Trade Deadline 2013: Finding a Center

Jeff Angus
March 14 2013 10:58AM

The Vancouver Canucks need another center. You know this, I know this, and Mike Gillis knows this.

The club can’t/won’t enter the postseason with Andrew Ebbett or Jordan Schroeder as a top nine center. Assuming Ryan Kesler returns from his broken foot a few weeks before the playoffs start (and that appears to be the likely outcome), who do the Canucks target to center the third line?

Max Lapierre could move up to play there, but he is probably best suited for the fourth line (or at least sharing the ultra-tough line assignments that Alain Vigneault typically gives to his top checking line center).

With all of that being said, who are some centers around the league that the Canucks could realistically target at the trade deadline?

Thanks to Gary Bettman’s loser point (also referred to as “parity”), there aren’t many teams out of the postseason chase right now. Heck, the Canucks are only six points up on Western Conference basement dwellers Edmonton and Colorado. Florida sits last in the NHL with 20 points, but even they are only eight points back of the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

There aren’t many sellers right now, but that will probably chance in the coming weeks. Here is a look at some centers that could be made available. This list ranges from younger players with years left to impending free agents. There is a discrepancy in ability, too.

David Steckel - Toronto

Contract: $1.1 million through 2013 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
30 13 38 46.9 3 -1.7 7:04 1:04 61.2

Steckel hasn’t had much of any role with the Leafs this season (as you can see from his 12 games played). He has proven in the past to be a faceoff specialist capable of killing penalties. He covers a lot of ice with his reach and positioning, but he isn’t the fleetest of foot. Acquiring a center like him would probably bump Lapierre up to line three.

Steckel’s role with the Leafs has been taken over by Jay McClement – he is definitely available.

Nate Thompson – Tampa Bay

Contract: $900,000 through 2013 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
28 26 162 50.5 -4.1 -0.05 14:25 2:32 30.9

I like Thompson’s game a lot. Trouble is so do the Lightning. He’s gritty, solid at faceoffs, and used to playing a definitely-oriented role (look at his zone start rate). Thompson would bring size to Vancouver’s bottom six – something they will definitely need in the postseason.

If the Lightning are in playoff contention, don’t expect Thompson to be made available.

Kyle Chipchura - Phoenix

Contract: $675,000 through 2013 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
27 26 87 45.8 2.6 -0.314 10:15 0:03 56.5

Chipchura is a gritty energy center who isn’t as good at hockey as most of the other names on this list. He is a willing combatant and brings size, but he probably isn’t a center you can trust in any situation. And again, acquiring someone like him would bump up Lapierre to line three. Chipchura wouldn’t be the worst acquisition in the world, but he isn’t a significant upgrade on Ebbett (although he is a completely different player).

Matthew Lombardi – Phoenix

Contract: $3.5 million through 2013 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
30 12 46 44.2 -10.2 0.987 14:48 0:35 62.5

Lombardi is currently injured (day-to-day with an upper body injury). He has battled concussion issues for the past few years, as well. He's a solid center with a ton of speed, and he can play the PK, too. Imagine him on the same line with Mason Raymond? Can you say "chip and chase?"

Marty Reasoner – Long Island

Contract: $1.35 million through 2013 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
36  21 116 52.7 1.2 -0.956 11:15 2:05 41.7

Marcel Goc - Florida

Contract: $1.7 million through 2014 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
29 21 182 51.7 -5.2 1.574 17:49 1:58 48.9

Perhaps the most intriguing realistic acquisition, Goc is having a great season for the Panthers (just as he did in 2011-12). He can play tough minutes, drive possession forward, win faceoffs, and play in both special team situations. He is a borderline second line center and would give the Canucks another line capable of scoring some goals. Do the Canucks make another trade with the Panthers?

