Ed. Note: Added to the front page because this is a great analysis.
With Mike Richards traded, this Flyers team is in need of a tough minutes center; someone who is going to take on the Crosby/Zajac/Dubinsky/Backstrom/Krejci opponent line and effectively reduce their scoring chances.
You could argue that Claude Giroux could fill this role, but I believe that is a waste of Giroux's offensive talents. Two season ago, Blair Betts played a minor checking role, but this changed last season as he had to carry Jody Shelley around the ice. We also don't want to see Betts playing 15+ minutes a night as well as PK time. Braydon Schenn has been touted as a "future Richards", but the idea of putting a 20 year old against Crosby does not fill me with confidence.
It is my opinion (also shared by Eric T. and Snevik, probably others but I believe we three have been most vocal) that the Flyers need a tough minutes center to take on this role, at least until Schenn has developed to a point where he can manage it. The type of role that Manny Malhotra played so well this season in Vancouver, allowing the Sedin's to start in the offensive zone 70% of the time, and Ryan Kesler to take on a more offensive role. Sure he won the Selke, but it was Malhotra that was playing all the tough minutes allowing Kesler to score goals (and gain exposure which no doubt helped in the Selke voting).
While Malhotra did everything you could want from a third line center, his cap hit of $2.5 million (which is outrageously good) is on the high side to fit in to the Flyers roster. However, there are a few unrestricted free agents that could take on a mini-Malhotra role (or a mega-Betts if you want to think about it that way), and I hope that Holmgren/Snider is considering a contract for one of them come free agency.
Glossary of terms:
Corsi Rel QoC: this is used to identify the quality of the opponents the players regularly played against
Corsi Rel: used to provide a comparison between the teams ability to control the play when the player is on the ice versus when they aren't on the ice.
OZS%: the frequency a player starts in the offensive zone for faceoffs.
FO%: faceoff win percentage
The higher the numbers for Corsi Rel QoC and Corsi Rel, means the tougher the competition and how that player performed at controlling the play relative to their teammates. The lower the OZS% means the less the player started in the offensive zone (or the more defensive zone draws they took).
I used a minimun of 41 games as a cutoff and only compared between forward positions on the same team to define the players rank.
First, a look at Mike Richards.
|Mike Richards||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
Richards was used a little differently last season to normal, but was still regularly deployed in the defensive zone against second line opponents. He wasn't great at winning faceoffs, but played the third most minutes of any forward on the penalty kill
Manny Malhotra is exactly the type of player required (who called that again?) to play a tough minutes role on this team and allow Briere to dominate easy competition and Giroux to play second line competition, whilst giving Schenn development time.
|Manny Malhotra||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
Malhotra was excellent last season for the Canucks. He started in the defensive zone 75% of the time, against the toughest competition. His Corsi Rel shows that he was didn't control the play well, but that's expected given the role he was put in. Great on faceoffs and a lot of PK time too.
Below is a list of "tough minute UFA centers"
|Vernon Fiddler||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
|Marty Reasoner||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
|Michal Handzus||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
|Eric Belanger||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
|Marcel Goc||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
|Jeff Halpern||2010-2011 cap||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||OZS%||FO%||PK TOI/G|
I included Goc because Snevik had expressed an interest in acquiring him, but he doesn't really fill the need.
For me, the standout is Belanger. He played the third toughest competition and was fourth best at controlling the play. He started in the defensive zone more often than not, but less times compared to some of his teammates (like Fiddler) and was excellent at winning draws. He was also on the second PK unit. As for the cap hit, assuming a small raise to $2 million would be reasonable.
Marty Reasoner would also be adequate and would probably come with a lower cap hit than Belanger. He played against the opponents top line but did not control the play well. He was also great on the draw and played on the first PK unit.
In my opinion, signing either of these two players and putting them between Versteeg and Simmonds would be better than dividing the tough minutes between Giroux, Schenn and Betts.