After having made $1.6 million last season to center the 3rd line, play the "stopper" role and chip in offensively, Radek Bonk heads into free agency this summer with four straight seasons scoring under 30 points, to along with a combined Plus/Minus rating of -46 (of which, -43 was racked up the last two years in Nashville). Given those less-than-impressive numbers, what does his future look like with the Predators, or in the NHL at large?
There are two particular areas of the game that Bonk is credited with among Predators fans. Yes, he did finish 3rd in the league with a 59.9% faceoff winning percentage, which included an NHL-best 61.9% on the road. Some fans also took to calling Bonk "Mr. Clutch", as he did manage a couple critical scores (2 GWG), although none as dramatic as his late goal in Montreal back in December 2007 in his first trip back to that city after playing for the Canadiens.
While faceoff wins are appreciated, one has to keep their influence in perspective. This analysis from Behind the Net does a good job of breaking faceoffs out by zone, demonstrating the extent to which neutral zone draws are nowhere near as important as those in the offensive or defense ends. Down near the Nashville net, obviously Bonk's wins helped to keep the opposition off the board. In the offensive zone, however, his goal-creating limitations reduced the benefit gained by his performance on the dot.
The bigger picture is simply that Bonk has been generally outscored on the ice by a healthy margin for the last two seasons. Part of the reason he earned the "clutch" moniker is that his goals came so rarely that they seemed downright miraculous when they actually occured.
#14 / Center / Nashville Predators
Jan 09, 1976
|2008 - Radek Bonk||66||9||16||25||-12||34||6||0||2||0||102||8.8|
Let's take a look at the Behind the Net numbers for 5-on-5 play, comparing Bonk to the other defensively-oriented centers on the team...
What jumps out to me is that pitiful 1.34 Goals For/60 Minutes figure. Some of that can certainly be attributed to his usual linemates (Smithson, I'm looking at you) as being similarly one-dimensional. As a team, the Preds seemed to fare reasonably well with their top two lines on the ice, but after that there was a steep dropoff. I will give Bonk some credit for at least taking a reasonable amount of penalties. His -5 Penalty Plus/Minus figure isn't bad considering his largely defensive role.
One oddity in Bonk's game is that compared to his dearth of scoring in 5-on-5 action, on the power play he was moderately effective. While getting about 2:12 per game on the man advantage, Bonk's 6 goals gave him the best scoring rate on the team, as he did show a willingness to work the front of the net for tips and rebounds. Long term, I suspect this is the role that the team expects Ryan Jones to fill.
With just 26 seconds per game of shorthanded duty, Bonk was a non-factor here.
The free-flow, back-and-forth nature of hockey means that "all glove, no stick" doesn't help a team any more than a free-scoring sniper who doesn't play a lick of defense. With Bonk, there's just so little offensive contribution at Even Strength that even decent shutdown work results in a losing combination. With cheaper options like Scott Nichol, Vern Fiddler and Jerred Smithson already at the NHL level, and youngsters like Cal O'Reilly and Colin Wilson on the way, I just don't see a spot for Bonk in the Nashville lineup this coming season.
As to where he might make a good fit, I could see him fitting in better with a team that has better weapons on the wing, and could use a solid faceoff man, like Philadelphia or possibly Tampa Bay. No matter the case, Bonk is entering that perilous realm which sees veteran players fighting to make room for themselves as specialists, while teams are attracted to cheaper, younger talent with higher potential upside.