Now that the draft has come and gone, Steve Yzerman‘s attention will turn to getting the current iteration of the Red Wings ready for the 2019-20 season. Free Agency period began on Sunday, meaning teams could start talking to pending UFAs and on Monday, the frenzy will begin as they put pen to paper. Yzerman has indicated that he’s going to try and be at least a little active in free agency, stating that he’d try to fill any gaps on the roster that way before exploring any trades. With a rebuild on his desk, he certainly won’t go for anything too long term, but there are definitely some intriguing options out there.
One of the positions surprisingly missing from the Red Wings draft list (and especially first round acquisition) was center. Outside of Dylan Larkin and Joe Veleno, the team is pretty thin down the middle. While top center free agents don’t usually hit the open market, it’s a good spot to find depth. This offseason, there is still one really good option left and a few good depth options. Here are the top 5 centers the Red Wings should target:
Matt Duchene is easily the best center on the market this year. The 10-year NHL vet is coming off a 70-point season with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets and a strong playoff run with the latter. The 31 goals he scored were a career-high for him and he matched his career-high in points. All-in-all, a good outing for the center in a contract-year.
Duchene is a fast, smart player, but his career has been plagued by being stuck in places he doesn’t want to be and the public finding out about it. First, it was with the Colorado Avalanche and he waited patiently to be moved after going public with his trade request. Then it was with the Senators, who were plagued by more than a few scandals in his time there. The situation in Columbus seemed to have been the best for him, but it was for far too short of a time as the team is set to lose two of their best players in Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin.
If Detroit really wants to land Duchene, Yzerman is going to have to give his best sales pitch. This player wants to win badly, so he’ll be looking for his best opportunity to do so. Personally, I don’t like him as a fit for Detroit. With a young family, he’ll be looking to go somewhere for a long time and the Wings can’t afford to commit $9+-million to a 28-year-old who will be past his prime when this team is ready to win. My gut is telling me he’ll land in Nashville or back in Columbus.
Marcus Johansson is a little more of a household name after a Stanley Cup Final run with the Boston Bruins this year. He’s not a bad option for a bottom-6 center, able to contribute 15 goals and 45 points in a healthy season. His absolute ceiling is 20 goals and 50 points, but he hasn’t scored more than 20 goals since the 2016-17 season when he also recorded his career-high in points with 58. And that was on a very good Washington Capitals team.
Watching Johansson through the playoffs, I really liked his game. He’s tough and very competitive. Not only does he grind it out against top competition, he also contributes to the point sheet. So yes, he’d be a great option for a team who needs depth down the middle. And the Red Wings need this kind of depth down the middle. He’d be a good fit for the 3C role, but he’s also been plagued with injury problems throughout his career. The last time he played a full season was in 2016-17. Since then, he’s played 29 game and 58 game seasons. Maybe not a bad option as young guys start to gain some NHL experience, but in the long run, not a great horse for Yzerman to place his bet on.
The Avalanche have a couple of depth centers hitting the market this year, starting with their 2019 trade deadline acquisition. Derick Brassard is coming off an underwhelming season where he was moved first from Pittsburgh to Florida and then from Florida to Colorado. Putting up 14 goals and 23 points, he just couldn’t seem to find his mojo and pull it all together.
Brassard is a long way from his 50-60 point seasons, but he should still be able to contribute 20 goals and 45 points. He’s a tough, heavy player on the forecheck, but does lack in his defensive game. Since being in such a good position on those New York Rangers teams in the mid-2010s, Brassard’s possession stats have plummeted to the mid-40s. This tells me that he relies on good teammates to prop him up. He’d be a great addition to the power play, though.
All that to say that the Red Wings have enough poor possession centermen on their roster. One more to drag them down even more would just be more frustrating to watch. I don’t see Brassard as a solution to pulling this bottom-6 out of the bottom-30.
Similar to Brassard, Colin Wilson‘s possession metrics took a bit of a dive when he left a very good Nashville Predators team two seasons ago. He did manage to contribute nearly 30 points to the Avalanche this year, but was utilized in more of a defensive role in Colorado. As such, his point production took a hit. I also don’t think that he’s a great player individually and can be propped up by better teammates.
Unfortunately, Detroit doesn’t have better teammates to prop him up with. Drop Wilson into the 3C spot and it’s not like this team gets any better. The Wings need depth down the middle, but Wilson doesn’t feel like the right solution.
Valtteri Filppula‘s got enough experience with all involved parties here that he probably doesn’t want to come back. Sure, he left Detroit on friendly terms, but he also left when the downfall began so of course there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. And he left right into Yzerman’s hands in Tampa Bay, who then turned around and traded him three seasons later.
Since leaving Detroit, Filppula’s had one 58-point season and multiple 40+ point seasons. He can still produce, but he can’t produce like he used to. Plus, I don’t see him contributing to the special teams in any meaningful way. If I had it my way, I’d steer clear of Filppula. We’ve seen that movie and I don’t need to see it again. Plus, his name is far too hard to spell to have to write about him consistently.
I know at the top I talked about how Detroit needs help down the middle, but I wouldn’t be satisfied with any of the options on the market this year. The team also has an abundance of centers (or those who can play center) on their current roster and waiting in Grand Rapids.
Their best option right now is to play out the current contracts, develop Joe Veleno, and test the market again in a year or two. Unless they can trade Glendening, in which case they should ABSOLUTELY TRADE GLENDENING.
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