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Jason Spezza Injury Leaves Dallas Stars Down, Not Out

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A possible injury to center Jason Spezza marred last night's comeback win in Colorado. Even if it's just a scare, it's probably a good idea to take stock of the Stars' options at the top of the lineup. Who can step up if a contributor goes down for an extended period of time?

Stars fans hope this isn't the last they see of Jason Spezza for awhile
Stars fans hope this isn't the last they see of Jason Spezza for awhile
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

During the second period of last night's game, the Dallas Stars' typical Colorado debacle morphed into something decidedly sinister. Veteran center Jason Spezza suffered an upper body injury and did not return. As of this writing, the extent (and more importantly the timetable) of his injury is unknown, but it shines a light on a problem the Stars might suddenly need to address.

Without Spezza's production, a Stars squad built on offense is suddenly listing. His loss impacts the second line, removes Lindy Ruff's Three Amigos safety blanket, and strips a major piece from Dallas' power play. It also TKOs Dallas' faceoff ace. If Spezza misses any meaningful amount of time it's going to force the Stars into an adjustment. What sort of adjustment is anybody's guess, but a few things stand out immediately.

Let's start with what the Stars won't do, which is suddenly morph into a tight-checking, low-scoring bunch. Success without Jason Spezza is going to look a lot like success with Spezza did. The team is going to need goals, crisp transitions, and to maintain the offensive elan that has so characterized the first 52 games of the season. They'll also have to track down a few odds-and-ends, but how?

A goal against the Jets brings Vernon Fiddler to mind. The everyman center is currently averaging a shade under 12 minutes a night in ice-time. He's over 50% on the dot, responsible defensively, and has in the past shown odd bursts of offensive production. No, he won't suddenly become the Stars' second line center, but if 11 minutes can become 13 or 14, and if he can somehow recapture last season's 30-or-so point pace, Dallas might have part of a solution on their hands.

Furthermore, with players likely asked to do just a little bit more throughout the lineup, Veteran Vern will be looked to for guidance as much as he will be for production. Is it Janmark and Nichushkin? Hemsky, perhaps? If the Stars can drop Vern onto the checking line proper, it might free up an asset for use elsewhere.

And there are certainly assets to drop. Mattias Janmark is a center. I've also spent a fair chunk of this season complaining about the variety of roles foisted on Cody Eakin and Valeri Nichushkin. That's a line, right there, or at least pieces to play with. The only problem is that none of the three have anythign resembling the track record of a bonefide second liner. Eakin gets close, but has struggled at times this year. Janmark started like a jackrabbit, but late-season rookie surges are rare. And Nuke? Pick a week.

So far, strength elsewhere in the lineup has allowed the trio to bounce around as merited by their production. The game now might be sink or swim. If Spezza is out for any length of time, one of the three, if not all three outright, is going to need to step up. That should be something a competitive lineup craves. Production now could cement a role even after Spezza returns.

If that production doesn't come, it might turn Lindy Ruff's problem into something for GM Jim Nill to solve. That solution could come in the form of a call-up (Radek Faksa would be an obvious choice), or it could come via trade. Dallas is (over)stocked defensively in a league that treasures stability along the backline. If we're looking at a worst-case timetable, maybe it forces Dallas to make a move. Jonathan Drouin, anyone?

Or I might be overthinking things. Perhaps the answer is to move Patrick Sharp onto a second scoring unit, and turn Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn even looser than usual. A Tyler Seguin injury last season, in many ways, served as the catalyst for Jamie Benn's Art Ross. If the dynamic duo responds similarly to Spezza's injury, it might not matter who they skate with. John Klingberg should also be a factor. He's scored twice since the team returned to action and could absolutely offset the loss of Spezza for the power play.

The good news is that the Stars have options. They've also earned themselves a substantial cushion in the standings. Throw in smart management and they should be well positioned to weather the storm.