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9 centers who will be very popular on July 1

by Dan Rosen
Center depth is a highly-rated commodity in this League. When you have it, you've got a chance.

Look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland and John Madden down the middle. There wasn't a better quartet of centers in the NHL. Colin Fraser, a pretty good depth pivot in his own right, couldn't crack the lineup.

The list of potential unrestricted free agent centers lost its one bona-fide star when Patrick Marleau re-upped in San Jose, but there are several players remaining that any GM would want on his team. Here are the nine we viewed as the top pivots that could be available at noon ET on July 1:

Matthew Lombardi -- Think speed. Lombardi has a lot of it, and he just put up a career-high 53 points for the Coyotes. He's one of several Phoenix forwards who could become unrestricted on July 1, and he'll probably want a raise from the $1.8 million he made this past season. Lombardi could wind up as one of the steals of this free agent class.

Saku Koivu -- The Ducks would probably be able to lock him up easily if Teemu Selanne returns for another season, but either way they should want Koivu because he is as reliable as they come. He put up 52 points in 71 games last season and won better than 50 percent of his faceoffs. Koivu turns 36 in November, but he's the ideal second-line center behind Ryan Getzlaf.

John Madden -- For a team looking for depth and experience down the middle, is there anybody better? Madden just won his third Stanley Cup and was used a lot by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville for defensive zone faceoffs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially the Final. He would probably sign for one year and it wouldn't be all that expensive, but you'd be getting a winner and a guy who can contribute.

Eric Belanger -- The image of him pulling out his own tooth on the bench during the playoffs this past season says enough about his toughness. Belanger is not a No. 1 center and probably not even a No. 2, but plant him in your lineup as a No. 3 and you're getting a guy who can eat up 14-15 minutes of ice time, win faceoffs, play physical and go to the net. He wouldn't be all that expensive either.

Vinny Prospal -- The Rangers didn't make the playoffs this past season, but it wasn't Prospal's fault. He put up 20 goals and had 58 points playing while splitting time between center and wing. Prospal's versatility and scoring touch make him an intriguing option for teams looking for top-six depth. Yes, the Rangers are one of those teams.

Matt Cullen -- Ottawa GM Bryan Murray is on record saying Cullen wants to be back with the Senators next season. Now Murray has to make it happen before July 1 or else Cullen could be scooped up quickly. He's one of those centers who does just about everything well, including scoring, dishing, winning draws, shooting, and playing D.

Olli Jokinen – It's hard to figure this guy out. Jokinen has skill and you'd think he would have the hunger to win, too, considering he's played in a grand total of six playoff games during his 11 NHL seasons. But he fell into the abyss at times last season and will forever be remembered by Ranger fans for missing in the shootout on the final day of the season in Philadelphia. He can produce, though.

Manny MalhotraHe'd be a solid third-line pivot for any team, including the Sharks. He was a bargain at $700,000 this past season and could be a steal for a similar salary next season. Malhotra had 33 points and won 62.5 percent of his faceoffs this past season. He's 30 years old and can replicate those numbers for several more years.

Kyle Wellwood Teams looking for a third-line center could look to Wellwood, who shouldn't be an expensive option after putting up 25 points in 75 games with the Canucks this past season. He added 7 points in 12 playoff games. He had a $1.2 million cap hit last season. He is only 27 years old.

Nine more: Doug Weight, Craig Conroy, Mike Comrie, Glen Metropolit, Dominic Moore, Mike Modano, Rob Niedermayer, Brendan Morrison, Jeff Halpern

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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