The worst of The first line center candidates



There was a long running twitter discussion the other day between myself, Steinberg and various others (speak up in the comments) on who may land between Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla this year.

Most of the popular opinion seems support Mikael Backlund. That said, none of the Flames various pivots is a slam dunk to center the first line: if Sutter decides to go power-vs-power in his match-ups, the best dude for the role is Daymond Langkow. Maybe Olli Jokinen will get yet another audition (unlikely). David Moss had a nice turn as the front-line centerman last year. Pat also suggested that Brendan Morrison may get the assignment once he returns from injury. Nobody suggested Matt Stajan, of course.

All of the options have some merit. Except, that is, for Morrison. Of the centers who played any significant amount of time with Iginla and Tanguay last year, BMo is the guy sunk the trio the most. We’ve already discussed how Morrison had some of the very worst underlying numbers on the club last year, but here’s how the elder statesman specifically effected Tanguay and Iginla in terms of scoring chace ration last season:

  With Morrison     Without Morrison    
  CF CA Chances% CF CA Chances%
J. IGINLA 81 89 0.476 349 282 0.553
A. TANGUAY 67 68 0.496 287 233 0.552

Absent Bmo, Tanguay and Iginla were well above water. With him, they sank. For comparison purposes, here is how things settled out with Jokinen and Backlund:

  With Jokinen     Without Jokinen    
J. IGINLA 112 94 0.544 318 277 0.534
A. TANGUAY 99 90 0.524 255 211 0.547


  With Backlund     Without Backlund    
J. IGINLA 72 53 0.576 358 318 0.530
A. TANGUAY 53 33 0.616 301 268 0.529

Naturally, some caveats apply here. It’s entirely possible each center was playing with the Iginla and Tanguay duo in different circumstances which would effect the resultant chance ratios. For example, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jokinen was often elevated with Tanguay and Iginla in the third period while the team was trailing. I alos know Mikael Backlund mostly saw ice time with the first line if Brent Sutter wasn’t overly concerned with the oppositions attack. That means of the three, Morrison saw perhaps the toughest ice time.

That said, it’s not like Iginla et al were ever buried to any great extent, meaning the chance numbers are bad enough to suggest it’s not something ever really worth pursuing anyways. Besides all that…Morrions is a 36-year old who hasn’t scored more than 45 points in five years. There is also no less than 3 other centers on this club taking down pay checks of $3M or more next season…and a kid who hit it out of the park against nobodies besides. Morrison should therefore be the last name folks think of when the first line center debate rears it’s head.

  • I’m a big Moss fan, but I struggle with the idea of Mosser between Iggy and Tangs. He showed he was a serviceable option, but I see all of the alternatives as serviceable.

    I feel the most effective skater & playmaker should get a shot, and I don’t put Moss in either of those categories. Langkow & Backlund fit the bill for me, under slightly different circumstances. Of course, Langkow can distribute the puck effectively and is arguably more dependable, but I think the speed of Backlund forces Iggy and Tangs to move their feet. Those two can be guilty of trying to make plays standing still. Backlund is my preference as of today, but of course that could change very quickly come October.

    • For me, it comes down to one thing: is Iginla expected to go PvP? If so, then he has to play with Langkow. If not, then Backlund should get the shot.

      Given that Iginla hasn’t been hard matched against other top lines since 2007-08 (aside from the first two months of Brent Sutter’s first year), I expect the latter is the more likely.

  • You can make a case for any of the five centres.

    Jokinen has put up elite numbers previously and was brought in to be the top line guy. He really hasn’t had an opportunity with a decent LW in a non PvP role. He is still our best chance at having a legitimate number one.

    Stajan played top line time in Toronto against decent competition. Depending on how he rebounds he could be a decent option. He also wasn’t that bad with Iginla, especially considering the slump Iginla was in when he played with Stajan.

    Backlund is the sexy option and looked fine in the role at the end of the season. He should continue to develop and get better.

    Langkow has played well with both Iginla and Tanguay. Depending on his condition and performance when he returns he could be a safe option.

    Morrison played their last season and wasn’t awful. I would hope the club is leaving him as a last resort, but he can clearly fit in on the top line.

    Barring a poor camp I think Backlund will get the start. However, its anyone’s opportunity at this point.


    I think if we held Backlund off the 1st line we will be better off in the long run. If Backlund has a breakout season playing with Tanguay and Iginla, as a RFA he will want more money. He will be re-signed regardless, so if we can save a mill or two(amplified number) on a long term contract it would be to our advantage. I hate even thinking about holding one of our young stars down, but if the season is a write off, why not?

