Options for a third line centre

There are plenty of holes on the Oilers roster that Ken Holland must fill if he wants the Oilers to be a playoff contender next season. A lot has been written about finding goaltending, acquiring a scoring winger or two, and even taking a shot at a high-end defenseman, but not a lot of people are talking about the teams need for a third line centre. Everyone knows it exists and just because there are bigger fish to fry, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

To get a grasp on what they need, lets first look at what they currently have.

TOP SIX: Obviously, their pretty set when it comes to top six centres. Connor McDavid will run the top line and one of Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will run the second line while the other one rides shotgun with McDavid. That’s pretty much set in stone. After that is where it gets thin.

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BOTTOM SIX: Kyle Brodziak is still under contract, but I’m not convinced he’ll be back next season. Colby Cave impressed me at times during his stint with the team last season and the fact he’s under contract at league minimum next year will be very appetizing for Ken Holland. I think it’s fair to assume that one of those two players will be the team’s fourth line centre. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also brought in a player on a PTO for a little bit of insurance.

They also have Sam Gagner and Jujhar Khaira (RFA) who have experience playing centre, but are more effective on the wings. I would like to see the Oilers bring back both players, although buying out Gagner makes a ton of sense, as insurance policies. Keep them on the wings and when injury inevitably hits, you can slide them to the middle of the ice.

COMING UP: They have two players coming up that interest me. Cooper Marody can play centre and is coming off a season that saw him post 45 points in 58 games at the AHL level. He also appeared in six NHL games. He looked okay, although skating is an issue.

Tyler Benson will also push for an NHL spot next season. In his first pro campaign, he was almost a point per game player for the Bakersfield Condors. Not sure if he’s an NHL calibre centre though.

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Both guys will get looks, but these aren’t players the team should be banking on to be NHL centres next season, if ever. They could push for spots on the wing, but Holland needs to go out and find a more proven option to anchor the third line. So how should he go about doing that? There are two routes.

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Oct 23, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Derick Brassard (19) moves the puck up ice in front of Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Signing a player in the summer is enticing because you don’t need to give up assets. Yes, you risk an overpay on a veteran player who is past his prime, but the thought of finding a competent player on a good contract is very tempting. Here are some candidates that might fit what the Oilers are looking for:

DERICK BRASSARD: The soon to be 32-year-old played for three different teams this past season and did not have a good year. He scored just 14 goals and 9 assists in 70 games split between Pittsburgh, Florida, and Colorado. On the flip side, he did hit the 20-goal mark in 2017/18, so this could be a case of buying low on a skilled player. The cost might be too high for the Oilers and I believe lots of teams will be vying for Brassards services, so this might not be a realistic fit.

JASON SPEZZA: Skating is an issue, but he has a great track record and that’s why I put him on the list. He told reporters at the end of the season that he just wanted to go to a team that wants him and will use him. While his age and skating do concern me a little, I think the Oilers could use a steady veteran. I’m not sure I’d be happy if Spezza was the only centre Holland brought in this summer

VAL FILPPULA: He’s coming off a very good year in Long Island where he scored 17 goals and added 14 assists. He made $2.75 million on his last deal and if that’s what he’s looking for this summer, the Oilers could squeeze him in. He’s decent in the faceoff circle, can kill penalties, and has some offence in his game. If the price is right, he can check a lot of boxes for the Oilers.

After those three, I’m not sure if there are any other names out there that really tempt me. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a UFA as well, but I see him more as a fourth line option. If the Oilers want to get a premium option, they’ll need to go a different route.

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J.G PAGEAU: He has one more year at $3.1 million, which is hardly a bargain but given Ottawa’s cap situation, you might be able to get them to retain a little. He’s a good faceoff man, can kill penalties, and if you ignore his injury-riddled 2018-19 campaign, he’s a proven goal scorer (averaged 15 goals and 35 points in the last three seasons).

CEDRIC PAQUETTE: The Lightning are cap strapped and Paquette might be a victim of their circumstances since he’s an RFA. Like Pageau, he kills penalties and can win faceoffs. He scored 13 goals last year as well, so he can score goals. 11 of those goals came at even strength as well, which I really like. He had a 53% goals for percentage at even strength last season and he started less than 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone, those are both encouraging numbers. His acquisition cost might be a young defenseman, but I think he has some upside considering he’s been playing behind some very talented offensive players in Tampa Bay.

PAVEL ZACHA: His acquisition cost will be high, but the Devils have Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Michael McLeod, and will probably be adding Jack Hughes so they have lots of young centremen. Considering the fact that Zacha got sent to the AHL last season, I believe the Devils might consider moving him. Last year he scored 13 goals in 61 games played, that’s a really good pace. He killed a good amount of penalties for the Devils last year as well and he was 49% in the faceoff dot. He’s a good option with a good amount of upside.

If the Oilers want to play it safe, then free agency is the way to go. If they want to give up an asset and take a risk on a player with some upside, then the trade route is very enticing. What do you guys think?

  • SailorD81

    Might be a little rich for the Oilers but how about Nick Bjugstad from the Pens? Hes put up some decent numbers has size to spare and will only be 27 by the time the season starts

  • The Oilers have 3 good centers so why don’t they target a couple of decent wingers? Why does McD have to play with Draisaitl or RNH? Why not team up RNH with Draisaitl, and see if McD can play on a line without them and improve the play of other players. Then the Oilers could have 2 good lines. This isn’t a knock on McD but a question as he is the best player in the league so why can’t he elevate the play of lesser skilled line mates like Crosby does?

