Finding the right pairs and combinations on the Flames

Way, way back in early July, Brad Treliving referred to the NHL as a “league of pairs”. He wasn’t talking about defencemen there; rather, he was referencing the composition of forward lines. 

You find two players who compliment one another perfectly, and that’s your base for that particular line. Repeat four times, until you’ve got four pairs of players who can really feed off one another’s game, and then add the final component to their line.

The best exhibit of this the past season on the Flames was the combination of Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler. The two were glued together throughout the entire year: a responsible, savvy veteran to go with an offensive wunderkind rookie. They spent approximately 70% of their time at even strength together, and it paid off: they were numbers one and two in team scoring, after all, and right at the top of the league.

Who could be the Flames’ pairs going forward?

Johnny Gaudreau – Jiri Hudler

Why mess with success? The two combined for 34 points: 53% of Gaudreau’s total was influenced by Hudler, and 45% of Hudler’s by Gaudreau. The two developed a real sense for one another on the ice. Hudler was the perfect player for Gaudreau to start his career with. Just think of what the two will be able to do together with a full year of familiarity behind them.

Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan

Ideally, you keep Sean Monahan with both Gaudreau and Hudler, and form the perfect trio (were they not the best line in hockey back in March 2015? If they weren’t, they were certainly up there).

Ideals don’t always work out, though. While all three will soon require new contracts, Monahan and Gaudreau will be just 21 and 22 years old, whereas Hudler is already 31. His age isn’t a bad thing, but we’re still talking about a rebuilding team. Hudler is the only free agent of the trio, and he could end up a casualty of the cap.

Should Hudler depart from the Flames, you already have a budding duo to take his place in Gaudreau and Monahan. They showed promise together as early as November 2014, but really shone when put together full time. They combined 18 times for goals, 13 of which came in the two months and a bit following the All-Star break. 

There’s clearly something there, something that only just began last year. Imagine how great they could be together just a few years from now, as we watch them grow together.

Johnny Gaudreau – Sam Bennett

On the other hand, the Flames have already shown a small penchant for putting Monahan in more defensive zone starts. True, a large part of that was due to the fact that for a significant portion of the season, Monahan was the veteran centre in the lineup; that said, it’s an area he was slowly but surely growing in, and could show promise in down the line.

Do you try putting Sam Bennett in that same position – or give him the sheltered offensive zone starts? You probably want to give those to Gaudreau, putting him in position to score. It’s a strategy the Chicago Blackhawks use, splitting up their two main stars as they play different roles.

Only the Flames have the advantage of another budding top flight centre in Bennett. He’d be able to keep up with Gaudreau, no problem. Imagine giving them offensive zone starts and letting them go to work, while Monahan helps hold down the fort: it could be a lethal offensive combination.

Sam Bennett – Emile Poirier

This is getting a little further ahead, as Emile Poirier has yet to make the NHL. He’s looking like he’s going to, though, and if he does, he’ll probably join the lineup as a top six forward: if not in the beginning, then for the long-term future. He’s blazingly fast, physical, and can put the puck in the net.

If Gaudreau and Monahan do end up sticking together, you want a high quality winger for Bennett, and Poirier could end up being just that guy. Bennett is physical, as well: together, the two could be high-scoring wrecking balls.

(To step out from the pairing situation – even imagine a Gaudreau – Bennett – Poirier line one day in the future. Wouldn’t that be fun?)

Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik 

Let’s take a step back from all these high-scoring kids we have years to get excited about, and take a closer look at some of the guys who will likely be holding down the backend. Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik have been linked together pretty much before Frolik officially became a Flame, with speculation that the two could be perfect linemates.

Then Frolik actually did become a Flame and, well, it only seems fitting the European Mikes end up together at some point. They’re slightly older – 26 and 27 years old, respectively – and they excel defensively, while showing talent to contribute offensively throughout the season.

Seriously, how do they not belong together?

Paul Byron – Mikael Backlund

With the news that Bennett is expected to play centre, Bob Hartley may want to give him his own Hudler, and that could end up being Frolik. After all, he’s the top paid forward on the Flames now, and you want him to score. Combine that with the fact that he’s a responsible veteran Bennett can play off of, and Backlund’s potential hockey soulmate may not be on his line just yet.

