Throughout the offseason and the start of the season, a frequent topic of conversation among the Fifth Line was whether the Columbus Blue Jackets could add a center. The depth was seen as lacking with the loss of William Karlsson in the expansion draft and with the declining play of Brandon Dubinsky last year. It was believed that a center for one of the top two lines was the piece that could elevate the Jackets from a playoff team to a Cup contender.
The most desired piece was Matt Duchene, and it was reported that Columbus was in active talks with Colorado for most of the year. Eventually Duchene was traded to Ottawa instead, and one of the alternate choices, Kyle Turris, was also moved as part of that trade.
In the meantime, circumstances in Columbus changed. Injuries to Alexander Wennberg and Lukas Sedlak forced rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois into the middle, and once he was matched up with Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson, that line has carried the offense.
But now Dubinsky is out for 6-8 weeks with an eye injury, which once again leaves a hole int he center depth. However, with PLD as the 1C (for now, at least), the need is a 2C or 3C, rather than a 1C.
What centers may be available? I looked at some who fit our needs, and whose teams may be looking to sell, plus some more outside-the-box picks. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo
Pros: O’Reilly has scored at least 50 points in his last 5 full seasons and already has 20 this year. He’s still just 26 but he has 8 years of experience under his belt. He’s locked up through 2023 but may not be part of Buffalo’s longterm plans as they rebuild (and as Jack Eichel’s cap hit jumps to $10M next year).
Cons: O’Reilly’s $7.5M annual cap hit would make him the highest paid Blue Jacket. That’s likely too expensive considering the other young players that need to be paid in the coming years.
Mark Letestu, Edmonton
Pros: “Test Tube” was always popular in Columbus in both the community and within the organization. He purchased a home in Central Ohio this year, indicating he may move back after his playing career is over. He has an expiring contract at a very reasonable $1.8M. His FO% this year is 55.1, his EV CF% is 51.6, and he remains a special teams whiz, with 3 power play goals and 2 shorthanded goals (including a backbreaker to end the second period on Tuesday against Columbus).
Cons: The Jackets may not want to add someone over the age of 30 (Letestu is 32). He’s still ideally a 4C due to his pedestrian 5v5 numbers over his career.
Antoine Vermette, Anaheim
Pros: Another former Jacket, Vermette remains one of the top faceoff men in the league, winning at a 60.25 rate this season (behind just O’Reilly among centers with at least 20 games played). Also like Letestu, he has an expiring contract at a very reasonable cap hit. His 6 goals and 6 assists may not look like much, but it’s better than most Jacket forwards.
Cons: He’s even older, at 35. He has a modified no trade clause. Would Columbus be on his list of teams?
Billy Price, Ohio State
Pros: A native of Ohio, Price won the Rimington Award as the best center in college football. A natural leader who was team captain and set a school record for consecutive starts. His 6’4” 312 lbs frame would wreck havoc along the boards.
Cons: No evidence that he’s ever played hockey or that his skills at center would translate from one sport to another.
William Butler Yeats, Dublin
Pros: In “The Second Coming,” Yeats wrote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” This means that a team cannot hope to have sustained success without depth and consistency from the center position. He also knows that it’s important for a center to avoid taking stupid penalties, like holding.
Cons: No hockey stats to be found; deceased since 1939. Still, a more perceptive hockey analyst than Mike Milbury.