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Free Agent Centers & the Devils: Blair Betts

Seriously.  Blair Betts was the second name suggested as a free agent signing for the Devils and so here we are, taking a look at Blair Betts.  I'm not going to sugar coat it, on the surface, Betts isn't going to be lining up on the second line.  He's definitely more of a bottom-line center; but with Holik retired, it's still a position the Devils will have to fill.  And as we saw with Holik last season, just because it doesn't command a lot of minutes doesn't mean the player can't help - or hurt - the team.

Blair Betts

#15 / Center / New York Rangers



Feb 16, 1980

2008-09 Salary: $615,000

2008 - Blair Betts 81 6 4 10 -5 16 0 2 1 0 83 7.2

Fortunately for those who think about Betts, and this post, Betts has garnered a lot of praise from Rangers fans. In fact, Ryan at Blueshirt Banter has gone as far as to say that he's the best fourth line center in the NHL.   To be honest, I'm not quite sure what that entails, but from we can see that he has good size, he's quite disciplined (seriously, look at those career numbers), and from the many times I've seen him play, he's quite a hard worker.  He's definitely not an offensive player by stretch of the imagination, however (seriously, look at those career numbers).

While you wouldn't know it from his points and shots on goals, Betts assets are more than just a hard working guy on the fourth line. For example, Betts managed to take the third-most faceoffs for the Rangers last season with 884. OK, he won't make you forget Holik at the faceoff dot given that he only 49.3% of those faceoffs.   But what actually is impressive is his work on the penalty kill.

The Rangers has the most effective penalty kill last season with a strong 87.8% success rate and who was it that contributed significantly to that accomplishment? Blair Betts.  He led the Rangers in total shorthanded time on ice with 241:44 and on average with 2:59/game.    Given that Betts averaged 10:38 per game all season, it's clear that he was a penalty kill specialist, and a very effective one at that.  According to Behind the Net's basic 4-on-5 numbers, Betts had the second best goals against per 60 value among all centers in the league who averaged at least 90 seconds of penalty killing per game at 3.51.  TheSchwab at Blueshirts Banter praised Betts (and Frederik Sjostrom) for their work at the top of the diamond all season, and the numbers back him up.  That's very impressive.  When you consider that the Devils' penalty kill was only effective 79.9%, finishing tied with Colorado for 20th best in the league; a little help on the penalty kill couldn't hurt.

Alas, Betts isn't going to provide a whole lot more than that.  As his faceoff winning percentage showed, while he'll take plenty of faceoffs, he's not going to win all that many.  Betts isn't out there to put up points or a ton of shots, but he'll spell the other forwards and put out some positive energy on even strength.  Based on the Behind the Net even strength numbers for the Rangers, I get a hint of a semblence of an impression that he might be a defensive center on that fourth line.  While the goals against per 60 does rise from 2.33 to 2.39 when Betts hits the ice; the shots against per 60 does fall from 26.6 to 25.8 when he's out there as well.   Of course, Betts' relative quality of competition is low at -0.03, so perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt if the numbers are to be believed. After all, he's a fourth line center; I think anyone expecting Betts to do otherwise will be disappointed.

The way I see it, Betts would be more valuable (and cost more to sign) were he better at faceoffs or possessed some offensive talent or something else. Since his role is what it is, Betts can probably be signed for $1 million/year at most.  Perhaps for even less.  The main question is whether the Devils should even bother making the effort?  Couldn't changes in coaching or tactics on the penalty kill making it better?  If a few players on the penalty killing units figure out what was wrong and go about fixing it for next season, then would the Devils even need a penalty killing specialist? As always, these are questions the Devils need to ask themselves. I can't help but feel the improvements can be made without having to sign someone.

Ultimately, I look at the situation and see two questions.  With Rod Pelley waiting in the minors - it could have been you, Petr Vrana! - to compete for that fourth line center spot, would signing Betts be necessary?  Or if the Devils sign a bunch of centers and John Madden or Dainius Zubrus centers that fourth line by default, why would the Devils go get/have Betts?  In response to both questions, I feel the answer is no. Not that Betts would be a waste of money, just that I don't think it'll be a very meaningful signing for New Jersey.  OK, he can spite the Rangers; but I don't think cap space should be spent for that alone.

As you all have been waiting so intently, it's time for you to have your say about Blair Betts.  Do you think he is the best fourth line center in the league?  Do you think the Devils would really be a better team with him than without?  As always, have your say in the comments below.