One of the New Jersey Devils needs this summer is the center position. The team doesn't have a natural center for their second line. Should Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond walk, they will need replacements on the third and fourth lines. Short of hoping a prospect is ready now - and there's no indication of there being one ready now - the Devils will likely have to go into free agency to sign a center.
To that end, I am spending the next few days taking a closer look at the unrestricted free agent (UFA) centers available this summer and how they did last season. Based on suggestions from the community and a few other names that caught my eye, I've sorted out 23 possible targets. I've divided up the 23 by their even strength ice time per 60: players with 13 TOI/60 or greater are "significant minute" centers; players with 11-12 TOI/60 are "secondary minute" centers; and players with 10-11 TOI/60 are "depth minute" centers.
I've made the designation on Friday, while simultaneously pointing out how many draws they took and their winning percentage. At least on paper, the Devils should be able to upgrade the number of faceoff wins in 2010-11 should they go into the free agent market. Yesterday, I pulled their 2009-10 goals versus threshold stats to see how each UFA center contributed to their respective teams and who was the best within each designation.
Today, I go back to Behind the Net to look at each center's on-ice and on-ice impact stats at even strength, 5-on-5 hockey. Please set your viewing to wide so you can see the entire chart and continue after the jump to see who had the most positive impact on their team last season.
I went to Behind the Net and sorted out all centers from the 5-on-5 on-ice stats, with a minimum TOI/60 of 10 and a minimum games played of 30. The on-ice stats are straight forward, detailing the team's goals for per 60 (GF/60), goals against per 60 (GA/60), shots for per 60 (SF/60), and shots against (SA/60) when the player was on the ice. The impact is the off-ice numbers minus the on-ice numbers; meaning positive impacts on GF/60 and SF/60 will be negative values and positive impacts on GA/60 and SA/60 will be positive values.
In addition to this, I've included the on-ice shooting percentage and the PDO of the player to highlight how well the team was shooting and saving when the player was on the ice. Generally, these two stats tend to regress to a player's true mean so low values here may be indicative of going up next season and high values may be red flags for 2010-11.
Lastly, thanks to Derek Zona, I've calculated the adjusted Corsi/60 of when the player was on the ice. A higher Corsi/60 suggests that when the player is on the ice, his team has the puck more often since Corsi tallies how often a team attempts to shoot the puck. The adjustment is for zone start - where a player started their shift - and I've included how often they started in their own zone against being in the opponent's zone to highlight who's been forced to get out their own end more often. It's context for the adjusted Corsi/60.
In pulling the numbers from Behind the Net, I got 132 centers. However, four from my list had to be added and I noticed that some of the filtered players may not actually be centers based on low faceoff totals. I didn't go through the list to eliminate them, I just added the four to get a pool of 136 centers. That said, I'm looking at a player's impact, what the numbers were and how the player ranked out of all 136. It's not so important if, say, Eric Belanger ranked 38th in PDO when it should really be 36th or 40th; the ranks should be used to get a sense of how well his impact stacked up among other centers.
Significant Minute Centers (13+ TOI/60)
The bold numbers mean that stat was the best among the designated players. The man with the most here is Patrick Marleau. Great on-ice shooting percentage and PDO (though I fear it's due for some regression in 2010-11 - this also may apply to Matthew Lombardi and Saku Koivu); and fantastic offensive on-ice and on-ice impact numbers. When he steps on the ice, San Jose improved by 1.17 GF/60 and 3.9 SF/60; which is, well, great. He's got the highest adjusted Corsi/60 here and he actually wasn't solely out there for offensive draws, he's just below even.
In short, further justification for Marleau and his people to command big dollars this summer.
He's not all perfect, though. He's one of three centers here where when he stepped on the ice, the SA/60 got worse. Olli Jokinen put up a similarly great impact on SF/60 with slightly tougher competition and far weaker teammates. Saku Koivu put up good impact numbers and especially in GA/60.
Two things surprised me here, and no, seeing Rob Niedermayer providing little on offense wasn't either one of them. First, Vinny Prospal (a.k.a. Vaclav Prospal) faced the toughest competition out of the whole group. That's mitigated by playing with the strongest teammates at the same time; but I certainly didn't expect that or his great impact on SA/60 (2.1 fewer SA/60 when on the ice). Second, Tomas Plekanec put up decent enough numbers but didn't excel in any of them outside of starting in the defensive zone far more than any of the other pivots. The rankings really show Plekanec's solid-but-unexceptional on-ice and on-ice impact stats:
Let me also emphasize how big Marleau stands out with all of these top 30 rankings. Again, who else can be the top UFA center this summer? As far as veterans who can still bring it, well, Koivu and Prospal really fit the bill. I'd rank Koivu ahead if only for finishing in the top half among all 136 centers in every stat except on-ice SA/60. Even there, his impact was positive, it was already high before Koivu stepped on the ice.
Secondary Minute Centers (11-12 TOI/60)
At first glance, it seems the best among the secondary minute centers are Manny Malhotra and Brendan Morrison. However, let me highlight two red flags: their on-ice team shooting percentage and PDO. These aren't just highs for them, but excessively high. You'll see in the ranking table that they were among the best in shooting percentage and the very best in PDO. Do not be surprised at all if these two stats drop like an anvil off of a cliff in 2010-11.
