With the promising news we uncovered yesterday about Paul Stastny, the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is the same. When he comes back, where does reigning Jack Adams award winning coach Gerard Gallant place him in the lineup when he’s ready to come back?
It’s an age-old question in sports, should a player lose his position because of an injury? Keeping in mind how well his replacement is playing, in most cases, the answer is no.
Injured center Paul Stastny was signed in the offseason to anchor a brand new second line, yet they haven’t played one shift together. Alex Tuch was to graduate to the top-six and play alongside Americans Stastny and Max Pacioretty. The three could’ve been dubbed the “Freedom” line, but unfortunately, injuries got in the way.
The Golden Knights stand at 29 points, and in the middle of the mess that is known as the Pacific Division. Since Stastny’s injury in Game 3 of the season, the team has played roughly .500 (13-12–1) hockey without him. However, the second line has been extremely effective as of late. Since bumping third line center Cody Eakin up in early November due to Erik Haula’s lower-body injury, the Eakin-Tuch-Pacioretty line has 35 points. The second line was arguably one of the biggest factors in Vegas’ late November five-game win streak.
Tough to break-up, I get it.
Eakin’s strong play brings us back to the organization’s vision for this season. He was expected to center the third line again, and make it more consistent than it was last season. That was GM George McPhee’s plan. And so was upgrading their second line center with a talented veteran like Stastny. Injuries essentially delayed the offseason remodel.
Bottom line is, Stastny is valued by this team as their second line center. They paid him as such, and made a high-risk move trading for Pacioretty to compliment his play. The connecting moves were projected to juice up team offense, and still could once Stastny is cleared to play. This was the team’s vision. They told us.
We wanted to try improve our team. That’s why we signed Paul Stastny as a free agent. Why trading for Max Pacioretty was really important for us. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM, on 11/19/18
For those concerned about chemistry, Stastny is a pro and has the ability to adapt to his linemates. After being traded by St. Louis in late February, the veteran center played well with Winnipeg on their postseason run… cut short by his current team.
It’s simple. When Stastny’s healthy, he should go back to being the second line center. As good as Eakin has been, the overall evidence is there to reinstate Stastny.
Career: 220 Goals, 426 Assists, 0.78 Points Per 60, 0.28 Goals Created Per 60
2017–18: 16 Goals, 37 Assists, 0.65 Points Per 60, 0.20 Goals Created Per 60
Career: 86 Goals, 112 Assists, 0.41 Points Per 60, 0.16 Goals Created Per 60
2017-18: 11 Goals, 16 Assists, 0.34 Points Per 60, 0.13 Goals Created Per 60
Stastny has obviously better career numbers, and it’s no slight on Eakin. In fact, #21 is doubling his career numbers this season with 0.68 Points Created Per 60, and 0.31 Goals Created Per 60. All of Eakin’s success aside, if this team plans on contending for the Stanley Cup, the organization should stick with what they believe is best. Stastny on the second, Eakin on the third, and it should happen the very moment Stastny is ready to return.
Remember, all of this was visioned by the GM of the Year, and shared by the Coach of the Year. Four strong lines is the ultimate goal. And in my opinion, Stastny centering the second is the right decision, no matter how well the second line is playing at the moment.