Unfortunately I didn’t have as much time this week as I had hoped to do a full evaluation of unrestricted free agent centers like I did for wingers but it is free agent day and there was some big news regarding centers yesterday with the buy out of Grabovski so I thought I’d throw a little something together where I look at some offensive statistics of some of the top centers available. Let me start off by presenting you with the summary table.

 G/60 A/60 Pts/60 IPP GF20-TMGF20 FF20-TMFF20 OZBias Ribeiro 0.593 1.512 2.11 80.5 0.113 -0.025 102.6 Filppula 0.769 1.334 2.1 75 0.116 -0.878 104.7 Lecavalier 0.799 1.186 1.99 68.1 0.139 0.381 100.7 Grabovski 0.899 0.961 1.86 65.4 0.196 2.406 96 Roy 0.587 1.146 1.73 67.4 0.039 0.747 98.7 Weiss 0.652 0.821 1.47 65.6 0.07 -0.467 103.3 Bozak 0.566 0.775 1.34 54.2 -0.062 0.292 99.8

The numbers above are 5v5 numbers over the past 3 seasons and the players are sorted by Pts/60. I threw in Lecavalier because he was a UFA for a brief period of time and is at more or less the same level as the others. I included Bozak to highlight just how much he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group.

• G/60 = Goals per 60 minutes of ice time.
• A/60 = Assists per 60 minutes of ice time
• Pts/60 = Points per 60 minutes of ice time.
• IPP = Individual Points Percentage, or the percentage of goals scored while on ice that the player had a point on.
• GF20-TMGF20 = How much better are his team mates on-ice goal stats when playing with him than without.
• FF20-TMFF20 = How much better are his team mates on-ice shot generation when playing with him than without.
• OZBias = OZ Starts*2 + NZStarts and gives an indication of the players usage.

List sorted by G/60: Grabovski, Lecavalier, Filppula, Weiss, Ribeiro, Roy, Bozak

List sorted by A/60: Ribeiro, Filppula, Lecavalier, Roy, Grabovski, Weiss, Bozak

List sorted by Pts/60: Ribeiro, Filppula, Lecavalier, Grabovski, Roy, Weiss, Bozak

List sorted by IPP: Ribeiro, Filppula, Lecavalier, Roy, Weiss, Grabovski, Bozak

List sorted by GF20-TMGF20:  Grabovski, Lecavalier, Filppula, Ribeiro, Weiss, Roy, Bozak

List sorted by FF20-TMFF20: Grabovski, Roy, Lecavalier, Bozak, Ribeiro, Weiss, Filppula

Mike Ribeiro: Easily the best play maker of the group and is most consistently involved in the play.

Valterri Filppula: Better goal scorer than Ribeiro but not as good as a play maker as Ribeiro but better than the rest.

Vincent Lecavalier: Similar to Filppula in value but better at the possession game.

Mikhail Grabovski: Not a great play maker but a good finisher and good at driving shot generation indicating he is probably good at puck retrieval.

Derek Roy: Kind of a poor mans Ribeiro but much less valuable.

Stephen Weiss: More of a poor mans Lecavalier. Easily had the worst line mates of the group and might do better in a different situation.

Tyler Bozak: Weak at goal scoring, bad at play making, not involved in the play and a drag on his team mates goal production. Not anywhere close to the same league as the others (and maybe be better suited for a different league too).

For me, Ribeiro is probably the best of the group in terms of pure offense because of his elite play making ability. Grabovski and Lecavalier are a little more balanced with better scoring and puck retrieval skills while Filppula is pretty solid all round as well and has the flexibility of being used as either a center or a winger (which is valuable if locking in long-term). It’s difficult to compare Weiss to the rest because he simply hasn’t had near as good of line mates but it is probably safe to say he’d be a bit of a step down from Grabovski, Lecavalier or Filppula. Roy, on the other hand, would definitely be a step back but still a decent consolation prize if on a lower priced contract with shorter term. Definitely not anything more than a #2 center though.

As for Bozak, well, you simply don’t want him on your team. Maybe not at any price no matter what the bargain basement price is. I have tried and tried but I just can’t find any redeeming qualities for him outside of his ability to win face offs which has limited value. There simply is no reason why you would want to play him on any of your top 3 lines. None.

Being a Leaf fan and unable to keep Grabovski, my preference would be Ribeiro or Filppula but might be willing to take a chance on Weiss if the contract was right. Ribeiro’s play making skills with the Leafs wingers should be a good combination and Filppula is a good all round player who could shift to wing down if needed. Weiss seems like a solid 2-way player who might be able to step up his game with better line mates which he’d get with the Leafs. If they sign Bozak, I am not sure what I’ll do. It’ll be a sad day.

Offensive players generally get all of the attention but defensive players are often just as valuable to a team.  Ask any NHL fan who the top offensive centers in the league are and they will quickly ramble off a few names from Crosby to Stamkos to Getzlaf to Malkin, etc.  Ask a fan to list the top defensive centers and the task becomes a little more difficult.  So, I decided to look into defensive centers a little further.

What makes a valuable defensive center?  Well, they should play against tough competition, they should give up fewer goals than expected, and they should be trusted to play a lot on the penalty kill.  So, with that in mind, I decided to set the following parameters in my defensive center search.

1.  I limited myself to players who have played >2000 minutes of 5v5 zone start adjusted ice time over the past three seasons.

2.  I only considered players who had an average opposition goals for per 20 minutes of ice time above 0.800 (i.e. only consider players who played against tough offensive opponents, must have OppGF20>0.800).

3. I then eliminated all forwards with a goals against per 20 minutes of ice time >0.800 (i.e. eliminate players who didn’t get good defensive results, must have GA20<0.800).

4.  I then took each players on ice goals against rate and divided it by his line mates goals against rate to ensure that they are performing better than their line mates and make their line mates better defensively (GA20/TMGA20 < 1.00).

5.  I then eliminated any players who didn’t have >300 minutes of 4v5 PK ice time over the past 3 seasons.

After doing this I got the following list of players sorted by GA20/TMGA20, or in English  sorted by how much better defensively they were than their line mates.

1. Brandon Sutter
2. Samuel Pahlsson
3. Mikko Koivu
4. Frans Nielsen
5. Travis Zajac
6. Martin Hanzal
7. Mike Richards
8. Brooks Laich
9. Jordan Staal
10. Joe Pavelski

Honorable Mentions:  Logan Couture, Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grabovski and Alexander Steen missed the cut due to not having enough PK minutes.  Couture would have been slotted second behind Sutter, Datsyuk between Pahlsson and Koivu, and Grabovski and Steen immediately after Hanzal.  Plekanec, Kopitar, Bergeron and Legwand met the PK ice time criteria and would come in after Pavelski except that their line mates had a better GA20 when not playing with them so they were cut from the list.

All in all I am pretty happy with the defensive forward list above.  They all make sense and the only real surprise on the list might be Frans Nielsen but that is mostly because I don’t pay attention to he Islanders (who does really?) and this haven’t really paid much attention to him.  For a player on the lowly Islanders to meet these criteria it probably means he is a pretty good defensive player.

It is interesting to see Sutter and Jordan Staal both make this list as they were traded for each other this past summer.  When I compared these two players after the trade when down I suggested that Sutter is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and this certainly backs that up.

What do you think?  Am I missing someone from this list of elite defensive centers?