What happens when Kesler comes back?

With news that Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler could be returning earlier-than-expected from offseason hip surgery – some reports have him returning as early as Tuesday when the Canucks host the Edmonton Oilers – there has been considerable debate about who would come out of the lineup to make room for him.

Before the season started, it seemed logical that Cody Hodgson would be the one to lose his spot in the lineup, considering he was taking Kesler’s spot as the second-line centre, and also because, in just his second full season as a pro, a little more seasoning in the AHL wouldn’t hurt.

But through three games, Hodgson has more than earned the right to stay in the lineup. He’s been adequate defensively, been much-improved on faceoffs, and has looked confident with the puck, even scoring a goal on a deft deflection of a Dan Hamhuis point shot.

Of course, if Hodgson was to stay in the lineup, he’d need to move to the wing, because with Sedin-Kesler-Malhotra-Lapierre down the middle, the Canucks are as strong as any team in the NHL at the center position. But if Hodgson can indeed successfully shift to the wing – a position he hasn’t played much– the logical thinking was that’d he’d just bump down a line, and the chain reaction would bump one of the fourth-liners out of the lineup, either Dale Weise or Aaron Volpatti, and that the 13th forward Andrew Ebbett could be placed on waivers for the purposes of being sent back to the AHL.

A good theory, sure, but a better idea would be to stick veteran Marco Sturm in the press box when Kesler comes back – a strategy that would still mean Ebbett would be placed on waivers.

Sturm was signed in the offseason to a 1 year/$2.25-million contract as something of a reclamation project for GM Mike Gillis. The hope was that the winger, who was waived twice last season, would bounce back from a pair of knee surgeries and return to his 20-goal-per-season form.

And while it’s early yet – only three games in, of course – the gamble doesn’t seem to be paying off. Sturm is pointless this season, and what’s worse, he only has one shot on goal. By comparison, his linemates, Hodgson and Mikael Samuelsson, combined for 10 shots against Philadelphia Wednesday night. In that contest, Sturm managed his lone shot on the season, but played just 10:49, was benched for a long stretch in the middle of the game, and finished -2.

Now, there is all kinds of time for Sturm to turn his game around, and perhaps he will in time. But in the short term, the bottom line is that Ryan Kesler is coming back and needs a spot in the lineup. And Sturm has been as bad or worse than probably every Canuck forward – Weise and Volpatti included – through the season’s first week, and deserves to take a seat.

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