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FA Centers & the Devils: Yelle, Lundqvist, and LaRose

This post will conclude the list of suggestions and I suppose this entire feature looking at unrestricted free agent centers for this summer.  

We have three remaining suggestions and after taking a quick look at the list of UFA centers at NHL Numbers, I don't believe there is anyone else worth really looking at.  Yes, there's Mike Comrie, but he's going to get far too much money for a player who A) has had injury issues during his career and B) has never scored more than 60 points. So I really would not want him as a Devil for these two issues alone.  I know this comment mentioned Michael Nylander, but I still stand with my original response to that - no need to restate it again.  And I'm not planning on looking at RFAs regardless, as I don't think the Devils would or should go after Phil Kessel or Jiri Hudler and pay them significant salaries along with paying their former teams significant compensation. 

Moving on, all three suggestions from R_Adragna and he's got a few that I believe would be best for the Devils' bottom two lines: Dallas' Joel Lundqvist, Boston's Stephane Yelle (who Adragna made an argument for last season at Fire & Ice), and Carolina's Chad LaRose.

Stephane Yelle

#18 / Center / Boston Bruins



May 09, 1974

2008-09 Salary: $750,000

2008 - Stephane Yelle 77 7 11 18 6 32 1 0 2 0 72 9.7

Let's open this up with a fun fact: Yelle was originally drafted by the Devils in 1992.  Yelle was traded to Quebec in 1994 along with a 11th rounder in exchange for an 11th rounder, so that's how he got into the league through Colorado.

Some of the arguments Rich argued back on Hell on Ice in 2008 still apply as assets for Yelle.  Being a hard worker and able to fill in where needed would be useful on the fourth line.   Unlike some of the other versatile forwards looked at so far, Yelle does primarily play at center, which is a big plus. He's strong on faceoffs, winning 52% of the 792 he took for Boston in this past season.  While it wasn't as big as Holik's percentage, it's viable as a replacement.  The fact that he doesn't take many penalties - no more than 50 in any season of his whole career - makes him a definite upgrade over Holik in that department.

I am thinking of Yelle as a replacement for Holik as he was primarly on the fourth line, averaging 13:16 of ice time per game.   I'm not sure he would be a proper replacement for, say, John Madden because he is turning 36 and giving him more minutes - more important minutes - may force him to do more than he really can at this point in his career.  Especially if he likes to play hurt, as stated on his profile page.

Still, Yelle is a defensive forward and he can spell Madden's unit should it continue to be a checking unit.  According to the even strength numbers at Behind the Net, when Yelle stepped on the ice, the shots against and the goals against per 60 drastically dropped.  In terms of shots against per 60, it fell from 28.9 to 25.9; and the goals against dropped from 1.99 to 1.45.  Very nice numbers, I say.  Of course, those numbers also reveal that Yelle contributes little to the offense.  The shots for per 60 also fell from 27.2 to 23.6; and the goals for per 60 fell from 3.24 to 1.67 when Yelle is on the ice.    He'll never put up more than 30 points in a season (he hasn't in his career), so these numbers shouldn't be too surprising. Again, he's a defensive forward, you can't really make him out to be something that he's not.

The other asset that he brings that, say, Blair Betts, doesn't is experience. Yelle has been to the top of the mountain with Colorado not once, but twice.  He knows what it takes to succeed when defending in a big game situation. Granted, the Devils had numerous players with playoff and Stanley Cup experience last season; but it's not a bad trait to have.   That all said, I put him in the same category with Betts:  he can be useful, but he may not be necessary.  I think Rod Pelley or someone else from Lowell may be able to do well enough on the fourth line and thereby save a few hundred thousand dollars.   I favor Yelle a little more for two reasons.  First, it's plausible that Lou may replace Holik, a veteran defensive center, with another veteran defensive center.   Second, given that Yelle is getting older and already makes less than a million, it's plausible that he could be had for less than a million dollars.

I actually wouldn't mind him (or Betts) as a Devil; but is he really necessary? No. 

Joel Lundqvist

#39 / Center / Dallas Stars



Mar 02, 1982

2008-09 Salary: $750,000

2008 - Joel Lundqvist 43 1 5 6 -9 20 0 0 1 0 32 3.1

Joel Lundqvist is still learning the NHL, it seems.  He just finished his third NHL season, his first where he didn't start in the AHL - but it was cut short due to a two shoulder injuries and from being scratched after the fact. While he excelled in scoring in the SEL for Frolunda, which got the Stars' attention, he struggled at the NHL level.  As a result, he got limited minutes with 10:48 per game. At age 27, the appeal is that once he gets fully acclimated, he could prove useful.  Of course the question is how much better can he really get?  Will he be like fellow signed-from-the-SEL player Johnny Oduya and get better with more time?  Or will is this the best we'll get from him?

