Fun with line combinations

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?

    • RedMan

      When I first saw that Colbourn was gonna be on the first line, I thought WTF!!! But he looks OK there and I was Surprised! P.S. I was at the Battle of Alberta on Saturday at the Rexal and it was a thing of beauty sticking it to the Oilers with 8 seconds left!!! Beating the Oilers never gets Old! Been wearing a flames jersey there since I was 14!!!! When Gretz played there!!!!!

    • RedMan

      You literally must spend your days looking for Flames articles to post on. Good for you, you found one.

      If the tank is on in Calgary, how do you explain a similar won/loss result in EDM, without the really bad goaltending? Don’t tell me you want Austin as well?

    • TRAIN#97

      You got 13 trashes so far but in the preseason I suggested Colbourne was #3 centre and fans didn’t even want him in the lineup. I think he skates good enough to play throughout the lineup and adds size which the flames are lacking in the forward position

      • Cfan in Vic

        Colbourne was completely lost for most of last season. This season, he’s playing the roll that the team needs him to (simplify, muscle guys out, go to the net), and he’s been a lot more effective.

        Fans were right to not want him in the top 9, over the off season. He was mostly horrible (but had a few redeeming moments) until this year.

        That said, his possession numbers remain bad.

    • EhPierre

      I actually like those lines

      Jones has been a great underrated player for us and I remember someone posting on a different discussion on here about how Jones always seems to win whenever he tries to dump and chase the puck. The Mony line needs possession in the offensive zone and I think Jones can provide that.

      Johnny Hockey and Bennet are gonna be great sooner rather than later. Putting Jooris with that line will help I think. He’s full of hustle and he’s gritty along the boards

      Backs-Staj-Frolik are all great defensively by themselves. Imagine how perfect this shutdown line would be when you put all three together. Honestly don’t know why Hartley keeps putting Backs as a 4th line, he does not belong there

      Fourth line well..I don’t think you put Granlund as a 4C, he’s got way more potential than carrying Joe “Stone Hands” Colborne and Brandong “Takes Stupid Penalties” Bollig

      • Burnward

        Agreed.

        Re: Granlund, I’m hoping he could score a few somewhere along the way. Otherwise, not a lot of faith in anyone else.

        That third line would be pretty damn tough to play against methinks.

  • RedMan

    It looks like Oiler fans are always rocking a one tool mindset, not surprising given the last 10 years. It is out of their realm of thought to consider any other options besides tank. Too funny.

  • everton fc

    I would’ve hoped Hartley learned something from last year…but alas…backlund is not a 4th line player…He is not dynamic, but he is responsible…

    Gaudreau – Bennett – Jones/Raymond (good chance to increase trade value at the deadline)

    Stajan/Jones Backlund Frolik – shutdown line. Play backlund in the middle, he is still entering his prime, stajan is past his, and jones could see value increase. This line plays 2nd most minutes and against top line of opponent-they still win possession battle.

    Raymond/Colbourne – Monahan – Hudler – 2/3 line, needs sheltered minutes still and should not be matched up against power. When Ferland returns he plays here to give the line a little more physical presence and hopefully open up space for the other two.

    Colbourne/Grant – Granlund – Jooris – a 4th line that can actually play a few minutes- target 12 minutes a night, gives top lines a real breather and then we can push play in 3rd more effectively.

  • trox

    Yeah, right now the lines are very difficult, due to injury. One concern I have is the degree of liberties that opposition have taking with Johnny. He’s obviously being targeted with physical tactics. In theory, Bollig should be a deterrent, but he’s never on the ice at the same time (and NEVER should be).

    Once Fer-Daddy comes back, I would propose:

    Frolik- Monahan – Hudler
    Gaudreau – Bennett – Ferland
    Jooris – Backlund- Jones
    ANYONEBUTBOLLIGBUTEVENTUALLYBOUMA- Stajan- Raymond

    Reasoning?

    I think the Hudler/Monahan/Other line has struggled with defensive responsibilities. Frolik balances that, and can score (see – hat trick).

