It's not Manny Malhotra, but it's Scott Nichol. Quite possibly the top 4-on-5 performing UFA center based on on-ice stats and on-ice impact. (Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images)
Yesterday, I looked at the 5-on-4 on-ice and on-ice impact numbers of the unrestricted free agent centers that are available this summer and who have actually played the position last season. 14 out of the 23 originally set aside actually played at least 1 time on ice per 60 (TOI/60) on 5-on-4 situations for their team, though most of them were only on their team's secondary units based on their relatively low ice time. Moreover, the only player who really stood out at bringing a strong impact to their team's power play was Patrick Marleau - and even he wasn't exceptional across the board. Either the center was good-not-great in a few stats, did quite well in one stat and only one stat, or wasn't good across the board.
Basically, if the goal is to have the targeted UFA center help out the power play, then there doesn't appear to be a lot of clear answers available on the market. Today, let's conclude the look at UFA centers by flipping around the situation. I pulled numbers from Behind the Net and used the same criteria from yesterday's post (minimum 30 games played, 1 TOI/60) for 4-on-5 penalty killing situations.
Out of 23, 15 met the criteria, including players who didn't show up for the power play. In fact, the only UFA center to not appear on either analysis was Dean McAmmond, who played for the New Jersey Devils last season. He played depth minutes last season and being on the bottom six, it's not terribly out of place for him not to be featured on special teams. Whoever signs him will likely put him on the fourth line for a veteran presence and that's really it.
Find out who played some notable role for their team's penalty killing units last season and how they impacted the shots against per 60 (SA/60) and goals against per 60 (GA/60) when they stepped on the ice after the jump.
The 15 UFA Centers On-Ice & On-Ice Impact on 4-on-5 Situations
Note: Given that the focus is on defensive stats, the impact values should be as high as positive. After all, when the player steps on the ice, we'd want the GA/60 or SA/60 to fall - meaning the off-ice number should be higher than the on-ice number.
Your top players by on-ice values and impact are Scott Nichol, Dominic Moore, Saku Koivu, and Eric Belanger. They were the only UFA centers to have exceptional stats, as in they ranked in the top 30 out of 176 forwards who played at least 30 games and 1 TOI/60 in 4-on-5 situations last season. I leave it to you as what was more impressive between the top two centers. You have the depth-minute-playing (signified by the blue color) Nichol having a big positive effect on GA/60 and one of the lowest on-ice GA/60 in the league on one side. The other is the secondary-minute-playing (signified by the pink/purple shade) Dominic Moore who had a huge positive impact on SA/60, which led to a low on-ice SA/60, along with not turning 37 next season.
I'd give an edge to Nichol because he too had a positive impact on SA/60 (3.4 fewer SA/60) and played more on the PK than Moore did last season. Either way, the two managed to be on the ice for only 11 power play goals against and that's rather impressive. Only Craig Conroy and Jim Slater was on for fewer goals against. However, the GA/60 and SA/60 actually got worse when Slater stepped on the ice; and while Conroy only had a positive impact on GA/60 (by 1.62), the SA/60 increased by disturbing 16.9 when he came on the ice.
Surprisingly, the SA/60 went up by quite a bit when most of the UFA centers stepped on the ice. Only Nichol, Moore, Belanger, and (this will make Leafs fans cringe) Rickard Wallin can legitimately say the opposing team was quelled when they came on the ice during a 4-on-5 situation last season.
Good thing I included GA/60 to show that while the shots against rate may have increased, it may have not necessarily led to more goals against. In that case, Conroy, Rob Niedermayer, Saku Koivu Jeff Halpern, and to a lesser extent John Madden can hold their head up high. Likewise, it should disprove the notion that Eric Belanger is a great penalty killer. It's pretty bad when your on-ice GA/60 is only 1.4 less than the one of the worst on-ice GA/60 last season; which is held by Richard Park who was on the ice for a disturbing 42 power play goals against.
Interestingly, I didn't expect Tomas Plekanec and Patrick Marleau to appear but here they are and they played a good amount of shorthanded time last season. The results appear mixed, as their presence led to an increase in SA/60 (and a very high one in Marleau's case); but slight improvement on GA/60. Given how they contributed to their teams in 2009-10, it's good to know they have experience playing in all situations. For all the money they'll likely get this summer, they'll almost have to in order to justify their new salaries. Especially Marleau, given his even strength on-ice and on-ice impact stats.
Another surprise: Manny Malhotra not only didn't feature all that much on San Jose's penalty killing units, but his presence led to an large increase SA/60 and GA/60. Was it a bad season for his PK work? Was it just a bad fit in San Jose? Sure it's not at Belanger or Park levels of bad for on-ice impact on GA/60 or just on-ice GA/60; but an increase of 2.84 GA/60 to an on-ice GA/60 of 7.25 is simply not acceptable.
When you look at how the UFA centers stack up by rank in comparison to their fellow PK-playing forwards, it's clear that Nichol looks far better than Moore. Nichol is in the top half of all forwards in each stat; Moore can't say the same thing for his on-ice and on-ice impact on GA/60.
The ranks themselves really highlight how many of the UFA centers did so poorly when it came to on-ice SA/60 and impact on that same stat. If that's the metric for determining who would be good for shorthanded situations, then there's not a whole lot of good choices. If the metric is who had a low on-ice GA/60 and a good impact on GA/60, well, the selection becomes wider. Only Nichol, Saku Koivu, and Craig Conroy can be an improvement over Rob Niedermayer in this sense; though others like John Madden and Jeff Halpern would be steps up in one of those stats. The pool available becomes wider
All the same, I'd stay away from using Matt Cullen, Manny Malhotra, Richard Park (especially Park), or Jim Slater from being a key player on the PK next season should either be signed to New Jersey. Like with yesterday's look at 5-on-4 stats, I wouldn't use these stats to decide who to sign on their own. They would be better suited for evaluating what role they can reasonably play next season and possibly as a means to help differentiate one UFA center over another.
Lastly, 7 UFA centers have played at least 1 TOI/60 on both 5-on-4 situations and 4-on-5 situations last season: Marleau, Plekanec, Koivu, Belanger, Cullen, Malhotra, and Halpern. So if the intended signing has to have experience playing on both special teams, these are the 7 to focus on. I don't believe the Devils have to sign a center who can do it all, but versatility helps.
Now that you've read the on-ice and on-ice impact on 4-on-5 situations for the 15 UFA centers, what do you think? Do you prefer your penalty killers to reduce goals against or shots against if you had to choose? Surprised at some of the findings, like Manny Malhotra having done so poorly? The fact that Richard Park kept getting PK time despite being on the ice for so many goals against? Impressed that the best UFA center for the penalty kill was depth-minute center and faceoff-winning machine Scott Nichol? Did these numbers change your mind on who the Devils should target?
Please leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments. Also, leave suggestions on what should be done next: draft profiles? As usual, thank you to Gabe for Behind the Net for the numbers used in these posts; and thank you for reading.