We are 24 games in and still on the look out for our 4th line center. The Flames have deployed a number of players at 4th line center this year giving 3 players the most opportunity to run with it. All with limited success to this point though. I will take a closer look at Stajan, Lazar and F. Hamilton from the stats side and add my opinion. First what does an NHL team want in a fourth line center? Most teams are looking for a player that will add energy to the team with grit and hard work. A player who is more than adequate in their own zone so they can be deployed in all situations. A 4th line center is also usually one of your best penalty killers and hopefully a skilled faceoff man. If they can also chip in offensively in that 30 points a year that's a great bonus as well. Last but not least in the cap world a player who is not costing you a lot of money. So lets take a look.
Matt Stajan- Stajan has been our 4th line center now for a few years and for the most part has checked off a lot of the boxes for a good 4th line center. Lets take a look at this year though. You will always get try from Stajan grit though has never been his thing. In his own zone he is good. Being deployed on a higher defensive zone starts than any other center at 45%. Though the Flames have been struggling on the PK Stajan is an above average penalty killer receiving the 4th most penalty killing minutes on the team while keeping down the high danger chances. His overall faceoff percentage is a respectable while not good 49.5%. His point totals are down from years past. He has 0 points in 15games. When he plays he also looks like he should have 0 points. He has seemed to lost any confidence he had in the offensive zone. His cap hit of 3.125 aav does not fall into the range you want to pay your 4th line center. He is in a contract year.
Curtis Lazar - Lazar was not brought in to be a 4th line center but due to his inability to hold a spot in the top 9 at center or wing he has been given a shot at 4th line center due to Stajans offensive dry up. He does supply energy and grit being 3rd on the team in hits. His own zone doesn't seem to be his strong suite allowing the most high danger opportunities and goals while being the only one on this list getting more offensive zone starts than defense zone. Part of that though will be with his time spent on the 3rd line. Coaches don't seem to utilize him on the PK getting only 7:07 toi compared to Stajan at 25:01 toi in one more game played. His faceoff percentage is 40% in limited action but his career average is 44.3% which is not good. His offensive upside is why we traded for him but his 2 points in 17 games don't show much there but does create more chances than Stajan but having a slightly worse cf %. His contract is where you would like it at .950 aav and ends in 2019.
Freddie Hamilton - Freddie has played less than half of the other two in games played and less ice time in each of those games. He has played 6 games with a total ice time of 46:25 toi compared to the other two at 172:00 toi so he is on the outside looking in on this race at the moment. There are no numbers that look good so far this year for him besides being on pace with team leaders in hits. His faceoff percentage is a dismal 18.8% but his career average is 49.2% and last year when he took the most draws of his career he was his best at 59.5%. Though not given much PK time if he was a regular in the lineup with past usage he would be an adequate penalty killer. His offensive upside is limited as well but does have a better point per game average than the other two with 1 point in 6 games. Contract expires this year at .650 aav.
After a closer look at the 3 options we have used recently i would probably stick with Stajan for now as he is the safer bet in his own zone and can kill some penalties off. It is luring to use Lazar there for a possible upside in offence while increasing the physicality of the 4th line. Hamilton received a few games lately and should start looking less rusty but hasn't shown he is ready for the role either. This leaves me feeling we need an upgrade at that position. I would look at the trade option to upgrade this position as we don't have anyone in the AHL that can fill that spot. For that to happen i think we will be looking for a little bit before some teams start falling out of the playoff race. So till then we may keep some sort of rotation.
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