Let's face it, Peter Holland is not going to be the second line center we were all hoping for, at least not in the next year or two. And while Nick Bonino performed admirably this past season, he probably isn't good enough to stop Bob Murray from looking at this summer's batch of unrestricted free agent centers. Vincent Lecavalier took himself off the market earlier this week by signing with the Philadelphia Flyers, but a handful of offensively gifted centers remain available.
With Lecavalier gone, Ribeiro is far and away the best center on the market. He's probably even better than Lecavalier. Since 2007-08, his points-per-game is north of 0.9, and he scored 49 points in 48 games last season. There is no question that Bob Murray would love to sign a guy with that type of production if he can do it for a reasonable amount. The problem, of course, is that Ribeiro will be one of the most sought after free agents of this offseason, and as such he may well earn himself a raise from the $5 million a year that he has been making (per Capgeek, as are all the figures in this article). While anywhere in the $5.5M to 6.5M range sounds reasonable, don't be surprised if a desperate GM offers Ribeiro significantly more than that. Seeing as the Ducks currently have less than $7.5M in cap space — and they haven't signed Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Toni Lydman, Kyle Palmieri (RFA), or Matt Beleskey (RFA) — they are going to have a difficult time signing Ribeiro. He is the best option, but he's almost certainly too expensive. That is, unless, Murray buys out Sheldon Souray and/or Bryan Allen. *nudge*
Briere is another high-end offensive talent, but unlike Ribeiro, who is two years younger, Briere's production has fallen off considerably in the last two seasons. He went from 68 points in 77 games during 2010-11 to 49 in 70 the next year and 16 in 34 this past year. At the age of 35, there is nothing to suggest that his career is about to undergo any sort of renaissance, which is why the Flyers elected to buy out the remainder of his contract. On the upside, he has four 30-goal seasons under his belt, and his knack for completely taking over the game come playoff time is well documented in Buffalo and Philadelphia. His recent lack of production will almost certainly earn him a considerable decline in payment for his next contract, although with all the buyout money he will be receiving from Philadelphia, perhaps that won't bother him that much. His cap hit last year was $6.5M, and if the Ducks can get him for less than $3M, they should consider taking a chance on the veteran. But if the bidding war escalates, Murray and Co. are better served letting another team take the gamble.
Let's get this straight: the 37 year old has spent all seventeen years of his NHL career in New Jersey and he hasn't given any indication that he wants to play anywhere else. Don't bank on that changing anytime soon. Stranger things have happened, though, so his stats are at least worth taking a look at. 36 points in 48 games. 78 in 81 before that. His cap hit was $6M last year, and it will likely dip quite a bit this year. The only way I see Elias playing anywhere other than New Jersey is if he thinks he's still worth something similar to what he's been earning. In that case, the Ducks should absolutely make a play for him, and even if he costs $5M and thereby forces Murray to make some trades or buyouts, he might be worth that.
Other UFA centers include the likes of Derek Roy ($4M cap hit last year), Stephen Weiss ($3.1M), and Valtteri Filppula ($3M). Unless Murray can sign them for a lot less than they made last season, neither Roy nor Filppula are going to be worth it. Weiss is a more complicated case because injury issues destroyed his season, but before last year he was actually pretty good (three 57+ point seasons). Like Briere, Weiss is a big gamble, one that the Ducks should be wary of taking unless the price is just right.
As is inevitable in the salary cap era, these decisions all come down to cap space. If the Ducks do manage to snag a guy like Ribeiro or Briere, they are going to have to shed some salaries before the season begins. If that salary shedding comes in the form of a certain defenseman or two, I don't think you'll hear too many complaints. If it involves a goalie or a certain winger, well, someone worthwhile better be coming the other way, too.
[Ed. Note: Right before publishing, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they'd be buying out the contract of center Mikhail Grabovski. Dun, dun, DUN! - JN]