Moneypuck: Centremen



Sure, the Flames might be in a rebuild – but that doesn’t mean they should suck intentionally. The UFA market looks thin, but for the Flames, there’s quite a bit of meat on the bone. With prospects such as Sven Baertschi, John Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, Max Reinhart and Mark Jankowski developing in their various leagues, there’s some roster room for the Flames over the next couple of years.

I wanted players who could actually play the game, so I went looking for every UFA that makes sense for the Flames to consider this off season. Considering the below search parameters, I came up with 17 possibilities – five have already signed, but there’s still 2 centres, 2 left wingers, 2 right wingers, 2 defensemen and 2 goalies as well as 2 wild-cards to look at. Today, we’ll start with the centres.

The Methodology

  • Under the age of 32 on October 5th, 2013 – a player still in their “prime”.
  • Not prohibitively expensive nor requiring an overpay – realistically, anything more than 4 million.
  • Not a possession sinkhole – generally a good job of outshooting or tough-minutes ability.
  • Fills a need – why waste contracts?

There’s 4 ways to maximize value with a contract: seek players who might over perform their cap hit, give an appropriate term to a player ideally ending in their prime years, sign a player with a specific role in mind and lastly do not burden oneself with clauses restricting player movement.

The Moneypuck method really only applies to a certain point on an NHL roster – whereas Moneyball was more about producing runs by getting people on base, Moneyball allows for more basic players than an NHL system would. For a team to be successful in the NHL, there needs to be a higher proportion of elite talent to replacement players than in the MLB. Moneypuck, in my eyes, is made up of four attributes:

  • That a team that generates more shots than their opponent will win more often than not;
  • That certain players have certain attributes that allow for them to be better at creating shots, whether directly or indirectly;
  • That certain players have certain attributes that allow for them to be better at suppressing shots, whether directly or indirectly;
  • That a team in the NHL cannot rely solely on the free agent market to be a winner, cannot rely solely on the draft to pick NHL players in every round and is unlikely to leverage positive returns on trades indefinitely.

I don’t think I’m saying anything groundbreaking there, and those aren’t the be-alls, end-alls of building a team. Maybe the manifestations of those four points seem complicated to some, but it’s important to remember that (in my opinion), pretty much every way we can statistically evaluate a player has some roots in those four points. Nowadays, it’s unlikely you’ll find elite talent that won’t cost you a fortune outside of the draft, so the focus of free agency should not be to find a first line forward or a top-pairing defenseman (unless those players are for some reason readily available in a non-inflated market), but rather to find 2nd and 3rd line forwards and bottom 4 defensemen. Ideally, this will leave you with an appropriate salary structure that can allow for a big-bucks UFA.

The Targets

Kyle Wellwood

Jets at Blackhawks 10/13/11

Yes, the jokes about him being “well-fed” are still overused by anyone with a Dad-type humour complex. The fact is, however, that Wellwood has been a pretty good centreman for a while now. He’s not a true tough-minutes guy, but his page on Behind the Net shows a player that can either outshoot 3rd and 4th liners by a huge margin or play 2nd liners to a draw with a negative zone start ratio. The Flames have one other centreman who fits that bill (Backlund), and good NHL teams need at least three centers of that calibre to compete. He’s also good at faceoffs, if you’re into that sort of thing – he’s at about 53% over his career.

However, he’s always had conditioning issues to some degree and isn’t exactly a threat to score points any more. He can start the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and still move the puck forward, though, as evidenced by only one season where he did not have a positive Corsi On (08-09, with Vancouver). I’d see him as the 3rd liner who gets buried to create offensive zone starts for the top two lines.

Age: 30 (on 05/10/13)

Assumed Cost: Likely a one or two year deal, at $1.5 million AAV or less.

Boyd Gordon

Boyd Gordon

Most people around here probably don’t know this guy’s name because:

a. he isn’t a flashy player and,

b. he plays in Phoenix.

