Often times, you won’t see steady, regular line combinations until later in the season. That’s certainly been the case for the Flames under Bob Hartley. After all, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler didn’t become a regular line for the Flames until about halfway through the 2014-15 season.
And to start this season, they seemed to be The line. The one line that would not, could not be messed with.
But in repeated attempts to get the entire struggling team going, they’ve finally been broken up, and Hartley is often working with new line combinations, hoping to find the one that will bring success.
The most recent line (and game-winning! But it was against the Oilers) combinations are as follows:
Colborne – Monahan – Hudler
Gaudreau – Bennett – Jones
Jooris – Stajan – Frolik
Bollig – Backlund – Raymond
This is with Derek Grant sitting, Lance Bouma out for a few months yet, and Micheal Ferland with an uncertain timetable to return.
The lines seem to have pretty clearly defined roles. Monahan’s line is the de facto number one, by lieu of giving the third-year centre a ton of minutes. Bennett’s looks to be the second, because between him and Gaudreau, you’ve got a lot of scoring potential there. Stajan, a reliable veteran guy with low zone starts, is the third, while Backlund draws the short stick because any line Bollig is on is the fourth line and we all know it.
But really… how long do these line combinations last? We’re still very much in the feeling out stages for this (3-8-1) team.
When you take the philosophy of having “pairs” of forwards together, it only seems to click for three of the lines. The top line’s pair is likely Monahan and Hudler, as Hudler has had success playing alongside the young kids; although, Colborne and Monahan were brought up through the NHL as rookies together, so it could in fact be them. (Hudler is better than Colborne, though, so… probably not.)
Gaudreau and Bennett make perfect sense as a pair. Both are offensively dynamic, and they’re going to be put in positions to score. Gaudreau spent his entire rookie year with sheltered zone starts, and it paid off for him; doing the same with Bennett only stands to the same reason. That leaves Jones as the odd man out, but a decent veteran presence to flank the two kids who can really just be left to their own devices most of the time.
Stajan and Frolik may be the next pair. Stajan takes a lot of defensive zone starts, and Frolik is an exceptional defensive player. Jooris rounds things out with steady supporting ability.
… And then there are the last three, who are, respectively: an extremely low minutes player more noted for penalties than positive performance, a guy who apparently can never stop being maligned despite proving he’s worth more than this, and a bad contract offered up on waivers but still with some potential to do better maybe. The latter two have spent a fair amount of time in the top six already this season to point out how mixed up the line combinations continue to be.
There are some very obvious flaws present in this lineup, though. For example: Colborne should not be playing more than Gaudreau. Jones is not that dynamic of a player to put with the two kids who could be forming two thirds of a real first line one day. Bollig is completely alone and incompatible in his skill set compared to the other 11 forwards on the roster.
Of those issues, it’s probably the Colborne one that’s the most pressing. Does he have potential? Sure. Is he a 25-year-old forward who hasn’t shown a lot of growth, is not one of the team’s top offensive players, and tends to not have the puck most of the time? Also yes. Is that good for the first line? Well… probably not, no.
But outside of Gaudreau – who is an excellent fit with Bennett – there really isn’t anybody in the lineup who can really replace him in that spot.
Remember the days of the Flames having too many forwards? They’re long gone, cut down by injuries and unwise waiver exposure. What’s left is a lineup that looks more like a jumble of assembled parts rather than four cohesive units.
How would you organize these 12 guys to find that cohesion?