    I find the combination of Moss, Iginla and Tanguay intriguing. Moss can be a beast in front of the net and is very good on board play. With Iggy and Tanguay I see that line being very dominant on the cycle and maybe even on the PP.



    Brendan Morrison’s agent just wanted me to let you know that his guy already has a contract so you can just zip it already!

    Seriously, why is this guy on our roster this season? Is not one of or our other young guys, aside from Backlund, going to be better than him? He doesn’t fit in with Feaster’s move to make the team faster and more skilled. He takes a roster spot and a contract. He eats up cap space for a possible improvement down the line.

    I have nothing personally against the guy and I don’t even mind watching him play that much, but he was a post training camp gap stop for Langkow last year. If Langkow is really 100%, why is he back?

    • I don’t know. Maybe Sutter and some of the guys in the room like him. He had a nice run last year, particularly in the first month or so too.

      He’s not a terrible option for the bottom-end, although it looks hopelessly crowded with Hagman still around.

      • Vintage Flame

        I agree, he’s not a “terrible” option. But you know who else is not a “terrible” option?

        Greg Nemisz
        Lance Bouma
        probably Max Reinhardt
        maybe Paul Byron

        All guys we already had under contract on two way deals and who weren’t weren’t waiver eligible (pretty sure on Byron) and who the Flames are going to need to be able to play pro minutes if this team is going anywhere in the next few seasons.

        I know a lot of people don’t get fired up becuase it was only $1.2 million, but $1.2 million at the end of the season when we need an injury fill in can be fatal. I mean, if we end up dressing 15 players like 2009 because we signed Brendan Morrison when he was coming off some pretty major surgery I might have to take up drinking absinthe or something.

        And this isn’t just against Brendan Morrison. If it was any 36 year old with mediocre results and a $1.2 million contract I would be saying the exact same thing.

    • In case you havn’t noticed we have no young guys to fill that role.

      Morrison at 850,000 will be fine and will play what ever role you need him to. Now that Mr. negative “Robin Regher” is gone may be we can start promoting a positive attitude in room.

  • Vintage Flame

    It absolutely pains me to say this, but I think we are going to see Morrison centering Iggy and Tangs, at least at the start.

    What I’m hoping is that since Morrison is doubtful to start at the beginning that Backlund or Moss cements themselves on the top line so that Sutter can’t put Morrison there when he is able to return to the lineup.

    As far as Langks.. I know a lot of people see him as the “obvious” choice to center Iggy, but I really like him playing with Bourque, and let’s face it; Rene needs ALL the help he can get to redeem himself this year.

    • You nailed it, here.

      Let’s go with:

      Tanguay – Backlund – Iggy
      Bourque – Langkow – Morrison
      Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
      LW – C – Jackman

      The 2/3 lines can shelter the 1st line and, provided the trend continues, should allow for the first line to flourish.

      Inject some youth onto the 4th line and use it as an energy line. Sit the 7.5 million dollar mistake(s) in the press box.

  • I think Backlund will be given the spot on the top line, because of the five centres, he is the most suited to play there. Langkow would be ok but he will mainly see the hard minutes and I don’t like the idea of Iggy and Tangs playing the hard minutes cause they weren’t exactly knocking it out of the park last year against lesser competition. Olli and Iggy = no chemistry, Stajan is a failure, and Bmo is older and slower and isn’t that good. Which leaves us with Backlund. He is a young dude who has the speed and skill to maybe push iggy and tangs to go fasterr and play better. Plus he looked pretty good with them at the end of last year (albeit against weak teams) I think they should give Backs a shot at it.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Interesting question, but I think should be approached differently, meaning I think we need to look at the other lines first. Langkow and Borque need to be on the same line, and Jokinen should center for Glencross. If the team is has any luck maybe we could actually see some more balanced scoring. At least these two sets have shown (dare I say it, “chemistry”) in recent memeory. That leaves us to choose between Morrison, Moss, Stajan, or Backlund, for the 1st and 4th lines. Given these options Backlund offers the best upside in terms of skill and speed, but this means the trio should not be put in a PvP. I’d be afraid that the kid would get creamed and really kill his confidence. And this leads us to our good buddy Matt Stajan. Isn’t he really the odd man, out rather than Hagman? Wouldn’t you rather see Haman on the fourth line,as a opposed to Matt Stajan? I just hope at least one of them has some kind of bounce back season, so that the team can rid themselves of one of these contracts.

