The Cal O'Reilly and Steve Sullivan Conundrum

MONTREAL - NOVEMBER 18: Cal O'Reilly #16 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his third period goal with team mate Steve Sullivan #26 during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 18 2010 in Montreal Quebec Canada. The Predators defeated the Canadiens 3-0. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

For most of the year, the Nashville Predators and their fans have been dealing with a copious amount of injuries. They've been decimated all over the lineup, and while nobody's happy about it, it's something that we've gotten a little bit used to.

Now, though, with the team playing fairly well and on the cusp of playoff qualification, two players who were extremely key pieces early in the season are nearing a return to health:

Sullivan (groin) and O'Reilly (leg) skating with team prior to start of practice. Tootoo (back/neck) also skating w/ team. Sullivan: "I feel great." Added that the training staff will make call regarding when he will play next.O'Reilly said leg not bothering him at all. Tootoo, who practiced, declined comment when asked if concussion test had been done. -- via the Twitter feed of the Tennessean's Bryan Mullen.

All of Cal O`Reilly, Steve Sullivan, and Jordin Tootoo skated at Preds practice this morning, and while we don't know when any of them will play, participating in practice is a significant step. This, then, presents Barry Trotz with a problem - what do you do with O'Reilly and Sullivan?


2010 - Cal O`Reilly

2010 - Steve Sullivan





















There's little question that when at 100%, O'Reilly and Sullivan provide more to the team than Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk, J.P. Dumont, Jordin Tootoo, or even Colin Wilson. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll assume that both players would be operating at full health.

The problem, though, comes into play when you start to think about the various logistics of getting them inserted back into the lineup - guys have developed good chemistry over the past few weeks and months, and getting players who have been hurt up to speed for the intensity of the NHL playoffs would be a tall order.

That being said, due to Barry Trotz's level of trust varying for different players, I would wager that O'Reilly and Sullivan, health permitting, will be in the lineup when the Western Conference quarterfinals commence. But where?

There are multiple options, but at the end of the day, Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk will be returned to Milwaukee and J.P. Dumont will probably be the healthy scratch.

Nashville's been fortunate to find three line combinations that have worked well together, and pretty much stuck together for the past few weeks:

Kostitsyn - Fisher - Hornqvist
Ward - Legwand - Erat 
Tootoo - Smithson - Spaling

Excluding Geoffrion, Halischuk, and Dumont, that leaves three players, and three who have played together at various points during the year and would probably work together now:

Wilson - O'Reilly - Sullivan

Steve Sullivan specifically requested O'Reilly as his center before the year began, while Wilson provides a larger frame to (in theory) crash the net and put home rebounds. This fourth line works for a variety of reasons: a) it's a "fourth" line that Barry Trotz might actually trust, b) it doesn't break up the first three units, and c) these players have worked well in unison in the past.

It's an interesting discussion, and not one with a true right answer until we see everyone on the ice. What do you think? Who would you scratch or demote, and where would you put Cal O'Reilly and Steve Sullivan? I've had my say, now sound off in the comments below. 

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