Who plays with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan this season?

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(Candice Ward / USA Today Sports)

Now that the contractual mess is over with and the games are finally set to begin, we can finally address a burning question: who the heck lines up alongside Johnny Gaudreau and center Sean Monahan on the Flames’ top line?

WHY MONAHAN?

Gaudreau has played 160 regular season games in the National Hockey League, which amounts to roughly 2,315 minutes of even strength ice time. Of that time, approximately 64.8% of it has been spent with Monahan.

The Gaudreau/Monahan connection works for both players. Gaudreau has 1.7% better Corsi percentage with Monahan than apart (2.07 better CF60 and 1.89 better CA60), and Monahan has 5.2% better Corsi percentage (6.89 better CF60 and 4.66 better CA60). Long story short: they’re better offensively and defensively together than apart. Given the team’s obsession with pairs throughout their lineup, these guys fit together extremely well.

PAST THIRD WHEELS

The challenge is finding a reliable third member of their band. In 2014-15, Jiri Hudler was on that line for basically the entire season to great success. In 2015-16 they tried that approach again and it never quite gelled.

That led to a rotating cast on that line, and the big challenge for this season is this: the five most common non-Monahan partners for Gaudreau have all left the organization.

  • Gaudreau spent 52.9% of his ES time with Hudler, who is with Dallas.
  • Josh Jooris (12.6%) is with the Rangers.
  • David Jones (9.8%) is a free agent.
  • Joe Colborne (8.3%) is in Colorado.
  • Markus Granlund (8.0%) is with Vancouver.

The most frequent surviving winger that played alongside Gaudreau and Monahan is Micheal Ferland, who played on his off-side and represents just 6.7% of the sniper’s overall ice time.

SOME CONTENDERS

The requirements to play alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, at least under Bob Hartley, were as follows: big, physical, ideally a right shot (or willing to play the off-side). There were few, if any, departures from that mould, the most obvious being Hunter Shinkaruk (who played with them a bit after he came over from the Canucks). 

Ideally, you’d like somebody who is fast enough to play with the top line guys and talented enough to bury some chances if they bounce their way. Physicality and/or size would be nice, but I’m not sure that the coaching staff wants to give up talent on the top line to get it.

For this season, let’s presume that Glen Gulutzan would rather not break up any of the established pairings (Gaudreau/Monahan, Brouwer/Bennett, Frolik/Backlund) and would rather swap around bodies to complement those groupings and make them as effective as possible.

So who’s left?

MICHEAL FERLAND: The remaining winger with the most experience playing with the dynamic duo, Ferland is big and rugged and the thought is that he could be good in a crash-and-bang, puck retrieval role. He has experience playing the off-wing last season with Gaudreau and Monahan, and has displayed a scoring touch in junior.

KRIS VERSTEEG: Just snatched from the clutches of the Oilers, Versteeg is a really interesting case. He’s a right shot, a good skater and a rock solid two-way player. The only knock against him is that he himself is not a high-level offensive talent. But he’s shown the ability to play with high-end players in the past, and it seems as if he’ll start off the season with Gaudreau and Monahan.

MATTHEW TKACHUK: Sort of a blend between Ferland and Shinkaruk, Tkachuk is rugged and talented and could be a nice complement to the 200-foot presence of Monahan and Gaudreau’s finesse and speed. But do you want to break up that strong second line (with Bennett and Brouwer)?

FREDDIE HAMILTON: It might be a bit of a reach, but hear me out. He’s a right shot. He can take faceoffs, which would allow Monahan to cheat a bit on offensive draws while retaining the safety net of somebody that can win draws if he gets thrown out. Hamilton’s a player that’s pretty good at everything but doesn’t have any huge strengths. In short? He’s carryable, and his ability to take draws could really help a trio that’ll see a lot of offensive zone starts.

  • RKD

    That’s the million dollar question, my guess is Ferland or Versteeg. Tkachuk has looked pretty good, it wouldn’t hurt to try him up there. They haven’t had a top line RW since Iggy. It’s mostly been a revolving door of guys who are 2nd or 3rd liners moved up by necessity as opposed to skill. Imagine how much more deadly that line would be with a top line RW.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Versteeg strikes me as the obvious choice. He has a history of playing with elite offensive players, and in addition to that, Ferland has had his best games with Backlund, and Tkachuk has spent most of preseason stapled to Bennet’s line.

  • Hockeyfan

    I think MF is a good choice for the first 6 to 7 games. He has skill and can provide some grit to the line. it would be nice to see SB’s line with TB & MT gel with a some scoring.

  • RedMan

    Pribyl will get a shot after conditioning and adjusting to the NA ice and style. I have my fingers crossed that he can translate his game and add as adjusting supporter to the top line. But I expect Versteeg to start there on the top line tonight.

  • Backburner

    Versteeg.

    He’s slightly better then Brouwer and he’s a natural RW.

    I think the best place for Ferland to succeed is 3rd line LW next to Backlund and Frolik.

    Sure he’s got some dangles but top line I think is just a little bit of a stretch for him.

        • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

          He should have more points if he plays on the first line than an 18 year old rookie who has not played a game in a new league and a new country on a new continent while learning a new way of life and a new language.
          Nah he still gets more points than Versteeg.

