Calgary desperate for answer at center

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When Calgary GM Jay Feaster let Olli Jokinen depart for Winnipeg, the Flames lost the player that last year’s head coach, Brent Sutter, said “from start to finish, was our top forward.”

Jokinen finished second in team scoring with 23 goals and 38 assists while averaging 18:58 of ice time per game.

He’s also a center, and his departure leaves the Flames with serious questions down the middle.

Top-six candidates for next season include Mike Cammalleri, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan and Roman Cervenka.

Of course, Cammalleri has spent most of his pro career on the wing.

And Backlund might be down to his last chance with the Flames.

And Stajan has been a massive disappointment since coming to Calgary as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

And Cervenka hasn’t even played an NHL game yet.

Feaster may be buoyed by the fact Los Angeles snuck into the playoffs with the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and won the Stanley Cup; however, the Kings have two outstanding centers in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards.

Other centers that have hoisted the Cup in recent years include Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Ryan Getzlaf.

Just in case you were wondering about the importance of the position.

That Feaster is counting on Backlund for next season underscores Calgary’s issues at center. The Flames’ first-round pick from the 2007 draft registered just 11 points in 41 games in 2011-12.

“Mikael has an opportunity to step-up and attempt to secure a top two-line center position with our club,” said Feaster. “He is a very talented player who skates well, has excellent vision and possesses a strong skill set. As we have discussed with him, Mikael needs to work on his consistency and his focus in order to break through in a top six role and start to define his role on our team.”

Related: Time to step up — Backlund signs one-year deal with Flames