The Flames depth at center has gone from crowded to thin this this pre-season. With Brendan Morrison already on the shelf, Mikael Backlund will join him on IR after a slash in practice has left him with a broken finger that requires surgery.
The battle for the first line center spot has gone from confusing to depressing in one fell swoop as a result. Matt Stajan, a favorite to start the year on the third of fourth line, is likely the de facto top unit pivot come this Saturday, assuming Morrison remains out of the line-up. Either way, the city’s "whipping boy" will move up the rotation as a matter of course and will get every chance to play himself out of Sutter’s doghouse. This may or may not be good news, depending on the results.
David Moss theoretically remains an outside option to move over to center, although the prevailing strategy seems to be to leave him with Glencross and Jokinen on a probable "shut-down" line. He may get the tap on the shoulder eventually, but only if other options completely fail.
Backund’s extended absence is especially good news for rookie Roman Horak. His place on the active roster was likely to be dictated by Morrison’s health, but it looks now like he’ll be sticking around a lot longer (absent a complete face-plant). The kids a good bet to get some reps in – probably the first 20-year old, first year pro to do so for the Flames since Dion Phaneuf. It will be interesting to see the results.
For Backlund, this is a terrible turn of events. After finishing the season on a line with Iginla and Tanguay, the 22-year old had himself an excellent preseason and looked for all the world like a guy ready to take a big step forward. That can still happen this year, of course, but six weeks in the infirmary muddies the waters.