You Can Never Have Too Many Centers >
 
 

by Michael DeNicola


Friday, September 26th, 2014 --





Welcome to preseason hockey, ladies & gentlemen. It doesn't matter how well these boys conditioned themselves in the offseason, injuries are bound to happen. And when the bug begins its wrath by leering its ugly head down the middle of your lineup, the shortage of centermen can send bench bosses into scramble mode. 


For a stretch of years now, the Flyers have enjoyed drafting and signing centers in high quantity. So much so that our fans have even complained that this franchise owns "too many centers". But outside of a quality netminder, hockey's center position is not the position you want to get caught with weak depth at. By definition, the center is the most universally sound forward on the ice. They're expected to protect and cover the most ice surface. Their awareness and anticipation are key to quarterbacking the flow in every situation. Their advanced mobility and creativity strengthen the scoring chances, and they're ideally the ones you want guarding the perimeter and higher-slot while back on defense. 


There's no one on the ice who has more responsibility in all three zones, whether transitioning to offense or defense, than an NHL centerman. 


Say it with me... You can never have too many centers. 



One of my favorite characteristics of a center is his versatility. What makes these skaters so valuable, most times, is their ability to play their strong-side wing position. 


Right now, we're seeing it with Brayden Schenn, who is ultimately going to take up Giroux's left flank in the beginning parts of 2014-15, possibly the entirety of the campaign. Even though Brayden is a natural centerman, he's had very little difficulty adjusting to the outer playing area. 


Claude Giroux spent the majority of his Major Junior career as a winger on the right side of play. He was drafted by the Flyers as a right-wing, and began his NHL career as so. 


Again, it's the versatility that makes these horses so attractive to team scouts & general managers.



This past Winter Olympics, Team Canada iced a roster composed of Matt Duchene, Patrick Marleau, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter and Sidney Crosby -- an honorable mention to Steven Stamkos, also a center, who couldn't participate in the Olympic Games due to an injury he suffered earlier that NHL season. 


That list makes nine of fourteen forwards as NHL centermen. How'd they do?





Say it with me.... You can never have too many centers. 



Digging back through the rosters of Stanley Cup champs, I discovered a peculiar pattern...


2014, Los Angeles Kings, iced seven players listed as centers during their Stanley Cup run, and collected a combined 76 post-season points from that group. 


2013, Chicago Blackhawks, iced seven players listed as centers during their Stanley Cup run, and collected a combined 71 post-season points from that group. 


2012, Los Angeles Kings, iced eight players listed as centers during their Stanley Cup run, and collected a combined 66 post-season points from that group. 


2011, Boston Bruins, iced eight players listed as centers during their Stanley Cup run, and collected a combined 115(!!!) post-season points from that group. 


2010 (ugh), Chicago Blackhawks, iced six players listed as centers during their Stanley Cup run, and collected 69 post-season points from that group. 


That's five years, five Stanley Cup hunts, with a combined 397-points just from Championship-winning centermen. That averages to 79.4 points per Cup team, scored by forwards with experience at center. 


Say it with me.... You can never have too many centers.



But getting back to the Flyers and their preseason injury woes, Hextall has already come out and said that Couturier and Bellemare's injuries aren't serious at all. Giroux has since gotten back on the ice, and just today put in his third workout in as many days. 


That's the best of the worst it gets. But we all know how bad it can be. Luckily for the Flyers brass, this gives us time to study other centers a little harder. Guys like Scott Laughton, who was slated to begin his professional career with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season, and still may; actually, I'd bet money on that. Then there are others who are getting a shot; Blair Jones, a journeyman this summer who caught the Flyers midnight train, has NHL experience at both forward positions. He's put in a very impressive preseason, and if injuries continue to tatter the Flyers roster, Jones is another possible plug-in at either center or wing. 


Chris VandeVelde, who's hanging on to his spot in Flyers camp by a thread, is battling for that fourth and final center position.


Down on the farm, the Phantoms stock Nick Cousins and Marcel Noebels, two more young centermen.



One may try to leverage Lecavalier as an argument against this philosophy. He's been a failure at the wing position since signing with the Flyers. This is easily refutable. Vincent Lecavalier spent fourteen NHL seasons playing center before he was forced to absorb duties at right and left-wing at the prime age of 33. Have you ever heard the expression "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"?



In this sport, success is a product of depth. And considering it is essential to stack the middle of your lineup with this skillful versatility, it'd potentially be season-ending to neglect the depth at center. 


Say it with me one more time.... You can never have too many centers. 



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