The Calgary Flames’ balanced forward lineup

The Flames’ opening day lineup is far from set, but there seem to be a few trends starting to emerge. For example, if Sam Bennett does spend the season as a centre, then the Flames’ centres, when healthy, would appear to be set: Bennett, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, and Matt Stajan.

That’s pretty deep. When Stajan gets buried in the defensive zone, he tends not to score – and his 17 points in 2014-15 were a career worst (albeit, over 59 games) – but he’s not a bad player.

Remember when Stajan was the first line centre, though? Times have really changed.

Something else to consider: the Micheal Ferland – Matt Stajan – David Jones line looked great in the playoffs, and is a combination being considered in the preseason.

But Stajan is the fourth line centre. If Ferland and Jones end up his wingers, then that’s your fourth line.

And that’s depth.

Compare it to the fourth lines of yesteryear

Remember when the Flames’ fourth line wingers were Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos? They were fine for what they were, but they were pretty clearly not going to be any better than that. There was no untapped potential there: they were just a couple of hard workers, grinders, and fighters. While fun to watch, what you saw was all you were going to get.

Not even just Jackman and Kostopoulos; remember when, in 2013-14, the Flames regularly dressed both Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth on the fourth line? That wasn’t even fun. That was more brutal than anything else: a showcase of no-skill hockey.

The Flames are no longer in the position to dress 10 minutes-a-night guys on a regular basis, though. They have more options than to do that. The top end talent is still clear, but the sheer number of forwards the Flames have, the fourth line should be capable of taking a regular shift.

The Flames could be a team that can actually roll all four lines.

Sorting out the roles

The Flames’ top line is, presumably, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler. When put together, they absolutely lit up the league. Gaudreau and Hudler performed well together, but it was as though Monahan was the missing piece to really put them over the top.

That’s the top line, and that top line is getting beneficial zone starts. After all, their job is to score more than defend, so you want them put in position to do just that.

Bennett’s line will likely be a high offensive zone start line as well. He’s an impressive rookie, but still a rookie. It’s how Gaudreau was introduced to the league, after all, and no matter how impressive Bennett was in the playoffs, those were just 11 games: hardly indicative of how he’ll have to adjust to taking a regular shift in the NHL throughout the year.

Due to his talent and the fact that he’ll likely be sheltered, you expect his line to be high scoring, as well.

That leaves us with the Flames’ two defensive centres: Backlund and Stajan. While they’re likely buried, though, they’re still players who can score. Maybe not as often as preferred – again, Stajan’s season was disappointing, and while a healthy Backlund has potential, we’ve never seen it exhibited over the course of a full season – but they can do more than just grind.

Not only that, but with higher quality wingers, they can likely do more on the ice, even if still buried in the defensive zone. Both players had to go through periods where they were buried on the fourth line, resulting in their wingers being guys like Jackman, Kostopoulos, Brandon Bollig. The new options are better than that.

Fun with line projections

Since the Flames have the personnel to build four solid lines, why not speculate on some combinations we could see throughout the season? There are still forwards to be cut, so I’m only focusing on the waiver-eligible guys here (and Bennett).

Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler

Bouma – Bennett – Frolik

Byron – Backlund – Jooris

Ferland – Stajan – Jones

Mason Raymond and Joe Colborne probably fall in there somewhere as healthy scratches, but able to step in just about anywhere wherever needed. It’s easy to rotate guys around, too: say you swap Bouma and Ferland, or dress Raymond in the top six (having two veterans flank Bennett) and bump Bouma back down with Backlund.

Or say you feel Hudler really is your ultimate mentorship guy, and want to partner him with Bennett.

Gaudreau – Monahan – Frolik

Ferland – Bennett – Hudler

Bouma – Backlund – Jones

Raymond – Stajan – Jooris

Or even say you do want to start Bennett on the wing, which is where he saw immediate success while playing in the playoffs.

Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler

Bennett – Backlund – Frolik

Ferland – Stajan – Jones

Bouma – Jooris – Colborne

Fact is, there are so many different combinations available to the Flames, and each and every single one of them produces 12 forwards who can play at least 12 minutes a night. Naturally, some players will play more than others. Your top dogs will always get more ice time. But they don’t have to be overwhelmed, tired out, or overused: because the Flames now have the personnel available with which to roll four lines.

  • Cfan in Vic

    I like how none of these proposed lines involve a Bollig. Man, I hope that’s the case as the season plays out.

    When Brodie’s back, the back end isn’t lookin too bad either. Exciting times!

  • MattyFranchise

    This is a really promising look at the team. Every Cup winner rolls 4 lines.

    I think the last one line team to make it to the Finals was Ottawa and they got stomped by an Anaheim team that rolled 4 lines.

    (And had Pronger but that’s beside the point >.

  • MattyFranchise

    Listening to a conversation on the Fan on my way home where they were discussing Bennett and Granlund. Seems to many that Granlund has a good preseason and Bennett has just been okay. I am wondering how a line with OZ starts of Granlund/Bennett/Hudler might look or if not Hudler one of Ferland or Poirier.

  • Peplinski's Thunderbird

    Not only is the forward group deep, we also have a good blend of players with defensive and offensive ability. I still think there is a need for a stud top 6 winger to flank Bennett if he does play center all season, but overall you have to be pleased with the roster breakdown.

  • MonsterPod

    Monahan was playing third line center in his rookie year, sheltered.

    Methinks Backlund is your 2nd line center followed by the young Bennett.

    But I’m glad to see him posited at center. We don’t want a Galchenyuk conundrum here.

    Let the kid learn defense and responsibility. He already has a great shot.

    Excited for the season,

    GFG

  • Ari Yanover

    For me personally, I would love to see Backlund and Frolik together to shut down the other team’s top line and be possession/corsi monsters. Jones could be put on the first line with Gaudreau and Monahan as at least he’s a vet and also it would be good to pad his stats this year as much as possible and potentially trade him near the trade deadline. I would put Bennett with Hudler if he’s playing center to be a mentor and throw whoever on the other wing.

    My balanced lines would be

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Jones
    Ferland – Bennett – Hudler
    Bouma – Backlund – Frolik
    Raymond – Stajan – Colborne/jooris

    If we want to go full offense though then i’d go with the line up arii made for bennett playing the wing. Those top 2 lines can be deadly and the bottom have are all good depth players.

    • RedMan

      Jones, top line winger ahead of Hudler and Frolik? He’s sure appreciate seeing this.

      While I am not apposed to seeing Backlund and Frolik together, and even expect it some time in the season as an experiment to see where ti goes, I prefer to spread the two-way strength across a couple of line.

      • RedMan

        I don’t think by any means that Jones is better than hudler. But I do think he is more appropriate to be on the top line compared to Ferland. And as I said before, one strat for putting jones on the top line is to boost his value since he’s a ufa after this season and hopefully we can get at least something in return for him. I highly doubt bt will consider resigning him near what he’s getting now and rather have one of the prospects take his spot for a fraction of the cost. Don’t think Jones would enjoy hearing that…haha

  • RedMan

    “remember when, in 2013-14, the Flames regularly dressed both Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth on the fourth line? That wasn’t even fun”

    The author says this as if it is fact, speak for yourself…watching Grats play that year was awesome, he turned into a cult hero in Calgary and deservingly so, the line brawl in Van is still the best non-playoff game I’ve seen in years and single handedly turned around the Flames fortunes that year and helped create the identity they have instilled in their players to this day.

    We know you hate tough guys and anyone that doesn’t have a positive corsi but enough is enough on the constant bashing of everyone you don’t like, it was already an unbearable broken record last year.