Given the Calgary Flames’ struggles this season – as I write this, they’re dead-last in the National Hockey League – many fans and pundits have been calling for Flames management to axe Bob Hartley as head coach. Granted, I’m not sure that would solve many of the team’s problems, but one big axe I have to grind with Hartley is his lines.
To avoid beating around the bush, Hartley’s relying far too much on the same few lines, even when they’ve failed to generate much offensively (or are getting stomped defensively). To see what I mean, let’s look at the lines the Flames have largely been rolling with this season.
THE FIVE MOST COMMON FORWARD GROUPS
- Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler (15.56% of ES ice-time)
- Joe Colborne – Matt Stajan – David Jones (10.28% of ES ice-time)
- Sam Bennett – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik (9.9% of ES ice-time)
- Joe Colborne – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler (3.77% of ES ice-time)
- Micheal Ferland – Matt Stajan – David Jones (3.12% of ES ice-time)
THE FIVE MOST COMMON DEFENSIVE PAIRS
- Mark Giordano & T.J. Brodie (19.23% of ES ice-time)
- Kris Russell & Dougie Hamilton (16.18% of ES ice-time)
- Kris Russell & Dennis Wideman (12.59% of ES ice-time)
- Deryk Engelland & Dennis Wideman (9.22% of ES ice-time)
- Mark Giordano & Dennis Wideman (8.93% of ES ice-time)
EVALUATING THE LINES
(GF%/GA%: percentage of Calgary’s even-strength GF/GA that line is on for)
Before your eyes pop out of your head, the second group gets the tough minutes and absolutely buried into their own end in terms of zone starts. That said: woof. That group should be separated. And considering that Monahan hasn’t been great this season AND Hudler hasn’t been great this season AND Gaudreau is the team’s most potent offensive driver, the team should move Gaudreau onto another line to spread things out a bit.
That said, it’s nice to see that two of the most-used lines are at least scoring more goals than they’re giving up. In this light, 19-Year-Old Sam Bennett’s having a pretty solid rookie season.
EVALUATING THE PAIRINGS
|Giordano & Brodie||220:27||10||25.0%||15||25.0%||49.6%|
|Russell & Hamilton||194:48||7||17.5%||10||16.7%||45.7%|
|Russell & Wideman||156:38||7||17.5%||14||23.3%||42.9%|
|Engelland & Wideman||108:46||3||7.5%||1||1.7%||44.1%|
|Giordano & Wideman||111:49||2||5.0%||5||8.3%||51.7%|
When you see this, ask yourself one question: is Kris Russell really this bad? So far, the answer is yes. Every player he plays a ton of minutes with sees their numbers crater. Most notably, the Flames absolutely have to keep Russell and Wideman apart. Also worth noting: Engelland and Wideman are the only one of the “regular” pairings to generate more goals than they give up.
Yes, I’m as terrified by that as you are.
If the idea is to mix things up with an eye towards giving the Flames a fighting chance and making it harder for opposition coaches to isolate their offensive players, here’s the line-up I’d probably recommend based on how the different lines have performed together.
Colborne – Monahan – Hudler
Gaudreau – Backlund – Raymond
Bennett – Granlund – Frolik
Ferland – Stajan – Jones
Scratches would likely be Jooris & Bollig. Colborne and Monahan can rotate face-offs and you get a couple big bodies with Hudler, who’s not big. The second line really emphasizes speed and you have two guys that can benefit from Gaudreau generating scoring chances. Bennett and Granlund can rotate face-offs and learn from a strong 200-foot player in Frolik. And the fourth line grouping has already proven they can handle tough minutes, and it’ll give Ferland a chance to further develop his niche a as a physical limited-minutes player.
Giordano – Brodie
Russell – Hamilton
Engelland – Wideman
Smid would be the lone scratch. While Russell is a sink-hole defensively (and offensively) right now, the other two pairings are doing well enough that it’s probably worth keeping them together given the alternative would be moving them onto worse pairings for the sake of change.
The key here is that the Flames need to shuffle up their lines and keep them shuffled for awhile. While line chemistry is important, the bigger issue is that teams are doing their homework when they face the Flames. Considering there’s a metric ton of video on the Gaudreau/Monahan/Hudler line, for instance, sticking with old lines when the team’s struggling is playing right into their hands – the playbook on beating the Flames has been written already, so it doesn’t make sense to try and out-smart other teams by doing more of the same.
Straight-up: the Flames need change. If management is unwilling or unable to change up the coach, and the trade market is non-existent, the only thing they can do is shuffle the deck and try to present the best version of the 23 players they have available to them.