    Ferland has the potential to be a magical ingredient, a “secret sauce”, on a Gaudreau/Bennet/Other line. He actually has skills to help move the puck, plus some finishing ability. He’s also a heat-seeking missile which can cause havoc for opposing defenders trying to move the puck out of their zone; something that Johnny can certainly take advantage of. If the other team is in chaos, that seems to be an ideal operating environment for Johnny. I’m sure Sam will feed of that chaos as well.

    Line #3 is a solid checking line that just might be able to score on occasion, and at least gives Backs some of the ice time he deserves.

    Line #4 is, well, a fourth line. BUT, it’s a legitimate fourth line that might be able to contribute on occasion, since big ol’ Bollig isn’t there taking stupid penalties and otherwise eating up a valuable player’s minutes.

  • Craig

    Just looked at the lines from the Flames website, looks like Hartley has put Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman back together again! I hope this is incorrect because that line is a tire fire. And you just know Hartley will play them 25 mins.

  • cberg

    I’m not adverse to the current lines. I’d much prefer not worrying about pedigree, etc and instead looking at results. The results say the team has played well with the current alignment, the best of the year so far including their first regulation win. The results say we got another line going with great chances still from the first two. The results look good. I’m all for maintaining these lines and letting them build chemistry until it becomes readily apparent, via results not prejudice, that additional changes need to be made.

  • Burnward

    I really would like to see

    Gaudreau – Bennet – Hudler
    Colborne -Monahan-Jones
    MayRay – Backlund- Frolik
    Bollig- Stajan -Jooris

    Line 1- Bennett gets time with the scorers while Monahan finds his game on line 2

    Line 2 -Colbourne with Monahan because he can win battles on the boards, and jones because he puts pucks at the net. I think that second line could work because everyone puts the puck to the net where Monahan can put it in.

    Line 3- Shutdown line plus two good possesion players pushing Raymond into the offensive zone where hopefully he can do something.

    Line 4- I wish i could byron on the left wing.. Stajan and Jooris great energy and will play effective fourth line role.

  • Oil City Roller

    I keep going back to this but it pains me to see Backlund centring the 4 th line. Why can’t we see him play wing? Try this for a few games:

    Backlund/Monahan/Hudler

    Gaudreau/Bennett/Colborne

    Frolik/Stajan/Jooris

    Jones/Grant or Granlund/Bollig/Raymond

    Maybe Backlund can get the puck going the right way for Monahan & then opens up Hudler & lets get some offensive zone time for Backlund & Monahan. Probably having a second decent centre with Monahan wouldn’t hurt.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Agree, I think Cammy back here makes sense if we can swing a deal with NJ to give them one or more of Wideman, Hiller, Ramo, Raymond, Russell, etc so we dont take on too much salary

  • everton fc

    Bennett-Monahan-Gaudreau

    Frolik-Stajin-Hudler

    Colborne-Backlund-Jones

    Raymond-Jooris-Bollig/Grant/Byron:(

    Gio-Wideman

    Brodie-Hamilton

    Russell-Shlemko whoops i mean england

    Starting golie: a Sharpshooter

    Backup: Hiller/Ramo

  • everton fc

    I wonder if they’re shopping Backlund so they can promote Granlund, or even slot Grant onto the 4th line, as he’s a natural centre? Seems a waste to have a guy like Backlund trapped on the 4th line; may be time, and best for all parties, if they could move him as part of a package (one of the d-men or goalies – Wideman/Russell/Smid/Prospect?/Ramo/Hiller) to a team in need of a good two-way centre. Granlund can certainly score. Backlund can’t consistently. And we need scoring.

    I do like Jones on that line w/Gaudreau & Bennett. Lke it a lot, and like the third line, as well.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    JoJoo – Sean Murder Monahan – FroFro

    Johnny – Benny – Jonesy

    MayRay – Mickis – HudRat

    Colbort – Franchise – Grant/Granny/Ferklund/Poirier

    I’d rather have another top line wing option so that JoJoo could move down to 2, Jonesy could move down to 4.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Not concerned about Backs. If I remember correctly he did some time in the 4th line last year as it took a bit of time to get going. Only a matter of time for Backs to get it back….

  • cberg

    I realize the article is a conceptual line-scrambling exercise, but C’mon guys, how about a little consistency? There has been massive line scrambling already and perhaps we just need to settle down and let some chemistry develop.