Too much depth is the best problem a coach can have. In our case, we’ve got Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, and Claude Girouxthat are all worthy of centering the top 3 lines. That means one of them has to play wing. Coach Peter Laviolette has experimented with a few different combinations where he put some of these guys on the wing. Here’s the full article from Tim Panaccio if you want to read about it in depth. I probably won’t make it to any practices, so I’m going to judge based on past performance and skill set.
Mike Richards: He’s the captain who leads mostly by example of what he does on the ice. He’s fairly solid on faceoffs, taking a lot of the big draws. While he scores a decent amount of goals, especially in the clutch, he’s also a fairly gifted passer. This past season was a bit of a downer in production, and the only time his goal total was equal to his assist total. I guess that’s what happens when he’s got Carcillo on his line. However, before this season, Richie had 50 and 47 assists in the previous two seasons. Let’s not forget that he’s also a damn good defensive player as well. As a center, he’s responsible for the other teams center when he’s in his own end. Most of the time, that means he covers the opposing teams biggest offensive threat.
Jeff Carter: He’s got one of the best wristers in the game, and launches it from anywhere. He was out top faceoff man last season, and has been our top goal scorer for the last two seasons. When it comes to distributing the puck, he’s a bit more selfish. Only once in his career did he have more assists than goals. He also kills penalties and is a pretty good defender, when he wants to be. When he was hurt last season and came back in the playoffs, he played the wing because the other lines had started playing so well together.
Danny Briere: He was one of the highest scoring players in the league prior to coming here. Once he got here, we played him on the wing and he pretty much disappeared. Every time we move him to center, his numbers spike. How much more of an argument does he need in his favor? He set a team record for points in the playoffs last season, and was close to the NHL record. He came alive when Carter went down and he moved to the center to take his spot. He’s a defensive liability, but that’s not why we signed him. We need him racking up goals and dishing the puck off, because he’s very good at both. He’s not very good at battles in the corners, and as a wing that’s what we would need from him. It’s proven time and time again that he’s just not good at that. And at 32 years old, he’s not going to learn how to do that either.
Claude Giroux: He’s probably the most talented player on the team, he’s just been a victim of depth. His stickhandling is sick, his passes are ridiculous, and his size doesn’t deter him from getting the puck out of the corners. He’s also spent a lot of time on the wing, although he’d also prefer to play center. Yes he can score, and he’s got some ridiculous moves, but he prefers to pass the puck. His ice time increased last season, but his points per game actually went down a bit. Although in the playoffs, he was a beast. He also goes back on defense, but I think his size is somewhat of an issue there.
So, where do we go from here? I think it comes down to Carter and Giroux. Richards is too good at the center spot to move him from there. He needs the puck on his stick a bit more to be successful. Briere flat out sucks at the wing, and unless the team is ok with him being a waste of space, we need him at center. I want to put Carter on the wing, but he’s just too good on draws and when the team is playing well his defense is solid. But I don’t think Giroux has enough of a shot to be on the wing either. So if Lavy is going to switch up positions and move guys around, I guess I’m ok with that. Overall though, I think we’re better of with Carter on the wing. Give him the puck, let him fire away and not worry about too much else. He can always take critical draws when necessary and switch back to the wing as the play moves along.
Don’t forget, first preseason game is tomorrow night against the Devils.
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