The fact is though that Boyd Gordon may have been the single best tough-minutes centre in the league this past year. He’s faced first line competition while starting in the defensive zone more than 68% of the time… and somehow his Corsi On and Relative Corsi are both positive. He and David Moss (and their rotating linemates – Rob Klinkhammer, Paul Bissonette and Lauri Korpikoski) have been pushing the play a huge amount this season. He’s also won 59% of the draws he’s taken this season to go along with his career number of 54%.

Gordon’s also chipped in with 4 goals and 9 assists this year, too. This isn’t just a one-off season, either: Gordon has demonstrated an ability to move the puck and play forward over his time in Washington and Phoenix. He doesn’t produce many points, but that’s not his role so it’s hard to dock him because of that. I doubt he actually makes it to free agency, but if he does – this is the guy Feaster has to sign. He’s the perfect fit for a 3rd line that gets buried.

Age: 29 (on 05/10/13)

Assumed Cost: Likely a three year deal with an AAV of $2 million.


Either of these guys would be a positive step towards building a legitimate playoff contender quickly. I prefer Gordon for many reasons, but Wellwood would be a nice get as well.

Talk about these two selections or other centremen you’d like the Flames to target in the comments.

  • I like Gordon, but not Wellwood. I don’t know what it is about Wellwood that bothers me (I swear I used to like him), but there it is.

    Someone is eventually going to bring up Val Filppula, so I thought I might as well. In his defense, he actually somehow had a good WOWY this year, in spite of being the clear passenger on the Zetterberg/Hudler line the year before.

  • Graham

    Of the two I would lean towards Gordon; defensive minded, drives the play, and most importantly of all can win faceoffs.
    Keep it around the 3 year $2 million per, and he would be a good addition to the third line.

  • BurningSensation

    I like Gordon a ton, but wonder if he isn’t just taking up the space that a Roman Horak or Max Reinhart wouldn’t be better filling.

    I’ve been on the Filpulla bandwagon for a while, and don’t see a reason to jump off just yet. Fits all the categories (age, salary, heavy lifting, etc.), and I like he can be moved up and down the lineup as necessary. He’d be perfect to shelter kids as they come down the pipeline.

    The other guy I like is also on the higher-profile side of things – Nathan Horton. The downside is that he will cost a pretty penny as there are likely to be a variety of suitors for him.

  • BurningSensation

    Def would be ok with Gordon. Salary looks about right. He has grit and would a good 3 rd line center until Max is ready for full time 3 rd line. Then he could play fourth line with Jackman or Bouma. Down the road a year or two Bouma Gordon Arnold would be a pretty good fourth line.

  • BurningSensation

    @ burning sensation

    we should definitely make a good pitch for Horton. He fills an age group that we need and would be a great fit. A little ok maybe very injury prone but we have the cap space and if you consider that cammy and tangs salary (likely trade bait this year) come off the bookswe will have more space than we know what to do with.

  • BurningSensation

    On that note. Cap space is obviously our strongest selling point to UFAs. But i think the way we have treated our UFAs in the past will give us an edge over teams like the oilers who are well known to treat older players unfairly. That is one of the reasons top UFAs never sign in Edmonton.

  • acg5151

    Kyle Wellwood’s conditioning issues are pretty much a thing of the past. I wouldn’t worry – but I don’t think that the Jets will give him up because he is a good third liner.

  • Colin.S

    ZERO problem with the Flames taking Gordon for a few years, we don’t have much in the way of guys that can handle tough defensive zone starts like Gordon.

    Though I have a feeling that he won’t even be looked at, I think he fits perfectly in a system like what is being coached in Phoenix, don’t know if they see a fit for him here.

  • Derzie

    The only Centers that come up when I crunch numbers are Boyd Gordon, Rob Klinkhammer and Kyle Chipchura. Even then, I leery as that may be helped a lot by Tippett. Max Lapierre comes up as well but I threw up a little when it did so scratch that idea.

