Chris Thorburn – the popular cornerstone of the Winnipeg Jets’ grinding/checking GST line along with Tanner Glass and Jim Slater – will be lost to the team for its most-critical stretch of the season.
Head coach Claude Noel confirmed after an optional skate at the MTS Iceplex on Saturday that the gritty right winger will be out for at least three weeks with a ‘lower-body’ injury suffered early in Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames.
"He’s going to be out for awhile. We’ve got to check it out today, but it looks like it’s three weeks or longer," said Noel. "We lost him early and it got us down to 10 forwards because we dressed seven defencemen (and only 11 forwards) because we didn’t know what was going to happen with our defencemen situation. It really changed things around as the game went on. You could see that fatigue was becoming a factor halfway through the third period."
Thorburn has four goals and six assists for the Jets this season, but his contributions go beyond the point totals. He wears an assistant captain’s ‘A’, leads the team in fights and was a key part of the team’s checking line.
Noel said the coaches will decide in the next few days if Antti Miettinen or Eric Fehr will automatically replace Thorburn in the lineup and on the checking line or if the injury means a shuffling of the deck. It’s also possible the team may summon a player from St. John’s to fill Thorburn’s role.
"We have people in house, but it’s going to depend… that’s a different role, a different line, scenario, so it’s a good question," said Noel. "How do you restructure your lines? Do you? How do you do this now… do we go four lines, do we play 3 1/2? How are we going to juggle our forwards?
"It opens the door for opportunity for somebody else and we could double-shift somebody else that you want to get to get more minutes like (Blake) Wheeler, (Evander) Kane. Those guys have been doubling up in the last few games. The games are of heavy magnitude now so you try to win the games… I don’t care if you go with eight forwards. You’ve got to win the games.
"That line has had a true identity on our team and a true value on our team. There’s a real role there for that threesome. They feed off each other and drive our team in some areas. There’s no doubt that leaves a void, but it’s a fillable void."
Meanwhile, the situation regarding Dustin Byfuglien – who did not take the pre-game skate but then not only played but led all skaters with 27 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time Friday -- remains a bit of a mystery.
"It’s an injury that we had to deal with different elements that were out of our control," said Noel. "That’s what threw a curve at us and I’ll just leave it at that. He’s fine. We’ll have to assess some things and see how he is. Is he going to practise Monday? We don’t know. There are some things we’re going to have to manage. This is the injury stuff you get in pro sports. You have to manage it. You’re on the road and you have to deal with some things that come up that you don’t have control over. Sometimes curveballs are thrown and you’re not sure what’s going on."
There is some potential good news on the injury front: defenceman Zach Bogosian participated in Saturday’s optional skate and will practice on Monday with the team. Noel is hopeful he’ll be back in the lineup when the Jets next play again on Wednesday at the MTS Centre against the Dallas Stars.