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Flames By Position - Centre

By Aakash Gulati
With the flames kicking off their pre-season with a doubleheader against the Canucks tonight, the flames faithful are out and about showing off the team colors. The season is knocking on the door, but the question is will the flames answer early or will it be the usual early season woes.
The flames find themselves with a lot of options to play in the middle going into the season.Even by trading away Langkow, the flames are stacked at centre. With Morrison, Stajan, Jokinen, Backlund and Moss capable of handling top 9 minutes who will be playing where?
One of the most ridiculed signings last off-season, Jokinen had a rebirth of sorts playing on the second line for the flames. Jokinen was able to cross 50 points which put him at value or better for the 3 million he earned. In the second year of his two year contract, the fans hope that he continues to improve his play and be productive. Playing on a line with Bourque and Glencross/Stempniak, Jokinen should be able to eclipse the 60 point barrier this year. I put him at 24 goals and 38 assists to end the season with 62 points
One of the centre returning pieces of the Phaneuf trade, Stajan didn't live up to his 3.5 million contract extension Darryl had signed him to. With just 31 points in the season, Stajan found himself on the fourth line towards the end of the year. Having started the year well playing with Iginla and Tanguay, Stajan was not able to regain his form once injured. Stajan was always a player considered to be a good 2nd and 3rd line player and is paid as one. The only knack is that the length of his contract which makes him untradeable and hence a negative asset. If Stajan is unable to cross 50 points this season, the flames fans would be out with pitchforks which I believe is a tad unfair. When compared to other 3.5ish million dollar players this is where Stajan shows up
Matt Cullen 78 12 27 39
Matt Stajan 76 6 25 31
Jochen Hect 67 12 17 29
Antoine Vermette 82 19 28 47
RJ Umberger 82 25 32 57
Scottie Upshall 82 22 12 37 (signed to a 3.5 million dollar contract by Florida this offseason)
Jarret Stoll 82 20 23 43
Looking at all these numbers most players are around 40-50 points or they are lower but provide some more tangibles. Stajan played well below his pay last season since he is more of a playmaker but 6 goals in 76 games just doesn't cut it, but any unreasonable expectations of him getting 60 points should also be thrown out the window (If he does that I will be more than happy to eat my own words) I expect Stajan to improve on his previous year and end with 12 goals and 32 assists to end the season with 44 points.
Rookie Backlund made great strides towards the end of the season and it is reasonable to expect him to improve on his output of 35 points last year. He should see some time in the top 6 and powerplay this year which should bring him closer to 50 points in 2011-12. I will peg him to score 13 goals and 32 assists to end the year with 45 points. His improvement will continue and he will be seeing more responsibilites as the year goes on. Expect him to start the season with around 12-13 minutes a night but can go up till 17-18 as the season will progress.A hard worker Backlund also saw some penalty kill time last year, which shows he has gained Sutter's trust and will be a crucial part of the flames in the future.
Moss was having what was shaping up to a career year last year but was sidelined because of injuries. I don't expect Moss to be scoring at that same torrid pace but with his penchance for finding himself in front of the opposition net and ease to play on any line, Moss is a definite boon to the team. Moss was auditioned as a centre last year and fit in that role as well, giving Sutter another option down the middle. I do believe that Moss will be sharing time as a centre and a winger and shall score 22 goals to go along with 19 assists to best his 2008-09 season.
Released by the Canucks after a good pre-season, Darryl Sutter made a great move to shore up this position last year signing Morrison to a year long contract. Morrison found himself on the top line due to pre-season injuries suffered by Stajan and Jokinen and thrived there with 43 points in only 66 games before suffering a season ending injury. Doubtful to be healthy at the start of the season, Feaster has followed the successful move of last year in signing Brendan and he should once again be a productive pivot in the flaming C. If he can return healthy soon I expect Morrison to slow down a bit from his last years play but still end with 44 points in a shortened season.
With such depth at centre, there doesn't seem to be any openings for our prospects. With prospects such as Wahl, another year in the AHL would be beneficial. Players such as Paul Byron (returning player in the Regehr trade) starting the year off with the Heat might also be in the cards.
With the pre-season starting tonight, who knows what happens? Is there a surprise prospect who earns his spot and pushes off one of our veteran centres? Does Stajan have an amazing pre-season and Feaster find someone to take his contract? All these questions will be answered in the next two weeks.
Hockey starts now and it is not a minute too early.
You can follow me on twitter at @FlamesGulati

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