Josh Lile from DefendingBigD looked at what Goc brings to the table:

Goc brings some offensive pop as well. Not much, mind you, but some. He currently is picking up 1.34 points/60 in 14 even strength minutes per night. He's 7th among Panthers forwards in points/60 ahead of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, and Tomas Flesichmann. All of a sudden I feel like I'm writing a post on why the Panthers stink. Weird.

Jerred Smithson - Florida

Contract: $800,000 through 2013 (UFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
34 25 140 53.6 -20 -0.61 10:13 2:01 50.3

Smithson is a faceoff specialist who would play fourth line minutes. It wouldn’t cost much to acquire him, but he doesn’t represent a significant upgrade, either.

Shawn Matthias - Florida

Contract: $850,000 through 2013 (RFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
25 27 69 46 -1.1 0.283 14:19 1:07 47.6

It is unlikely that the Panthers move Matthias, but he would be a very attractive piece to the Canucks. He’s young and controllable, and he brings a lot of elements they would be looking for from a bottom six center. And Florida has a lot of young centers ready to play. Drew Shore has had a great rookie season, and Nick Bjugstad is on the way. Stephen Weiss likely won’t be back, so Florida may try and keep Matthias around to ensure they don’t lose a lot of their depth.

Trading for Matthias would be more of a “hockey trade” than a pure deadline rental.

Derick Brassard – Columbus

Contract: $3.2 million through 2014 (RFA)

Age GP FO Won FO Winning % Corsi Rel Corsi Qual Comp TOI/Game PK TOI/Game Ozone Start Rate
25 25 89 44.5 8.6 0.021 16:35 0:06 46.7

Speaking of hockey trades, Brassard is another interesting option. He is owed a decent chunk of change on his contract, but he would bring a lot to the Canucks – namely skill and offensive ability. He wouldn’t be acquired to play shutdown minutes for the Canucks. Vancouver desperately needs skill and playmaking in their top nine – in fact, I’d argue that a lack of skill is a more pressing need than finding a checking center.

Acquiring Brassard would mean that Kesler would have to play tougher minutes. Another option would be to move Kesler to right wing (I think this is the best solution), but that would only happen if the Canucks were able to bring in another center as well. I can’t see the team trading for two centers at the deadline – perhaps one now, and another in the summer?

Brassard has been on the trading block for a while now, as a lack of development (injuries, bad team, there are many reasons for that) in Columbus has kept him from really emerging as a consistent offensive threat. Or perhaps the Canucks acquire him to play on the wing?

At this point in time, it would seem that you know what kind of player Brass is going to be. He's a second/third line tweener center, who isn't great defensively or on faceoffs. He scores at about a half point per game, which is a positive, but he doesn't provide much else. In my opinion he'd be better suited on the wing as a playmaker. Columbus has used him in this capacity early this season, but with the injuries up the middle he has seen a return to the pivot spot. When Brandon Dubinsky returns, Brass will likely move back to the wing, and at that point, if he doesn't see an uptick in production, he almost never will. The reduced responsibilities on the wing should increase his point totals.

Who would you like the Canucks to bring in to shore up the center position?

Previous Posts from Jeff (@anguscertified):

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 Matt
March 14 2013, 11:22AM
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Jonathan Toews, obviously.

Seriously though, honest question (though it might be a dumb question, it's not "get Toews/Crosby/Malkin etc..." dumb). Could the Canucks target Mikael Backlund? Calgary needs a new franchise goalie, a lot of people expect them to go full rebuild if they don't have a realistic chance of making the post season. It's an inter-division trade and those are rare, but do they become less-rare because of re-alignment and the larger divisions? Backlund's been one of the few real bright spots on the Flames roster this season, he addresses all of the Canucks needs on centre (as someone who can play the role of a second line scoring centre or a third line checking centre), and while the Flames probably won't part with him, but for the right price (Schneider & Schroeder?) maybe they'd consider it.

Anyway, I'm not trying to CDC the place up with ridiculous propositions - just curious if Backlund would be available to the Canucks at any price.

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#2 Daniel W.
March 14 2013, 11:32AM
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good write-up!

