There's long been an assertion in Leafland that our team needs to add a #1 centre. Early in the year, when Tyler Bozak was an unproven rookie playing alongside Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg, and Mikhail Grabovski was pencilled in as our #2 centre, this seemed to make sense. But as the season has gone on, the MGK line has established itself as our #1 line, and as Steve Burch has shown, they're among the most effective top lines in the league at even strength.
So if Grabbo is currently our #1 centre, but people still claim that we need a #1 centre, what exactly does that mean? It could mean one of two things. First, it could mean that Grabovski is not a legitimate #1 centre, and we need someone better than him on the team. Second, it could mean that yes, Grabovski is great, but we still need someone to feed the puck to Phil Kessel. The second point I'll leave up to someone else to argue, but what I'm going to look at here is what exactly the Leafs' options are to find a centre better than Grabovski.
To do this, I'm mostly going to use stats accumulated by centres this season. In the case of guys who've proven in the past that they can put up lots of points but have been injured this year, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and include them as well.
Centres Currently Better than Grabovski
Here's a list of all of the centres in the league who currently have more points than Grabovski, with my estimation of how, if at all, the Leafs might obtain that player:
Steven Stamkos - not available
Henrik Sedin - not available
Sidney Crosby - not available
Brad Richards - possible trade or UFA
Eric Staal - not available
Anze Kopitar - not available
Ryan Kesler - not available
Jonathan Toews - not available
Jeff Carter - just signed a long-term deal, probably not available
Nicklas Backstrom - not available
John Tavares - not available
Mike Richards - not available
Joe Thornton - not available
Mike Ribeiro - apparently available earlier in the year, probably not anymore if Brad Richards leaves
Patrice Bergeron - not likely available
Pavel Datsyuk - not available
Mikko Koivu - not available
Matt Duchene - not available
Paul Stastny - possible trade
Tomas Plekanec - not available
Ryan Getzlaf - not available
Jeff Skinner - not available
Alexander Steen - wait what? probably available via trade
David Krejci - not available
There are 24 centres who currently have more points than Grabovksi does. Of those, 20 are almost definitely not available. In fact, Of the remainder, only 1 will be a UFA this year. Of the remainder, Burke is believed to have already turned down the chance to acquire Mike Ribeiro, I don't think anyone really wants the Leafs to make a big trade for Alexander Steen, and Paul Stastny remains an intriguing possibility.
Other Comparable Centres
Let's extend this to some players whose scoring is near that of Grabovski (within 5 points) or likely would be if it weren't for injuries:
Logan Couture - not available
Brandon Dubinsky - possible trade, unlikely to be available unless the Rangers get Richards and need to clear cap space
Joe Pavelski - probably available via trade
Olli Jokinen - not available
Stephen Weiss - available via trade
Brad Boyes - trade possibility?
Patrik Berglund - trade possibility?
Derick Brassard - probably available via trade
Brendan Morrison - UFA
Evgeni Malkin - not available
Jordan Staal - not available
Derek Roy - not available
Andy McDonald - trade possibility?
Jason Spezza - available via trade
TJ Oshie - trade possibility?
There appear to be a few more options when we add in these players. This includes a sizeable number of St. Louis Blues centres, and given the Blues' position in the standings they're likely willing to deal. Is Brad Boyes or an aging and injury-prone Andy McDonald really what Leafs' fans mean by a #1 centre, though? After that, the next best options are probably Joe Pavelski, Stephen Weiss, or Jason Spezza. Of those, only Spezza is arguably better than Grabovski.
So what does this tell us? Barring some kind of blockbuster deal that involves the Leafs shipping out key parts like Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin, there are basically three options available. The first is Brad Richards, likely a Burke target via free agency this summer. The second is Paul Stastny, though I'm curious what it would take to get him out of Colorado, possibly too much. The third and final option is Jason Spezza, probably available for a little less than Paul Stastny, but also probably requiring a fairly sizeable return.
So who's the Leafs' #1 centre going to be next year? My money's on Grabovski.