Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Number One Centres

Yesterday, I threw out a Darryl Sutter quote as an aside to the game preview: "There's only about seven or eight actual No. 1 centremen in the National Hockey League." We went on about it in the comments a bit, with Cosh saying, "when you follow the statement to its consequences it falls apart, like a lot of offhanded stuff coaches say."

Two points:
  1. Cosh's generalization about the "offhanded stuff coaches say" is indisputably true
  2. Darryl Sutter does not need another nod-and-repeat-er, or apologist, and I have no desire to be one
However, I think Sutter's statement is defensible from a certain angle. One definition of a #1 centre, and a decent one I think, is a guy who a coach is happy to throw out there in any key situation. Where the coach is thinking, "We need [something] here, I'm sure glad I can send [#1 centre] out, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to get it."

Based on the past 2-3 seasons (as opposed to the 1st 25 games of this season), my list would be: Forsberg, Lecavalier, Sundin, Modano, Sakic, Marleau, Brad Richards, and Joe Thornton.

That's my top tier. Now who isn't on this list of eight, that maybe should be?

The young guys. I doubt that Carolina would trade Staal for anybody on that list, correctly. But his body of work is pretty thin at the moment. Same with Crosby. Spezza? I still get the impression that when they're up a goal late, Murray would rather have Mike Fisher out there than Spezza. Also, I haven't gotten the sense that Spezza has that ability to "take over a game", although again, it's tough to stand out in that way when you consider who he's playing with. Maybe Andrew or McMurtry can disavow me of these notions, if false.

Furthermore, if you want to include these guys in that top tier, you have to take Sakic off (data point: look at Sakic's shifts, and Laperriere's, after the 3rd goal last night - who's the Avs' #1 centre right now?).

The too-far-past-their-prime guys. Mario isn't a chance-creating machine anymore, and is a major defensive liability. So's Pierre Turgeon (somewhat less so). Lindros doesn't dominate. Weight isn't the guy he used to be--he hasn't scored a point-per-game since he left Edmonton in 2001. I'd also put Roenick, Yzerman, Primeau, Nieuwendyk, and Fedorov in this category; they once belonged, but no more.

The flaky guys. Marc Savard has 37 points in 25 games, but he gets hurt all the time. And somehow, no matter how well he's playing at the moment, he's a constant threat to be a healthy scratch 10 games down the road. Nylander and Jokinen belong here too. If there's a chance you might be in the coach's doghouse next week, you're not a legit #1 centreman.

Yashin has probably played his way out of this category this year, and belongs at the top with the big boys, but his past playoff performances drag him back to here, in my eyes.

Also, I have to put Pavel Datsyuk here, or maybe more charitably in the "young guys" category. Is he the New Magic Man? Because it seems like whenever the Wings most need a big performance from him, he disappears (0 goals in 12 playoff games in 2004).

The not-quite-enough-pop guys. These are the guys who the coach probably is confident throwing out there in any situation, but who lack premium offensive skills, at least relative to the big boys. Craig Conroy. Brendan Morrison. Probably Horcoff. Maybe Briere.

The leftover guy. I hardly ever see Montreal games, and he's injured a lot, so I just have no earthly clue how good Saku Koivu is, or isn't.

Again, Sutter's statement is basically non-disprovable. You can pick any number (X) and say that's how many #1 centres there are. You just pick your Top X centres, look at what they bring as a group that lesser players don't, and define that as what constitutes as #1 centre.

I have my own preferred definition. It seems like the NHL has changed in the past 20 years such that a highly gifted player is more likely to be a winger and less likely to be a centre (why this is is a subject for another day). On most teams, the top offensive player is a winger, and the #1 line is whichever line that guy's on. So the mission of most teams' #1 centre is to allow that star winger to be as good as he can be. If he's successful at that, then he is a bona fide number-one NHL centre to my mind.

That's why a guy like Craig Conroy deserves credit as a #1 centre. In the previous three seasons, his right winger won the Rocket Richard Trophy twice. This year, Pavol Demitra is having a career year on his right side, and so is Frolov on his left. Coincidence? Bah.

Peter Forsberg, Vincent Lecavalier, Mats Sundin, Mike Modano, Patrick Marleau, Brad Richards, Joe Thornton, Craig Conroy, Brendan Morrison, Shawn Horcoff, Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, and Sidney Crosby. That's my list of the 13 genuine #1 centres in the NHL on November 30, 2005. Insults are encouraged.


An elite centre is one that is interchangeable. The reason I say that is that is what Sutter was getting at. His point was there may only be 8 elite centres in the league, and so why should he make a trade for a sub-elite centre when he already has a few?

The fact is that I would argue that Forsberg and Conroy have proven they can have their lines change and they will not only succeed but make their new linemates better (ie. Gagne, and Demitra, I mean, wasn't Demitra the "centre" that the Oilers went after?) Thornton belongs because his linemates are always changing because the Bruins are a crapshoot and who knows what their owner and GM will do next. He needs to get out of there and prove that not only can he dominate somewhere else, but make other average players better.

Morrison and Spezza are benefactors of a great line, I mean, do this list 3 years ago and you would have added Jason Arnott because at the time the Arnott-Elias-Sykora line was the best in the league. But where is Arnott now? and Elias and Sykora? Spezza is great, no question, but he's not elite. Same with Morrison, was he a top line centre on Team Canada at the World Championships? nope. Even Horcoff played ahead of him.

Lecavalier and Richards, can you have 2 elite centres on the same team in the "new" NHL? Not for long. Richards is gone, but they are both elite, hence the stanley cup victory last season. But right now, Lecavalier is better, so I would argue that Richards can't be on the same list as him then.

Modano is solid, fast and a constant threat, he's elite, he could have proven it somewhere else, but he;s also loyal. Good call on having him on the list. Marleau is good, but when his team leans on him, he doesn't carry them, that puts him in your flaky category, although at the top of that category.

Crosby will eventually take "elite" to a new level, so he;ll be on the list soon enough, but elite means having proven yourself, what has he proven other than being the top rookie?

those are my thoughts, too long, sorry about that.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

bing, you might be right about Morrison and Spezza, it's a tough call. In Morrison's defense, since they put that line together, you haven't often heard, "Gee, Naslund and Bertuzzi would be so much more productive if they could just find them a decent centreman!"

It's easy to say that he's the 3rd-best player on the line, but it's not so easy to say that Naslund and Bert would be just as good with, say, Daymond Langkow (whose career stats are fairly comparable).

Including Spezza was possibly premature.

How do Thorton & Marleau rank on your list now?


Kipper and (whoever's in net that week for the Oil) better have their A-game on against the Sharks.

No way in hell do I accept the definition of "#1 centre" put forward here. The term's basically being used to mean "a player without flaws." In the real world no would would think to NOT call Datsyuk or Weight or Morrison (or Crosby!!) a #1 centre unless you put all the Fenwickian boilerplate at the front. Is Morrison not in the middle of the league's #1 line? Doesn't that sort of qualify him ex officio?

Hey, you know what? If I define a "#1 centre" as "a wild South American camelid of the llama family," then Lecavalier and Forsberg don't qualify either.

And as for the data point about Sakic--surely the author might have been expected to notice that Laperriere was being run out there against Morrison after the first three goals because he'd personally scored two of them?

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?