The Penguins Great Third Line Center Debate goes on. – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

The Penguins Great Third Line Center Debate goes on.

This is the off-season. Not much is really going on around the league, nor have the Penguins done much either. However, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to talk about. With little else to do many people talk about the “what ifs” and the possible moves a team could make.

So it is with our boys of winter; the Great Third Line Center debate goes on.

While fastidiously sifting through all the hockey news, rumors and other opinions, on-line or in print, I came across a couple of new names thrown on the fire of this debate; Bryan Little of Winnipeg and Andreas Athanasiou of Detroit.

I know, just because there are rumors, it doesn’t mean anything is going to come of it. However, these two names do intrigue me. I am somewhat familiar with Bryan Little from when the Jets were the Thrashers in Atlanta. I had spent several years living in Atlanta before moving back to the ‘burgh and got to see him play and practice fairly regularly. We used to skate at the Thrashers practice rink and my older boy took skating lessons there and played in their youth league for a season or two as well.

Little isn’t young anymore, 29yrs, and he has been suffering from Penguin flu; he hasn’t played 70 or more Games since 2014-2015. On the plus side he is not without a scoring touch. He topped the 30 Goal mark in his second season and has been a regular 20+ scorer. This past season he posted 21 Goals 26 Assists for 47 Points in 58 Games. That is not bad at all and should even get better with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin eating up the bulk of the opponent’s attention.

Little is also no stranger to defensive situations; he has 7 career Short Handed Goals and 5 Short Handed Assists. And over the last couple of years, he seems to have developed into a pretty good face-off man with a Face Off Percent (FO%) of 51.3% and 55.6% in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 respectively; taking over 1,000 FO in each of those seasons.

No, he is no Nick Bonino when it comes to shot blocking. In his career he has only blocked 220 shots; Bonino block over 160 in just two seasons with the Penguins, however, Bonino really only added offense in the stretch run and post-season.

So what is the cost of Little? The author of this particular article suggests that it would cost the Penguins a Defensemen, a Prospect, and a High Draft pick. In terms of money, the cost would be $5 mil in salary and a $4.7 mil cap hit. Little also has a modified No Trade Clause (NTC), meaning the Penguins would need to be on his list of teams he would accept a trade with or that he would waive the NTC. Furthermore Little is in the last year of his contract and at his age he will be an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season. The Penguins would need to resign him or lose him at the end of the season.

I am not going to lie, I do like Little or at least I did back in my days in Atlanta. I thought he was going to develop into a decent Center and he did. In terms of cash/cap hit he is very similar to what Tyler Bozak would cost the Penguins, but I think he brings more to the table. However, I don’t know that I would give up a Defenseman, a Prospect, and a High Draft Pick.

Athanasiou, to me is the more interesting name here. I must confess here that I really paid little attention to him so far in his career, so I had to do a little research on him. He is still young, only 22yrs old, 6’-2”, and 188lbs. In his two NHL seasons in Detroit he has scored 27 Goals and posted 16 Assists, his +/- is –6, his Shooting Percentage is a respectable 15.6% in a 101 Games.

The scouting reports on him say he has the speed and hands to be dangerous. However, the reports I read were not quite as glowing on his defensive work, in a creative writing master piece the reports read that defensively he needs to work on his consistency. However, considering his age, that should not be a surprise. His CORSI numbers aren’t all that good 48.9% in his first 101 NHL Games. But then again, as good as Bonino was defensively, his two-year CORSI numbers were only 48.6%, effectively the same.

What intrigued me most here was considering the “what ifs” of putting Athanasiou along side Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel. The author who suggested these players asked to consider what Little would look like with Kessel, but I think Athanasiou is the more interesting. Yes, there would be a high risk playing a young kid with a more offensively minded Kessel but then again Kessel’s CORSI numbers are better than Bonino’s. Kessel’s CORSI numbers over his 2 seasons in Pittsburgh are 50.9%.

Athanasiou certainly wouldn’t be learning much about defense from Kessel but then again, the high reward of putting Athanasiou with Kessel may mean very little defensive zonetime.

If the Penguins were to acquire Athanasiou, I would think that it would be even more important for Jim Rutherford to talk Matt Cullen into playing one more year to try and teach Athanasiou how to be more defensively responsible. Maybe he could also teach him how to take a draw as well Athanasiou is roughly as ineffective as Malkin in the face-off circle only winning 44.6% of his draws.