    • The Rookie

      A 3C is an easier and cheaper find than a top end winger. If you take Drai off Mcdavids wing you are almost guaranteed to have to spend $6M for his replacement. A 3C can be had for anywhere from league minimum to $3M

  • billsbills

    Too bad the Oilers didn’t have a 30-40 point $3 million dollar center that could play both ends of the ice and spot up at times.

    You know like Ryan Strome

    FU PC.

  • Kevwan

    Sundqvist for the Blues and Acciari have both been very good these playoffs. Both UFA and making 725K and 700K.

    If higher priced more proven talent cant be had then not a bad fall back plan

  • The Rookie

    I really like Val Filppula. Great PK’er and FO% and solid veteran presence. At 35 y/o he could prob be had a little cheaper on a 2 year contract. $2.25M? Even if his goal total dips down to 10 he still offers more than the production.

  • puckle-head

    I’m curious why so many people think it makes sense to buyout Gagner. I don’t see the logic… He’s definitely overpriced for what he brings at $3.1M per, but he’s only signed for one more year, with a buyout cap penalty of $1M for 2 years. Buying out Gagner only makes fiscal sense if you get another player to produce Gagner’s expected 30 or so pts for less than $2M and ideally one signed past this season. That’s not a huge ask, but why bother? The savings here are so marginal when you compare what you’dd have to spend to replace him.

    Unless there’s a specific replacement Holland knows who we absolutely can’t afford along with Gagner who is a vastly superior fit, I don’t see the benefit in shedding more (however meager) offensive talent.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    Personally, I would stay away from the UFA centres. I’d try bring in someone on a PTO. I agree with Yaremchuk, UFA’s are almost always an overpay.

  • TravisDK

    If Kris Russell plays number 6 D and back up goalie we could save a ton of money. Blocks more shots that most goalies in a season it feels like, imagine him in goalie equipment.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The Oil dont havethe cap space to go and sign someone for 3 mil plus, it wont happen without a couple of larger numbered contracts moved out. The Oilers till have positions to fill and not a lot of money to spend and they have to watch the number of guys they have signed to deals. They still have to find a goalie and some other guys to fill roles on the wings etc.

    The Oil will need to see what other teams do with guys and their cap issues, I think there will be some good players sacrificed just due to some teams limitations, I would start there because there is bound to be some good players that teams just wont be able to hang onto

  • West Coast Hockey Fan

    Easy solution- Brandon Sutter (4.375*2) for Kris Russell (4*2). Both are overpaid, but serviceable options. Canucks need to make room for Adam Gaudett as their third line center, and Kris Russell would be a decent right side defense. For Edmonton, Sutter is a good third line center. Both players have warts…

  • Battman

    If they are intent on buying out Gagner I’d like to see them work out a deal with say Ottawa to trade Gagner and a pick for a pick with the intention that Ottawa buys out and have a new deal planned for Gagner to sign with the oil. A rebuilding team like Ottawa should jump at easy opportunities like that.

  • Serious Gord

    Trade RNH at what is now his max value before he (justifiably) becomes a free agent for a decent 3rd line centre and one or more wingers to help on the first and second line.

    Make Draisaitl your second line winger now with winger(s) who have offensive abilities.

    Problem solved.

    • Kevwan

      In the last 8 Regular seasons only 6 other players have scored more than 100 points -Malkin, Crosby, Kane, Connor, Giroux and Kucherov. Draisaitl with McDavid is in absolutely Elite company – I don’t see the logic in giving that up. Improve the 2nd and 3rd line.

      Prior to last season Nuge’s career best was 56 points. If he can get 70 or so points this year I think his value rises even more. Also the way the draft is lining up this year Nuge’s replacement may be the pick. Several good C’s should be available at 8. If Nuge doesn’t re- sign move him at the 2021 TDL giving the #8 pick almost 2 years to develop. There is no rush to move Nuge.

      • Serious Gord

        Draisaitl has those points because he is on the line of the greatest player in the league. How many points would the players you list have had they the same circumstances?

        Having both on the same line is like having Gretz and mess on the same line: too expensive and a waste of opportunity. Split them up and get them better wingers and the team will score even more though perhaps they will individually have fewer points.

        With two years under contract and second line minutes boosting his numbers and his exposure RNH will never have more value than he does now. That is not to say he can’t become an even better player but he will have less value as his contract (and cost) shortens with the oil.

        Trade him at max value and maximize both mcdavid and Drai by splitting them up.

        • Kevwan

          Someone who constantly moans about the OBC and FOK an FOG and then you use Gretzky and Mess to try and prove a point? Telling.

          OK then – which player can you trade Nuge for that will get 50 goals and 105 points playing with Connor? All 3 of Nuge , Connor and Drai have developed chemistry playing together for 4 years now. No one knows if the “better winger” you want to trade for will have that chemistry with either Drai or Connor.

          Speaking of what we don’t know not sure why you’re so certain “RNH will never have more value than he does now” I know that he has 2 years left at a reasonable 6 mil. per. If he gets more time with Connor or Leon and or a better winger I think he can produce more. I would wager that at 26 yrs old, he hasn’t had his career year yet. Also why would you assume that he won’t re-sign here?

          The previous 3 seasons Drai averaged 24 goals and 66 points mostly away from McDavid. He more than doubled that goal total last year and added almost 50 points. Not only that but Nuge’s totals were better last year than that 3 year avg. You assume better second line production with Drai than Nuge but the numbers don’t agree.