Thursday, July 2, 2009

Flyers Next Priority Should Be Radek Bonk

The Flyers were a historically bad face-off team during the 2008-09 season, so I targeted 5 free agents the Flyers should look to address the problem.

Well, two of those guys are off the market, as John Madden signed with the Blackhawks and Samuel Pahlsson signed with Columbus. That leaves Radek Bonk, Tomas Plekanec and Mike Sillinger.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, they are extremely close to the salary cap with the trade for Chris Pronger and additions of Ray Emery, Brian Boucher and Ian Laperriere. There is still a little cash, and if they're going to spend it, Radek Bonk should be their top priority. As I wrote back in May:

The 33-year-old Nashville center should be tops on the Flyers' wish list. An unrestricted free agent in 2009, Bonk finished third in the NHL in faceoffs at 59.9 percent, trailing only Brind'Amour and Detroit's Kris Draper (60.3 percent). Assuming the Flyers make a few moves and give themselves a little cap flexibility, Bonk is a perfect fit. Last year he made just $1.4 million and for his career has averaged $1.6 million per year. Very reasonable price for one of the game's best faceoff men.

He should be top priority. He could come cheap, especially to play for a team with Cup aspirations in Philadelphia. I'd be ecstatic if they could land Bonk.

While Tomas Plekanec is still a restricted free agent, the busy work of the Canadiens in both free agency and in trading for Scott Gomez means maybe Plekanec becomes available.

If so, the Flyers should come calling:

At 26 years old, Plekanec has a long career ahead of him. Given his age and the age of the Flyers, he'd fit in well as a guy who could grow with the team. Problem is, the Montreal Canadien is a restricted free agent, meaning Montreal can match any offer. The good news is Plekanec made just $1.6 million this past season and has averaged $1.8 million for his career. That's a price the Flyers could pay, but Montreal may not allow that to happen.

Plekanec won 50.6 percent of his faceoffs during the regular season, but he showed in the playoffs he can really turn it up when it matters. In the Canadiens' first-round loss, Plekanec won an astounding 66.7 percent of his faceoffs, tops in the NHL postseason. At 26, you'd think he'd only get better at them with age.

I doubt he'd fit in budget-wise; given his age, he could probably earn more money elsewhere. But it's at least worth a shot at giving him a call.

Of course, Bonk and Plekanec most likely have plenty of teams knocking at their doors, and the Flyers can't get in any bidding wars. That still leaves former Flyer Mike Sillinger, whose return would be welcomed with open arms as a fourth-line center and face-off specialist in my eyes.

Coming off serious injury and at his advanced age, you'd have to figure any suitors are figuring a low salary number. The edge the Flyers may have is a chance to compete for the Cup, so he may be the most realistic chance the Flyers have at nabbing a true warrior in the face-off circle:

Former Flyer Mike Sillinger only played 7 games this past season due to a hip injury, but in those games, he was his dominant self in the faceoff circle, especially the last five games (I couldn't find any faceoff stats for his first two games, go figure). In those games, Sillinger won 73.3 percent of draws against Toronto, 64 percent against the Flyers, 52.6 percent against Pittsburgh, 50 percent against Toronto and 52.6 against the Rangers.

During the 2007-08 season, in 52 games, he won 56.3 percent of his draws, good for 8th in the NHL, and from 2000-01 to 2006-07, Sillinger won at least 55.9 percent of his faceoffs every year, finishing 3rd in 2007 (58.8 percent), 8th in 2006 (55.9), 9th in 2004 (56.8), 13th in 2003 (56.5), 8th in 2002 (57) and 3rd in 2001 (60.3). Basically, Sillinger is as good as it gets in the faceoff circle. He did make $2.2 million last year and has averaged $2.3 million during his career, and he is a guy, when healthy, that can be a very strong penalty killer. But in his advanced age, 37, and coming off an injury, his price should drop a bit as an unrestricted free agent. Again, with his experience and demeanor, he'd be a welcome addition to a young Flyers' locker room

I really hope they can make it work and get one of these guys. Obviously, Bonk would be ideal, but even settling on Sillinger would give the Flyers that guy they desperately need for the really important draws.

BallHype: hype it up!

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