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Free Agent Centers & the Devils: Henrik Sedin

I have concluded closer looks at the unrestricted free agent defensemen and today begins closer looks at unrestricted free agent centers. (Note: Again, I'm not looking at RFAs as I don't feel the potential compensation would justify the Devils going after any of the available RFA centers.)  Back when I ran this poll, a top 6 center came in third in terms of team needs.  I'd like to expand this to include checking centers because of the Devils' roster situation.  Travis Zajac is a restricted free agent center and should return.  Dainius Zubrus will also return, but is he a proper center for a scoring line?  I think he has to shoot more, but given some of the comments, you may disagree that he should be on the top 6 at all. John Madden is a 36-year old UFA, who knows how much he'll want to return.  Bobby Holik retired, so that's $2.5 million to play with.  Right there, that's two center positions that are in doubt, three if you want to see Zubrus move to right wing. If Madden comes back, fine.

The way I currently see it, I still stand by what I said back in May about the Devils' UFAs:  if Brian Gionta wants at least $4 million, then I think he should go.  In fact, for the Devils to make a play for any of the big names in this offseason, then he cannot return. That $4 million cap space will need to be used in some way or form.   Remember that the Devils still have to sign Zajac and given that David Krejci's deal is costing an average of $3.75 million/year; I would expect something similar for Zajac.  Maybe a little less, but I'm expecting at least $3 million/year.  Not to mention that Andy Greene will likely get a qualifying offer and get signed, probably something just under a million.  So keep all of that in mind when figuring out the numbers.  

And also don't just think "need a playmaking center for Brian Gionta" because of this; be prepated to replace Gionta in your thoughts with Brian Rolston.

In any case, we will concern ourselves with that on a case-by-case basis.   And with respect the first center we'll look at, this is definitely one of those cases.  Hey, I started the posts on defenders with the most high-profile free agent defender available this summer; let's start with arguable the highest-profile center available: Henrik Sedin. (By the way, a full list of UFA centers is available at NHL Numbers).

Henrik Sedin

#33 / Center / Vancouver Canucks



Sep 26, 1980

2008-09 Salary: $3.575 million

2008 - Henrik Sedin 82 22 60 82 22 48 4 0 8 0 143 15.4

Most paramount about Henrik Sedin is that he is the most productive playmaker available this summer. Henrik Sedin finished ninth in the NHL in assists, putting up 60 helpers en route to a point per game season.  In fact, he finished tied for 13th in scoring with other UFAs Mike Cammalleri and Daniel Sedin with 82 points.  This is not a recent phenonemon, as Henrik has put up 57, 71, and 61 assists in the three seasons prior to 2008-09.  He is even quite productive on the power play as Henrik Sedin led the Canucks in power play scoring with 4 goals and 22 assists. That would have placed him third on the Devils, behind Elias and Parise who had 31 and 30 respectively.  Henrik Sedin is a player where making plays is his business, and business has been booming.

He's only 29, he hasn't had a major injury in his career, and the only criticism you can easily make about his offensive game is that he doesn't shoot all that much.  Yet, he still put up 22 goals (more goals than Gionta, who took 248 shots) and with 60 assists - someone is scoring when he's doing what he does best.   He's clearly led Vancouver's centers in recent years and he's definitely a #1 center based on his offensive production alone. I don't see how you can argue that there is a better playmaker available.   Forget whether he'd be better than Zubrus, he would be a better center than Zajac by far.

Yet, this isn't to say there is nothing to criticize about the possibility of Henrik Sedin.  Let me qualify this by stating that I believe that Devils fans care not for the size of the player, but the size of their game (e.g. Parise, Gionta).  That said, while I don't believe Henrik to be soft or small, would he better than Dainius Zubrus at Sutter's approach to offensive possession? Can Henrik Sedin battle along the boards and win back possession from dump-ins or off a forecheck regularly in a game all season?  We know and have seen the massive Zubrus physically exert himself to get the puck on Devils' sticks.  If Sedin can accomplish the same, then fair enough.  But how he would fit in the Devils system is a legitimite question, I think.

There's a stat where Zubrus has justifiably done better than Sedin in the 2008-09 season: faceoffs.   Zubrus won 51.2% of his faceoffs, whereas Sedin only won 49.6%.   Henrik took more faceoffs than any other Canuck last season with 1364 trips to the dot, but it is a bit of a concern that he won less than half of them.   For what it's worth, it happens mostly on even strength, where Sedin won 47.8% of the time last season.  Sedin is certainly a top-two line player, but to me, it appears that faceoffs are a weakness in his game.  Given how the Devils like to go forward with possession, this can be costly at times. Especially on offensive zone faceoffs.

