Tonight, Calgary hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins; afterwards, they’re back on the road.
The Flames have an upcoming four-game road trip that will take them through Florida, up to DC, and over to Chicago before they return back home. It’s a trip that spans over about one week, and it’s a trip during which the Flames will have an extra body present.
Micheal Ferland, who suffered a sprained knee on an ill-advised hitting attempt, is skating, and he’ll be on the road trip to boot. Whether he plays it not yet known, but like with T.J. Brodie joining the Flames on an earlier road trip and then playing, well, you have to get at least a little excited.
What does this mean for the lineup?
First things first: the Flames have 23 roster players, so someone will have to move. The Flames could keep everyone they have up and place Jonas Hiller on the injured reserve, or they could send someone down.
If they send someone down, there are three major candidates: Brandon Bollig, Derek Grant, and Mason Raymond. All three forwards have been in and out of the lineup. Of the three, it’s probably Grant – who is more a career AHLer than anything else – who would get sent down. Sending down Raymond would pretty much be a death knell, and with another year of a $3.15 million cap hit, that’s not desirable. Bollig, meanwhile, doesn’t have a lot of value, but his presence appears to be loved anyway.
With that taken care of, there’s another issue to sort out: whose spot does Ferland claim? In all likelihood, another one of Bollig, Grant, or Raymond’s, depending on who is still remaining with the team.
This is where it makes the most sense to hold Bollig out of the lineup. After all, his greatest asset is his physicality, which Ferland provides. And Ferland can play more than 10 minutes a game and has scoring potential, so he’s a better player to have.
But where does he go?
Considering how Bob Hartley is constantly mixing and matching line combinations to figure out who works best, that part, as it stands, is currently unclear.
Let’s work with the present line combinations. Ferland is unlikely to unseat any of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, or Michael Frolik from the top six, so we can cross him off there. (In fact, the only way that seems likely to happen is if Bennett is moved back to centre, Backlund bumped down to the third line, and the Flames, needing another left winger up there, promote Ferland. Which is entirely possible, but probably not for his immediate return.)
That third line looks like it has familiar components, though. In the playoffs, Ferland formed a pretty good line with Matt Stajan and David Jones, and wouldn’t you know it, but Stajan and Jones are together again, albeit with Joe Colborne presently on the left side.
Bump Colborne down to centre the fourth line, and you have:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
Bennett – Backlund – Frolik
Ferland – Stajan – Jones
Raymond – Colborne – Jooris
That doesn’t seem bad at all.
But that group keeps Bennett on the wing and separated from Gaudreau, two things that aren’t exactly desirable. So to correct for that, here’s another possibility for Ferland’s return:
Gaudreau – Bennett – Frolik
Ferland – Monahan – Hudler
Colborne – Backlund – Jooris
Raymond – Stajan – Jones
Potentially swap Frolik and Hudler or Ferland and Colborne as necessary.
It may not be as strong a combination. The top six forwards aren’t necessarily the six best forwards on the team, although Ferland has the potential to grow into that. At least during pre-season – which means nothing, but hey, whatever, it’s still kinda something – he looked good in the role.
With Ferland in the lineup, the Flames forward group is potentially all the stronger. And if Ferland reaches the level he found in the playoffs, then the forward group is definitely much stronger: when he makes his return, and for the future, as well.