Monday, February 2, 2009

Can Lang be replaced?

As far as I can tell, it won't be easy.

Bob Gainey has always placed a priority on having a right-handed centre on his team who can score, and Robert Lang was the first one he managed to find that fit the bill.

First there was Radek Bonk, then Bryan Smolinski, then the Mats Sundin chase, and finally there was Lang. But now Lang's gone, and Gainey has a month to try and replace him via the trade market.

Based on the official positions listed at the NHL, which aren't always 100 per cent accurate, there's only about 60 right-handed centres in the entire league. Most of them are not considered to be offensive wizards, and those who do have some touch are essentially untouchable.

There is one possibility, and it would be a minor risk, but it's the only one I can see. That would be Tim Connolly of the Buffalo Sabres, and that's assuming the Sabres would be willing to deal him, much less to a division rival. Connolly has been an injury waiting to happen his entire career, but when he's healthy he can be an electrifying player.

Connolly's up for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, and considering Buffalo's history of losing free agents for nothing, Sabres GM Darcy Regier may be tempted to turn him into an asset at the trade deadline. He likely would cost little more than a draft pick and perhaps a middle-tier prospect, but Regier could also elect to keep him in the hopes he remains healthy and helps the Sabres make the playoffs in the stretch run.

Connolly is a bit of a nightmare in the faceoff circle at 46.5 per cent, but so was Lang at 48.8 per cent (just as an aside, despite being 63rd in the league in faceoff percentage, Lang sits 24th in faceoffs taken), so there's not much lost there.

There's also Jason Williams who is right-handed, but he was just acquired by the Columbus Blue Jackets and I would imagine they would require a roster player in return considering their serious shortage at the centre position. Williams simply isn't worth that cost.

Other than that, Gainey will have to settle for a lefty if he wants to grab a replacement at centre.

There's Doug Weight of the Islanders, who are most definitely sellers this year. He's left-handed, so he doesn't fill that specific need, but in other areas he's a reasonable facsimile of what Lang offered.

Weight makes $1.75 million but he has bonuses that can make his salary worth $4.3 million, so he could be a costly option even though that salary figure is pretty close to Lang's, and I doubt the Isles would seek much in return for him. Weight is just as ineffective in the faceoff circle as Lang is (in fact he's far worse at 45.9 per cent), but he's been pretty effective on the power play with 20 of his 33 points on the season coming on the man advantage. If I'm not mistaken, he's been on the point playing opposite our old friend Mark Streit this season.

I don't know if grabbing Weight would be a good move, but quickly combing the landscape out there it doesn't look like there would be a whole lot for Gainey to choose from barring some sort of a blockbuster deal with a team based in Florida.

Of course, if Gainey is in fact still working on getting Vincent Lecavalier here, this entire discussion is completely moot. I doubt Gainey would be willing to give up what the Lightning would seek in that trade, though he's probably far more likely to be persuaded today than he was a couple of weeks ago.


Topham said...


I thought Connolly too. Mainly because I have him in my pool and keep track of what he can do when he actually suits up.

The problem is, he is an injury waiting to happen. And I don't think he is just unlucky. He sits for all kinds of reasons. I think he's basically a wimp, if there is such a thing in the NHL. i don't think we'll ever hear the day that Tim Connolly played through two playoff series with a broken rib, for example.

I agree that a right-handed shot would be great, but I am not sure it absolutely needs to be a centreman. Just someone who can sit beside the net on the left-hand side of the PP.

I wonder, for example, if a player like Jere Lehtinen might be attainable. Maybe Jarret Stoll?

Yves said...

Jarret Stoll might a good fit.

I'm just starting to think about who Gainey might be looking at.... or the type of player they'd "need"...

Arpon Basu said...

I was thinking about Stoll as well, but I didn't list him because he just signed a four-year deal at an average of $3.6 mil and I'm not sure Gainey wants to take on that kind of contract. Also, seeing as he's not a free agent, the Kings would probably want some actual NHL players in return.
You make a good point though that the right-handed shot doesn't necessarily need to be a centre, even though Lang was called on for faceoffs in the right dot so he could pull it back to the point or the winger in the slot. But he usually lost those faceoffs anyway.
A final note, how on earth did you take Tim Connolly in your pool? I agree, he probably is just a wimp who doesn't play hurt, but I think the fact he wouldn't cost much makes it a decent high risk/high reward kind of situation.

Anonymous said...

V. Kozlov? Any chance Washington parts with him for cheap? Right handed centerman. UFA at end of season. Don't watch enough WAS games to know how important he is to them... but I'm guessing he won't be back next year? You know what would be really nice? Brad Boyes... Michael Ryder.

Arpon Basu said...

Tough to say if the Caps would part with him since they are definitely not in selling mode. Plus, I'm pretty sure he plays the wing in Washington with Backstrom, Fedorov and Nykander up the middle there