Speaking of even strength, here are his numbers at Behind the Net.   Sedin's scouting report on his player page states that Sedin has "strong defensive tendencies."  While that's good to read that someone recognizes this, the even strength numbers don't suggest this too clearly.  His rating is massive and the second highest on the team behind his brother, Daniel.  Henrik, as you would expect of a first line center, faces high relative quality of competition with a high relative quality of his teammates.  As you would expect of a player of this offensive calibur, the goals for and shots for per 60 minutes shoot way up when Henrik is out there.  The goals for per 60 went from 2.27 to 3.42 (!!!!) and the shots for per 60 minutes went from 22.9 to 29.1.  Yet on the other end, the goals against per 60 don't change much, as it went down from 2.17 to 2.16 when Henrik hits the ice and the shots against per 60 actually went up from 25.8 to 27.2.   Henrik doesn't get penalty killing time so I also wonder how well these defensive tendencies are put to use.  Of course, were he a Devil, they would be harnessed for sure.

At the end of the day though, as a player, Sedin is still the best playmaker available and in my opinion the best center out there. He's been consistent, healthy, and the flaws in his game are minimal.  The defensive numbers on even strength can change from team to team; Sedin could very well fit in playing for Sutter, and the faceoffs - well, OK, the faceoffs trouble me a bit.  But not enough to say he wouldn't be the best center on New Jersey were he to come.

However, Zanstrom at Nucks Misconduct dropped a clue as to how much the Sedins are looking for this summer back in May:

The Sedins' Swedish agent Claes Elefalk is saying his clients will get $7 million per season come July 1st. Some optimists say the Twins will take around $6 million to stay in Vancouver because they love it here. Many call this statement "posturing" to which I would have to agree with.

As it usually does for "name" players, money becomes a problem.

Like Bouwmeester, the Devils could throw that much money at Henrik Sedin if they want to hamstring themselves in filling the other roles.  Basically, if Henrik commands and demands $7 million and the Devils give it to him, that may be it for the summer. All other positions will be filled with cheap players as much as possible and it could cause problems for retaining free agents in years to come (most notably, Paul Martin next season).  Even with the salary cap celing remaining at $56.7 million, it's going to be a tight fit both short-term and long-term.   You can't even argue he'll take much less than $6 million/year, especially given what I just argued in the beginning: that he's the best playmaker available this summer.  High quality players get high class money, after all.

On top of all this, there is his brother Daniel.  Henrik has played with Daniel throughout his professional hockey career, and the two are even in talks with Vancouver seemingly together per the Vancouver Sun (found via this NM post).  Granted, I don't know who has $13-14 million to throw around in cap money at two players - two players who play excellent hockey with each other.  But it's entirely possible, if not probable, that you have to get Daniel .  Just like it may be possible that for Scott Niedermayer to come, Rob may have to sign on as well.  Unlike the Niedermayers, Daniel is a fantastic player in his own right and one that the Devils have no need for. Daniel is a left wing and the two best Devils forwards are at that position: Elias and Parise.    Even if Lou gets ridiculous, does his best Glen Sather impersonation, forgets that a salary cap exists and will continue to exist and comes up with the money to make it happen, where would you place both Sedins? Someone's moving to the off-wing and I guess Langenbrunner would drop to the third line?  Yeah, the top 6 would be fantastic on paper but who knows how well it would work.  Probably not well enough to justify the $13+ million to make it happen.

In either case, just like with Bouwmeester, I think the Devils should only send out an exploratory offer to test the waters.  While Henrik Sedin is a fantastic player and would definitely strengthen the Devils at center and in general, I just don't think the Devils should make a serious move for Henrik Sedin.  He's going to be worth too much by himself, much less if he is a "package deal" with Daniel.  In fact, if the Devils really have to do drop $6-7 million/year on a player, Bouwmeester should be the man to sign, as I think he would be less of a question mark and be more of an overall force on defense.  While Henrik is the top playmaker, I can almost guarantee he won't be a Devil in 2009-10.   (And Daniel, who is not a center, definitely won't be. Again, the Devils don't need a left wing!)

Until tomorrow's center (and even beyond tomorrow, really), have your say in the comments below about Henrik Sedin.