Flames best and worst line combos from 2015-16

It’s September, the time when hockey fans start to create depth charts and line combinations in earnest. 

Brad Treliving did some reconstructive surgery to the club’s starboard side this year, so it’s hard to predict just how the new forward units will shake out. A new coaching staff behind the bench adds another layer of unpredictability.

For now, all we can go on was what worked (and what didn’t) last year. Former coach Bob Hartley cycled through a number of different alternatives up front in his quest to find chemistry. Some worked out well, others… not so much.

Here’s a look at the Flames’ three best and three worst line combos from last season.

For the sake of this investigation, I limited things to trios that spent at least 60 minutes together at even strength. Anything less than that and we run into serious sample size concerns.

The top 3 

Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler 

  • TOI: 412 mins
  • CF%: 51.25
  • REL CF%: +6.55
  • GF%: 54
  • ZS%: 56

Surprised? Hudler’s drop off seemed steep last year, but his work with the kids still counted as some of the best on the team. This trio played the most together out of any on the club up front and they were relatively sheltered, but they put together the best relative corsi rate and outscored the bad guys at 5on5.

Bennett – Backlund – Frolik

  • TOI: 260 mins
  • CF%: 51.5
  • REL CF%: +4.69
  • GF%: 55
  • ZS%: 50

Perhaps the best LWer the Backlund line had last year wasn’t a LWer at all – it was rookie, C Sam Bennett. The trio played just over 260 minutes together and put up some pretty nice results, including an outstanding goal for ratio of 55% and the second best relative possession rate of any regular combination.

Colborne – Backlund – Frolik

  • TOI: 106 mins
  • CF%: 53.47
  • REL CF%: +4.51
  • GF%: 62.5
  • ZS%: 51

Everything worked for this unit when it was put together down the stretch. They kept the puck in the offensive end and they seemed to score on every other shot they took. The incredible 62.5% goals for ratio is partially the outcome of a 104 PDO, meaning these guys also happened to run hot during their time together. 

Honourable Mention:

Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland

  • TOI: 144 mins
  • CF%: 54.18
  • REL CF%: +4.51
  • GF%: 45.5
  • ZS%: 45

No regular trio managed a better raw corsi ratio than Ferland with Monahan and Gaudreau. The group also wasn’t at all sheltered in terms of zone starts when they were together and managed one of the highest relative corsi rates as well. What’s also interesting is they generated 61.94 shot attempts for per 60 minutes – the highest shot rate of any unit in this sample.

The problem? They couldn’t score. An ice cold PDO of 96 meant they gave up more than they got during their time together, even though they tended to outshoot and outchance the opposition. For further context, this unit’s scoring chance ratio was over 57% and their expected GF% was over 54% according to Corsica Hockey. They just didn’t get the bounces during their brief stint together. 

Worth another shot perhaps? 

The bottom 3

Bouma – Stajan – Bollig

  • TOI: 69 mins
  • CF%: 35.71
  • REL CF%: -14.35
  • GF%: 0.0
  • ZS%: 44

No surprises here. Bouma, Stajan and Bollig actually didn’t play too much together, but when they did they got annihilated. In over an hour of even strength hockey this line didn’t manage a single goal, resulting in a goal for ratio of 0. Almost 65% of pucks were directed at the Flames’ net with these guys on the ice and their relative possession rate is about six points below the next worse option. 

Hopefully we don’t see this combo again. 

Granlund – Bennett – Hudler

  • TOI: 62.6 mins
  • CF%: 38.1
  • REL CF%: -8.18
  • GF%: 33.3
  • ZS%: 56

When Sam Bennett moved back to the centre, this was one of Hartley’s ill-fated experiments. There’s no area of the game where Bennett and company didn’t get crushed: shot attempts for, shot attempts against, scoring chances, goals, relative stats – you name a metric, they were bad. On top of all that, they were given relatively soft minutes by Hartley and still couldn’t keep their heads above water. 

All I can say is good riddance to Markus Granlund (because bad results like this followed him around).

Colborne – Stajan – Jones

  • TOI: 126 mins
  • CF%: 40.51
  • REL CF%: -8.73
  • GF%: 55.6
  • ZS%: 59

Despite being hyper sheltered with a nearly 60% zone start ratio, the Stajan, Jones, Colborne line gave up 20 more shot attempts per hour than they generated. The only thing that kept them afloat was a 105 PDO, somehow gifting them a goal for ratio of over 55%. The scoring chance percentage for this combo was only 44% and their expected GF% was just 47%, so someone made a Faustian bargain to gift them such a complimentary goal ratio during their time together. 

Honourable Mention: 

Gaudreau – Monahan – Jones

  • TOI: 116 mins
  • CF%: 43.16
  • REL CF%: -6.64
  • GF%: 68.8
  • ZS%: 62

One of the Flames’ worst overall forward units was also its luckiest. Hartley gave this trio the highest ground of any in this sample and they still gave up a ton of ground and chances. Despite abysmal possession rates, a scoring chance percentage of just 43%, and an expected GF% of just 45%, Gaudreau, Monahan and Jones were well in the black at even strength in terms of goals. 

