Dougie Hamilton, Michael Frolik give the Flames more options

For as much as they were a close, come-from-behind team all last season, the Calgary Flames were in trouble if one of their top guys went down. Sure, they may have managed to make the second round of the playoffs with a chewing gum-patched together defence once Mark Giordano went down, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.

While injuries can derail even the best teams’ seasons, and you never know what’s around the corner, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a few more options waiting in the wings. Shortly after Giordano went down, TJ Brodie sustained an ankle injury, and that, combined with regularly playing with Deryk Engelland, limited his effectiveness. 

And just imagine what would have happened had the Flames lost any member of their top line down the stretch… or what could have been had they had some workaround for when they were shut down in the playoffs.

The newest Flames help out with exactly this.

The importance of depth

Injuries are always going to happen. Oh, you have too many forwards? Let’s see if you feel that way when you lose three of them in one game (Oct. 26, 2014: and down went Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, and Joe Colborne, making Sean Monahan and his 86 NHL games the veteran centre).

This offseason, the Flames are in that “too many forwards” position. Is Drew Shore going to have a regular spot in the lineup? Is Micheal Ferland ready for the NHL full time? Where does Paul Byron fit in? What line is Joe Colborne on? Can Brandon Bollig keep his spot?  

The signing of Michael Frolik only added to this – but it was good, because Frolik is better than all of the aforementioned. One of those guys probably would have had to play in the top six; now, the fight to make the bottom six alone is very real. This is a double whammy of positivity: first, the bottom six should be better thanks to competition alone; second, should a top six forward get injured, the quality of talent suffers, but not by nearly as much (aka no need to put a fourth liner – a Lance Bouma, say – in a top six position, when a middle six tweener can take the step instead).

The same goes for defence. If one of your top guys goes down, you needn’t immediately default to someone who is ideally a bottom pairing defenceman. If the lineup stays as it is now, then one of the Flames’ regular top four defenders is going to be relegated to the bottom pairing. Someone in the top four gets hurt? He gets bumped back up to a role he was used to and exhibited some degree of success in.

With no injuries, you’ve got depth. With them, the depth disappears, but players are still, for the most part, able to play in their proper roles. Rather than being patchwork, the lineup retains a sense of balance.

What Dougie Hamilton brings

Deryk Engelland should never have to play in the top four ever again.

Hell, if the only change to the defence that happens the rest of this offseason is David Schlemko being re-signed (which, speaking of, please do that), then Engelland doesn’t even fit in the regular lineup, much less playing 20 minutes a night.

All the Flames did was acquire a single top four defenceman, and suddenly, they’re significantly more comfortable.

Giordano goes down again? Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman don’t have to be your top pairing. They’re your second pairing, same as they were for much of last season, while Brodie and Hamilton are the top pairing. The top four suffers, because any team would suffer from losing Giordano, but not by nearly as much.

The defence core becomes that much more reliable. Engelland, or Nakladal, or Wotherspoon – someone who may not otherwise be playing – slides in, and instead of giving a low minutes defender 20 minutes a night, they take 10, and play comfortably in them, sheltered in part thanks to what is still a respectable top four defence core. Nobody has to play above their heads, and the backend is all the better for it.

What Michael Frolik brings

When not buried in the defensive zone – so basically, when not playing for the Chicago Blackhawks – Frolik can be penciled in for 40 points. The Flames don’t have the depth the Blackhawks do (or rather, did – thanks, salary cap!), so Frolik probably won’t be buried just yet. He should be in the top six, and considering what his role will probably be, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have a career season at some point over the next five years.

So Frolik already brings one thing: more scoring. Not that the Flames needed help scoring last season, but it’s not smart to rely on a high shooting percentage. Even if the Flames do regress from that, Frolik should be able to help take the sting out of it because he isn’t just a guy who drives the play forward: he’s a guy who can help put the puck in the net.

The Flames may not have to be a one-line scoring team. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler lit the league up with 60+ point seasons, but after them, the next highest scoring forward was Bouma, with 34 points. Sure, the Flames can expect to continue to get offence from their backend (which is another area Hamilton adds to), but the drop off in scoring forwards was much too steep.