There’s someone else who should fit well with him, though: Paul Byron. It’s only been very recently Backlund has been seen as meeting expectations, while Byron has to keep proving himself. They’ve never posted strong basic stats, but their underlying numbers have always been fantastic, and they both have a strong penchant for making their linemates better.

If Monahan and Bennett are the top two centres on the Flames, then the third line defensive role falls to Backlund. Byron can already handle that role quite well: why not put them together and have them shut down opposing teams on a regular basis?

Lance Bouma – Mikael Backlund

I don’t particularly like this pairing, but as of the All-Star Break, Bob Hartley seems to love it. Backlund spent about 50% of his even strength time on ice with Bouma this past season, and Bouma about 40% of his with Backlund (Backlund’s numbers being skewed because his injury held him off the ice for much longer). And it’s not like they’re strangers to one another: Bouma’s first-ever NHL point was an assist on a Backlund goal.

Backlund does most of the work in this pairing, as Bouma needs him to succeed at a higher level; at the same time, you can justify their relationship in a potential shutdown role, with Bouma providing the muscle and Backlund the puck possession.

It’s probably not ideal, but hey, when the coach finds something he likes, he tends to stick with it.

Matt Stajan – David Jones

This isn’t a pairing that should exist for much longer – Jones is an impending free agent, and there isn’t going to be much room to re-sign him (and that’s assuming he doesn’t become trade deadline fodder, as is wont for rebuilding teams to do with veterans on expiring contracts) – but for this season, why not?

The two are among the older players on the Flames, leaving them open to forming a savvy veteran pairing. Plug in a rookie on the other side of the line – say, a Micheal Ferland – and together, they could form a solid mentoring team.

At least you know any rookie who needs some seasoning probably isn’t going to get overwhelmed with these two; especially considering the firepower up above, their assignments would likely be easier, anyway.

Who would you guys like to see the Flames pair up – for the 2015-16 season, and beyond?

  • everton fc

    Ari, I think you mean to say Monahan was our best centre, not our veteran centre. Hahaha. Gotta pretty be pretty excited about our young high octane kids. I agree that Frolik & Backlund should be put together. I don’t know why, but everyone thinks they will be an incredible shutdown pair , but I think not only will they be that but they are going to light the lamp & score as well. Depending who they put on that line, Hartley met just have one of the most lethal shut down lines in the game.

    Another note, hearing our Mangniapane(sp? :-} ) has 6 points in 3 preseason games & is electric & making things happen every shift. That’s him only playing half the time he will be in regular season games. We may have another Johnny on our hands.

    • King Quong

      Monahan WAS our veteran centre last season when Backlund and Stajan both got injured in the same game. And he filled that role admirably and eventually earned that top spot.

      Personally I would put Monahan with Gaudreau, & Hudler. Frolik with Bennett, and /Colborne/Ferland/Raymond/Jooris. Backlund with Bouma, and Byron/Jooris/Shore. And yes, Stajan with Jones. I’m hoping Poirier can force his way onto the team and taking either the 1RW or 2RW spots and shuffling a few guys around plus making a couple trades.

      Love the Mangiapanne news, but isn’t he going to be at TC?

      • everton fc

        No doubt I would say he was the best centre but Bouma & Colborne are both centres who are both older & have more games & I would consider veteran to Monahan. Now veteran doesn’t necessarily mean better.

        I think Mangiapanne is going to play the Penticton tourney but still got in as much of his OHL training camp as possible. I am not sure about the flames TC, maybe, I guess it depends how he shows in Penticton.

        • Baceda

          Bouma and Colbourne have both played more NHL games than Monahan sure, but not many of them were at the centre position. Colbourne was moved to the wing shortly after joining the Flames, and I don’t ever recall Bouma being used very often as a centre.

          And honestly does anyone think of Colbourne of Bouma as true centremen? I know I don’t.

          • Baceda

            Not sure we are discussing the same thing. Both Colborne & Bouma are Centre’s that have been converted to wing, so is Byron. Just saying, I wouldnt describe a 20 year old Monahan as the veteran centre, I would say our “best” centre was the 20 year old Monahan. I think this pointless discussion is about semantics. Sorry, yesterday I was just chuckling that Ari would call a 20 year old 2nd year in the league centre, our veteran centreman.

