5 centres the Canucks should consider bringing in to compete for a roster spot

The biggest question mark for the Canucks heading into the 2013-14 season is at centre, or, as Ben Kuzma is fond of saying, the Canucks have a “riddle in the middle.” Henrik Sedin is firmly entrenched as the first line centre and, in theory, Ryan Kesler will be fully healthy and ready to centre the second line.

The other two centre jobs, however, are up for grabs. The Canucks have a number of options, from veteran free agent signing Brad Richardson, to sophomore Jordan Schroeder, to 18-year-old first round pick Bo Horvat, but each one of those options is filled with uncertainty. Richardson could slot in as the third or fourth-line centre and could even move over to the wing if need be, but he was also a frequent healthy scratch with the Los Angeles Kings. Schroeder’s ability to handle larger players in the defensive zone and provide offense at the NHL-level is still in question. And Horvat is, well, 18.

It would be in the Canucks’ best interest to add a few more names to their list of centre options, but the Canucks’ funds will be limited once they re-sign Chris Tanev. As much as I might want the Canucks to acquire Mikhail Grabovski, they simply can’t afford him unless he takes an insane paycut. Instead, they’ll have to look for cheaper options, either by signing a legitimate centre to a cheap contract before training camp or by inviting some veterans with more uncertainty to camp to provide competition and potentially earn a contract.

The Canucks have brought in veterans to battle for roster spots in training camp in the past, such as Peter Schaefer, Owen Nolan, and Todd Fedoruk. That’s not he most inspiring group of players, but with the lowered salary cap, there are still some valuable free agents on the market who might be available on bargain basement prices.

Here are five free agents that the Canucks should consider bringing in as competition.

The Canucks need to fill spots on both the third and fourth lines. Aside from the aforementioned Richardson, Schroeder, and Horvat, the Canucks also have Brendan Gaunce, Mike Santorelli, Kellan Lain, and Hunter Shinkaruk. Given the number of unproven prospects in the mix, bringing in a veteran or two to challenge for those roles would certainly provide some peace of mind.

Jeff Halpern

Over the past couple of seasons, Halpern has started the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and still posted very respectable puck possession numbers, while winning a lot of faceoffs. Most importantly, he would be very cheap to sign, coming in at just $700,000 last season. He could be a fit on the fourth line and penalty kill, though at 37, he may not have much left in the tank.

The biggest issue, however, might be that he was on John Tortorella’s Rangers last season and seemed to fall out of favour with the Canucks’ new coach, getting waived and claimed by the Montreal Canadiens.

Marty Reasoner

The Canucks were rumoured to be interested in acquiring Reasoner back in 2011. At 36, the veteran Reasoner is on the downside of his career, but he could still be a fit on the fourth line and penalty kill and he can still win faceoffs. He has also provided a modicum of goalscoring in his career, but may not be able to do so at this point.

David Steckel

I have to believe that Steckel will be signed by someone before NHL training camps open as he is the prototypical big-bodied, defensive specialist, faceoff-winning fourth line centre. He’s more of a second-unit penalty killer, but the Canucks do have a bevy of other options on the penalty kill. If he’s not signed in the next month or so, the Canucks should certainly consider signing him to a league minimum contract to compete with Kellan Lain, who projects to be a similar player in the future.

Tim Connolly

This may raise some eyebrows, as the injury-prone Connolly couldn’t even stick with the Maple Leafs last season and went unclaimed on waivers when they sent him to the AHL. That’s a Tim Connolly who was on a $4.75 million contract, however. Might he be willing to take a one-year contract worth $1 to $1.5 million in order to resuscitate his reputation and career?

Connolly was miscast in Toronto, first as a first-line centre and then as a checking-line centre. In Vancouver, he could potentially be neither, centring a more offensively-oriented third line with the second and fourth lines taking more defensive responsibility. Connolly is a talented playmaker and could centre the second unit on the powerplay.

I might be out to lunch on this one, but I think he would be worth the risk on a cheap contract to, at the very least, ensure that a young centre like Schroeder, Gaunce, or Horvat has to earn their spot in the lineup.

Kyle Wellwood

How can I not mention Wellwood, one of PITB’s all-time favourites? The perennially unsigned Wellwood is once again a free agent, despite some good seasons in San Jose and Winnipeg. Wellwood is a sublime puckhandler and has superb underlying puck possession statistics. Even while playing bottom-six minutes, Wellwood drives puck possession, which makes him a better defensive player than most might expect.

Would Canucks fans accept a retread and, more importantly, would Tortorella accept a player who drives possession but doesn’t hit or block shots? When he’s as effective at the former as Wellwood is, I would hope so. Wellwood can also win faceoffs and is a decent option in the shootout, so he has those minor arguments in his favour, but Wellwood seems to suffer from the “seen him good” problem; he doesn’t look like an effective hockey player, so in some people’s minds, he couldn’t possibly be an effective hockey player.