  • kbignell

    I think the 1st line centre job is going to be decided at last minute. Morrison could be out at the beginning of the season from his injury last year. If langkow is totally healthy I think we will see him filling that top spot. I would like to see backlund play with glencross and bourque. the speed those three have would make it tough line to beat, but he will have to beat out jokinen for that second line job. Either way Stajan will most likely be playing on the fourth line. It would be nice to see a star centreman play with iggy and tangs but I guess we willhave to play with what we got.

  • Kent, I say who cares who gets the nod as the first-line center this year. Let’s tank this season miserably, so as to finish dead last. Then let’s trade Iggy for someone’s high first rounder.

    With our first pick, grab Yakupov. With our second first round pick, grab Galchenyuk or Forsberg.

    Not only would our first line center problem be solved with Galchenyuk, but we would get a Euro tandem on our first line that would have Dutter and Cherry screaming obscenities at the TV for years to come. Ahhhh, what sweet revenge that would be for the miserable mess we now find ourselves in.

    • People say, “we should lose every game, tank” but this is not the method for success. Even if you get the 1st pick it can turn out a bust (Alexander Daigle anyone?). The Islanders are a perfect example on how having high draft picks for a long period of time doesn’t always work. Plus does anyone have faith in our scouting department to actually pick the right dude? You can stay a respectable and good team without tanking. As long as you develop your prospects properly you don’t have to tank seasons to gain long-term success

        • Vintage Flame

          Which is exactly why we can’t tank. The Flames development of prospects has been sub-par to say the least. As shown by the Islanders, poor development negates the value of having a high pick.

      • Vintage Flame

        Great point schevv.. You can also throw Patrik Stefan in with Daigle.
        Deliberately tanking games to get the 1st overall pick is a terrible way to run a franchise. It’s worse than being an out right terrible team. All it accomplishes is creating a hugely toxic atmosphere on the team and makes them all give up and not care.

        Not to mention, you still aren’t guaranteed the 1st pick anymore with the lottery in place.

        Players today are not morons and neither are their agents. What free agent is EVER going to WANT to go to a team that deliberately loses??

      • Ken V.

        My post was kind of tongue-in-cheek, but nevertheless, let me play devil’s advocate.

        Yes, the Islanders are the poster-boys of how not to rebuild, but high draft picks are also what led to the eventual turn-around of the Blackhawks, Capitals, and Penguins in the last decade.

        For every Daigle that went in the top 10, there are at least two first liners that go on to have stellar careers, not to mention the plethora of decent players that are perenially to be had. Just go to and look at the number of top-tens in the last twenty years that actually contributed at the Nhl level.

        Nevertheless, I am not advocating that a perennial trip to the top five is the recipe for future success, as our brethren in northern Alberta believe. The Islanders are stuck in perpetual limbo precisely because they do not allocate their resources at the NHL level competently. They do not pursue quality free agents, nor is their trade history remarkable. In other words, the Islanders don’t suck just because they draft badly more often than not. It’s because their whole operation for the last twenty years has been miserably misguided.

        The goal of a GM and his entourage should be to strive to draft as astutely as possible, while concurrently attempting to improve and maintain competitiveness via free agency, trades, and the gradual development of prospects.

        Accordingly, given the situation the Flames find themselves -that of having an aging core unable to compete effectively for the grand prize -a rebuild of some sort is in order, as we all agree. As for myself, I am a fan of the so-called “mini-rebuild” which I discuss in the post below.

    • SmellOfVictory

      No team with a high first rounder would trade for Iginla. Any trades for him would be from good teams that were making a cup run. I also think you’re suffering from pendulum syndrome; as a Flames fan you’ve seen the future mortgaged for so long that you’re overvaluing the draft.

  • Ken V.

    I agree to an extent with ChinookArch on the fact we have to build around existing chemistry but that chemistry is fragile and Bourque needs to step up regardless of who he plays with. OMG line stays together I hope. My only true feeling is that at this point we can’t know who it will actually be and IMO it’s going to be a bit of a revolving door (again) anyways but I think Lanks gets the start with Backlund on deck.

  • Ken V.

    Whoops, wrote my email in place of my moniker, but whatever.

    As per my previous post, I believe the Flames need to master the art of the mini-rebuild in a short period of time. Next year we will have the cap space to acquire quality agents, but must complement them with quality prospects that we do not have, excepting a couple of bodies.

