High Tide Hockey: The Not-So-Elite #1 Center

This is NOT an "Elite #1 Center" (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

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High Tide Hockey is a weekly column offering insights on various issues and events as well as consistent content. The writer, Arik Knapp, is a member of the USCG and currently stationed in Virginia Beach, VA.

 

"Elite #1 Center" These are the words that still cause Flames fans to drool- even after years of false starts with players such as Olli Jokinen. But how important is an "Elite #1 C"? And what defines that position?

 

To start with, look at teams that won the Stanley Cup the past, say, 4 years. Or- hell- teams that just made it to the SCF. Last year- Blackhawks and Flyers. Both years before that- Penguins and Red Wings. And even one more year back- Ducks and Senators. It's really easy to look at all of these teams and say "Hey- they've got elite #1 centers! That's what we need!" But what about these centers makes them so good at elevating their entire team's game? Here's the full list of the top centers on all the teams: Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, Pavel Datsyuk, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jason Spezza. A fairly impressive list- to be sure.

So does this mean that picking up Brad Richards or a similar style player would make the Calgary Flames a Stanley Cup contender? Not even a little. Let's start with the last Stanley Cup finals centers. Chicago had four centers on their roster in the playoffs: Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Colin Fraser and John Madden. Guess who spent the most time against top players? Jonathan Toews. Next up? Philadelphia Flyers. Know who among their centers did the same thing? Mike Richards. And he did so while taking only 42% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone.

Look at all the other centers I listed from Stanley Cup winners and finalists. Datsyuk is notorious for his amazing defensive play, Crosby just drags teams kicking and screaming to wherever he wants to go, and Ryan Getzlaf is pretty damn hard nosed himself. The only real exception on this list is Jason Spezza, and he had Daniel Alfredsson to cover for him.

So what's the point? The point is, most centers that you'll find putting up HUGE numbers are taking advantage of lots of PP time, easy opposition lines, and, to an extent, riding percentages. Vincent Lecavalier's entire quality career consisted of that. Brad Richards? Same thing. If the Flames want that mythical creature that has consistently eluded them- best make sure he's not Olli Jokinen in disguise. Find a center that plays tough minutes and puts up 70-80 points, rather than 90+. Those guys- your Ryan Kesler's, Paul Stastny's, Joe Pavelski's. Those are the guys you want.

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  • Assuming this completely crazy leadup for the trade deadline isn't a giant tease, good lord will next Monday be absolutely nuts in a totally great way

  • The Calgary Flames still have one more game against the Dallas Stars. Let me rephrase: The Calgary Flames still have one more game against the James Neal-less Dallas Stars.

  • Clearly I'm not a Wild fan, but as many of you know, I'm active duty U.S. Military, and this really made me smile today. It's a sweater auction that supports a charity that keeps military kids playing hockey. Love seeing hockey players support the military.

  • Regarding the Colorado Avalanche giving it's players maintenance days: if I were a GM and it was the trade time of the year- I'd have so many smokescreens going. About to trade two players? Give four players the practice off. And so on.
  • Tomorrow is Matchsticks and Gasoline's 2nd birthday, and the day after is the two year anniversary from when friend of the blog WI and myself signed up as commenters.

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  • I just cannot comprehend what is happening with Ales Kotalik. 24 hours and a lack of a waiver claim later, and it still makes zero sense. That being said, the whole thing reflects more pooly on Darryl Sutter than it does on Jay Feaster.
  • You know who's looking even worse about it than either of them? Ales Kotalik himself. Guy's displayed the maturity of former NFL great bust Ryan Leaf about the whole situation.

  • Equally mind-blowing: Zherdev not being claimed on waivers. By anyone. Either that guy has a penchant for leaving dead puppies in the locker room, or GMs are completely unaware he was on waivers.

  • (More) regarding Kotalik: how awful has he been this year? I mean, it's one of those things where you say "He's not very good", but then you look at the stats and the boxcars, and it's worse than bad.

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I'll elaborate a bit more on this in my next NHLE post, but Max Reinhart is far and away one of my favorite Flames prospects right now. Just look at his wingers and wonder how he's doing anything close to what he's doing. He's certainly not a blue chip prospect, but he's far and away doing more with less than any other of our future players. Ryan Howse is similar in what he's doing and with whom, but he's also a year older. 

 

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LATES BROS. (HAAAALLLA!)

 

Finally, a bittersweet moment. I've mentioned it a few times: in comments here, on Matchsticks and Microphones, and on Twitter, but here's the real deal. I got to a point this winter where I realized I wasn't really writing at the 4th Line Blog anymore. So that's basically it. I talked to the guys at Bloguin about it and they agreed: it's time for it to go the way of the Donner Party.

And while I know it's a rival network to SBN and all, I want to thank the Bloguin guys for all their support and how willing they were to host a blog that had literally existed for about 3 months and had a first post consisting of Olli Jokinen monkey jokes. I also want to thank friend-of-the-blog Justin for his even less frequent and sometimes more bizarre writing there too. Goodbye 4LB, goodbye failed weekly link dumps, and goodbye banana jokes.

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