I think this mostly depends on what Mike Gillis thinks he can/has to do in the summer.

Goc seems like the obvious 3rd line center here and I think he'd be a good fit!

I'd love to see Brassard on this Canucks team and looking at his stats, this might be the time to buy 'low' on him (similar to Booth), though I highly doubt that will happen.

My personal favorite: Frans Nielsen! But since the Islanders are still in the mix for a playoff spot, that seems unlikely as well!

So, my guess would be that Gillis gets Steckel (or someone along those lines) at the deadline and re-evaluates in the summer. On the other hand, he might just surprise me and do something bigger than that (like Hodgson last season!)

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#3 Daniel W.
March 14 2013, 11:34AM
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@Matt

You'd give up Schneider and Schroeder for Backlund?!? No way!

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#4 blueandgreen
March 14 2013, 11:50AM
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What would it cost for a player like Steve Ott?

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#5 antro
March 14 2013, 12:03PM
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Of those you covered, you got me thinking with Goc. I wonder if Florida would do Goc & a 2013 first rounder for Luongo & Ballard. Maybe that's crazy, but it would get a lot of salary off the books, and Goc could go the way of Higgins and Lapierre and continuing playing here into the future. Schroeder could become a 2/3rd line tweener on centre and wing. I know that Gillis would like a young player back, but a 2011 Malhotra look alike could potentially help the whole line up.

Great article!

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#6 Matt
March 14 2013, 12:10PM
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Daniel W. wrote:

You'd give up Schneider and Schroeder for Backlund?!? No way!

Maybe just Schneider then? Backlund's good, young, cheap, and fills a pressing need. No one seems to want to spend on goalies and Schroeder is a bubble player on Vancouver who would not fit in if the time acquired a second/third line centre who was a better fit.

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#7 Dan N
March 14 2013, 12:47PM
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I did an HFboards proposal a few weeks back of

- Roberto Luongo - Keith Ballard

For

- Teddy Purcell - NateThompson - Matthias Ohlund (for buy-out/$/retire a canuck purposes)

Went overly fairly well with Tampa.

Would definitely help their GAA.

Van gets top-6 playmaker, solid 3C.

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#8 Fred-65
March 14 2013, 12:47PM
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The fact that this was not attended to during the summer is the real question. We started the season with Lapierre and Sedin plus a one eyed Malhotra....what did we actually expect. Total mismanagement of resources.

Vermette (Phx) is the top face off man in the league and has another 2 years remaining ($3.7).Plus under the right circumstance can pop the odd goal. Would be good at the #3 centre spot when Kesler return

Ott, (Buf ) one year after this season left @ $2.9 third in face offs and bring an intangible to the team

They would be the top of my list

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#9 Mantastic
March 14 2013, 12:54PM
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@antro

why on earth would they trade Seth Jones or Nathan Mackinnon for Luongo and a salary dump?! stay off the crack

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#10 van
March 14 2013, 12:55PM
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We have a winger to trade (probably Higgins and/or Raymond, maybe Booth) so we could get a decent centre back. Goc looks like a good option, but a lot of these look like Pahlsson quality players which isn't really going to help. If we're going to have much playoff success, Kesler can't be doing too much heavy lifting. If Kesler's healthy and not buried in his own zone, secondary scoring shouldn't be a problem.

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#11 Dan
March 14 2013, 12:56PM
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Also, if MR could agree to an extension w/ Florida,

Raymond + 2nd Round Pick For Marcel Goc + Mike Weaver

(Gives us a cheap Ballard replacement next year, proven chemistry with J-Gar).

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#12 Dan
March 14 2013, 12:58PM
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van wrote:

We have a winger to trade (probably Higgins and/or Raymond, maybe Booth) so we could get a decent centre back. Goc looks like a good option, but a lot of these look like Pahlsson quality players which isn't really going to help. If we're going to have much playoff success, Kesler can't be doing too much heavy lifting. If Kesler's healthy and not buried in his own zone, secondary scoring shouldn't be a problem.

