Heading into the season, it was considered a weak point in the Senators’ lineup. Four months later, it is now the strength and there will be a bottleneck of players who can play the centre position now and going forward. Here is a breakdown of the sudden bounty of players who can patrol the middle.
Jason Spezza: The undisputed #1 for now and the future. Trade rumours should be quieted with his play now and although he will never achieve the expectations that fans have for him, he is a legitimate #1 centre in this league.
CONTRACT: $7 million cap hit through 2014-15 then UFA
Kyle Turris: Acquired earlier this season as the answer to the second line centre woes that have plagued the Senators for years. The jury is still out on whether the change of scenery will be good for him long-term, but 8 points in 11 games translates to a 60 point season. That would be the highest production level for a second line centre since Radek Bonk’s 59 points in 2000-01.
CONTRACT: $1.4 million cap hit through 2012-13 then RFA
Mika Zibanejad: The Senators forst round pick (6th overall) this past summer should be an NHL regular next season. He played as a winger throughout much of Sweden’s run to World Junior gold, and he looked very good. If he is going to be a top 6 forward, the right wing might be where he lands.
CONTRACT: entry level $1.775 million cap hit – sliding for 3 years then RFA
Nick Foligno: A centre in junior, hasn’t played the position much in the NHL. Foligno played very well when he auditioned for the second line role after Zibanejad was sent back to Sweden and Peter Regin was injured again. His services will not likely be required in the middle unless in a pinck, but he showed he can fill the role if needed.
CONTRACT: $1.4 million cap hit through 2011-12 then RFA
Peter Regin: Skilled enough to be a second line centre, underperformance and chronic shoulder injuries have made his spot on the team in questionable. When he is on, he is very good, but that hasn’t happened enough lately and he is a forgotten man in many instances. A prime trade candidate, if there are any takers.
CONTRACT: $1 M cap hit through 2011-12 then RFA
Zack Smith: Has stepped up and become a prototypical 3rd line centre, bringing defense, toughness, and chipping in more than expected offensively. Smith has made himself indispensable to the current incarnation of the Senators.
CONTRACT: $700K cap hit through 2012-13 then RFA
Zenon Konopka: Brought in for toughness and faceoff ability, Konpka has delivered as expected. He playes his heart out every time he is on the ice, and plays whatever role is asked of him. I don’t know if he brings enough to warrant bringing him back with the logjam, however he comes at the right price and is a solid 4th line centre, who has also seen duty on the wing at times this season.
CONTRACT: $700K cap hit through 2011-12 then UFA
Jesse Winchester: Like Konopka, Winchester is an impending UFA that probably won’t amount to much more than a 4th line grinder. It might come down to whicheveer one of the two will come back for less money will get the spot. Konopka has more toughness and is better on the faceoffs, but Winchester is a little quicker and better with the puck but less durable.
CONTRACT: $750K cap hit through 2011-12 then UFA
There you have it, 8 centres vying for 4/5 spots on the NHL roster going forward. All 8 players have their pros and cons, but I am of the feeling that Spezza, Turris, Smith and one of Winchester/Konopka should patrol the middle next season. Zibanejad can move to the wing, and Foligno can stay there. Both should be top 6 forwards, especially with the realization that Daniel Alfredsson might only have a year or so left in him at the most, as much as we don’t want to believe it.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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