Last season, the top six was:

Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler

Bouma – Backlund – Jones

This season, it could be:

Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler

Bennett – Backlund – Frolik

And that looks significantly better. 

Not only that, but if a line goes cold, the option exists to switch things up. Want to try Hudler with Bennett, the same way Hudler benefited Gaudreau? Frolik moves on up to Gaudreau and Monahan’s line, and nobody loses. Bennett is struggling? Bump him up to the first line, which we can expect to be put in position to score, and give Gaudreau or even Monahan a try on a less sheltered line. That doesn’t work? Hey, you’ve got six guys to shuffle around rather than three. You’ll find a combination that works, and if it dries up, you can find another.

This is to say nothing of secondary scoring added in to the lineup. Over the first five games in the first round series against the Canucks, the Flames’ top line managed all of seven points. (In the sixth game, they exploded for a combined nine points, but prior to that, they were not effective.) The Flames did win that series, but throw another top six forward into the mix, and maybe scoring isn’t quite as difficult to come by.

The Flames’ top line was limited to six points in five games against the Ducks. As the top line went, so did the Flames, and they floundered and died.

To take that next step, you need more than one line. Adding Frolik accomplishes exactly this. It’s not enough to be a true contender, but it’s a massive improvement that should pay dividends: not just over a playoff series, but in ensuring you play well enough to get one to begin with.

    • prendrefeu

      I can see them together late in games but I don’t expect to seem them as line all the time. I could also see them together late in the season or next year but only after Bennett has developed more as an NHLer.

  • smith

    I have to agree with your premise but not with all of your conclusions. Frolik and Hamilton do make this team significantly better; they are better than the guys they will bump down the line up and this means significantly more depth.

    However I don’t expect to see Bennett on the LW but at center with mostly OZ starts like Monahan in his first year. I suspect you see the first line playing in all zones being Johnny/Monny/Hudler. The second line will look something like this: (Raymond/Ferland/Colborne)/Bennett/Frolik.

    The third line will look something like this:
    Bouma/Backland/(Jones/Shore/Poirier)

    The forth line made up of some combination of Stajan/Jorris and who ever is the best fit.

    Frolik and Hudler will at times be interchangable on the the two scoring lines.

    The interesting thing for me is who will they partner Hamilton with? I would try him with Brodie as they may be your top pairing for the next 5-10 years. Hopefully one of Nakladal or Morrison can surplant England and prove to be a good partner for Gio and then you could keep Russell and wides as your third pairing. There are many options on the back end that make sense but a lot depends on which of the prospects steps up: Nakladal and Morrison as Righties would be great but Spoon or any of the other lefties playing with Hamilton would work as well.

    • FlamesRule

      England???
      Wides???
      Russell??

      Clearly you mean either Hamilton or Gio but please explain your rational? All three of them could be in the conversation if they stay healthy but I doubt voters will select all three of them. The nice thing is there is plenty of options having 3 top 2 kind of guys and 5 top 4 defenders. The key to real success is finding the right other 2 guys to play the other roles. As I have said in othe rposts the easy thing would be to keep Wides/Russell together as your third pairing with mostly offensive zones starts and Gio/TJ together with mostly DZ and tough match ups and find the right(left) guy to play with Hamilton. This gives you 2 units that you can predict their play and allow the other unit to develop. Or you can mix and match until you find the right combo’s with but that could cost you games early. But lots of choices for BH and his coaching staff and that is a good thing.

  • prendrefeu

    I predict we will see lines and pairings with experiments throughout the first quarter of the season, and things will begin to more-or-less settle by December.

    I also predict that these pre-season and off-season designation of names on certain pairings or lines will be moot after training camp and pre-season.

      • prendrefeu

        Also true, so true. Especially for hockey addicts like us!

        I dunno about you guys, but here’s where I am with things right now (personal life aside) –

        Flames kicked ass with the draft and signings. I am also confident about whatever tail end signings or trades need to be done. Things are headed in a great direction. There is *literally* no need for any Flames fan to waste time trolling another team’s fans because the entire org is in “work on your self” mode and has all the confidence in the world to accomplish things by merit. Trolling other teams or worrying about stuff like which-lines-when can be a lack of confidence, and the Flames don’t have that. Status? STOKED

        It’s summer. I’m spending my time going out and riding (cyclist), hiking, running, at the beach (okay, I’m in California), in the mountains (the Rockies are greater than our local mountains, but for sake of comparison let’s say the Sierras), spending time with friends outdoors – bbqs, late nights out under the stars, enjoying life a bit. Also working my ass off – just like the Flames are during their off season – to make my future better. Status? STOKED.

