SUN Hockey Pool

Flames missing big man in the middle

Calgary Flames General Manager Jay Feaster. (STUART DRYDEN/QMI AGENCY)

Calgary Flames General Manager Jay Feaster. (STUART DRYDEN/QMI AGENCY)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

CALGARY - It's a long list of forwards for the Calgary Flames.

Really, really long.

But with all those skaters inked to contracts, and GM Jay Feaster saying he's on the hunt for another third- or fourth-liner with grit, something is missing.

For all their players and eye-popping payroll, the Flames have a dearth of men in the middle.

At least men in the middle with a history of success on the top two lines.

The Flames have 10 forwards signed to one-way contracts -- plus a trio with two-way deals -- but in the mix are the likes of Roman Cervenka, Lance Bouma and top prospect Sven Baertschi.

Oh yeah, the club must also comes to terms on a new deal with restricted free-agent Mikael Backlund.

So, should Feaster add the sought-after gritty depth player, he'll have a team with 15 forwards expected to be part of the NHL roster.

Teams carry 14 on their roster, at most, without injuries.

Then, consider the Flames currently have nine defencemen on one-way contracts, plus T.J. Brodie,

That's a lot of players to have inked but still have question marks at centre.

Currently, the pivot crew from all those players consists of Cervenka, Backlund, Michael Cammalleri, Matt Stajan and Blair Jones.

So, who of them do you envision skating on the top two lines?

The Flames are banking on Cervenka being one centre in the top-six crew, but can anybody say with certainty he's going to excel in the NHL? Remember how Fabian Brunnstrom and Jiri Dopita were considered the best players outside the NHL and arrived amidst much fanfare, only to flop miserably?

Maybe Cervenka will be different, but until then, he remains a big question mark.

Then there's Backlund, who was told to ready himself to skate between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay prior to last season. Granted, a broken finger suffered on the eve of the season knocked him off track, but the 2007 first-round pick has not shown enough consistency to be a slam-dunk for that job.

Cammalleri is intriguing, but the winger was put at centre as a stop-gap measure last season. Maybe he'll surprise over a full season, but Cammalleri's size doesn't invoke images of a top-two centre, plus he's known more as a shooter than a passer.

That brings us to Stajan, the oft-maligned final piece from the Dion Phaneuf trade. Stajan had stints in the top-six with the Flames, including a solid run down the stretch last season.

However, he will be in tough as it is to remain on the team. His salary cap hit of US$3.5 million (with a salary of $2.5 million in actual dollars) make him a target to trade or even send to the minors.

As for Jones, as well as Bouma, nobody is envisioning them in that role.

Maybe the Flames have a plan in the works, likely involving a trade that would send a couple of skaters elsewhere.

"We will look," head coach Bob Hartley said Monday. "We're only in July right now and Jay can look at several options.

"At the same time, this might be the team we start with at training camp and I'm fully comfortable with it and very happy with it."

Sure, but the questions will remain.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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