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X-Factors: Marco Sturm

Each day this week, WEEI.com will be putting a player or position in the spotlight based on their ‘€œX-factor’€ status entering the season. So far, we’€™ve taken a look at Michael Ryder [1], Blake Wheeler [2], Nathan Horton [3], and the goaltending position [4]. Rounding out the group is Marco Sturm [5], who may be the biggest case of them all given the uncertainty that surrounds both his eventual return from injury and what type of impact he can have.

Things have been a bit strange when it comes to Marco Sturm this offseason. He’s been celebrated by fans, but not for anything he’ll do on the ice. Instead, Bruins die-hards cheer up during salary cap discussions when they realize that the winger will save the team $3.5 million in cap space to begin the season thanks to his long-term injury status.

Sturm has now had season-ending major knee injuries in each of the past two seasons. In 2008, he tore the ACL in his left knee and was shut down after just 19 games. Last season, of course, he tore both the ACL and MCL in his right knee in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Flyers. Injuries have become a big part of the discussion with Sturm, but if the Bruins can get him back(and that’s a big “if”) they could have themselves an offensive sleeper for the 2010-11 season.

The team doesn’t expect to have Sturm ready to go until late November, but with such an injury, nothing can be counted on no matter how “successful” the surgery could have went. The thing is, with the big additions to the offense in Nathan Horton [6] and Tyler Seguin [7], the Bruins will have a chance in the time Sturm’s away to see how this new offense will gel. Plus, they’ll be able to go over the cap by however much he earns. This is awfully convenient for the Bruins, who just happen to be over $3 million over the cap before subtracting Sturm’s $3.5 million.

But it’s in adding Sturm — both literally and financially — that things get a bit tricky. If Sturm returns to an offense that’s firing on all cylinders, he himself stands a chance of being the odd man out. Though he’s a free agent at the end of the season, the Bruins likely wouldn’t get much for him coming off such a big injury, but if they send him down to Providence they could continue to save that $3.5 million off the cap. Would they? And what would they be missing out on?

If he returns without much difficulty, the Bruins would have their leading scorer from a season ago back, though 22 goals generally doesn’t scream “leading scorer.” At any rate, should Sturm return and get his spot in the lineup back, he could go from being a forgotten contract to a key addition to the offense.

Before his shortened 2008-09 season, Sturm had back-to-back seasons in which he scored 27 goals. He had 29 between the Sharks and Bruins (he was traded to the Bruins in a deal of which there’s very little remaining evidence) the season before. In fact, his 22 goals last season were the lowest total he’s put up since the 2003-04 season. So was the dip in numbers simply a case of someone’s stats taking hits in a bad offense or was it a case of a player coming off injury still trying to get a feel? Hopefully not the latter, as he’ll come back this season having injured both knees in the last two years.

Whether it’s November, December, or even into January, Sturm could very well return to have the same type of impact he had in seasons past. If not, he could be the financial move the team needs to make to get under the cap. Either way, Sturm will be a very interesting storyline to follow.