    Tanking this season and offloading some pieces of an aging core for more high draft picks would allow us to establish the foundation for a prolonged period of future success. To make matters more attractive, the upcoming draft has some exceptional talent to be had in the top ten (and beyond). To endure one more year of misery to obtain some of these boys is a small price to pay, as we will not be competing for a cup this year, anyways. A middle of the road finish would be anethema.

    In sum, tank for one year -keeping in mind the exceptional talent to be had this year -and pursue free agents around whom you can rapidly build a new core, and we might just accomplish what Philly did recently.

    It’s better than constantly throwing big money at a number of free agents, thereby stretching your cap to the limit (i.e. Sather’s way)


  • Ken V.

    I am not sure why people are so big on having Jokinen play a shut down role with Glencross and Moss. He was okay in a shut down role with those two when there was a lack of better options. But with Langkow back, Stajan returning healthy (hopefully), and Backlund maturing into a player with two-way potential we have better options.

    Jokinen finished as a minus 17 and wasn’t exactly dominant in the role. In Florida he was a 40-goal / 90-point player in an offensive role against softer competition. That is where I want him.

    Ideally Jokinen would be on the top line. But with a lack of chemistry with Iginla I would prefer to see Langkow and Backlund helm the shut down lines with Stajan and Jokinen deployed in a more offensive role.

    Put Langkow with Bourque and Hagman. Langkow can get Bourque going and even Dawes excelled with that duo so its a chance to rebound Hagman.

    Backlund has two-way potential. Put him with Glencross and Moss. I think that would be great for his development and he would excel there. T

    Put Stajan with Iginla and Tanguay playing in offensive situations. I think Stajan will be fine there. If he isn’t then you might be stuck putting him with Moss and Glencross and promoting Backlund.

    Now Jokinen gets the white meat with Morrison and Jackman. Mix him through the line-up to up his minutes and put him on the first PP unit, but keep him in offensive situations.

  • Ken V.

    While I didn’t specify a specific role for Morrison for the upcoming season, I presume the role of Langkow replacement will be filled with Langkow.

    Morrison ought to be 4 or 5 on the centre depth chart. I don’t see how we can know whether the young guys fill that role if none of them have been given the chance.

    • Wholeheartedly agree Kent. It would take an entire team of Stajans, and Kipper morphing into Cloutier, for us to be that bad. Or the team’s jet crashing. Either one is very unlikely to happen.

      As well, people keep talking about all the contracts that are going to come off the books next year. That is great for the Flames, in theory. However, that banks on the prospect that Feaster doesnt resign some of these boneheads to fat new contracts. Who is to say Jokinen, Hagman, Sarich, et all don’t get resigned in a time of immense desperation? Feaster seems to think we’re one player away from the cup, leading me to believe, hopefully wrongfully, that he may reup these guys and then chase next offseasons’ Brad Richards.

    • Canucks Suck

      Sorry Kent but your wrong, Colorado are 1 or 2 years away from the big show so is Edmonton…Why the flames can’t tank this year? Can you explain how Calgary miles ahead?

  • I’d rather see Backlund with Iggy and Tanguay, deployed in a Sedin-like manner, although maybe not quite as extreme.

    The Langkow-Bourque-Moss line could be more or a matchup line with Joker-Glencross-Jackman facing 2nd or 3rd line comp.

    That Top 9 would at least give us a chance against most teams.

  • Reidja

    At this point, Iggy and Tangs have to be sheltered to be successful, I think that much was pretty obvious last year. Therefore, you might as well put Backlund there because I think he has the ability to create in this situation. This is fine because the return of Lanks and the emergence of Moss we have what looks to be a decent shutdown line with some scoring ability (please Rene).

    What we’re missing is top tier skill and Backs has some flashes of it. We might as well give him the chance to develop it at this level. A BMo, Tangs, Iggy first line screams “we’re mediocre!” to me.

    • Reidja

      As I see it Iginla/Tangauy, Langkow/Bourque, and Glencross/Moss are forwards you keep together. The rest of the forwards can slot in where it makes the most sense.

      Backlund has the potential of being a great 2-way forward. I would rather see him develop with a couple of established 2-way wingers rather then spend most of his time taking o-zone faceoffs.

      • Reidja

        I don’t disagree that he could be a great 2-way player but I want to see him get as much ice as possible. I don’t think more ozone faceoffs than d zone faceoffs will be a detriment to his development. I’d say being buried would do him more of a disservice.