I am not sure what it would take to get Athanasiou from Detroit; his 18 Goals in 64 Games last year suggest he wouldn’t be cheap, Detroit may ask a fair amount for him. If there is enough pressure on the team to turn around quickly, it may be a little easier to get him but again it still wouldn’t be all that cheap.

Another stumbling block would seem to be that Athanasiou, like Connor Sheary, is a Restricted Free Agent. With that in mind, I would suggest that this might be where the Penguins begin their packaging to acquire Athanasiou.

Do I think either of these two players are the answer to the Great Third Line Center Debate? Maybe, maybe not, just like playing the lottery when all the numbers look good until the actual numbers are drawn, all the names that are swirling around for third line center can be made to look good if you spin them the right way. Only after the season starts will we know if at least one of them, the one that Rutherford and Mike Sullivan choose to go with, will work out or not.

In the mean time the Great Debate goes on among all of the arm chair GMs.

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  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    July 24, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    This just in Domoulin signed for $4.1 mil over 6yrs.

    I am not sure that he is worth it right now, but locking him in for 6yrs is a whole lot easier to swallow than a 1yr contract.

    I know I was a bit down on him but the $4mil is only a little above what I thought he was worth.

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 24, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Hey All
    BRIAN just signed for 6 years at $ 4.1 MILLION …
    JR did not want to go to arbitration !!!
    What do you think happens next ???
    Sheary has the same agent !! We have 6.3 cap million left !!

    Houston we have a problem !!

    • July 24, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      $6.1 to sign two 3rd or 4th line players doesn’t seem like that big of a problem at all. Seems the whole thing can be fixed by trading Sheary for a center.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 24, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Interesting, when I came to this site several minutes ago, I didn’t see you had beat me to the punch even though by your time stamp It has been here a while. Me thinks my computer is experiencing a bit of the ghost in the machine.

      As I wrote above, I do think we are paying a little much for him, but with a 6yr contract I am a little bit happier. D-men usually don’t peak until their late 20s.

      And I agree with you Phil, Sheary for a Center sounds like a good deal. On paper Sheary looks really good with his 23g in 61gp.

      I am thinking Cullen is going to try one more season so he would be that 4th liner, although I am still liking what I saw out of Rowney-Wilson-Archibald last year.

  3. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    July 23, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    The debate goes on….
    I still like Adam Lowry from the Jets,

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 24, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Intersting name Pen’s 4ever.

      I love his size and what little I have seen of him he would be a player I would look at seriously, but I am not sure that JR will look at him.

      He is a big hitter, topping 200 hits, has good take away to give away ratio (86 to 56 in his career) and his career CORSI numbers (49.7) are better than what Bonino’s were in his time in Pgh. He even had good face off numbers last year (50.8) and is a very reasonable cap $1.125mil.

      Since he is up in Win I don’t really see him that much, how is his skating? That would be the big factor I think Sully and therefore JR would be interested in.

  4. Pens 8771's Gravatar Pens 8771
    July 22, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Dumo is not worth 4mill a year, at least not with the pens! They should try to get him for a cheap as they can and start shopping him! It’s clear that he wants big money and pens won’t be able to afford him in the future! The third line center is a huge hole that needs filled, that should be priority!

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 22, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      Hey Pens 8771

      I agree 100%. As week as the Pens D is, right now, they only have 2 true Centers signed with any NHL experience and it has been many years since even Crosby and Malkin have played 82 games. This should be the biggest concern.

      As for Dumo, you aren’t worth $4.35 mil buddy, get real!

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        July 22, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Sorry typo; weak not week

      • Pens 8771's Gravatar Pens 8771
        July 22, 2017 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the reply! I have a feeling that Jim Rutherford has a center deal lined up but he’s just waiting to see what happens with Dumo and Sheary with the arbitration process! I know I’ll rest alittle easier once they fill that spot!

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          July 23, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          You may be right, JR may have an idea of what he wants to do but has to see how much $$$ he has left after Dumoulin and Sheary are signed before he can pull the trigger.

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      July 24, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I agree with you Pen 8771 ..
      But that is what we are paying him for the next 6 years.
      $ 4.1 million a year.
      He makes more than Maatta .
      What do you think Cole will want to extend his contract ???
      It will have to be 4 million as well. !!!

