2017 Free Agency Target: Nick Bonino is one of the top centres available

Bonino will bring a lot of talent to a team this off-season.

The Montreal Canadiens have been looking to improve the quality of their centre-ice talent this off-season, with no one on the current roster who has shown he can perform all the duties of a top-line centreman.

Finding one is no easy task, as teams who have managed to obtain such a player are eager to hold onto him. This summer’s free-agency crop contains very few centres of even top-six quality, but there are still a few good players available.

Nick Bonino is one of those options, as his three-year, $1.9 AAV contract expires at the end of this month. The 29-year-old just won his second consecutive Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and may now be moving on to a new challenge.

With the Penguins last year, Bonino had 18 goals and 19 assists in 80 regular-season games. He adding another seven points in the post-season before being forced out of action by a broken tibia.

He dropped right into a third-line role in Pittsburgh with superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin already on the team, moving up when there was an injury to one of those two. He played a more defensive role with the team, with an offensive-zone-start percentage of 43.9%, compared to 57.7% for Crosby and 67.9% for Malkin, though those top two centres went up against the tougher competition.

His possession numbers were rather poor, with a shot-attempts-for percentage of just 46.4% last season. He also hasn’t been a particularly good faceoff man, matching his career average in 2016-17, at 48.0%.

Bonino’s numbers match up quite well with the typical second-line centre in the NHL. It’s important to remember that he was third on the list of priorities for opposing teams on many nights, though was still given skilled linemates in that role.

The 37 points he contributed were right in the middle of the range for a second-line player. But even while yoyoing up and down the lineup, Alex Galchenyuk had 44 points in 2016-17, and Phillip Danault had 40 in his sophomore season.

The only way Bonino makes sense for the Canadiens is if Galchenyuk is traded away and Montreal wants to downgrade on his ability, or if Tomas Plekanec is moved and they bring in Bonino as a more offensive option on the third line. That latter option doesn’t seem likely with the Czech’s $6 million contract; not an enticing proposition for a team looking for depth.

The solution to the vacancy in the middle of the top line won’t be found by signing Bonino, and bringing him in for a middle-six role won’t be an improvement on what the team already has.

Bonino will be a popular man when noon rolls around on July 1, and with his numbers and history, combined with the shallow free-agency market, he will earn a lot of money from whichever team he ends up with. There’s little reason to believe that team will be the Montreal Canadiens.

Stats via Puckalytics.com.

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