The biggest news by far coming out of last night's double victory over the Canucks Moose was the loss of center Matt Stajan to injury and the subsequent opening of his roster spot, up for grabs to whomever earns it over the course of the remainder of training camp. Arik Knapp of the The 4th Line Blog weighs in on the various candidates for Stajan's replacement, including the pros and cons of each and possibly even a dark horse or two.
If you’ve been following Flames news at all this morning or late last night, you’ve probably heard that Matt Stajan injured his shoulder in the first period of last night's second game in Vancouver. While AGM Jay Feaster declined to specify what the injury was (I’m sure we’ll never know anything besides "Upper Body Injury"), he seemed to imply that Stajan will miss time not only during the pre-season, but also the regular season. From Vicki Hall’s article in the Flames Insider:
"He hurt his shoulder," said assistant general manager Jay Feaster. "He was examined here tonight. Obviously couldn't come back. But we won't know exactly the extent of it until he sees the doctors back in Calgary."
Stajan suffered the injury near the Calgary bench in the first period when he was reaching for the puck.
"He's going to miss some time," Feaster said. "But we'll wait until we see the doctors."
So, obviously this is not good. I was hoping for a big season from Stajan, but that seems unlikely to start right away. When you consider missing most of training camp and shaking off the rust, I get the feeling this won’t be the year that Stajan justifies being one of the key pieces coming back to Calgary in the Phaneuf trade (not that I think he needs to--Phaneuf is vastly overrated). Of course, if Phaneuf keeps sparking comments like this one from the Twitter page of TSN's Bob McKenzie, then that’s even less of a problem:
Anyways, Phaneuf's play is besides the point. The real question is--who fills Stajan’s position? Most of us expected him to center the #2 line, and his most likely replacement, Langkow, is also out. So who are our options?
1. Mikael Backlund: Probably the most likely candidate. This is his first real chance to make a showing at the NHL level, getting good ice time and playing with good players.
2. Mitch Wahl: My personal favorite, though not necessarily my preference in this case. Wahl could be an interesting call-up. He’s seems defensively strong, smart on the puck, and never panics.
3. Brett Sutter: Not necessarily a second-line type of player, since he’s more of a defensive forward.
4. Hugo Carpentier: Aside from the terrible centers in Abbotsford (Grantham and Murray), as well as Backlund, Carpentier has played the most professional games of all centers on the Flames' farm team--that being a total of 35.
What’s likely to happen? I see it shaking out in one of several possible ways:
a) Backlund gets the 2nd line center position, where he can finally develop, receiving more ice time on a good line, playing against actual NHL players.
b) Sutter gets the 2nd line center position, purely because he won’t be a liability on the back end and will keep plugging away at the task at hand.
c) Conroy moves up to the top line and Brett Sutter takes over whichever line Connie was on.
d) Mitch Wahl gets a chance to crack the line-up as…I can’t even finish that sentence. Not because it’s bad, but because Shifty Sutter would never allow a player that opportunity so early in his development.
Either way, what we’re likely to see with Stajan injured is a forward who has spent a bit of time in the Pros come in somewhere in the line-up, whether as a defensively responsible forward who won’t score as much, one who has likely reached the peak of his development, or as a player coming in to develop straight up.