That said, Malhotra has a great values for SA/60 and GA/60 impact, plus a fantastically low on-ice GA/60. Add to the fact he started off in his own zone more often than not and his great adjusted Corsi/60, it further confirms that Malhotra's a great checking center. Morrison, on the other hand, wasn't so great elsewhere except for on-ice GF/60, on-ice and on-ice impact on GA/60. His presence didn't result in more shots for or fewer shots against, plus the lack of a positive on-ice impact on GF/60 is a bit concerning as to whether he can really help an offense on even strength. Even Malhotra had a positive, if slight, impact to his team's GF/60.
If you want a center who is used to being back at the home end of the rink, John Madden and Richard Park are your men of choice. Whether they had a good impact on their teams is debatable, however. Madden accomplished an odd feat in 09-10. He had a great on-ice SA/60 but when he stepped on the ice, but that SA/60 actually went up by 1.9. Meaning, Madden made his team's SA/60 worse to a, well, really low SA/60. I guess that's not bad? At least his adjusted Corsi/60 smoked all of the UFA centers. Park was more consistently not-so-great in terms of on-ice and on-ice impact at 5-on-5 hockey, though. So Madden over Park, in this sense.
This chart should certainly be of use of trying to figure out who is more desirable: Matt Cullen or Eric Belanger. Both provided a positive impact on SF/60, Cullen was better in terms of on-ice GF/60 and on-ice impact on that same stat, and Belanger was better than Cullen at on-ice and on-ice impact on SF/60. Granted, the 40-year old Robert Lang out-did them both, but I doubt he's a realistic option for New Jersey as a possible second-line-like center. I'd give an edge to Belanger for the superior adjusted Corsi/60; and while his PDO was higher, I'd expect the shooting percentage of Cullen's to drop but Belanger's to possibly improve a bit. That said, Cullen did face tougher competition than Belanger last season
Which leads me to the quality of competition for this whole group. Everyone not named Matt Cullen had a negative quality of competition. That surprised me, for sure, since quite a few of these players are checking centers. Did the league largely match power with power last season? I don't know why it ended up like this. Just like I'm not sure how Kyle Wellwood managed the best on-ice GA/60 among all centers last season with the second lowest quality of teammates among all of the UFA centers (only Dean McAmmond had worse on his lines).
As far as who to target based on these stats depends on what the need is. For defensive purposes, Malhotra has to be seen as the best. Past him, I'd consider Wellwood (look at the ranks before you make fat jokes) as a 'Plan B.' If the idea is to be really crafty and have a 'Plan C,' then I'd look at Dominic Moore before Park (admittedly, John Madden before either but at age 38 who knows if he'll keep going). Of course, I'd prefer Malhotra or Wellwood before him, though. For offensive purposes, I'd consider Belanger, Cullen, and Morrison in that order.
Depth Minute Centers (10-11 TOI/60)
I'm a little confused as to why Jim Slater may be picking up steam as a depth center signing. He enjoyed a great on-ice team shooting percentage and PDO; plus he had smallest negative impact out of this whole group in GF/60 while enjoying a on-ice GF/60 of 2.57. However, those first two stats could take a sharp turn down next season unless he's on a team with a very good goaltender.
Slater didn't provide a positive impact in anything but GA/60 last season. As fine as that may be (and it is fine), but why not get Glen Metropolit in that case? He had a bigger impact on that same stat and one of the lowest on-ice GA/60 in the league last season. Plus, he had a substantial positive on-ice impact on SA/60, as well as a slight positive on-ice impact on SF/60. I come away from looking at these numbers (plus GVT) that Glen Metropolit might be a better depth signing than Slater - ignoring that Slater is 9 years younger at age 28.
Still, most of this calibur of center are veterans so we can't let age get too much in the way. Jeff Halpern may not bring much in the way of offense - he provided negative on-ice impact to GF/60 and SF/60 - but his presence on the ice led to improvements in GA/60 and especially SA/60. What makes it more impressive is that he faced the highest quality of competition out of this entire group (and of all of the secondary minute centers) and nearly pulled off an above-even adjusted Corsi/60. If the idea is to get a checker, Halpern would be a good choice too.
Sure, Scott Nichol is great at draws, but he was the worst in this group at on-ice impact on SF/60, he didn't provide a positive impact on GF/60 or GA/60, and he didn't provide as positive impact on SA/60 as other centers on this list. I'm dissuaded from Nichol based on on-ice and on-ice impact numbers.
I'm also dissuaded from the idea that a more offensive center could be had here since the best options appear to be retaining Dean McAmmond or signing Craig Conroy. They were the only ones to achieve a beneficial adjusted Corsi/60 and a positive impact to SF/60. That said, they were both pretty bad in impacting GF/60, and their on-ice GF/60 is quite low. Not to mention their low on-ice shooting percentage and PDO, though that could rise next season. Again, there doesn't appear to be a diamond among depth minute centers for even strength offense.
I didn't mention Rickard Wallin much since he was bad on a very bad Toronto team last season. Not exactly the most ideal of targest. However, his on-ice stats and ranks weren't too terrible for defensive stats like on-ice GA/60 and SA/60. He did have a good positive on-ice impact on GA/60. That said, when he stepped on the ice, the SF/60 dropped by 6 and the other offensive stats were poor across the board.
Thanks for reading as usual. Big thanks to Behind the Net, the source of all of these stats. Now it's time for your opinion. Who surprised you with their on-ice and on-ice impact stats? Who did you think would stand out but didn't? Who did you think would be terrible but wasn't? Does any of this change your mind on a who you would like to see represent New Jersey in 2010-11? Please let me know what you think in the comments.