Pick 'Em: Second Line Center

Undoubtedly the goal of the Capitals on deadline day was the addition of depth. In acquiring Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, Milan Jurcina, and Scott Walker the team provided itself with insurance against inevitable late- and post-season injuries. It also, for the time being at least, has created questions about who should be in the lineup and what roles players should be playing.

None of these is as interesting as the question of who should be the second line center.  For most of the season, the role has been filled by Brendan Morrison, with a brief Tomas Fleischmann tryout yielding mixed results.  More recently, the role has been filled by newcomer Eric Belanger who has played well, but hasn't shown the talent or production to definitively lay claim to the spot.  It's possible to make the case for Belanger, for Fleischmann, or for Morrison, and with that in mind, here's a quick look at the case for and against each.

Eric Belanger


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPA GWG SOG PCT FO% ATOI
 Eric Belanger 67 14 24 38 1 32 3 6 3 132 10.6 57.0 15:42

The case for:  Though not a major offensive weapon, Belanger is a strong defensive player and a good faceoff man, and with the offensive talent the Capitals have - both as a team and on the second line - a responsible, fundamentally sound player who's going to avoid mistakes and contribute in his own end might be all the team needs.  Plus, it's not as if Belanger's offensively inept; his speed and hands mean he can contribute in the offensive zone, even if he's not going to be the guy the offense runs through.

The case against:  So Belanger's not a disaster in the offensive zone.  That doesn't mean he's not a bit of a stretch as a second line center - for all that you can praise about Belanger, the truth is it'd be nice to have someone who can create a little more offense in that spot.  Using Belanger as a second line center also means the Caps can't use him as a third line center, missing out on an opportunity to create a very fast forward group by getting him on the same line as Jason Chimera.

Tomas Fleischmann


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPA GWG SOG PCT FO% ATOI
Tomas Fleischmann 59 20 27 47 5 22 7 13 4 105 19.0 43.5 16:18

The case for: At this point in the careers of these respective players, Fleischmann is clearly the best in the offensive zone.  He's a fluid skater, has very good hands, and is capable of creating opportunities for his linemates and putting the puck in the net himself.  While Flash has generally played as a wing and has found success at the position, the case can be made that playing as a pivot allows him to best utilize his offensive skill because it gives him a chance to direct the offense.

The case against:  Simply put, Fleischmann's not a great defensive player and has posted mediocre GAON/60 numbers both this season and last.  Flash has also struggled on the dot, winning less than 44% of his draws on the season and faring even worse in road games.  Finally, using Fleischmann as a center has a ripple effect on the Capitals lineup, forcing either Morrison or Belanger in to duty either as a fourth line player or a winger, if not both.

Brendan Morrison


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG PPA GWG SOG PCT FO% ATOI
Brendan Morrison
69 12 28 40 20 38 3 5 3 95 12.6 51.0 15:45

The case for: Of the the three viable options, Morrison might have the best combination of talent and savvy.  He's certainly had the success at the NHL level, and has played more NHL playoff games than Fleischmann and Belanger combined.  Morrison also has an advantage over Fleischmann as a natural, defensively sound center who can wins faceoffs, and over Belanger as a guy with better hands and offensive instincts who has had an entire season to get just to playing with his Capitals teammates.

The case against:  It almost boils down to one word: performance.  The four points in his last two games - both against teams that aren't likely to be in the postseason - notwithstanding, Morrison hasn't played all that well in 2010, and has just two goals and 13 assists in his last 29 games.  He might bring more natural ability than Belanger, but right now it's hard to say for sure that he'll be more productive, especially considering the road ahead is only going to be more grueling.

Ultimately the Capitals are in a pretty fortuitous position: the have a number of viable options for their second line center, and the odds of someone being a complete bust are pretty small.  But the challenge isn't just to avoid busts, it's to put the best team on the ice, and figuring out which one of these guys does that for the Capitals isn't so simple.

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