Cullen: Injuries Create Big Holes Down the Middle

Scott Cullen
12/29/2010 12:48:18 PM
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The holidays haven't been all happy news and glad tidings of the festive season. 

Some NHL teams are losing quality players to the injured list, leaving big holes to be filled.

Most notably, number one centres Jason Spezza, Derek Roy, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf have been hurt this week.

27-year-old Jason Spezza was stuck in the worst season of his career, with just 20 points in 32 games, before suffering a shoulder injury on Boxing Day (his first multi-point game since Nov.9, incidentally) that is expected to keep him sidelined for at least six weeks.

Even in a down season, Spezza is Ottawa's third-leading scorer, three points behind team-leader Erik Karlsson, and his loss will pose problems for an already struggling Ottawa offence.

The initial plan in Ottawa is to move Peter Regin into the middle on a line with Milan Michalek and Alex Kovalev.  While I like Regin's potential as a complementary player, he has one goal and ten assists in 35 games this season, so expecting him to handle the responsibility of centering a scoring line is asking a lot.

It's asking even more for Regin to pry any kind of offensive production out of Kovalev and Michalek, who have combined for six points in 12 games this month.

If there is a Senators centre who may be able to take advantage of increased ice time in Spezza's absence, maybe it's Chris Kelly, who leads all Ottawa forwards with ten points in 12 games in December, despite playing only 14:47 per game.

While Spezza had been struggling, Roy was having one of his best seasons, with 35 points in 35 games, until it came crashing to a halt.  The 27-year-old pivot's season is over after he tore a quad tendon as a result of a hit by Panthers defenceman Dmitry Kulikov.

With Tim Connolly already out, recovering from a broken nose, the Sabres are awfully thin down the middle, at least in terms of proven offensive performers.

Veteran Jochen Hecht, who has six points in his last six games, should be able to provide serviceable two-way play, but until Connolly returns, rookie Luke Adam or little Nathan Gerbe could earn more significant roles.

Losing Roy doesn't figure to help LW Thomas Vanek or RW Drew Stafford, both of whom run hot and cold at the best of times, and now have to try and maintain their production without a top playmaking centre to set them up.

While the prognosis isn't yet known for Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews, he did leave Tuesday night's loss to St. Louis early with an upper body (looking like a shoulder) injury.

It's never good for a team to lose its number one centre, but the Blackhawks were just getting healthy as a team, so it appears that the lineup will shuffle once again to make up for Toews' absence.

Patrick Sharp and Tomas Kopecky are both capable of playing centre and David Bolland provides a solid two-way prsence on the third line. 

If Sharp centres Patrick Kane, who just returned from his own eight-game absence, and Bryan Bickell while Kopecky skates between Marian Hossa and Viktor Stalberg, the Blackhawks should have enough production to remain competitive -- if still not at full strength -- in Toews' absence.

Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf took a deflected shot off the forehead Tuesday night, leaving the game for repairs.

Getzlaf's injury may not be long-term, barring evidence of fractures or a concussion, but if he misses any time, it could cause the Ducks to shuffle up their new line combinations, that had Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Saku Koivu each playing centre on separate lines.

Tied for the Detroit Red Wings' goal-scoring lead, with 16, winger Dan Cleary will be out a month with a broken ankle.

In the first game after Cleary was injured, Jiri Hudler appeared to be the beneficiary, playing on a line with Todd Bertuzzi and Valtteri Filppula, scoring two points while playing 15:54 -- his most ice-time in a game since October 16.

Hudler has been a huge disappointment this season, with just eight points in 31 games, but this will be a chance for him to resurrect his value.  If he flops, perhaps Justin Abdelkader will see more quality ice time.

Bad enough that Chris Pronger is out already, but Flyers D Kimmo Timonen suffered a lower body injury against Vancouver on Tuesday.

Oskars Bartulis was already called up to fill in for Pronger, so Danny Syvret could be next in line if the Flyers need another defenceman.

More importantly, with Pronger and Timonen out, the power play responsibility falls to Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros and maybe a little more to Braydon Coburn, who used to be a pretty decent puck-mover.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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