Should the Canucks bring in a free agent to compete for the fourth line center position?
Currently the Canucks are strong up the middle on the top three lines with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra, but there is a distinct drop-off after that.
Internal candidates for the fourth line include Joel Perrault, Alex Bolduc and Mario Bliznak.
Perrault has the most NHL games, but also couldn’t make the Phoenix Coyotes last season, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
Bolduc has been serviceable but not noticeable in his callups over the last two seasons.
Bliznak had performed well for the Manitoba Moose (and won a Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants), but has had only limited NHL experience, the least of the candidates.
Rick Rypien should make the team and is also a potential candidate to center the fourth line. However while he is a natural center, he is more effective playing on the wing.
Luckily for Mike Gillis, there are a few UFA centers who could help the Canucks. These players all have NHL playoff experience (some with the Canucks) and would be an upgrade over any of the internal candidates.
And perhaps more importantly, as September begins they are unsigned and could potentially take a cheap one year deal with the Canucks to stay in the NHL, rather than be unemployed or go to Europe.
Something in the $600,000 to $800,000 range could easily be accommodated under the salary cap, even with the Canucks current problems in that regard. *More on the Canuck's cap situation.
Last year Malhotra took a cheap deal with the Sharks and parlayed it into a new three year deal with the Canucks. This season Raffi Torres hopes to do the same by taking a paycut to sign with the Canucks.
Maybe one of these three would be willing to do the same here in Vancouver.
2009-2010 Salary: $1,200,000
5’10” 181 lbs, 27 years old
During the regular season over the last two years, Kyle Wellwood has been ok as the Canucks third line center, nothing special. This year Malhotra was brought in as a needed upgrade. But could Wellwood perform as a fourth line center?
At first glance, you wouldn’t think so.
During the regular season, Wellwood isn’t physical enough to play in a checking role, although he is defensively responsible. He also was excellent at faceoffs, coming in second on the Canucks with 53.8%, just behind Kesler’s 55.1%.
But during the playoffs, Wellwood seems to flip a switch and elevate his game, throwing hits and taking them to make plays while avoiding bad penalties. (Cue Don Cherry’s “Good Canadian Kid” praise)
During his 12 games played during the 2009-2010 playoffs, Wellwood had a 57.3% faceoff percentage, scored 2 goals and recorded 5 assists for 7 points. Surprisingly, he also recorded 11 hits and 5 blocked shots.
That is double the rate Wellwood was scoring, hitting and blocking during the regular season. (14 goals, 11 assists, 30 hits and 18 blocked shots over 75 games)
If Wellwood was willing to take a paycut and demotion to the fourth line, he could be a valuable contributor who scores a bit more and hits a bit less than the prototypical fourth liner. Of course, that assumes he can play more like he does in the spring than he does in the fall.
Wellwood also is great at shootouts, and having him in the lineup could mean a few extra points in the standings.
2009-2010 Salary: $1,500,000
5’11” 185 lbs, 35 years old
Morrison is another former Canuck looking for a new team. Last season he played for Washington, but now the Maple Ridge native is skating out at UBC with other former and current Canucks while his agent works the phones to find him a new home.
Last season Morrison scored 12 goals and recorded 30 assists for 42 points in 74 games. He also had 33 hits, 31 blocked shots and a 51.2% faceoff percentage.
Morrison is the oldest of the three centers, but he is still a dependable player in the defensive end. And like Wellwood, Morrison is usually good at shootouts. Plus Morrison was a fan favourite in years past, and it never hurts to have another BC native on the roster.
2009-2010 Salary: $1,200,000
5’10” 185 lbs, 29 years old
According to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal (by way of Yahoo Sports) Mike Comrie is willing to take a significant paycut to play for a contender, which could fit the bill here in Vancouver.
Last season Comrie put up 13 goals and 8 assists in 43 games for the Oilers. He also recorded 20 hits and 28 blocked shots. Shifted to the wing for most of the season, he has a 53.2% faceoff percentage, albeit with far fewer draws than Morrison or Wellwood.
Comrie is a gritty center who can put up points and be physical, but who was sidelined by mono last year. Now he needs a good season to redeem himself and get his career back on track.
All three of these UFA centers share another key characteristic besides their contract status. They could easily move higher in the lineup if there are injuries. This depth could be key come playoff time.
This is just speculation on my part, but don’t be surprised if you see one of these guys in the Canucks training camp on a tryout basis, even if they ultimately end up signing elsewhere like Dave Scatchard did last year.