New centres of attention

ERIC FRANCIS Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:41 PM ET

With Matt Stajan joining Daymond Langkow in the Calgary Flames infirmary, the rest of the middlemen put in extra work Thursday.

David Moss worked on faceoffs, Mikael Backlund worked on building chemistry and Craig Conroy worked — in vain — on trying to hide his smile.

After all, with the club’s second- and third-line centres out indefinitely, the 39-year-old Conroy is all but guaranteed to start the season Oct. 7 with the big boys.

“It opens up another door and another chance — not that I wanted to see anyone get hurt,” said Conroy, who dropped beer — and thus considerable weight — this summer to prolong his career.

“Over the years, you know what to expect out of yourself and you feel you can play with anybody out there. You feel bad for the guys, but an opportunity is all you can ask for. With the mindset I came in with, it was about making yourself valuable so you can play every night, whether it’s wing or centre or, well, not defence — I’m not that good back there.”

For a guy who has had success centering all four lines over the course of his eight years here, it’s a scenario like this that made Conroy’s late signing such a good idea, especially at the league minimum.

Still, now thanks to injuries, it appears the club’s biggest weakness the last handful of years will continue to be a concern.

Weeks after GM Darryl Sutter suggested he’d assembled the deepest group of centremen the Flames have seen in years, the news wasn’t good for Stajan or the team as the 26-year-old showed up Thursday to speak to the media for the first time since injuring his right shoulder two nights earlier in Vancouver.

“Separated shoulder,” said a sling-less Stajan of the doctor’s diagnosis. “I’m basically out indefinitely until I can get back on the ice and get the strength back.”

Asked to elaborate on what degree the separation is or how long he’ll be out, the former Toronto Maple Leafs player flashed his only smile of the afternoon, “We’re keeping things in house.”

Word in the locker-room is he’ll be out anywhere from two to six weeks, giving Backlund ample time to start building chemistry on a second line that is now his.

“Backs is going to benefit the most (from the injuries),” said Conroy, who could move up to as high as third on the depth chart depending on how well Moss acclimates to his old collegiate assignment up the middle.

“(Backlund is) on the second line and powerplay, and he’ll get an opportunity to step up and take control.”

Clearly one of the lone bright spots in the Flames lineup the final dozen games of last season, Backlund will get a chance to demonstrate what kind of forward he is.

A point-a-game player in his only season of junior hockey, Backlund focused more on defensive play in Abbotsford last year, when he had 15 goals and 32 points in 54 games before being promoted to the big club.

“I know they like two-way centres here, and I’ve been working on it a few years, especially in the minors last year,” said Backlund when asked if he was a scorer.

“Hard question — I don’t put an expectation to score 70 points or anything. I just want to try to be a solid defensive player, be responsible and create chances offensively.

I’m trying to show them I can be a consistent player who works hard every day.”

Good idea.

Meanwhile, Moss is trying to re-learn the art of the draw by way of endless drills.

“We have good faceoff guys on this team, so it’s practise and, hopefully, get better,” said Moss, hoping to somehow return to the 20-goal level he reached two years back.

“You never like to see injuries, but it’s just an opportunity to have a bigger role and play in the middle. I guess you can never have enough guys playing the middle, especially when injuries happen.”

Conroy, for one, would agree.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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