Goc = 2009-2010 Malhotra. His heavy lifting ability is not a quetion mark.

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#14 chinook
March 14 2013, 01:24PM
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Mike Ribeiro's name was floated on Hockey Central today, as being available. In his last year of a $6M contract and 33 years old, so he would definitely not be re-signed, a stop-gap until one of the goalies is traded in the off-season. Definitely he would bring offence but depends on the cost - I hate giving up draft picks.

I've been intrigued with Shawn Mathias for some time - great size (which the Canucks need at centre). We don't see Florida play often but I believe he is matched against top lines and still has best +/- on his team. Strong skater and has some offensive up-side(arguably). And his face-off % is normally pretty good, a little lower this year than career average (if I'm not mistaken). I think he is the best fit for Canuck's long-term needs. Florida might part with him because they have Shore, Huberdeau (and Bjugstad) as young centres.

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#15 antro
March 14 2013, 01:41PM
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@ Mantastic:

You're probably right, that was a bit extreme. But Ballard isn't purely a salary dump (he didn't work out for Vancouver, but he was a top 4 dman previously), and Florida doesn't yet have the 1st or 2nd picks (or 3rd for Drouin). I was thinking more that Gillis is rumoured to want a current player and a young prospect for Luongo. Maybe a FL option of a first rounder in 2013 or '14?

Thanks for reading, and for your generous tone!

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#16 Unknown Comic
March 14 2013, 01:47PM
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I also like Frans Nielsen, Vermette or Backlund. But Phoenix knows value and would not give him up. Calgary probably won't trade within their future conference. NYI may just be crazy enough.

What about Letestu in CBJ, Johansson in WAS, Lars Eller in MTL? I don't know about their underlying numbers, but seem to fit Gillis mold of young guys who can contribute now and into the future. They are teams that wouldn't mind swapping a centre for a winger.

Or Max Talbot may be available if PHI keeps tanking.

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#18 Reuben
March 14 2013, 01:55PM
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I'm sticking with my vote for Zack Smith. A little unrealistic maybe, but he's big, somewhat skilled and can win faceoffs.

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#20 Reuben
March 14 2013, 02:19PM
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@Jeff Angus

Yeah you're probably right about him being unavailable, I've felt that Vancouver would probably have to overpay to acquire him. Pencil me in for Goc as my more realistic vote then!

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#21 mk
March 14 2013, 10:58PM
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As a Flames fan, I will cry if the Flames trade away Backlund. Literally, I will shed tears. We finally have a half-decent young center, it would be awful business to trade him away.

Though, I wouldn't put it past the current management to trade him for a "better" forward (i.e. an older, not as effective forward, who has a better name and had 1 season with lots of points).

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#22 chinook
March 14 2013, 11:26PM
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P.S. re Shawn Mathias - How about that short-handed goal he scored against Boston tonight! WOW! Canucks gotta get this guy.

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#23 oilcountry
March 15 2013, 12:18AM
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Hey, how come nobody has mentioned the obvious choice....... Cody Hodgson. You mention above that they need a skilled/scorer more than a checking center. Would MG still do that deal again today? I realize Hodgson wanted out of dodge because of lack of opportunity, but looks like he sure would have had plenty this year. Kassians size and grit is a nice thing to have but is that not easier to acquire than a young skilled top 6 center?

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#24 khlhfs
March 15 2013, 01:41AM
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Bring back the phenom Jordan Schroeder.

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#25 khlhfs
March 15 2013, 02:00AM
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antro wrote:

Of those you covered, you got me thinking with Goc. I wonder if Florida would do Goc & a 2013 first rounder for Luongo & Ballard. Maybe that's crazy, but it would get a lot of salary off the books, and Goc could go the way of Higgins and Lapierre and continuing playing here into the future. Schroeder could become a 2/3rd line tweener on centre and wing. I know that Gillis would like a young player back, but a 2011 Malhotra look alike could potentially help the whole line up.

