NHL Free Agency 2012: Could Jason Arnott Be the Top-Line Center Toronto Needs?

John B Matheson@@JB_WebberCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2012

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 23:  Jason Arnott #44 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Detroit Red Wings during their NHL game at Joe Louis Arena on January 23, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs are still looking for the No. 1 center that they have been missing to join with Phil Kessel and either James van Riemsdyk or Joffrey Lupul.

An article by the Toronto Star reported the Leafs have hinted that van Riemsdyk will try for that position during training camp if things still do not change.

GM Brain Burke has made it clear he has not liked the asking price for the talent that has signed already, and for that reason the team has remained quiet on the free-agency front.

There are still a few impact players available in free agency, with names like Shane Doan reportedly listening to offers now.

Like Ryan Suter, it is believed that if, and it seems to be a big if, Doan leaves Phoenix, he wants to remain in the West.

Another less talked-about option that would bring size, skill and a veteran presence to the Maple Leafs is former St. Louis Blues center Jason Arnott.

He may be 37 years old, but Arnott has shown over the last decade that he is still very capable of getting the numbers.

Arnott had his share of injuries last season, it is true, but he was still able to net himself 34 points, 17 of which were goals.

In fact, since his career began way back in the 1993-94 season with Edmonton, Arnott has not once failed to reach the 30-point mark in a season.

These are numbers that can not be overlooked; the large center has been a consistent player, even during seasons riddled with injury.

At 6’5” and 220 pounds, Arnott has that big presence that Burke has told the media Toronto is looking for, as reported by the Toronto Star.  

While Arnott has not been known as a prolific hitter over the course of his career, he has not been one to back down, and he tries to protect his linemates.

This past season, while they were one of the higher scoring tandems in the NHL, Lupul and Kessel were continually pushed around.

It became clear that the style of play that new head coach Randy Carlyle tried to implement at the end of the season required a larger body on that first line.

Arnott can hit, he can fight, but more importantly, he can still put up the points.

There is also the fact that he is from Collingwood, Ontario, which should make Don Cherry stop his inane rant about there not being any Ontario players on the Leafs.

Last summer, the large center signed a one-year deal with St. Louis for $2.5 million, for a cap hit of $2.85 million.

As one of the remaining talented players still in free agency, he is probably being looked at by a few teams who need size and skill up front.

It would not be unreasonable for Toronto to offer a two- or three-year deal in the area of $3.5-$4 million for Arnott.

His numbers have consistently been better than that of last year’s big free-agent signing, Tim Connolly.

Connolly has only managed to break the 50-point barrier twice in his career while Arnott has done so 11 times, most recently in the 2008-09 season with Nashville.

Jason Arnott also has a plethora of postseason experience that could help the Leafs, should they finally end their playoff drought.

In 2000, Arnott scored the Cup-winning goal in Game 6 for New Jersey against the Dallas Stars. He has 73 career playoff points.

The big center would be a solid addition to the Leafs, allowing van Riemsdyk to play the position he is comfortable with, either on the first or second line.

If Toronto acquires Arnott, it would give Carlyle some room to play around with the lines to find a solid two-line scoring threat.

With Lupul able to play either wing, he could rejoin Kessel and Arnott on the top line to resume his tandem with Toronto’s sniper. He could also play either wing on the second line as well.

This would allow for either Clarke MacArthur or Nikolai Kulemin to bump down to the third line with newly acquired Jay McClement.

If Lupul remains with Kessel, it could place van Riemsdyk on the second line wing with Mikhail Grabovski and Kulemin.

Arnott would be a short-term fix that would allow Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne more time in the bottom six to ready them for the task of taking over top-line duties.

The acquisition of the big center would also allow Toronto to dump some salaries in the form of Matthew Lombardi or Connolly in a package with potentially Tyler Bozak and Ryan Hamilton for a decent veteran goaltender.

Last season, the Blues were a team with a number of young players and Arnott was able to keep up and be a leader for the team. He could do the same in Toronto.


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