      Greed + Stupidity = Disaster…..By by 3 peat. !

      * Plus with a large $4.1 million a year for 6 years contract we can not even trade him unless we hold some salary back !! Crazy……………………..

  5. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey Guys
    Just posted on TRIB media.
    Dumoulin wants a 1 year deal at $ 4.35 million a year.
    Pens offered a 1 year deal at $1.95 million a year.
    Arbitration Hearing is on Monday.
    That is a big difference guys….
    Like I said before the NHL owners goes crazy over big D men
    with Stanley Cup experience.
    JR has a problem !!!!

    • The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
      July 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Haven’t read the article but both sides are way off. Dumoulin is only about a $3mil.
      The down side is it is only a 1yr deal so no matter what he is gone. Once signed start shopping. If a D man is what Det or Win want for Athanasiou or Little, here he is. Yes he had a solid second half of the playoffs this year, but Ott and Nsh represented the weaker teams. Once traded go after Markov short term, but it once again highlights my disappointment in the Reaves trade. Hague would look really good right now.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        July 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach,
        Article at the Bottom left..Pens & Dumo exchange contract proposals.

        I agree with you. Get ready to trade him if he gets $4.35 million award. FYI.. I gave you the wrong info last week… Apparently the NHL arbitrator can award what ever amount he feels is justified. It does not have to be 1.95 million or 4.35 million, the reported contract offers. My mistake… sorry.
        What happens to Sheary if Dumo gets 4.35 million ??
        Not good news for JR.

        • The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
          July 22, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          No it isn’t good news.

          How about this, see if Det would flip Sheary and Athansiou straight up then package Dumo to the Jets for Little and get both of them. If you can keep Athanasiou around the $2-3mil, then you have room to maybe sign Markov to replace Dumo short term and resign Cullen for another year. That way Little and Cullen fill the bottom 2-Cs for now and there is no pressure on Athansiou. He can get his playing time on the Wing at times and then rest Cullen every so often against low end teams and let Athansiou play Center in those games.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 22, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink


      I would hope to wrap up Dumo on a longer-term deal, provided we can land him at a reasonably favorable rate.

      Doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen.


      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        July 22, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        Dumo wants a 1 year deal at 4 million plus so his value goes up then signs a 6 or 7 year deal at 5 million with somebody else next year.
        The arbitrator will give him 4 million because Schultz signed at 5.5 million deal and gave the Pen’s a home town discount.Shultz would have got over 6 million on the open market easily.Many others have 4 million a year plus deals.Look at Maatta.Dumo did more than Maatta in the past 2 seasons. He will get 4 million.
        Real problem Rick is Dumo and Sheary have the same agent reports have stated. What do you think Sheary will do when Dumo gets 4 million plus.
        It is starting….Greed… We can not afford to every one.

        Coach / Rick…In my previous post I noted if Dumo gets
        His contract request of 4.35 million , Sheary will get the same or more.Almost 8.7 million.Cullen takes 1 million.
        We have a million dollars to find a REAL 3rd line center. Austin Matthews cap hit is less than a million. Oh right we have to draft them.
        Only solution is a blockbuster trade. Just because Dumo gets 4 million from the arbitrator does not mean other teams will accept him in a fair trade. You are going to have to trade a star as well.
        By by 3 peat…

  6. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    July 22, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Hey Coach,
    Being a blood hound takes a lot of work as you know. Interesting players you have uncovered. Who ever we get to be our “third” and even our ” fourth” center men had better be strong in the face off circle.
    Cullen took a lot of key d zone face offs for us these last two years because Geno’s numbers are simply terrible at the dots. Being a puck possession team that lacks size and grit, face offs become crucial.
    Off the topic a bit, but for me Geno needs a large left winger who can take the face offs at 65% + clip.He would not be the first elite center man in the league who had to do this.
    A subject for another post for you my friend is yesterday the Hockey Writers put out their annual ratings of NHL farm systems. Again the Pens were second from the last. ( San Jose, Pens, Hawks.) It was a very good read because it evaluated all of the other teams minor league talent and compared them.
    Hockey Futures has done the same thing for years.
    Subject of future concern !!! The Flyers are rated number one.They have 8 elite prospects in their organization.Tampa Bay is rated number two. Carolina is rated number three.New Jersey moved the most in the ratings and are now rated number 6.
    It takes a good 2 days to study all the farm systems and various players properly Coach, and right now I did not have the time to do a 100 % job. But took an hour this morning and saw enough evidence to know that there is a major storm cloud brewing in the NHL and a changing of the guard is about to take place. Toronto. Edmonton. Many others.
    Tampa scares me. The played all year with out their ” Sidney Crosby” and still did well. Stamkos will be back. They have some real great minor league talent.
    Scary good.
    Of course then there is Phili. When all their kids get to the NHL …look out !

