Thanks to J.P. for the head start with your post on available centers. On that list, I think Saku Koivu and Brendan Morrison are the best available free agent centers who could fill in our second line center void. Don't misunderstand, I'm not necessarily advocating for us to sign either of them, but I'd like to run the scenario anyway. First of all we'd need cap space (read: dumping Michael Nylander's contract). On top of that, I'd rather trade for help or promote from within (at least to start) as we've got talent in the pipeline, and/or maybe pick up a guy at the deadline. Anton Gustafsson, Marcus Johansson, and maybe even Mathieu Perreault have a pretty darn good shot of taking the #2 center slot the season after next, so anyone we'd take I'd want for a year, or at most two.
On to Morrison and Koivu:
Saku Koivu is one of the classiest players in the league. He has been captain of the storied Montreal Canadiens for the past ten years. The Finn is an adept playmaker and has been the #1 center in Montreal for a decade, no small feat for a small skater, and his accolades include turning Richard Zednik into a 30-goal scorer. He is tough as they come, having survived stomach cancer in 2002 to return in time for the playoffs and win the Masterton Trophy for perseverance. This followed a long series of incomplete seasons after his rookie year in which he failed to play seventy games six years in a row. There is no doubt as to his quality, the doubt for me lies in his price tag and his durability.
Brendan Morrison is another classy player, someone who doesn't take a lot of penalties and has been very durable throughout his career, playing six straight seasons in Vancouver without missing a game until missing 43 games in 2008. He reutrned to his durable self last season appearing in 81 games split between the Ducks and Stars. In those seasons in Vancouver, he centered the vaunted duo of Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi which soared to rare heights until , well, you know.
Similarities: Morrison and Koivu were taken in the same draft in 1993. Koivu went 21st overall to Montreal and Morrison 39th overall to New Jersey. There is a small age gap between them, with Koivu being slightly older (DOB: 11/23/74 to 8/15/75, so they are 34 and 33). They are similar in stature (Koivu 5'10, 182 to Morrison 5'11, 181). They have similar career stats:
Koivu: 792 GP, 191-450-641, 623 PIM, -10 career (66 PP, 9 SH, 35 GW)
Morrison: 755 GP, 175-330-505, 384 PIM +55 career (47 PP, 7 SH, 38 GW)
Koivu shoots a little more (1.96 Shots per game to 1.82), Morrison has a slightly better shooting % (12.7% to 12.3).
Differences: The major differences between these two players are few, but important. Koivu has been a fixture on the Canadiens since a 20 goal rookie campaign in 1996. He was an All-Star in 1998, he won the Masterton in 2002 and the King Clancy in 2007. He is also a fixture on Finnish international teams, including the 2006 Olympics. His NHL career has spanned more seasons than Morrison's (13 to 11, of which Morrison was a regular in 9) but he has not played in many more games because of his durability problems, including only playing in 65 games last year. Morrison's accolades all came before making the NHL, and he has represented Canada in the World Championships 3 times and played in Sweden during the lockout. Obviously Koivu is European trained and Morrison is Canadian trained and is a US College Hockey product (Michigan).
Advantages: Skill: Koivu has to be rated as a better playmaker, with a much higher assists per game ratio (.57 to .44), but he has also been the #1 guy for most of his career, while Morrison only held that mantle consistently for 6 years in Vancouver. Quality of linemates makes a big difference, just ask Wayne Gretzky after he moved to Los Angeles. Then again, their career highs are very similar. Koivu's best year came in 2006-07, where he played 81 games and scored 22-53-75 (all career highs). He has three 20-goal seasons (each of the only three seasons he played 81 or 82 GP) and has been in the 14-17 goal range every other season he played 50+ games. He has two seasons with 50+ assists (again 81 and 82 GP), four of 40+, and four of 30+ in which he's missed at least 17 games. He cetainly has the skill and a rate of production, but hasn't been able to string together consecutive great seasons due to injury. He's had many good seasons in a row since the cancer, though, but has still missed a number of games.
Morrison's career year came in 2002-03, when he had 25-46-71 (all career highs) in 82 games. His run in Vancouver was remarkable, though, as between 2000-01 and 2006-07 he put up seasons of 16-38-54, 23-44-67, 25-46-71, 22-38-60, 19-37-56, and 20-31-51 and didn't miss a game. That's consistency, even if it doesn't knock your socks off.
Durability: Morrison has to be rated as more durable because of the lack of time missed over his career.
Consistency: Morrison was a steady scorer while centering the Nalsund-Bertuzzi line, but Koivu has been pretty steady the entire time. Morrison takes fewer penalties (.51 PIM/game to Koivu's .79 PIM/game).