  • King Quong

    I just keep imagining a Ferland Bennett Poirier line wreaking havoc in the playoffs in the future, 3 fast wrecking balls with offensive talent.

    unrealistic for this year but a line up of Gaudreau Monahan Hudler, a fancy stat line of Byron Backlund Frolik. And a heavy veteran line of Bollig Stajan and Jones. Plus the line I said earlier that would be my ideal line up.

  • The Fall

    pair the vets with youth best suited to their strengths:

    Johnny – Jiri
    Bennett – Frolik
    Monahan – anyone

    I know this isn’t popular but Bouma and Backs are tied at the hip for the next few years.

  • Parallex

    “The two were glued together throughout the entire year: a responsible, savvy veteran to go with an offensive wunderkind rookie.”

    So why mess with that formula? Put Hudler (The responsible, savvy veteran) with Bennett (The offensive wunderkind rookie). The Flames need more scoring depth so I think it only makes sense to spread out the offensive talent in the top six.

  • If Bennett plays Centre i’d like to see:

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
    Ferland – Bennett – Frolik
    Byron – Backlund – Jooris
    Bouma – Stajan – Jones

    Colborne/Bolig

    If Bennett moves to the wing:

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
    Bennett – Backlund – Frolik
    Ferland – Jooris – Byron/Colborne
    Bouma – Stajan – Jones

    Colborne/Bolig

  • Baceda

    What about throwing Stajan on the second line? It’ll give him more of an opportunity and allow one of our many younger centers a chance to play on the fourth line. Balance it out a bit

    Johhny – Monahan – Huds

    Stajan – Bennet – Frolik

    Ferland – Backlund – Jooris

    Bouma – Shore / Byron – Jones

    Colborne?

  • everton fc

    Ferland would do well to continue on that line with Stajan and Jones, as he could use good mentors, and these two would certainly be that, for him. His playoff success must include being on this line, with these two vets.

    I think you keep Gaudreau, Monahan and Hudler together. Bouma, Backlund and maybe Jooris would be an interesting line. Byron with Bennett and Poirier would be an interesting line. So would Byron with Bennett and Frolik, but I don’t think Byron plays 2nd line minutes, nor does Frolik become a 3rd line winger. Still…
    Byron with Backlund and Jooris would also be interesting. I bet Raymond gets a look with Bennett and Frolik. Ditto Bouma. Not saying I approve…

  • Baceda

    How about Bennett – Frolick?? Rookie with a wiley veteran. Frolick would be the rookie’s mentor like Huds with Mony the past 2 seasons. Ferland on the Left side to add truculence.

    And down the road, maybe have Poirier on the right of Bennett and move Frolick to the Left side.

  • Baceda

    My ideal line up this year will be:

    Johnny – Monny – Hudler
    Raymond – Bennett – Frolik
    Bouma/Ferland – Backs – Couburn/Jooris
    Bouma/Ferland – Stajan – Jones/Jooris

    As sad as it is, Hudler may not be back next year, and depending on the trade market he may not even be around come March, so why not try and get what you can from the top trio once again. as mentioned if it aint broke dont fix it.

    Bennett is a no brainer for the second line spot as his talent will be wasted anywhere else. Why not try and build a good duo with Frolik for years to come, and give Bennett a reliable defensive player with good skills at the same time for his rookie year? Raymond may not work out here at all, but in a perfect world he recaptures his scoring touch and adds speed to the second line. He is worthless as a bottom 6 player, so I would try and build some trade value on the second line and send him away at the deadline or next summer and retain some salary if needed, as some more young guys could be ready by then (granlund/emile)

    Jones shouldnt be around past the deadline, so I’d rather see Jooris and couburne given more opportunity on the RW bottom 6. Bouma ferland can be interchangable, and backs stajan are as sucure as they can be in the 3/4 center role.

    Byron is a great swiss army knife type player who will likey spend some time as a healthy scratch with Bolig, but could step into any line excluding the top line realistically for some energy or injury relief.