UFA Options: Third Line Centre

Jonathan Willis
July 20 2009 01:30PM

Three weeks into free agency, the casual fan could be forgiven for thinking that the list of available players is bereft of useful pieces. That isn’t the case, and for some roles – in particular the veteran third-line centre role the Oilers need to fill – there are still a bunch of players who might fit the bill.

I’ve excluded Mike Peca from this group because of his quick departure from Edmonton after his last stint with the club (he didn’t like the travel). I’ve also excluded some fourth-line types who could very well be of interest to the Oilers (Mike Zigomanis, Blair Betts, Boyd Devereaux, Chris Gratton, Marcel Goc). All of those guys would come relatively cheap, and could help address the holes on the penalty-kill (in other words, I hope the Oilers are at least kicking the tires) but expecting them to step in and fill the third-line role may be asking too much (just as it might be to ask Pouliot, Brule or Cogliano to fill the role). A pair of other players (Rob Niedermayer and Andy Hilbert) were ignored because they play wing.

Here’s the list of four, presented in reverse order of their expected price tag:

Mike Sillinger

Vitals: 5’11”, 198lbs, 38 years old Stats Line: 59GP – 16G – 12A – 28PTS, -15 over the past two seasons Other Numbers: 56.3% on faceoffs, 28 hits, 3:10 SH TOI, 18:36 Avg. TOI (from two seasons ago) Best Guess Contract: One year / 750,000$

Mike “Suitcase” Sillinger has played for twelve NHL teams over the span of an 18-year career. He’s been remarkably durable for the majority of that time, up until February of 2008 when he suffered a hip injury that has derailed much of the last two seasons. In the seven seasons prior to suffering that injury, he’d missed a total of 30 games.

When last we saw him, Sillinger was a gifted two-way centre who combined defensive ability with goal-scorer’s hands (he’s never had less than a 12.1 SH% since 2000). He’d be an ideal fit – if he’s still the same player he was before the hip injury. At this point, the injury and age combine to make Sillinger a gamble – he probably will be forced to either accept a training camp tryout or a low money contract to get an NHL shot.

Radek Bonk

Vitals: 6’3”, 213lbs, 33 years old Stats Line: 66GP – 9G – 16A – 25PTS, -12 Other Numbers: 59.9 % on faceoffs, 58 hits, 0:26 SH TOI, 15:26 Avg. TOI Best Guess Contract: Three years / 1.4 MM per season

Radek Bonk has been passed over on the Predators penalty-kill (given that Nashville already had established options in Legwand, Fiddler and Nichol), although he has been effective in that role elsewhere (he led Montreal in short-handed ice-time in 2006-07). He combines size with some offensive ability.

Bonk has reportedly been approached by KHL clubs, but I imagine the security of a multi-year NHL contract would keep him in North America. He’s on of the game’s best face-off men, and is well-qualified to anchor the third line.

Dominic Moore

Vitals: 6’, 188lbs, soon to be 29 years old Stats Line: 81GP – 13G – 32A – 45PTS, -2 Other Numbers: 54.1 % on faceoffs, 75 hits, 2:19 SH TOI, 16:50 Avg. TOI Best Guess Contract: Two years / 1.8 MM per season

It’s been a rough summer for Moore, who turned down a two year, 3.4 million dollar contract from the Maple Leafs, but hasn’t been seriously pursued in free agency. His price-tag, which was once rumoured to be in the 2 MM/year range, has likely dropped as a result.

That said, Moore may not be the best option. He’s a tireless worker and a good penalty-killer, but his offense was likely a one-off and he doesn’t have the frame that the Oilers need down the middle (given that they already have a ton of smallish centres). I like Moore, but I think Bonk or Malhotra would be a better fit. Also, unlike most of the players on this list, Dominic Moore didn’t play in a checking role last season – he played on an offensive line for the Leafs.

Manny Malhotra

Vitals: 6’2”, 217lbs, 29 years old Stats Line: 77GP – 11G – 24A – 35PTS, +9 Other Numbers: 58.0% on faceoffs, 74 hits, 2:49 SH TOI, 18:00 Avg. TOI Best Guess Contract: Three years / 2.0 MM per season

Malhotra is hands-down the best qualified player for the Oilers third-line position, but his price tag has kept him from being signed until now. He’s big and plays a relatively physical game, plus he’s a good skater. On top of that he’s a good faceoff man and an experienced penalty-killer.

The only downside to Malhotra is a limited offensive game, and that previously mentioned price-tag.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Duke
July 20 2009, 09:19PM
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HAZER wrote:

Totally off topic, but i think that the Oil should go after Bertuzzi aswell.. I think if we can trade some assets to fill our 3rd line centre spot (maybe nilson), bertuzzi would fit nice with gagner on the second line. Hes still got great hands and brings grit to the lineup. He’s cheap too, we should jump on it.

Signing Beruzzi is the one thing the Oilers could do that would make me put my jersey away. Completely unacceptable.

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#52 olderthendirt
July 20 2009, 10:06PM
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Bertuzzi NO NO NO NO NO, and again NO

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#53 misfit
July 20 2009, 11:03PM
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DonDon wrote:

Regardless of the forwards most posters would prefer, the Oilers have to subtract contracts to add to their roster.

Considering they're currently about 4 or 5 contracts under the limit, they can certainly add a player and then worry about moving a contract later.

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#54 RossCreek
July 20 2009, 11:08PM
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I would've thought that Malhotra was a no-brainer, even @ 2.5. He's young enough, yet experienced enough that he could become a valuable part of the core. This is a guy that since his draft year has been pegged as a future NHL captain. I'd take him @ 2.5 over Ethan @ 2. And thats no slight on Ethan. I also would've kept Brodziak over Pisani.

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#55 Ogden Brother
July 20 2009, 11:24PM
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West Coast Oil wrote:

@ Ogden Brother: Trouble is at that point you are dealing from a point of weakness. Once they know you need to shift a player the deals are down right pathetic (just ask Ottawa or KLowe)

That still is a better solution then trading quality assets for lower quality assets to fill holes.

Sign your 3rd line center for free (asset wise) And if you are forced to waive Nilsson or trade O'sully for a decent prospect you are still better off then swapping cogs or Gilbert for a Vermette (or any 3rd line center)

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#56 Ogden Brother
July 20 2009, 11:27PM
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RossCreek wrote:

I would’ve thought that Malhotra was a no-brainer, even @ 2.5. He’s young enough, yet experienced enough that he could become a valuable part of the core. This is a guy that since his draft year has been pegged as a future NHL captain. I’d take him @ 2.5 over Ethan @ 2. And thats no slight on Ethan. I also would’ve kept Brodziak over Pisani.

Ya the fit seems to good to be true to me. Give him the 2/2.5 million and then cut the worst of MAP/Nillson at camp.

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#57 Big Al
July 21 2009, 06:47AM
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Sillinger would be a good fit, however his hip injury is forcing him to retire this year...

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#58 scorecoff hemmercules
July 22 2009, 08:38AM
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Apparently Bonk hasn't received an offer from any NHL teams yet. He also has a canadian wife. Might be a good option, I don't know alot about him though. Obviously have to dump some salary.

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