It’s been a while since the Flames were completely healthy up front. If nothing happens in the interim, the approaching return of RW Kris Versteeg is going to force Calgary’s coaches to make some decisions among the forward group as a result.
Who is going to sit in the press box once the 31-year-old returns from the infirmary? And perhaps more importantly, what are the lines going to look like?
There’s a short list of obvious candidates who could be bumped to the pressbox: Garnet Hathaway and Lance Bouma. Both guys are at the end of the rotation and both guys have some of the worst underlying numbers on the team. They are suited for their role, if you believe that the fourth line has to be staffed by crash and bangers, but their utility is limited.
For the sake of argument, there’s another scratch option: Troy Brouwer.
Brouwer’s early returns on the surface are just okay (13 points in 31 games). Below the surface, however, they are ugly. Amongst regular Flames forwards, only Hathaway gets outshot and outchanced more than Brouwer at even strength (and Garnet starts way more often in the defensive zone).
Brouwer has also been inefficient at producing at even strength. His 1.16 points per 60 minutes of ice at 5on5 is the third lowest up front, ahead of only Freddie Hamilton and Lance Bouma. That’s fourth liner production, despite playing with many of the team’s better players. We’ll likely have more on Brouwer’s struggles down the road.
For now, we can assume that Brouwer won’t be taking a seat in the pressbox for various reasons. What should probably happen, though, is less ice time at even strength for now. He’s not scoring enough to play in the top six and he’s getting completely outplayed defensively as well. Time to drop him down the rotation.
Assuming Hathaway takes a seat to accommodate Versteeg, here’s how I’d like to see the line-up shake out:
- Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
- Gaudreau – Bennett – Chiasson
- Ferland – Monahan – Versteeg
- Bouma – Stajan – Brouwer
Monahan can play relatively sheltered minutes with a two-way force (Ferland) and a savvy puck distributor (Versteeg). Backlund’s line can continue to take the toughest minutes, leaving Gaudreau and Bennett to take on second liners.
That’s how I see things. What do you envision for the roster when Versteeg returns?