13 “hefty centers” that Jim Benning and the Canucks could be interested in
Photo credit:© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
Folks, we all know how this works by now.
Jim Benning has never been one to play his cards close to the vest. Sure, sometimes he speaks in half-truths and generalities, but he’s never been one to put out falsehoods as some sort of deceptive maneuver.
So, when a source as solid as Elliotte Friedman says “Vancouver’s looking for defence and a centre with some heft,” as he did in his final 31 Thoughts column of the season, one pretty much has to assume that it’s true.
And, this close to the start of the offseason Expansion Draft/Entry Draft/Free Agency carousel, one also has to assume that Benning already has some very specific, very hefty centers in mind.
But who are these ponderous pivots?
That’s what we’re here to find out. We took a look for centers available either on the trade market or via free agency that tip the scales at over and above the average NHL weight of 201 pounds, and this was who we found.
All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, all contract details courtesy of PuckPedia.
Unrestricted Free Agency
The upside of signing an unrestricted free agent is that you don’t have to give up assets for them. The downside is that the contract might end up being as hefty as the player…
29, C/W, 5’11”, 207lb, UFA
Coleman is either the best or second-best player on this list, but he’s got two things working against him as a potential Vancouver acquisition. First, Coleman is listed as a center, and is capable of playing all forward positions, but he’s had almost all of his recent success as a winger and is probably best suited there.
Second, as a winner of consecutive Stanley Cups coming off a career season, Coleman is going to get paid to an excessive degree this offseason. He’s at the perfect age to cash in, but the Canucks aren’t really in a place where they can afford an overpay.
Also, he’s not even that hefty.
36, C, 6’3”, 228lb, UFA
Chalk this one up under things we never thought would happen, but now look entirely possible.
Getzlaf was once thought to be a lifer in Anaheim, and that might still be the case, but the closer he gets to free agency without any word of contract talks, the more people are going to wonder. His numbers are no longer Hall of Fame-worthy, but they’re respectable, and he was played in a quasi-defensive role this season to insulate the Ducks’ younger centers. More relevant to this article is that Getzlaf is still beefy and still knows how to use it. Even at 36, he isn’t afraid to throw down.
Unfortunately, it Getzlaf leaves Anaheim, one has to imagine it’s to a more certain contender. Unless he wants to return to Canada but stay on the west coast, he’s not coming to Vancouver.
28, C, 6’2”, 213lb, UFA
Kuraly is a name that doesn’t get a lot of mention in free agency discussions, but he played an everyday role on a contender in Boston, and that’s got to count for something. Mostly playing a fourth line role, Kuraly didn’t put up many points in 2021, nor did he eat up shutdown minutes playing on the same roster as Patrice Bergeron. He’s got a habit of inconsistently using his body, but he also has a history of increasing his production in the playoffs.
Kuraly is big, he is capable, and one has to think he might be able to do more on a team that can place him higher in the lineup. The Canucks are certainly one of those teams.
35, C, 6’3”, 210lb, UFA
We won’t waste too much digital ink here, because Soderberg might be large, but he’s not what the Canucks are looking for. Not physical or defensively-oriented, Soderberg doesn’t kill penalties and played extremely sheltered minutes for the Avalanche this year. Even under soft deployment for a powerhouse team, he only managed 17 points and negative possession stats.
He’s not the heft they’re looking for.
42, C, 6’4”, 220lb, UFA
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Thornton. After all, his nickname is Jumbo Joe. And in terms of on-ice value, one could do a whole lot worse on the free agency market.
But at this advanced stage in his career, Thornton is best suited for the wing, and he’s certainly not suited for tough matchups, killing penalties, or applying physicality with any measure of consistency.
He’s also not leaving his home province for BC, unless he really misses the Pacific Ocean for some reason.
32, C, 6’1”, 208lb, UFA
Rowney is a tough player to gauge right now. When he’s not out of the lineup with injury, as was often the case in 2021, he’s holding down by far the toughest minutes on the Anaheim forward corps. Unfortunately, he’s also getting absolutely buried under them.
Despite that, Rowney’s production has stayed fairly consistent through three years with the Ducks, and he looks at least a little better than the average fourth line center. If the Canucks are confidence that his injuries are behind him, he’s not a bad bet on a cheap contract.
28, C, 6’5”, 208lb, UFA
Sometimes, the best hefty center is the one you’ve already got.
