Last night against Vancouver, Zack Kassian's stick smacked Sam Gagner in the mouth. As a result of that play the Canucks had to make do without the services of Kassian for four minutes; the Oilers will be without Gagner for a lot longer.
#Oilers forward Sam Gagner will be out indefinitely with a broken jaw suffered last night against Vancouver.— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) September 22, 2013
Losing your number two centre would be a blow to any team. For a team that was already set to start the season without their number one centre, and has no depth to speak of at the position, it's much worse. The Oilers have moved Hall to centre to try and make do until Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is ready to return - November 1 is the current target date - and now Boyd Gordon is the team's de facto number two centre. And after that it gets down right ugly. The Gagner injury means that the Oilers will have to move another winger to the middle, or have two of Anton Lander, Will Acton, and Mark Arcobello in their lineup on a nightly basis. If you can look at that and not cringe, you're a better person than me.
To make things worse (it's hard to believe that's possible), the Oilers play a road heavy schedule to start the season, with nine of their first 13 games being played away from Rexall Place. Sheltering your weakest players isn't always an easy task, on the road it's tougher to do, and when just about every line needs to be sheltered it's downright impossible. Without some sort of help in the middle of their lineup the Oilers are going to be overmatched on a nightly basis and the losses are going to pile up in a hurry. And when that happens there is going to be pressure to get Nugent-Hopkins back into the lineup. In fact one member of the MSM is already tweeting about it. I hope that the team is smarter than that, but their history with situations like this isn't exactly encouraging.
A month ago to the day I wrote about the lack of depth at centre. Here is the final paragraph of that post.
Adding depth at the forward position won't replace Nugent-Hopkins, but it is something the team can afford and will give them a safety net in case he isn't ready to start the season. Not having that depth could sink their playoff hopes before they've even left the starting gate. Hoping for the best and planning for the worst is never a bad idea. But this is a mistake that hasn't been made yet, there is still time address the problem before it actually becomes a problem.
That post wasn't written about what would happen if another centre went down with an injury, but the conclusion is still relevant today. The lack of depth at centre is an issue for this team. It's been a foreseeable problem since the minute Shawn Horcoff was traded. Now it's a real problem, and unfortunately there were a lot more options available to address this last month than there are now. Craig MacTavish is going to have to do some good work if he's going to get his team out of this mess.