Sure, maybe it was stating the obvious when we said the second-line center the Caps should target is Matthew Lombardi, but it’s more than that. If we look at the numbers, I think he is the ONLY viable option in free agency.
Luckily our first line center is set in stone for the next decade. You may have heard of him; he’s kind of a big deal. But then there is quite a drop off:
Under contract are Michael Nylander and Brooks Laich. The team will pay Nylander’s $3 million salary next season but will make sure it doesn’t count against the salary cap by assigning him to Europe (again) or sending him to Hershey, leaving just Brooksy.
There is RFA Tomas Fleischmann, who, if you ask his agent, is comparable to Montreal center Tomas Plekanec. So, thanks, but no thanks.
That leaves Eric Belanger, who despite being an UFA is “still on the team’s radar.”
So, at center we have Backstrom– possibly Belanger– and Laich, who may be better suited to LW.
If we look at Goals Created for Belanger, we see he created 14.3 goals in 77 games. Or .7 per 60 minutes of ice time. That’s our benchmark. I am not alone in thinking Belanger is at best a #3 center, so any option the Caps consider has to be an improvement over Belanger – or they should simply sign Belanger and hope for the best.
Vinny Prospal, who created 19.9 goals last season, and Saku Koivu, who created 18.2 goals. Both will be over 35 years old next season, and the stats on centers over 35 are not encouraging:
From 1987-88 to 2009-10, there have been only 35 centers, aged 35 or older, who have played more than 50 games, had 15+ goals and 30+ assists in a season – the average stats for a second-line centerman. That’s fewer than two players per year!
Olli Jokinen (16.6 goals created) & Matt Cullen (16.3) are only slight upgrades to Belanger– leaving Matt Lombardi, who created 18.4 goals and at 27 years old is just now entering what could be the prime of his career.
Have a better option? Let us know in the comments.