full value of all of the pieces they do have instead of worrying about the pieces they don’t have.