Play style: Neither of them hit very much, or block large numbers of shots. In the past three years they've both had pretty good takeaway to giveaway ratios. Koivu has been by far the better faceoff man, averaging about 53-54% over the past three years. Morrison was over 50% in his last full season in Vancouver, but has been around 45% since then.
Last Season: Koivu definitely had a better year. In 65 games he scored 16-34-50, +4 with 44 PIM. Morrison split 81 games between Dallas and Anaheim and had 16-15-31, +3 and 32 PIM. That said, Koivu had more special teams TOI and overall TOI while Morrison was stuck behind centers like Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, and Ryan Getzlaf.
Ice Time: For the last three seasons, here is each player's time on ice (Total, PP TOI, SH TOI):
Morrison: 2008-09 (14:12, 2:13, 0:30), 2007-08 (15:22, 3:22, 1:00), 2006-07 (17:57, 3:24, 2:16)
Koivu: 2008-09 (17:03, 3:35, 1:16), 2007-08 (18:07, 3:30, 1:23), 2006-07 (18:06, 3:59, 1:49)
As you can see, Morrison's Ice time has diminished significantly. The reasons why? In 06-07, he was still the main man, or close to it, in Vancouver, as a #1/2 Center. The next season he only played 39 games due to injury, and the Sedin twins were taking over anyway. Last season he bounced between two teams, including 62 games on a deep Ducks team that already had Ryan Getzlaf and Todd Marchant. Looking back to 2006-07, their ice time is comparable, but Koivu has been the man in Montreal the whole time.
Playoffs: Koivu: 54 GP, 16-32-48, +11, 42 PIM, 1 GWG
Morrison: 53 GP, 8-20-28, -4, 38 PIM, 2 GWG
Both players have been to the second round twice. Morrison played 10 games in New Jersey before becoming the #1 center in Vancouver, where he had three decent playoff years (1-2-3 in 4 GP in 2001 when Naslund got hurt, 4-7-11 in 14 GP in 2003, and 2-3-5 in 7GP in 2004 when Bertuzzi was suspended.) For every good year, though, it seems like he puts up a stinker. Koivu seems to be decent every time.
Price: Koivu might not command the $4.75 mil he earned last year, but you can bet he'll come close. He's a darn fine playmaker and has been a good #1 center for a long time. He's won two NHL awards, been an All-Star, won Olympic Medals, and been a Captain for 10 years. He's earned it.
Morrison earned $2.75 mil last year, and you can be sure he'll have a tough time getting that again after last year.
Contract: In terms of affordability, Morrison is going to come cheaper and is likely willing to play on a one-year deal to try to prove himself again to get another, better deal after next year. We might be able to get him under $2.5 mil. We'd be hard pressed to get Koivu at under $4 mil and for less than 2 years unless we dangle the prospect of a Stanley Cup at him. Koivu's got more upside and more injury concerns. Morrison is less likely to be missed if we don't renew his contract and is more durable and cheaper.
If I had my druthers, I'd take Koivu for more money and hope he stays healthy, even if I've gotta take him for an extra year (no NMC/NTC, though). I think he'll be a better veteran presence, he's a better playmaker, and he's better in the playoffs. He could also be a mentor potentially for Oskar Osala.
Morrison isn't bad though, he's maybe a half-step down as a playmaker, but he knows he's a complementary player and won't hog the spotlight (not that Koivu would). Like Knuble with Ovechkin, Morrison with Semin will probably be a good match. Morrison can lug the puck but doesn't have to, and he'll be the defensive conscience for a player with sick skills and whoever else plays on that line and make Semin look good. He's had some decent playoff performances, but certainly doesn't have Koivu's numbers.
If I had to guess who we'd sign, it would be Morrison. He's cheaper and could likely be signed for a shorter contract, he's more of a complementary player (like Knuble). He's durable, can play special teams, doesn't take a lot of penalties, he can skate two ways, and he knows how to set up very talented players. I don' t know how he is as a leader or in the locker room, but I didn't hear complaints. Morrison has the college hockey background that McPhee likes and maybe that change of pace on the scoring lines of being North American instead of all European like last season. Morrison will also be playing to redeem himself, coming off a stinky year. I don't know that Koivu will have the same motivation. I think Koivu is looking for something stable, not to be a short term fix, and I don't think we'll provide that.
They are both classy professionals, and I'd love to have Koivu, but I think Morrison is a better fit in terms of what McPhee looks for and what we need and vs what we can get. I think 1-2 years at 2 to 2.5 mil would be reasonable as a bridge to our youngsters.
Semin has been lacking a true playmaking pivot for pretty much his entire Washington career. He had someone good on his line for most of this past year and we finally saw what he's capable of when he plays with talented linemates. Give him a playmaker like Morrison or Koivu and he'll take off. Morrison may not put up huge numbers, but if Semin does, he won't have to.
By all means tell me what you think and who we could get in a trade. (And don't say Marc Savard).