    • what numbers were you looking at?

      the thing is you have to realize centres with positive corsis and tough competition are rare – so players like wellwood, who can do things well but not excellent, are the type of players you have to target in fa.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    What about Viktor Stalberg? I don’t know his numbers but I like his speed and size.

    -I think he is UFA but I might be wrong.

    -Ewwww just looked up his numbers. Nm

  • MC Hockey

    i think Wellwood and Gordon may both make some sense. Also….the Canucks are in trouble with salary cap and thus Flames may consider taking away UFAs Centres from them since they have notable guys. Getting D.Roy for a 1C role with hopes his numbers (like +8.8 Rel Corsi) and health hold up is a good idea if you want an instant 1C. Or maybe Max Lapierre for his annoyingness (but bad Rel Corsi -23.3) as a 3rd or 4th line centre are possible free agent signing ideas (to also hurt a rival).

    Also, if Flames were OK with a 33- year old, then have to consider weirdo Ribiero if you want a scoring veteran 1st line Centre (noting Rel Corsi is poor -10.3) but I don’t really know if Flames plan to finally allow young guys to draw into the lineup regularly…if so the UFAS signings or trades for veteran centres should be minimized or done in a way to bridge the talent gap until young draftee centres are ready for bigger roles.

    Obviously a Bozak from Toronto at 27 y/o and +4.0 Rel Corsi looks better for long term than Ribiero.

    Another possibility is sometime Centre Weiss from Fla but only played in 17 of 48 games in short season and had negative Rel Corsi for 2nd year in a row but good counting stats in 2011-12

  • Franko J

    I wondering with the turmoil in Phoenix might enhance his decision to look at free agency. Looking at UFA list along with Chipchura, Gordon I felt would be a great fit for this team. If Hartley has lost confidence with Blair Jones, why not try and sign him. As well, a team can never have enough centres. Look at last season where there were a number of games played with only one true centre in the lineup.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Tyler Bozak managed a 20 goal pace for half a season.when force-fed first line minutes.

    That is the best performance he has ever had.

    He’s 27.

    His career high is 18 goals.

    He is not the exception to this years’ crappy free agent class, he’s Exhibit A.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I don’t see why the Flames have any need for this kind of “Moneypuck”.

    They have cap space, roster spots available, and several years to kill before they need to start making decisions about either.

    So if the team’s problem is a lack of first line talent, and they have all the money in the world, then what does the corsi-per-dollar of 3rd line centres contribute?

    If anything, I think the Flames should land some over aged and over paid first liners, to carry the load and shelter the kids for the next 3 seasons or so. Even if they have a poor corsi-per-dollar. That addresses the teams needs by providing first line talent today, and sheltering the younger players to help them develop into future first liners.

    You’re trying to calcate value-for-money. But money is not a limiting factor for the Flames, and the quantity you’re using to measure value isn’t (IMO) materially valuable to the team at this moment.

    The Canucks, on the other hand, should be living and breathing this kind of thing.

    • BurningSensation

      I think this is exactly right. When you are strapped for cash like VCR (or Oakland in the MLB), you have to play moneyball. When you are the Yankees or when you have gobs of capspace the need to pinch every penny, and milk the advanced stats for value in a contract isn’t there.

    • SmellOfVictory

      It’s not that valuable this season, but three seasons down the road when they might be more competitive and closer to the cap? Maybe. How many high profile UFAs do you think are going to sign a 1-2 year contract that would allow for flexibility down the road?

      There’s also the benefit of getting more for the actual dollar, which probably makes the boss a little happier as well. There’s no such thing as legitimate first line talent on the free agent market, and a dude like Boyd Gordon would be as good for sheltering the kids as a lot of the higher-scoring guys would be (with the benefit of potentially allowing less goals). The Flames already have some scoring vets to keep around, like Hudler, Stempniak, Glencross, and I’m going to include Backlund and Stajan.

