Jason Arnott, Johnmaxmena/Wikimedia Commons
August starts tomorrow, and the Calgary Flames still look weak up the middle, with many suggesting some combination of Mike Cammalleri, Roman Cervenka, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan as the team’s top-three centres.
The free agent market has been pretty much picked over, but one ‘name’ centre remains. 6’5”, 220 lb Jason Arnott scored 17 goals last season, went over 50% in the faceoff circle, and unlike a lot of the Flames current options is a natural centre. Despite that, he’s not the solution to Calgary’s problems.
The problem is the role that Arnott has played over the last couple of seasons. What the Flames have in abundance are guys with the ability to play offensive minutes; what they lack is a strong two-way option down the middle to give the coaching staff a guy to match against top opponents. Jason Arnott does not solve that problem.
According to behindthenet.ca, Arnott ranked 11th among Blues forwards with 40+ games last year in Quality of Competition, narrowly ahead of Scott Nichol and Brandon Crombeen. The year prior is a little more difficult to ascertain because he played for multiple teams, but applying his Quality of Competition to the New Jersey Devils roster, he would have ranked ninth among regular forwards. The last time he was regularly matched against top opposition was 2009-10 in Nashville.
Arnott is also a few years removed from significant defensive zone duty. In St. Louis, he started 60% of his non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive end of the rink, one of the highest totals on the roster (of the Blues other centres, only Alex Steen at 52.6% saw more offensive zone than defensive zone starts). The last time he saw as much defensive zone time as offensive zone time was 2009-10 in Nashville, where he had a 50/50 split.
Despite getting tons of offensive zone minutes, Arnott didn’t do a lot of actual scoring. He was an excellent power play option for the Blues, but scored just 1.44 points per hour in 5-on-5 situations (a hair higher than 2010-11, where he scored 1.40 points per hour). For the sake of comparison, on the Flames’ roster last season that 1.44 points/60 would have slotted between Lee Stempniak (1.72 PTS/60) and Matt Stajan (1.30 PTS/60).
At this stage in his career, Arnott can play a depth role at even-strength (where he adds size and faceoff ability) while aiding a team on the power play. That’s not the kind of player the Flames need – if they’re going to add an NHL contract, they need a two-way player who can help carry the load at even-strength.
Jason Arnott’s still a useful player, and there are NHL teams that could use his skillset. It’s just a poor fit in Calgary.