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Painful questions raised by training camp injuries to key players


Traipsing around training camps can be a tiresome process. The storylines are essentially the same in each market and they only take on significance for those involved (fantasy gamers notwithstanding): Rookies hoping to prove they belong, veterans trying to show they've still got something to offer and goalies looking to assert themselves for more playing time. With slight variations, take 30 rosters and insert names and you have camps across the continent covered...until the introduction of injury as the unknown element in the equation.

A guy getting hurt changes everything. Sometimes it directly affects his situation and sometimes the impact is more from the team's perspective. Take Marc Savard in Boston and Patrice Cormier in Atlanta as two examples of these divergent training camp developments.

Savard is suffering from post-concussion symptoms after rushing back to action for the playoffs. He subsequently signed a lucrative long-term deal during the summer. His season, depending on whom you listen to or read, is in doubt. Meanwhile, the Bruins penciled Tyler Seguin onto the roster after selecting him with the second pick in the June entry draft as a winger despite his having played center in junior. That may change with the Savard situation.

Starting a young player on the wing instead of center isn't uncommon, as the defensive burdens are far more arduous in the middle than on the flanks. Plus, heading into camp, the Bruins were deep in the middle and thinner on the wings, especially with Marco Sturm beginning the campaign on long-term disability. Thus far, Seguin has acquitted himself nicely, playing both center and on the wing.

Savard said he will take his time and be right "in all aspects" before returning to action. The B's are deep enough to carry on in the early going without him and Sturm. Getting both proven veterans back at a later date healthy and hungry might be a playoff tonic long-term. In the near term, it means Seguin's role is potentially altered in the early going, even though he was always ticketed for the big club coming out of camp.

That wasn't necessarily true for Cormier and the Thrashers. The scenarios are different to begin with, as the Bruins appear worthy of Stanley Cup contender status while the Thrashers will hope to compete for a playoff spot. Thus, the Bruins can afford to manage Seguin's entry, whereas the Thrashers' brass really wanted Cormier to come to camp, compete hard and make the team. There is a need at the center ice position, with management seemingly favoring skating and size. Cormier also plays with a rambunctious nature that GM Rick Dudley covets.

That all-out style of play that is such an asset now has Cormier sidelined right. His foot was broken as he slid and blocked a shot with 40 seconds remaining in a one-sided rookie camp. Subsequently, Cormier never hit the ice when main camp commenced two days later. The projected competition never materialized. After spending much of the summer in Atlanta training and preparing, Cormier will now likely begin his season in Chicago with the Wolves of the AHL. He may have done that anyway, but now, who knows? Instead, the Thrashers have third-year player Brian Little at center for the first time in the NHL even though that was his position in junior.

The Thrashers also have Chris Thorburn at center in this camp despite his recollection of playing "maybe seven games" in the middle for AHL Rochester. He looks comfortable there and says he'll do anything the team wants. Thus far, Thorburn's line has tallies in both the preseason outings.

Speaking of comfortable, Dustin Byfuglien looks adept on the blueline as well. That has to rank as a training camp surprise with the Thrashers moving him to the blueline after acquiring Byfuglien after his dominant playoff performance up front while helping the Chicago Blackhawks to their Stanley Cup triumph.

And speaking of the blueline, Mark Streit's shoulder injury on Long Island is one of those tragic "the one player a team can least afford to lose" cases. He is the Islanders' best player overall and their most important on so many levels, but on Saturday he fell awkwardly into the boards after being checked by teammate Matt Moulson in an intrasquad scrimmage. Streit tore his labrum and rotator cuff and will likely miss the season.

Coach Scott Gordon has relied on Streit in every all-important situation. Certainly losing Streit's offense creates a vast void as he had over 30 points more than the Isles' next highest scoring defenseman last season. Youngster Calvin De Haan might now be assured of a roster spot, but he is coming back from shoulder surgery in January.

And the bad news just keeps on coming for the Islanders. On Tuesday, the team announced that winger Kyle Okposo, one of the team's key young building blocks, needs shoulder surgery and will be out indefinitely. Given that development and Streit's importance, GM Garth Snow might have to look at trade options (Sheldon Souray?) or the slim pickings via free agency.

That is the same theme now in the Minnesota Wild's camp where there is a sudden goaltending dilemma. Backup Josh Harding wrecked his knee and now his longstanding tandem with starter Niklas Backstrom is no more. GM Chuck Fletcher must decide whether prospect Anton Khudobin is the best option, or if there is a veteran available (Jose Theodore?) who better suits the team's needs. It's tricky because the Wild now must deal with the dynamic of change -- change they weren't planning on. The issue comes down to this: Can Khudobin effectively play one of every four games as was customarily Harding's workload, or is the veteran coming in suited to play a complimentary role to Backstrom?

Moving on the Flyers, starting goaltender Michael Leighton is expected to miss a month due to a bulging disc in his back. Apparently, Leighton hurt his back while working out during the summer and the problem got worse in camp. For now, GM Paul Holmgren has said he won't seek help from outside the roster, so the starting job is now up for grabs between journeyman Brian Boucher, rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and possibly Johan Backlund, who is still recovering from hip surgery.

Okay, upon further review, training camps aren't necessarily by rote, especially when injuries occur and throw plans and expectations into turmoil..