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2007 Spotlight On: Centers

June 12, 2007

In a reprise of something I enjoyed doing last season, I will be examining the Blue Jackets roster from top to bottom, by position.  I’ll give a little data on each player, some pros and cons (as seen from the EOB desk), and what I would do if I were the GM or coach.  Without further delay (if anyone still actually visits here, you’ve waited long enough).

Centers

Sergei Fedorov

– Age – 37

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – When he’s healthy (stop laughing Red Wing and Duck fans), he can still be one of the top two centers on his team.  Good grief… first player in my analysis and I’m stretching for material.  This is going to be a long process.

– Cons – At 37, doesn’t possess the passing skill of Joe Sakic, the scoring touch of Teemu Selanne or Brendan Shanahan, or the locker room presence of Nick Lidstrom.  At $6.08 million per season, Fedorov has to do more than “be a positive influence on the younger Russian players on the team” (and we all saw how well that’s worked out, right?) and start to produce more.  That’s too much money to pony up for a poorly functioning morale booster.

– If I were GM/Coach – Let this $6 million dollar mistake finish out his contract, and let him sail off into the sea of unrestricted free agency in July.  These need to be the problems that Columbus “used” to have.  A new GM who is conscious and able to build a team properly cannot re-sign Sergei Fedorov.  And no, if he has a 30+ goal season, I will not change my mind.

Alexander Svitov

– Age – 24

-Status – Restricted Free Agent

-Pros – Has good size, though lacks the guts to use it properly.  Every once in a while, Svitov will show why Doug MacLean thought he won the Sydor trade to get him.  Though he doesn’t use his size in gameplay as much as some would like, he’s not afraid to drop the gloves and stand up for his teammates.

– Cons – Lacks the consistent touch, scoring and playmaking, to be a true second line centerman.  And in some part due to his willingness to drop the gloves he is injured a bit more than I’d like.

– If I were GM/Coach – When Alexander Svitov is involved in a scoring play, you often notice.  He possesses the skill to make things happen, but it seems that the competitive fire is not there with him.  If I can keep him around at or below his current $800,000 salary, I’d do so on a one year basis.  Otherwise, shop hard for a first or second line center and let Svitov work the market.

Gilbert Brule

– Age – 20

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – At times shows that he is living up to his top-10 drafting, Brule was probably thrust into the NHL a little too soon (that’s being kind).  He plays the body well, and can see the ice to distribute the puck to his teammates.

– Cons – Gilbert plays on the edge, and did have two rather freak injuries in his first go-round (clavicle sprain and broken leg).  To many in the know (myself not one of them), it seems that the major con on Brule right now is that he’s probably going to take another year or two to truly “fit in” at the NHL level.  As we’re repeatedly told, all we have to do is wait for this kid to be great.

– If I were GM/Coach – I’ve already ruined my chance to let Gilbert season in the juniors and kept him with the big club.  Now that he’s here, I get him all the minutes I can and watch him develop.

Manny Malhotra

– Age – 26

-Status – Signed through 2008-09

-Pros – Solid defensive center.  Not in the John Madden league, but a serviceable fourth-line crowd favorite.  Not gigantic in stature, Malhotra will occasionally throw his body around to create space.

– Cons – After his 2005-06 performance that saw 31 points in 58 games, Manny only had 25 points in a full 82 game season.  After receiving his overvalued (not a surprise in the MacLean era) three-year contract, he was unable to maintain production last season.

– If I were GM/Coach – Malhotra is a fan favorite in Columbus.  He always appears to work hard, takes the tough assignments, and basically does what he’s asked.  What he is unable to do consistently is participate in the offensive zone.  Part of this is a lack of minutes, but a larger part is that he’s simply not skilled enough to be making $1.25 million.

Geoff Platt

– Age – 21

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – A scrappy centerman who has speed to spare, Platt does not seem to fear playing against much larger defenseman.  Left untouched in open space, Geoff can be dangerous.

– Cons – Despite producing in the AHL (31-34-65 last year in 66 games), Platt is slowly adjusting to the NHL game.  He shows the promise of skill to possibly be a second-line center, but can he work around his lack of size (5’9″, 175 lbs)?

– If I were GM/Coach – Geoff is small, but then so are is Brian Gionta and Martin St. Louis.  It’s worth remembering that Platt is only 21.  He works hard, is willing to play hockey with toughness, and will hopefully get better.  I’d give Geoff as many minutes as I could afford, and hope that this is a breakthrough year.  He may be worth hanging onto for a few more years to see how he develops (on a two-way contract, of course).

Zenon Konopka

– Age – 28

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – Normally being slightly insane is thought of as detrimental to your employment prospects.  But when your job is that of a hockey pest, it’s a sure sign you’ll have a job somewhere.  Konopka only played in six games for the Jackets last season after being acquired from Anaheim, but he got the crowd roaring with his willingness to sacrifice his body to hit people.

– Cons – He’s a fourth liner (at best) on a team stacked with fourth liners. 

– If I were GM/Coach – I’m guessing Zenon will see most of the 2007-08 season while wearing a Syracuse Crunch uniform.  It’s nice to have the zest he brings to the lineup, but it’s not like he’s offering much else.

Position overview

An aging All-NHL’er, a budding star, and a handful of maybe’s, won’t be’s, and never we’re’s.  After a full-time general manager, securing a top centerman is noted as one thing the club must secure in order to get better.  There will be notable options available, but it’s hard for me to see the Blue Jackets going after any of Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez, Dainius Zubrus, etc.

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One comment

  1. Good analysis of the the centers on the Jackets. Yes this team needs a true number one center but so do many other teams. I can’t help but feel that those availabe via free agency after July 1st would be hesitant to choose Columbus until they were successful. What becomes clear in the playoffs is that to be a top center there has to be other top notch talent surrounding you. Teemu Sellane is productive because of Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Drury is successful because of Daniel Briere. I could think of a dozen teams, not as desperate as Columbus that fall into the category of close with a good number two center in need of that player that complements the rest of their talent. Cal it the chicken and egg theory but Columbus may not land that marquee center until they make the playoffs.

    The other consideration is Hitchcocks reputation in the NHL. Ken is not easy to play for and usually relies heavily on a core group of vets like a Freddie Modin, David Vyborny and Rick Nash to name a few. Hitch’s style is one of meticulous precision in your own end with unparelled attention to detail through the neutral zone. Hitch hates turnovers and wasted opportunities and demands the utmost loyalty from his “Leaders”. This style can make or break a player like Keith Primeau in Philedelphia who flourished until he was injured under Hitch. Younger players like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter wilted under the load and last season saw their careers stall with all of the changes.

    Like I have said before, having Hitch on your team is a blessing and a curse. In reality this is Hitch’s team and not the new GM’s. It makes things tough for the new GM to put his stamp on the Jackets. Plus the fact the Jackets have not had playoff experience puts the new GM on the hotseat from the start. Not an easy job to take on.



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