Whatever happened to Dion Phaneuf?
While many have asked the question all season long, it became even more pertinent yesterday when his absence from practice immediately prompted math-challenged scribes to try putting two and two together.
With the Flames sending forward Warren Peters back to Quad City in exchange for greenhorn blueliner John Negrin, the assumption was made that Phaneuf would be sidelined for tonight's crucial game in Edmonton. Add to the equation the fact the already-struggling Phaneuf was favouring one side of his body in Vancouver Tuesday, and it was obvious us bloodhounds had sniffed the scenario out.
And while several players were coaxed into suggesting No. 3 will indeed be taking the final two games of the regular season off to rest up for the playoffs, Mike Keenan clouded the investigation.
"He's day-to-day, just as (David) Moss and (Craig) Conroy are," said the Flames coach after a rare practice at which the media outnumbered players. "Dion played 30 minutes last game, and we watch very closely the players' work-to-rest ratio. I expect they're all going to be available tomorrow."
Others aren't so sure.
"It's tough, but we don't think we've lost him for long," said captain Jarome Iginla when asked about the absence of Phaneuf, the most maligned member of the Flames all year.
"We think he's going to be back and be a big part -- it's just maintenance and getting ready for the playoffs."
Unscathed by the injury bug since their 2004 playoff run, the Flames are now under siege by it, with Phaneuf potentially joining defencemen Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich and Mark Giordano in the trainer's room.
"It's almost comical -- 'geez another guy down,' " Conroy said. "I always think Dion's not going to play, and he always plays. Honestly, if I'm betting, I think we're going to see Dion. He likes that flair of dramatics. He likes to come back and be bigger and better than ever, and I expect him in those two games."
Phaneuf's defence partner, Jim Vandermeer, isn't so sure, but he was impressed by Phaneuf's latest 30-minute effort.
"It's tough enough to do when you're healthy, let alone when you've got something going on," said Vandermeer. "He sucked it up, battled and now he's got a couple days here to take care of it. Hopefully, he's ready to go."
The big question is when.
In some ways, it boils down to deciding what matters more -- winning the division or getting healthier for the playoffs?
"Getting healthy," said Conroy, whose club was tied with Vancouver for the division lead before the Canucks game last night. "It's one of those things where you want to get healthy and you want guys to feel better. If they need two or three days, you have to give it to them. These games are important -- yes, we want to win the division -- but we want to win in the playoffs as much as we can with all the injuries we've had. I don't think some of the guys are as bad as the media think."
Conroy insists Regehr (believed to have an MCL tear) looked good working out and riding a bike yesterday.
"Regehr will not be back for the regular season, but I expect him to be back in the playoffs ... and (Rene) Bourque is progressing really well," Keenan said.
Keenan says dressing seven defencemen and 10 wingers is possible due to the versatility of Adam Pardy and Vandermeer. In Phaneuf's absence, the league-minimum 16 skaters would face the Oilers tonight at Rexall Place and tomorrow at the Saddledome.
Perhaps then would be the perfect time to weigh in on the citywide debate over whether the Flames are better off without Phaneuf anyway.