    Something to think about Coach.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      July 22, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Excellent synopsis on farm systems around the league, my friend.

      I agree 100 percent about Tampa Bay.

      As an aside, I think most teams in the East–our Pens included–have either treaded water or regressed to an extent.

      Yes, Columbus got Panarin from Chicago. But they lost Gagner and a very good bottom-six center–William Karlsson–and need help down the middle. Right now, they’re looking at Brandon Dubinsky as their second-line center.

      Ditto the Rangers, who have Kevin Hayes slotted as their No. 2 center with Derek Stepan gone. The Caps have really taken a hit this summer. I don’t see Montreal as a threat, either.

      But the Bolts and Toronto, who I think did a really good job of filling in the missing pieces?

      Watch out.


    • The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
      July 22, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      I won’t be able to get a chance to read anything until later tonight but the future Pens is a bit of a concern. It doesn’t surprise me that the our farm isn’t rated that highly; even had we not traded away soooooo many 1st round picks, with all of the success of the team we haven’t been drafting that high even when we still have a pick. This is on of the reasons I am still not exactly happy about the Reaves trade. I do think the team woud have been better off with Hague or the Russian kid.

      As for Geno, I would think that he may need a solid RW since he is a L shot himself, or a LW that shoots R. And although the Pens have Kessel and Hornqvist on the RW, I do think Kessel is better on a line by himself and Hornqvist seems to have better chemistry with Crosby. So, maybe Sprong?

      As for the LW, If they don’t trade Sheary, it probably will be Guentzel, but I am sorry, I deal Sheary for my 3rd line C. In that scenario Guentzel probably moves up to play wing for Crosby and I think I would give Kuhnhackl first shot as Malkin’s LW, I think he can handle it and just hasn’t really been given the opportunity.

      Honestly I would love to be able to do as you suggest, get a LW that could take draws, like a Duchene, but I don’t see the Pens being able to afford a player like that, not with the Arbitration Hearings for Dumoulin and Sheary.

      Getting back to the farm issue, that is why, as much as I love the warrior Hornqvist, I really do deal him at some point this season, if Sprong and Aston – Reese show any level of NHL readiness. Let’s face it, as much as we like him, the Pens won games without him and as I wrote a couple of times before he is the perfect rent – a – player. His Cap hit is reasonable and he is in the last year of his contract. We can even try and resign him next year if we want so that we get the 1st round pick and get him back next year too. He does have a MNTC where he can’t be traded to 8 teams (don’t know who those teams are, but I am sure one of the teams looking to make the playoffs will be willing to deal. Granted it wouldn’t be a top 10 pick but with the dearth of high round picks in the org, it would be a start.

      Any info on last years 2nd rnd pick Bjorqvist? Last I read he wasn’t developing as fast as he could be.