Great article!

Lol. Canucks fans are in for a dose of reality with regards to what they will get in return for Luongo. There is absolutely no market for goaltenders right now. Not to mention this trade deadline is being flooded with goalies all posting numbers as good or better than Luongo whilst carrying better contracts. ie. Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Jonathon Bernier.

To cap that off (pun intended) the Canucks face serious Cap issues next season. Assuming they buy out Ballard they will have, according to capgeek, 8 mil available next season and they need to sign 6 forwards and 3 dmen. So unless they`re willing to completely erode their bottom 6 depth and sign 9 players at league minimum they are going to have to move or buy out Luongo. Given the lack of demand for his services and the cap hole the Canucks have painted themselves into I wouldn`t be expecting anymore than a late round pick for him.

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#26 van
March 15 2013, 04:09AM
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@dan + jeff I meant Goc looks good and I'd definitely take him, but a couple of the others wouldn't bring much to the team (rather play Schroeder).

If we trade with Florida, would you take Weiss as well (assuming you could agree an extension). We'll still need a centre next season if we just get a rental and we could always move Kesler to the wing, if we got a (cheap) longer term third line option.

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#27 van
March 15 2013, 04:10AM
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@khlhfs

Laurence Gilman

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#28 antro
March 15 2013, 11:37AM
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@khlhfs ("KHL is hockey for suckers?"...JK!)

I've already stepped back from that (see reply to Mantastic). But you also forget that, as an proportion of annual cap hit, Luongo's contract is actually pretty good. Miller makes 6.25 until next year, for example. Kiprusoff makes 5.8 till next year. And neither of them are in Luongo's class over their career spans.

But also "posting better numbers than Luongo"? What do you mean by that? What could you *possibly* mean by that? This year? By GAA, by wins, by save percentage, or EV save percentage? Clearly you haven't been reading the advanced stats approaches to goaltending, which involves a wide range of variation and unpredictability. Gabe Desjardins (one of the godfathers of online advanced stats in hockey, set up behindthenet.com) used to say it takes roughly 4 seasons to evaluate a goaltender's skill, and several thousand shots. Ben Bishop?! He's played a total of 31 NHL games over 5 years, and faced only 846 shots. Bernier is two years younger, and has at least played 56 games over 6 years, facing 1529 NHL shots. But his sv percentage (including 5v4) has been .911. Not the most amazing. And both those guys will cost much more if and when they actually get established as above average goaltending (see Rinne, Rask, etc). For the kind of goaltending Luongo continually offers, he's got a very reasonable AAV.

Yeah, so maybe we Canucks fans sometimes exaggerate, but my guess is that the trend in NHL management is to pay more careful attention to the underlying numbers (even the Oilers have hired a stats guy now). Although I realize that there are still some managers who probably share your view of the world, and that's how they end up with Steve Mason as their goalie for years.

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#29 ac
March 15 2013, 12:46PM
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The most realistic players I see Gillis trading for are

Jay Beagle Brian Boyle Shawn Matthias

Without Malhotra and Kesler, the Canucks have broke even on the season with 13 wins out of 26 games. It would be nice to pick up a player like Mike Ribeiro but I doubt it will happen.

Almost every year there is a Florida Panther acquistion. Since they picked up Garrison, I think that fulfills that quota so maybe no Goc/Matthias.

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#30 vman36
March 16 2013, 11:03AM
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What about Burmistrov out of Winnipeg? He's about to be a healthy scratch for his third in a row here. He's good defensively and on the pk, and has a ton of offensive potential... maybe booth schroeder and a second?

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#31 Fred-65
March 20 2013, 01:22PM
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@khlhfs

Gallagher mentioned yesterday Luongo turned down a trade with TO last June when he still believed Florida was an option

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#32 Billy Laidler
March 21 2013, 04:40PM
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Isn't it obvious? Cody Hodgson...

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