      What they could really use is an entire checking line of defensive specialists to absolutely bury. Boyd Gordon would fit this role well.

    • SmellOfVictory

      The problem with this is the ideal candidates who are available in this UFA market are just not very good. If you start just filling your roster with “what’s available” now you’re undoubtedly going to “overpay” for talent that will be obsolete within a couple of years and those older UFA are going to want long term stable situations (in most cases).

      The last thing the Flames need right now is to start adding to cap on lacklustre players. We have had this problem now for 10 years. Keep in mind $5m here, $4m there and suddenly 19 million is gone and you’re up against the cap again. Understand, that you’re better off to pay a few “moneypuck” type players to get you through a season or two while keeping that cap space available as leverage for when a really good UFA comes along.
      There really is no top 6 forwards who are worth spending money on available. But you do have to fill out a roster of 25 bodies. So if you’re doomed to suck regardless of what you do as the Flames most likely are this season. You might as well keep that money stashed for the next round of UFA’s.

      It also gives you bargaining leverage in trades when you have 10 teams right now who are all in cap trouble. Moreover, these kids you speak of are eventually going to be asking for contracts and how are you going to be able to pay Sven Baertschi in 2 years time when you’ve got the Derek Roy’s of the world on $4-5M dollars. This is the problem that the Oilers will find themselves in. They have 4 superstar kids whose EL’s are burning up and eventually have to pay them to keep them around.

    • T&A4Flames

      Agreed. Te prospects that we will be immediatley trying to integrate into the system will be the bottom 6 variety. So signing those kinds of vets takes those jobs away from the kids.

      I agree with those saying we shouldn’t be blowing a ll our cap space on UFA’s this year either. Keeping cap space available for the next crop of UFA’s would be wise because you never know when a gem becomes a available. I would look at signing a top line C and RW that can slide down the line up over the next 4 years. I can’t see us having a Bonnie top young kid ready to be fully impact full for at least that long.

      Tat said, this year I’m looking at Fillpula at 4 years $24mil. Yes a huge overpay but the term works. As for a RW, not much out there. Maybe we could make a trade to acquire an over paid but useful player for that side with 2 to 3 years left on a contract.

  • Burnward

    I don’t see any problem on paying guys…as long as the deals are three years max. Let’s field a competitive team, let the kids develop, but not handcuff the club moving forward.

    We are in a brilliant position cap-wise, comparatively…no real albatrosses. Just hope it remains that way.

  • The Last Big Bear

    The Flames are in no danger of needing to give big contracts to the kids any time soon. Because outside of Baertschi and Brodie, I don’t think any of the kids currently in the Flames system are EVER going to get big contracts. I think the guys who are going to carry this team back to respectability haven’t been drafted yet.

    So go ahead and give Derek Roy too much money for 4 years. It makes the team better now, and it means that Backlund (or Monahan or whoever) won’t be the one sitting in the spotlight when the team isn’t scoring. There’s more to sheltering a player than giving him O-zone starts. If he’s expected to be your top producer at his position, he’s not being sheltered.

    • MC Hockey

      I agree Flames should sign D.Roy for 3-4 years to be 1C or maybe 2C UNLESS they somehow move up in draft to get MacKinnon or Nichushkin who then comes to play here right away, then perhaps they don’t need him. BUT I disagree he is a not a Moneypuck signing since he clearly has good possession numbers that Moneypuck theory relies upon…Bozak would probably be a mediocre buy in MP theory but Roy, even at 5-6M per year actually follows MP theory. And yes, I agree with the idea that Flames top scoring prospects (Sven and others) on the whole are not ready to carry the team for 2-4 years so Roy and others (see Michael Ryder story on jetsnation) are worth considering. Remember Feaster has also just said that he will consider other team’s compliance buyouts and trades so perhaps old buddies of his from 2004 like Richards or Vinny L could be on their way here…I am hoping NOT but you never know!