CALGARY - One of the best moves Brent Sutter made last year was using David Moss up the middle from time to time.
Good thing. Otherwise, Jay Feaster’s excur-sion to Banff might have been ruined Tuesday when word of Mikael Backlund’s finger surgery would have forced the GM to start looking for another centre.
Instead, the Calgary Flames head coach, Sutter, was able to plunk Moss between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay on the club’s top line, where he will stay until Brendan Morrison’s recovery from knee surgery is complete.
Fact is nobody else on the club’s current roster can do it.
Over are the ever-unpopular Olli Jokinen experiments alongside Iginla.
It would have been patently unfair to put camp feel-good story Roman Horak on the top trio to open his NHL career, and Matt Stajan did little during camp to demonstrate he’s capable of anything more than third or fourth-line duty.
Thus, the man they call Mosser will start his quest to return to 20-goal form on the same line he resided on in March last year after Morrison went down.
“We need that line to be good for us, obviously, and that’s the big thing. Moss played there last year with Jarome a little bit,” said Sutter, expecting to miss Backlund for six weeks following a fluke slash in practice that required a pin to be surgically implanted in his left pinkie finger.
Sutter spoke before camp of using Moss more regularly down the middle, but the surprisingly heady play of 20-year-old Roman Horak allowed Moss to stay on the wing alongside the solid duo of Jokinen and Curtis Glencross. Horak’s unexpected emergence also meant Feaster wasn’t beating the bushes Tuesday for another centre, much like he had to last year at this time when a shoulder injury to Stajan, combined with Daymond Langkow’s absence, prompted him to sign Morrison. Morrison turned out to be Calgary’s feel-good story of the year at age 35, as his contributions at both ends of the rink elevated him to top-line status before his late injury helped derail the Flames’ playoff hopes.
“We’re not searching the waiver wire any closer than we do all the time,” said Feaster, taking a break from the team bonding sessions in Banff.
“Brendan gets closer every day, and that’s our insurance policy in all this. The biggest thing for us is the play of Horak. This will give him and Stajan an opportunity to step up.”
Morrison has been cleared for contact and skated on the fifth line Tuesday, but given his age and the fact he hasn’t played since February, the Flames will continue to give him plenty of time to recuperate.
He’s expected back in anywhere from 10 days to four weeks.
Backlund’s injury also opens the door for Niklas Hagman, who now moves up to the third line with Rene Bourque and Horak, with whom he played well alongside in his final pre-season game.
Stajan, Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman make up the fourth line, while Stempniak moves up to the second unit with Jokinen and Glencross.
Keep in mind it was the Flames’ perceived strength up the middle that prompted Feaster to trade Langkow in late August for Stempniak.
The Flames are also comfortable with the fact Lance Bouma would be the first call-up should another centre be needed.
Oh, and for those wondering, had the injury happened a week earlier, it still wouldn’t have saved Max Reinhart from being sent down to junior. The 6-foot-3 Moss gives the club flexibility it didn’t expect to need before the season even opened.
And it’s all possible because Sutter opted to try Moss at a position he hadn’t played for years.