I would love to see Wellwood come back to the Canucks on a cheap, one-year deal to challenge for a spot on the third line, though I am admittedly biased. On a cheap enough deal, however, he would provide no risk, as he could be waived if he is outbattled by a younger player.

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14 comments

  1. akiddddd
    August 19, 2013

    heh,heh, wellwood. i don’t care if he makes the canucks a better team or not, i would love to see the return of kyle. and now fresh off his pga championship win he should be really ‘pumped’. #somethingaboutflatliners

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    August 19, 2013

    Would that be the David Steckel that 2 years ago finished first in the NHL in faceoff percentage? Or a year later’s version that finished -14, second worst on the Leafs? If the former, he could be a good replacement for Manny Malhotra. If the latter, he would risk being the next Marc Chouinard.

    Speaking of Malhotra…

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      August 19, 2013

      Oops, I meant to say, 3 years ago and 2 years ago.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      August 19, 2013

      I’m never sure what to make of a player’s performance for the Leafs over the last while. It’s worth noting that the Leafs’ goaltenders’ save percentage when Steckel was on the ice that year was .905. It bumped up to .926 last season, closer to what it was in previous years, and he finished with an even plus/minus. That’s part of why plus/minus is such an unreliable indicator. Was he -14 because he was worse that season or were the goaltenders worse behind him?

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  3. Sigurd
    August 19, 2013

    Wellwood? “WELLWOOD!” “WELLWOOD!” “WELLWOOD!” Come in, pick up the chant!
    No, how about lunch then? Nothing too fattening.

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  4. seethruhead
    August 20, 2013

    Weird. But everytime Wellwood gets a point, it feels like 2 points to me. I have no other bias than I lived in Toronto when he started, and lived in Vancouver when he moved here. But I love seeing Wellwood succeed and don’t watch him close enough to notice when he is letting the team down. I am sure the coaches are right, not playing him that much, but it always looks like he should be playing more when he does well.

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  5. Bob
    August 20, 2013

    I suspect we have enough things to throw at the wall at center that something would stick (hopefully). I would think that our bigger need at this point is adding depth on the wing as suggested by the other paper. Assuming Booth is not starting the season or will be slow to ramp since he’s still not skating, the prospect of Kassian Hansen and Jensen as our top 3 RW doesn’t sound very appealing or at least could use, as you say, a veteran or two to challenge

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  6. tonydaniel
    August 20, 2013

    Now you talking Kyle Wellwood yes that will be a good one. Everybody forgets how well he plays come playoff time.

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  7. Matt
    August 20, 2013

    Wellwood’s inability to stick with a team has totally mystified me. He’s cheap, he’s skilled, he drives play. Why can’t he ever sign for more than a season or more than pocket change (for NHLers)?

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  8. iain
    August 20, 2013

    Wellyyyyyyyy!!!! I’d love to see Wellwood back in the lineup.

    Ah, August……musing over 3rd/4th line dream signings. Bring on September and training camp, where we can get to the good stuff i.e. will Lack or Luongo be Tort’s no.1 keeper?

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  9. Brian
    August 20, 2013

    Jerred Smithson would be my vote, I also think Peter Mueller could be an interesting option although he is now listed as a RW, he used to be considered a C.

    I also think if Grabovski could be signed, I would be fine letting Tanev walk. There are plenty of bottom 6 guys available still and would most likely come cheap. Grabovski at 3-3.5 would still be doable if one of Zanon, Colaiacovo, Hainsey, Lydman, O’Byrne etc could be signed for around 650K. Grabovski would add offense and centre depth, two things the Canucks need much more than they need Tanev IMO.

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  10. Brian
    August 20, 2013

    and by bottom 6 guys I mean bottom pairing guys……..

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  11. BedBeats
    August 21, 2013

    Hey Brian…accidently negged you when i meant otherwise. Liked your comment.

    And yeah duders, id love to see Welly back. He was so good. Never stellar, but i loved his style of play, and his great winning cheats at the dot. He was the master at digging out and supporting the d in their own zone in board scrums.

    He would always hold the slot, but when the opposition would pinch, he was smart enough to follow suit, and amongst bigger bodies, that little ball of cute Hockey talent would ALWAYS dig the puck out and get it outta there.

    Saw it so many times, and Burr went on record commenting how much the guys enjoyed the fact that he always supported defensively.

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  12. Brian
    August 21, 2013

    Thanks BedBeats, love the honesty…..didn’t even realize there were +/- till you mentioned it.

    I also really liked what Welly brought to the team but I think we have a version of him in Schroeder already or at least I hope Schroeder will be able to provide those same qualities with more speed obviously but needs to improve on face-offs and offensive consistency.

    Also why is the site telling me to slow down on my comments? first today……

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