Graovac earned some fans in Vancouver for a couple of highlight-reel goals and generally noticeable play in 2021. His five goals in 22 career games for Vancouver extrapolates him into a 20-goal scorer, but his underlying metrics call into question the likelihood of that ever happening.
Like most members of the Canucks’ bottom-six, Graovac struggles against top-six competition, raising serious doubts about him ever holding down anything other than a fourth line position. Still, he’s probably shown enough to at least be given the opportunity.
36, C, 6’1”, 205lb, UFA
Thompson is big, physical, and played a fourth line role on a team that made it to the third round in 2021. And those are really the only reasons that he finds himself on this list. At age 36, Thompson’s days as an effective NHLer are coming to an end, if they haven’t already.
Players available for trade often come with more affordable contracts than their UFA counterparts. But then you have to actually trade something in return for them, and the Canucks aren’t exactly loaded with expendable assets…
27, C, 6’2”, 215lb, One year left at $5.625 mil with San Jose
No one really knows what the Sharks are doing. They should rebuild, but they’re loaded up with veteran contracts that will make that difficult to do. Among them, Hertl’s is probably the most valuable, and it happens to be the one closest to expiring, making him a logical target for a youth-injecting trade.
That’s sort of the problem, however. The size Hertl would bring to the Canucks would be secondary to the skill, but they’d have to pay a mighty sum for his near-point-per-game production. The asking price starts with the 9th overall and probably goes up quite a bit from there.
27, C, 6’1”, 206lb, RFA with Winnipeg
We’ve talked Copp before on here, and we’ll do it again. The Jets are going to have a tough time protecting all of their forward assets in the Expansion Draft, and their final protection slot will come down to a choice between Copp and Mason Appleton. After a career season, they were probably leaning toward Copp, but a mediocre postseason from him might have them feeling differently.
If Copp is exposed to Seattle, he’ll be made available in trade at a bargain price first. However, any buyer, including the Canucks, should be wary. Copp’s production in 2021 looks like an outlier. Many of his points came while playing the wing in the top-six, and four of his 15 goals came in a single game against the Canucks. Still, he can kill penalties and handle medium matchups, so there’s more to him than scoring.
27, C, 6’3”, 220lb, Four years left at $3.25 mil with Dallas
Like Copp, we’ve discussed a possible Faksa acquisition under the assumption that the Stars won’t be able to protect him in the Expansion Draft. As of right now, they’ve got two protection slots available to split between he, Jason Dickinson, and Joe Pavelski, and Faksa looks like the odd man out.
Don’t let his lacklustre numbers fool you, Faksa remains one of the top shutdown centers in the game, facing brutally tough deployment and still coming out on top more times than not. He’s the second-heaviest player on this list, and he actually plays like it, punishing opponents with his body on a nightly basis. If the price is right, Faksa looks like a smart target — though anyone dealing for him is committing to him for quite some time.
24, C, 6’3”, 210lb, One year left at $2.25 mil with New Jersey
The Devils spent parts of five seasons waiting for Zacha to breakout, but now that he’s done so he looks especially valuable, because he spent the interim sharpening up his two-way game. Big, strong, and tenacious, why would the Devils ever part with Zacha now that he’s scoring, too? Well, they probably wouldn’t.
Zacha has had more success on the wing than at center of late, but he’s capable of playing both. If New Jersey were to decide that Zacha was superfluous with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier already on the roster — and maybe a Matthew Beniers to come — they could decide to move on from Zacha, but they won’t do so for cheap. He’s only one to target if the price is right.
23, C, 6’6”, 218lb, RFA with Ottawa
If you’re looking for a budget option on the hefty center trade market, Brown’s the one you’re looking for. The 23-year-old, drafted 11th overall in the Olli Juolevi draft, has clearly fallen out of favour in Ottawa. He’s been passed by countless others on the depth chart, and both player and team are looking for a new fit this offseason.
Brown won’t come free, but he won’t be all that expensive to acquire, either. Flip a third or another struggling prospect for him and call it a day.
Thicc Final Thoughts
If you got excited when Friedman mentioned a center with heft — and we sincerely hope you did not — get unexcited.
As you can plainly see from this list, the small handful of exciting massive middlemen on the market are all too expensive for the Canucks, and the less-expensive ones are, well, not that exciting.
There is a slight, Radek Faksa-shaped grey area in between that the Canucks might be able to exploit, but that’s as much up to their prospective trading partner as it is to them. Chances are far better that they end up with someone from the lower end of this list — or just put the 218-pound JT Miller there and say that’s what they meant by hefty centers all along.
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