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Free Agent Centers & the Devils: Sami Pahlsson

Today was a big news day for the Devils and unfortunately it wasn't good news. Brent Sutter stepped down as Devils head coach. When Gulitti spoke to Lou about the process, Lou simply said that the interviewing process for head coaches begins today.   It must.  The Devils need to hire a new head coach prior to the beginning of free agency and start establishing the new hire in the organization.   We will not discuss that here, please use this post's comments instead.

At the same time, free agency still looms.  Gulitti has an update from some of the Devils' UFAs: Rupp wants to test the waters, Madden hasn't spoken with Lou yet, and while Gionta hasn't had any contact, the Devils are still his first choice. There are still centers on the market to be looked at and it's time I look at the first one mentioned when I made the post for suggestions: Sami Pahlsson.  While he's by no means a second line center, if Madden isn't returning (and it's still possible), then he could be a possible replacement on the third line.

Samuel Pahlsson

#26 / Center / Chicago Blackhawks



Dec 17, 1977

2008-09 Salary: $1.4 million

2008 - Samuel Pahlsson 65 7 11 18 -17 34 1 0 2 0 88 8.0

Awesome profile picture aside, Pahlsson (not to be confused with Paulson even though they are pronounced the same) is known for his infectious, hard working, defensive game.  If you check out the various posts about him through his player page, you'll see praise for him coming from the likes of Earl Sleek (Anaheim and Pahlsson supporter), who I'm sure would have much to say about what he brings to the table.

From the outset, his big numerical contribution is in faceoffs. Despite playing only 65 games, Pahlsson took a ton of faceoffs last season with 1,237, and he won 53.5% of those - which is a solid percentage and even better than John Madden's winning percentage.  For a defensive center, winning those faceoffs is big - possession determines whether the opposition is going to attack or not, and that's crucial despite how obvious it appears.   He averaged 18:17 per game last season so he can take the minutes without an issue - including shorthanded, where Pahlsson averaged an amazingly high 4:11 per game (highest among forwards last season!).   Oh, and did I mention he has serious playoff experience with the Ducks in 2003, 2006, and 2007 and in 2009 with Chicago, where he went to the third round or better in each of those four years?   Pahlsson knows what it takes to win a Cup, having done so in 2007 - a rarer experience than you may expect based on what James Mirtle uncovered today.

I have a bit of concern with respect to his even strength numbers at Behind the Net.  When Pahlsson was on the ice, the goals against per 60 and the shots against per 60 both went up and not by a minute amount. The shots against per 60 rose from 24.3 to 28.9 and the goals against per 60 also rose from 1.96 to 2.49 when Pahlsson hits the ice.  Definitely not good on their own, but the when Pahlsson hits the ice, the offense drops like a stone (goals for per 60 decreases from, 2.84 to 1.69, shots against per 60 fall from 28.0 to 21.2) suggesting he's out there mainly for defensive purposes. This is also helped out by the fact that Pahlsson faced a very high relative quality of competition (0.07) with a very low relative quality of teammates (-0.57).  So I'm not terribly concerned about Pahlsson's defensive work, he has the minutes and reputation for a reason.

What is concerning is his Pandolfo-esque offense.  When you look at other checking centers, you begin to develop an appreciation for what Madden does going forward.  He'll take shots and while his 2008-09 was disappointing from a production standpoint, his 23 points is better than any one of Pahlsson's seasons except for 2006-07 with Anaheim.  And in that season, Pahlsson merely put up 26 points.    Pahlsson's game isn't about putting up points, but he doesn't even put up a considerable amount of shots.   So if the new head coach wants to try having his checkers counter-attack, don't wince if Pahlsson doesn't even shoot, much less light the lamp.  At 31, I don't expect Pahlsson to have some offensive ability waiting to break out.  He is what he is - a defensive forward who is all about the defense and winning faceoffs.

For what it's worth, I think he can be had without spending a whole lot.  I can see him getting about $2 million/year, but I doubt he'll get that much more. I don't believe it'll have anything due to his health - he suffered an abdominal strain and a sports hernia two seasons ago and a viral infection last season.   Both very different situations and no reason to believe Pahlsson as injury-prone at all.  Either way, what really limits his potential salary (to the benefit of the Devils) is that he really doesn't have an offensive dimension to his game.  He doesn't score much, he doesn't set players up for goals all that often, and he doesn't even shoot all that often.  I'm not sure how he or his agents can sell himself as anything else but a checker. A very good, hard working, faceoff-winning center, but that's it.

Personally, should the Devils look for a checking center as a potential Madden replacement, I think Pahlsson isn't a bad option.  Just that his strengths are limited to the defensive side of hockey. Not that it is a big issue for a checking center, but he won't replace Madden's complementary offense.  Yet, I can't help but think Manny Malhotra would be a better option.  OK, Malhotra doesn't have Pahlsson's experience.  But Malhotra's a little younger, he's been better at faceoffs last season, he has proven he can put up more points than Pahlsson, and he'll probably cost as much to sign as a free agent.

It's time to have your say.  Perhaps there's something about Pahlsson that I missed? Maybe his past experience is a bigger asset than I think it is?  Feel free to share your thoughts about Pahlsson in the comments below (and not about Brent Sutter or coaches).