      Who knows, maybe both Jarry and DeSmith can show NHL readiness as well and the Pens may be able to deal one of them before the draft next year to a team near the bottom who feels they need a goalie but don’t want to wait for a draft pick goalie to develop.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        July 22, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach and Rick,
        I think I will do an article on the various farm systems and bring to light what we all know already. There was a good point mentioned in the comment section about the Pens system and the WBS Penguins. How can we be rated at the bottom when WBS always wins and goes deep in the AHL play offs each year. Other NHL franchises do not have this success. We do… so we should be rated higher on the survey they said.
        The real issue is MOST all AHL teams are designed to develop talent for the big club and therefore they fill their teams with PROSPECTS and let them develop. The Pens do not have enough prospects so they HIRE a large amount of older border line NHL talent to fill out the baby Pens. These players can not make it in the NHL but are really to good at the AHL level playing against 20- 22 kids.
        The whole reason for an AHL team to exist is to develop NHL caliber young talent. That is not what made WBS successful.Veterans..
        I found this to be an eye opener for me.
        We all talk about Sprong, Reese and even Jarry. The truth is other teams have many more prospects than us,some of elite status ability and others who have played in Memorial Cups, Word Junior Championships, represented their National teams at International competitions and many have had leadership roles.
        Sorry to say our farm system does not have that caliber of players and it is obvious that we can not field an elite talented third line center man or another 3-4 d man with size and skill. What about a left winger as well ? That is the real issue. The cupboard is bare !
        I believe we will 3 peat this year,if we get lucky. We need 2 centers, 2 d men, and 2 more wingers …. But we are one of the oldest teams in the league and yes we have 87 and 71.
        When we fall, and we will soon because all this young talent will come into the league and we will be out classed in a few years.
        Remember this guys. When the Oilers fell, it took them 20 years to recover and they are still not there yet. When the New York Islanders fell, they NEVER RECOVERED ! Financial disaster. When the Canadians fell they never returned to their glory days ! They had an ownership change as well. Same thing with the Pen’s when Mario bought them out of Bankruptcy. Complete disaster.
        This why I believe in the draft system and the need to develop first round draft picks. We need to win it all this year because there are a lot of very talented young players coming into the league.
        Eight of them will be wearing the dreaded Orange and Black….
        Ouch indeed !

        • The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
          July 22, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

          Hey Jim,

          You are preaching to the Choir, buddy. The Pens lack of blue chip draftees has been a sore spot for me for years. As I said above, the Reaves trade is still sitting sour in my mouth.

          I hope you do post something on the farm systems around the league, I will be looking with interest. By the time I should have read the Hockey Writers report.

          The Pens got lucky last time they fell to the bottom, they were able to stockpile a couple of generational players; Crosby and Malkin, and a pretty darn good goalie in MAF. I doubt they will so lucky the next time. Most especially with the lottery system, you can’t really ensure getting the top pick, so you could be unlucky and finish last for several seasons.

          I am concerned about this.

  7. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    July 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Hey Other Rick,

    Excellent piece. Thanks for bringing to light two of our less publicized center possibilities.

    Like you, I remember Little as a promising young player from his time in Atlanta before losing track of him in Winterpeg (Winnipeg). A quick glance at his numbers indicate he’s a solid scorer and, as you noted, an able faceoff man and penalty killer.

    Perhaps a Bonino with a touch more offensive upside.

    Athanasiou is intriguing, indeed. I remember him skating through our entire team to score a breakaway goal against us last January. You summed up his promise and imperfections perfectly.

    Great stuff!


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      July 21, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Rick,

      I wish I did know what was on JRs mind.

      Honestly, looking at all of the names I have seen out there, I kind of like these 2. I don’t know what the chances really are, but I certainly would check into it. As I have written before, I always am willing to ask. The worst that Detroit or Winterpeg (Liked that one the opposite of where I once lived in Hotlatna) can do is say no. One other draw back to Athanasiou that I didn’t mention is that most GMs may be reluctant to opt for the kid when chasing a 3peat, but the more I think about this one, the more I like this idea.

      It may be time the Pens start bringing down the average age of the team.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        July 21, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        Hey Other Rick,

        Regarding Athanasiou, I had the same thoughts about another comparative youngster whose name was being bandied about…Zemgus Girgensons.

        Apparently, he made an impression a few years ago with his physical play and scoring for an absolutely dreadful Sabres team. Then he regressed (or got lost in the shuffle) the past couple of seasons. Not real good on faceoffs, either.

        Again, would the Pens want to take on a project when hoping to three-peat? Probably not.

        Still, I like your thinking. Little is an especially attractive option. Kind of a Bonino-plus.


        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          July 21, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          Hey Rick,

          Looking at Girgensons first 2 seasons they sort of have the same shape as Athanasiou. In Girgensons defense, a kid playing under Bylsma is not the best environment to develop. We saw first hand how he retarded the development several Penguins. The Question with Girgenson would be can he be salvaged. He does have a bit of a nasty streak, comparatively speaking; he has been in the 150s in hits most of his career, if I recall correctly.

          I think you may have mentioned him, or someone else did here on these boards recently, suggesting him as a possible C.

          One benefit of trading for Little, that I hadn’t mentioned yet is that we would be trading out of our division. Therefore no matter who we dealt, they wouldn’t hurt us that much during the regular season.


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