They can thank whatever fairy god mother that granted them a PDO of 113 (!!) in 116 minutes together, making them by far the most fortunate trio on the club. Of course, if they had stayed together for any length of time, there’s no way they would have continued to outscore the bad guys given their lousy underlying numbers.

Conclusion

There were other combos of interest that came in under the 60 minute threshold. The Bouma, Backlund, Frolik line, for example, managed a CF% of over 57% – the highest of any Calgary trio – but were outscored 0-3 in limited minutes, so they didn’t survive (even though they had an expected GF% of almost 60%. Bad luck!). Bouma seems to ONLY work Mikael Backlund for whatever reason. 

At the other end of the scale, Bollig, Stajan and Hathaway put together a CF% of 33% (REL corsi of -19%) in about 54 minutes of ice. Disastrous. 

Here’s a table of the sample included in this investigation, but I encourage you to try Corsica Hockey’s combo tool for yourself. Many of the combos listed obviously aren’t available this season, but it gives us some idea of what works and what doesn’t. 

P1 P2 P3 TOI CF60 CA60 CF% GF% rel CF% ZS% PDO
SEAN.MONAHAN JIRI.HUDLER JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 410.02 54 51.36 51.25 53.9 6.55 56% 101
MIKAEL.BACKLUND SAM.BENNETT MICHAEL.FROLIK 260.27 59.25 55.79 51.5 55 4.69 50% 100
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU SEAN.MONAHAN MICHEAL.FERLAND 144.34 61.94 52.38 54.18 45.5 4.51 45% 96
JOE.COLBORNE MIKAEL.BACKLUND MICHAEL.FROLIK 106.21 61.01 53.1 53.47 62.5 4.51 51% 104
MATT.STAJAN JOSH.JOORIS BRANDON.BOLLIG 91.75 47.74 48.39 49.66 33.3 1.01 46% 96
JOE.COLBORNE MATT.STAJAN MICHEAL.FERLAND 74.95 55.24 60.84 47.59 33.3 0.2 36% 95
MATT.STAJAN DAVID.JONES MICHEAL.FERLAND 66.88 45.75 48.44 48.57 33.3 -0.99 47% 96
SEAN.MONAHAN DAVID.JONES JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 116.34 53.64 70.65 43.15 68.8 -6.64 62% 113
MARKUS.GRANLUND SAM.BENNETT JIRI.HUDLER 62.6 38.34 62.3 38.1 33.3 -8.18 56% 100
JOE.COLBORNE MATT.STAJAN DAVID.JONES 126.32 45.6 66.97 40.51 55.6 -8.73 59% 105
MATT.STAJAN LANCE.BOUMA BRANDON.BOLLIG 69.06 39.1 70.37 35.71 0 -14.35 44% 97
  • Baalzamon

    Just one thing, Kent: Bennett DID NOT play center when he was with Granlund. Granlund was the center.

    I remember that period of time vividly because it was pure torture to watch. The line would have been vastly superior if only Hartley had indeed played Bennett as the center (though it still would have been bad because Granlund).

      • Baalzamon

        It’s truly amazing how bad Granlund’s results were. It really seems like the Flames moved on from him at exactly the right time, because he’s apparently not comfortable on the wing, and clearly not capable of playing center.

        It’s a shame, because he has the tools to be a good goal scoring winger in the vein of Vrbata (though smaller and less good).

  • Styxx

    It will be interesting to see how GG assembles the lines, particularly with a couple new faces.

    Assuming Backlund & Frohlich are paired, that likely leaves Brouwer or possibly Tkachuk or Shinkaruk to line up with Gaudreau & Monahan. However Ferland’s results were better than I expected and he may still be a candidate if they achieved a normalized PDO.

    Stajan’s results looked poorer than I would have thought…time for GG to have Staj school Janks as his successor while stashing Bollig in the minors.

      • Styxx

        Yes I agree and feel badly for what Stajan has had to endure.

        From the dark days when he was the fans’ whipping boy for being part of a bad trade to persevering to emerge as a respected elder and quiet leader, he has had lead tied to his feet and thrown in the deep end for the last couple years.

        That said…after being a mentor for Bennett I am hoping he can do the same with Jankowski, eventually sliding over to wing while Janks gets face-off and Centre experience.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I always liked the idea this year of Ferland/Backlund/Frolik. But there’s something to be said about Bouma with Backlund as well, if it optimizes his results.

    So how about:

    Gaudreau/Monahan/Ferland

    Shinkaruk/Bennett/Brouwer

    Bouma/Backlund/Frolik

    Hathaway/Stajan/Chiasson

    You could interchange Hathaway with Vey or Higgins depending on what the Flames do.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I understand this is outside the intent of this article, but I’m curious how all the line combinations did with each of the defence pairings. By my eye only, Backlund/Frolik/whoever got all the Wideman/Russell assignments (particularly Russell).

    I expect the team was doing their best to pad Russell’s results with the most defensively responsible forwards.

  • Kensington

    The CF% for Backlund (with Frolic) shows me how valuable he is in that most players improved playing with him. If Ferland could convert on his chances at any reasonable rate he may find himself a first line job.