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Flames Watch: Injury troubles expose lack of ‘D’ depth

With Jim Vandermeer sidelined for two months, the Calgary Flames blueline is just one injury away from disaster.

The shallowest part of the organization is now under the microscope as training camp sensation Adam Pardy steps in to replace the rugged Vandermeer. Problem is, one more injury and there’s not a lot to choose from. If it happens to be to a Dion Phaneuf or Robyn Regehr, goodbye playoffs.

On the bright side, fourth-year pro Pardy has earned the opportunity to play regular shifts and vie for a permanent job. He’s not likely to average the 18 minutes Vandermeer has, but he should be capable of 12-15.

It’s tough to give Phaneuf and Regehr any more minutes than they already play without wearing them down, but Adrian Aucoin used to be a huge minute-muncher with the Islanders and Mark Giordano has shown he’s capable of adding a few more to his paltry average of 16:14.

Cory Sarich is also dependable as a second-unit D-man with negligible upside.

Still, with Rhett Warrener on injury reserve, the next option in case of injury isn’t comforting. There’s 33-year-old Anders Eriksson on the farm in Quad City. Problem is, he’s as mistake-prone as ever and not getting younger. Ryan Wilson is an impressive 21-year-old offensive defenseman, but he’s in his first year pro. Dan Spang, 25, and Brett Palin, 24, are middling prospects and Matt Pelech, 21, Calgary’s first-rounder from 2005, has yet to blossom.

Calgary’s record of drafting and developing defenseman is deplorable over the years. Besides Phaneuf in 2003, the Flames haven’t churned out an NHL blueliner in 12 years since fast-tracking Derek Morris in 1996.

Surprisingly, the Flames didn’t focus on defensemen with their first four picks in the 2008 draft, but their fifth pick, T.J. Brodie in Saginaw, and two picks in 2007, John Negrin in Kootenay and Keith Aulie in Brandon, are all having impressive seasons in major junior. But they’re at least two years away from contributing.

In the meantime, Flames fans can only hope its Pardy time in Calgary and continued good health for the regulars.

This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

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