        So anyway, that is to say – these dog days of summer, I think, are best spent having fun and improving for the future. When the time comes, be it a team’s training camp or some matter in your own personal life, things will sort themselves out based on who made the most of their time between then and now.****

        Have fun out there, keep improving in your idle time, and Go Flames Go!

        **** Slight aside… it was interesting to watch the player interviews before/during/after the development camp. Poirier was asked what he does during the summer. He basically said “I’m back in Montreal, working out, and improving my game” “With who?” “Other NHL players on other teams. I just want to improve” or something to that end. That’s a great mentality to have. Keep improving and have fun.

          • prendrefeu

            I’m not close, it’s about 5-6 hours drive away from Los Angeles at best, and the drive pretty miserable. Stockton is not a destination city, or at least it shouldn’t be because if it is a person may need to seriously reconsider their life’s direction.

            I’ll have their schedule in mind when planning trips elsewhere in the state however, so if there is an opportunity to swing in for a game on my way, I’ll definitely report back with something of value.

          • RedMan

            having just driven through washington, then oregon and down to Sacramento, I must say, this is the driest i have ever seen things. yikes.

            speeking of the Sierra-nevada range; used to fish taboose and tinimahah creeks, as well as the west fork of the Kern river – great memories.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    This could be roundly trashed, but I had a thought the other day and wanted to get others thoughts on it regarding the top 3 forward lines.

    What about this:

    Gaudreau/Monahan/Jones

    Raymond/Bennett/Hudler

    Ferland/Backlund/Frolik

    I know splitting up that top line would be tough to do, but here is my thought process:

    – Gaudreau/Monahan are a “pair” that will last well into the future.

    -Although the top line was dominant the last month of the season, other teams seemed to figure out how to shut them down in the playoffs. Teams would key in on that line next year – spread out the offense.

    -Giving Monahan and Gaudreau a bit tougher zone starts and competition would also likely help with contract talks next year as we can see how they handle that extra pressure and if they’d still be able to put up that many points in those circumstances.

    -In that sense, adding Jones to that line is a fit as he has shown he can handle stiffer competition and would help with the extra pressure that line would face from a defensive standpoint.

    -Gaudreau/Monahan would help Jones put up more points in a year Jones contract expires. Tradebait?

    -Moving Hudler with Bennett as his centre allows Bennett to develop at that position which is where you want him.

    -Gives Bennett the chance to have the same mentorship Gaudrea/Monahan had with Hudler.

    -The Hudler/Bennett line would get the easiest comp possible and the high ground on zone starts – another offensive threat.

    -Raymond on that line (at least to start the year) allows him to live up to that contract and potentially inflate his point totals to try and make that contract tradeable. Makes for a more skilled line also.

    -The third line with two possession monsters is clearly for shut-down purposes. I put Ferland on that line, because of the punishment he was able to dish out in the playoffs. If that line is playing against the other teams best, why not also try and plaster the other team’s best into the boards all night long.

    Thoughts?

    • GriffinJeff

      As hard as it is to imagine our top line being split up, your line combinations looks great through 3 lines, and 4 if you consider the players left out! I think your post highlights the point Arli makes. We have more options and depth up and down the line up then we have had in years. It is great to look at line combinations through 3 lines and be excited about them!

    • Cofred24

      If Flames have to go with Raymond on the second line for any amount of time next season, it would be a waste of up and coming talent. Would like to see Poirier make the team, if he works his butt of this summer, so we can trade Raymond and that waste of bench space named Bollig.

      Please don’t forget that the players on the top line all had injuries in last year’s playoffs. Looking forward to the upcoming season!

      PS: If Raymond has overcome his injury and has a great camp, I may change my mind about him, but not holding my breath on that one.