          • Rexx

            With all those tough adjustments you’ve just outlined, it sounds like your Finnish hero isn’t fit to be playing in the NHL this season at all, let alone being gifted a roster spot…

            It will be nice to witness the VersteegTrain tonight.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    How about my long-wished trade happens and we get Toffoli from LA Kings to play top-line RW since LA is always up against the cap? To make it happen, we have to give up something strong so something like Ferland and a prospect and a 2nd rounder or maybe Jokipakka, a 2nd and a couple prospects.

    • flames2015

      How about the fact that its impossible? We are right up against the salary cap and your talking about adding a $4 million player. Not to mention the kings would never go for it.

      • Greatsave

        To be fair, not impossible. Toffoli makes $3.25m this season, so with Smid’s $3.5m on LTIR we have plenty of room.

        It would introduce other headaches, but nothing we can’t solve. Protecting him in expansion draft is no problem. Re-signing him should be fine as well with all the money coming off the books next summer. The biggest hurdle is whether the Kings have any appetite for moving him, and what the price would be.

        • flames2015

          Treliving has expressed the reluctance to place smid on LTIR stating it comes with many complications. Salary cap issues aside for this year, Toffoli is an RFA next season, who warrants a pay raise given an avg of 50 pts in the last 2 seasons and he’s at his prime at age 24. Even with the bad contracts we will shed this summer, at the minimal we still have Bennett to re-sign and two goaltenders. And as you mentioned, the Kings desire to move him and the cost. In reponse to the initial post, Ferlund/ Jokkipaka and some prospects are not going to get us Toffoli.

          • Greatsave

            If you’re equating “reluctance” with “impossible”, then I have nothing to say to that. I won’t pretend to know what Treliving’s thinking re: Smid on LTIR; all I know is the payroll is awful close to the ceiling, which in my mind correlates with a desire to maximize LTIR savings.

            Bennett and Elliott might get, what, $9-10m between them next season? That still leaves us with potentially $12m to play with. Yes we’ll still need a few more bodies, but chances are re-ups won’t command significant raises, or we can just let go and promote from within.

            Treliving wouldn’t be doing this job if he didn’t look into these possibilities, but on the Kings’ side it’s still likely a non-starter. They have $60m tied up next season, but their only significant re-ups are Toffoli and Pearson, and they should have no problem fitting them in.

    • T&A4Flames

      It would take a lot more than Ferland, prospect and a 2nd. Maybe if Ferly had a good season last year, but LA would want scoring potential on ELC’s I would think. So, likely Tkachuk and our 1st. Possibly they would except a Dman they feel they could soon pair with Doughty, like Jokki. I would love Toffoli as well, but being as how he is one of their very few young players, I just don’t see them giving him up without multiple young pieces with top potential.

  • FireScorpion

    Lines are great tonight. defensively an experiment. Guess we’ll see a top defender on each pairing and see what Grossmann can bring.
    Dougie needs to be over 20 minutes. Ugh and no Kevin 🙁 Not cool …

  • BobB

    Most logical? Versteeg (A) or Frolik (B) on a 1st-3rd rotation, perhaps Brouwer (C) now and then if/when things get really stale/desperate.

    With everything we know about Kris Versteeg I cannot imagine he and Backlund not being able to knock it out of the park together.

    I’m still shocked we can get a utility player of his caliber for less than 1 million in 2016.

  • Newbietwo

    Dougie is being wasted on the third pairing line as right defence he needs to swap with Engelland.. I get the bought process to balance the lines and offensive but he won’t be playing all three lines the same in minutes honestly

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    OK JUST FOR FUN… Armchair GM Time!
    With the “spirit” of Halloween coming up, I’d like to bring up an old ghost for the hell of it.
    What would be your thoughts on re-acquiring via trade #12 from Colorado?
    Iggy has a cap hit of $5,333,333 (& a No Movement clause) he is way older at 39 and will be a UFA at the end of the year. So What is his value today? Would Calgary even want to add him?
    What about a comparable player (situational wise)Dennis Wideman? His cap hit is $5,250,000(& a No Movement clause) Younger at 33 and will be a UFA at the end of the year as well.
    Would both players waive their No Movement clause? That might not be so far fetched as Iggy might consider coming back to play with Monahan (a Real Centre, Finally) & Gaudreau and possibly retire a Flame. Wideman might get a fresh start from the reffs without the Flaming C on his chest(still doubtful).
    This also couldn’t happen until after Smid gets put on LTIR and Maybe Tkachuk gets sent down after 9(Versteeg takes his place).
    OK, So a one-4-one would not be enough for Iggy I’m betting, So who can you add? Colorado Only has a Mill($1,177,740) in cap space So I’m thinking a roster player wont work.
    Colorado is supposedly also full of good young D-man Prospects but are week in depth on the wings esp RW.
    So, What is Iggy Worth? Wideman + Who? Poirier? Or Klimchuk? Or Hunter Smith? Or would a 2nd or a 3rd do it? Or a of combination of both. What Do You Think would make it work for both sides if at all?
    Just wanted to throw it out there… plausible or not.