The word on his profile page is that he's a defensive forward and the even strength numbers at Behind the Net seems to agree with that statement.  When he was on the ice, while the shots against per 60 stayed the same at 24.5; the goals against per 60 did fall from 2.71 to 2.41.  Of course, like Yelle, the numbers also prove that he is not at all an offensive player.  The shots for per 60 fell from 25.5 to 21.4 and the goals for per 60 fell from 3.05 to 1.13 when Lundqvist stepped on the ice for Dallas.  Of course, this is all from limited action in this past season so I still don't think he would think

Completely unlike Yelle, though, Lundqvist is not good on faceoffs.  In the three seasons he had with Dallas, he took 91, 224, and 76 faceoffs, respectively winning 62%, 47.8%, and 32.8% of them.  I know it's a small and inconsistent total number of faceoffs; but it's telling that his winning percentage fell so sharply with each season. 

With respect to how the Stars faithful think of him, Brandon of Defending Big D plainly states that Lundqvist is a fourth liner. He notes that he was primed for a breakout season after a solid 2008 playoff performance, but since it didn't happen, there's no real reason for him to stick around in Dallas as an extra forward.  That bit troubles me - if the Devils are going to go sign someone for the fourth line, they should go after someone who actually is a regular player in the NHL.  He'll remain cheap, but so will Stephane Yelle.  The Devils have prospects who can act as extra forwards as a minimum and so Lundqvist is not only unnecessary, but I don't think he would be a good signing when players like Betts and Yelle are available.

Chad LaRose

#59 / Left Wing / Carolina Hurricanes



Mar 27, 1982

2008-09 Salary: $875,000

2008 - Chad LaRose 81 19 12 31 6 35 0 2 4 0 171 11.1

There's a lot to like about the last suggestion.  Chad LaRose is coming off a career year in the regular season and a solid postseason where he put up 4 goals and 7 assists, tied for second in playoff scoring for the Hurricanes.  LaRose's style of play is likeable as he brings a lot of energy to the game despite his size.  From what I've seen of him, he's definitely a spark plug of sorts.   His numbers have improved each season in the four seasons he had with Carolina, though maybe 2007-08 would have been a breakout year had he not suffered a broken leg. Still, he's getting better and at age 27, he's in his prime.

The writers at Canes Country agree he had a great season and that he should be retained (though Scott thinks, somehow, he'll get a massive pay day and not return).  The fans think he did great according to this report card like post from Scott Cason; it's usually good when the only negative is, well, he's not big.  And this FanPost at CC has a quote the GM, Jim Rutherford, in stating that he will attempt to retain LaRose.  Certainly very likeable, but the big issue with him isn't just that Rutherford plans to tie him up early, but that Chad LaRose is not a center at all.

Seriously, LaRose has taken 92 faceoffs in his entire career.  There is no reason to believe he can switch to center.  He is a winger.  That said, with the even strength numbers at Behind the Net definitely agree with his profile page stating that he is a checking winger and that tells me he can definitely be of use for the Devils.   When LaRose was on the ice last season, the goals against per 60 (2.45 to 2.26) and the shots for per 60 (27.2 to 24.3) both fell while facing a relatively stronger quality competition than average. 

Of course, this raises another issue, where do you stick him?  On the left wing, Jay Pandolfo is a Devil until his contract ends due to a no trade clause and the Devils signed Pierre-Luc Leblond-Latourneau, presumably to play left wing on that fourth line.  On the right wing, if the Devils get a second line center and/or keep Brian Gionta, that third line spot could be taken by Dainius Zubrus or Brian Rolston like in prior seasons.  If not, David Clarkson is already ready for that line.  And doesn't Clarkson play just like LaRose anyway?

Don't get me wrong, I see the appeal of getting LaRose especially after what he did in the playoffs.  I think he's a fine player.  LaRose averaged 15:08 of ice time last season, played like a third liner, he's coming off career best numbers and a solid playoffs, and will command money as such.  He is due for a raise and it's going to be significant.  Not $3+ million/year significant, but he's going to make at least 7 figures going forward.  I don't know if it's worth paying at least $1.5-2 million/year to put him on the fourth line or to make all kinds of room for him.    I don't think the Devils don't have a need for a checking winger and so I don't think they should persue LaRose.   Again, if Jim Rutherford is already making plans to secure him in advance, then he may not even be actually available. (So why write all this? Well, it was suggested.)

So it's time, for the last time so far, to have your say on free agent centers.  Maybe you feel that the Devils would truly benefit with Stephane Yelle on the fourth line.  Maybe you feel Joel Lundqvist can breakout eventually. Maybe you feel LaRose is worth the effort.  Maybe you feel completely different on all of this. All the same, let me know in the comments below.