  • Graham

    Given the weak Cdn dollar, the owners deserve credit for stepping up with the money to sign Frolik and Hamilton to long term contracts. The Flames ownership group has always been wing to spend to the cap. (not that we have always used the money wisely)

  • Parallex

    As I’ve said prior I really think that Frolik should play with Gaudreau and Monahan (at even strength). Bennett needs to get as many reps in at Center as possible so you slot him in as the kid glove assignment center (See Sean Monahan his first year and last year when Backlund wasn’t hurt).

    I basically see the lines optimally as such…

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Frolik

    Raymond/Colborne-Bennett-Hudler

    Bouma-Backlund-Jones

    Ferland-Stajan-Shore

    … with PP1 being Gaudreau-Monahan-Hudler and PK1 being Bouma-Backlund-Frolik.

    Question: So what do we get with those lines?

    Answer: Bennett Developing as a center with a vet mentor on his line in Hudler, a top line that has a strong veteran possession player in Frolik better able to play against other teams top talent, a line that can play tough comp to give Bennett and Co. the high ground in BBJ, and a big fourth line with actual hockey skill, and special teams that should strike fear into the opposition.

  • Burnward

    Gio signs seven years for 7 a year. That’s 10 mil Cdn. I would make a stand on those numbers. Agents are shite. His needs a re-alignment to get his head straight. If Gio says no, play him until January and let him know and every team in the league know to start submitting offers. We can survive without him.

    In terms of forwards, Bob likes experienced players and will lean on those types of players unless upstairs says start using kids as we have a tonne of them coming. We are in great shape in that regard.

    They have to be looking at their asset factor upon signing Gio and the RFAs.
    With capable defence and young guys breaking down the gates, some good trades should start materializing.

  • prendrefeu

    I’m happy to see that most people here think Bennett should stay at center. I’m in full agreement.

    But, on the subject of moving centers to left wing… why not give that a try with Granlund? If he looks better than, say, Colborne in camp, why not…?

    1. Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
    2. Granlund – Bennett – Frolik
    3. Bouma – Backlund – Jones
    4. Ferland – Stajan – Jooris
    5. Shore, Bollig, Colborne, Byron, Raymond etc.

    Obviously it’s a little presumptuous to have Granlund penciled in like that, but I think it could work. Provided he’s ready. Which there really isn’t any reason to think he is.

    That Granlund slot could work for a guy like Byron (or Raymond I guess) too, if he’s re-signed. Or maybe Frolik or Hudler switches wings and one of the righties (Jones, Jooris, Shore) moves up?

    I’m also amenable to having Frolik with Monahan and Gaudreau.

    I’m on record saying I don’t see a place for Colborne starting this season. I still don’t.

    SO MANY FORWARDS!!

    • Cofred24

      I’m not so sure about Hamilton exploding with points. He may, and he’ll certainly be a huge asset to the team, but he won’t be relied upon as the center of the transition game like he was in Boston. He was all the Bruins really had for offense from the defense in their top 4, while the Flames have Giordano and Brodie, with Wideman as an excellent powerplay option.

  • FlamesRule

    What does it take to have an article written that doesn’t smear Engel? Is he not a member of the team we cheer for who puts it all out there for his teammates every time he’s on the ice? Has anyone who writes these articles ever played the game at any level? What is it that you see that every one of his teammates, his coaches, and team management doesn’t see? Why smear our own guys? Smear the goddam Oilers and Canucks. They are our rivals. Not the guys who will die for us.

    • TX Flame

      We definitely do cheer for Engelland. That doesn’t mean that we have to be blinded to the limitations of his game, or to the negative effect he had on TJ. Realistically, he is just not a top 4 D on a good team.

    • RedMan

      I’d agree – Engelland is a great # 6/7 guy… who was overpaid for his position (which isn’t something to blame him for).

      he did his best to fill in when Gio went down, but by all accounts was playing way over his head. he is not fast enough to defend top lines and is too slow on the PK, prone to getting left in the dust when oposing teams cycle along the boards.

      as a tough-as-nails defender in the 6/7 spot, great!

  • Slowmo

    Well if were talking about Eng I would have to say he did great for someone thrown to the wolfs against a great power team like Ana we qwon a game and could have been a few more had it not been for some questionable plays in over time. I for 1 am proud how will we faired against a team like Ana we did put a little scare into them for a split second there LOL.