What should the Flames’ lineup look like?

The Flames have been dressing rather consistent lineups as of late. Unfortunately, their ability to score at even strength seems to have dried up, while their powerplay – loading their top talent alongside one another – has been thriving.

It’s only natural to question and propose new lineups in such a time. There are a number of key questions on what the lineup should look like, too, so let’s tackle that.

The NHL roster freeze is in affect, so what we see is what we get for at the next two games, no exceptions.

That means, when forming lineups, these are the only players available to us.

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Lance Bouma, Troy Brouwer, Alex Chiasson, Micheal Ferland, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Freddie Hamilton, Garnet Hathaway, Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan, Matthew Tkachuk, Kris Versteeg

Defence: T.J. Brodie, Deryk Engelland, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Jyrki Jokipakka, Dennis Wideman, Tyler Wotherspoon

Goaltending: Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson

And a refresher with what the Flames have been going with as of late:

Gaudreau – Bennett – Chiasson

Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik

Versteeg – Monahan – Brouwer

Ferland – Stajan – Bouma/Hathaway

F. Hamilton

Giordano – D. Hamilton

Brodie – Wideman

Jokipakka – Engelland

Wotherspoon

Elliott/Johnson

The goaltending poses its own question, which has little effect on the rest of the skaters. There are a couple of key breakdowns there, though, that decide the rest of the lineup.

Who should be Gaudreau’s centre?

If there’s one thing the Flames aren’t short on, it’s centres. There are three good options to play with Calgary’s top offensive player.

Backlund is a proven extremely capable two-way player who can be trusted to score around half a point-per-game in a season. He’s a playmaker who should have no problem dishing out the puck and supporting Gaudreau on both sides of the ice. As a bonus, he automatically comes with a quality right wing attached to the line in Frolik who does pretty much all the same things he does.

Bennett is the latest combination, and the two of them look like they fit together on the ice. There’s reason to estimate Bennett could be the Flames’ unquestioned number one centre one day, in which case, playing him with the number one winger only makes sense.

Monahan and Gaudreau have years of proven chemistry, and it’s only furthered as they play on the same powerplay unit. We know these two can work together, and now that both appear to be over their horrible starts to the seasons, putting them back together makes sense.

If you look at Gaudreau’s WOWY stats so far this season, they actually most support playing him with Monahan: in 277:55 of shared 5v5 time, they have a CF of 52.79%. In 99:58 with Bennett, they’re at 40.46%. Both pairs get favourable zone starts, with Monahan’s being a little better. Gaudreau really hasn’t played enough with Backlund to analyze that potential partnership.

This brings us to another question: if not with Backlund and Frolik, who is his right winger?

What side should Versteeg play on?

Versteeg has taken up the left side as of late, giving Monahan two veteran wingers to play alongside. He is, however, a right shot: something that we thought was coveted on the Flames until it turns out they can just play them on the left side anyway.

Although Versteeg being a healthy right shot has gone a long way to fix the powerplay, so. Maybe it’s time to put him back on the right?

Frolik and Brouwer probably aren’t going anywhere, but there’s a glaring misfit in the top nine: Chiasson. He really doesn’t have the skill Gaudreau and Bennett have, which makes his presence on their line baffling and, seemingly, an easy fix.

If you move Versteeg to the right side, you bump Chiasson down to the fourth line, and need a new left winger to move into the top nine. Enter the most obvious of candidates: Ferland, who really is better than fourth line minutes anyway.

Seriously, I don’t understand how this hasn’t happened already.

Pause: potential top nine combos

So we’ve got a few options here, none of which strike me as particularly terrible.

Gaudreau – Bennett/Monahan – Versteeg

Ferland – Bennett/Monahan – Brouwer

Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik

Or mix it up even further, and…

Gaudreau – Bennett/Monahan – Versteeg

Tkachuk – Bennett/Monahan – Brouwer

Ferland – Backlund – Frolik

Put Monahan with Gaudreau and Bennett with Tkachuk and those are the groupings the Flames started the season with. True, they were disastrous; on the other hand, they’ve had time to get to learn Glen Gulutzan’s system by now. Wouldn’t that be worth a look again?

What about the fourth line?

We’re now left with five players to fill three spots: Bouma, Chiasson, Hamilton, Hathaway, and Stajan.

Let’s get this out of the way: Stajan is easily the best player of this group. He does not get scratched. He could play left wing or centre, but he stays in the lineup.

Chiasson is probably a better option than Bouma or Hathaway, which presumably would fill in the right side, though he could always be asked to play out of position if necessary. Bouma and Hathaway are the same type of player: big bruisers whose role is to provide energy and, um, provide energy. Probably hit or fight a dude or two. That’s about it. They’re kind of interchangeable.

Meanwhile, I’m not entirely sure why the elder Hamilton constantly gets the shaft. He’s not amazing, but he’s not a liability, either, and he needs another 24 games to fill an eligibility requirement for the expansion draft. It’d probably be a good thing to get him those games, just in case the Flames need him to count.

The second defence pairing?

I think we can all agree that Giordano and Hamilton are working great together, and there isn’t much reason to split them up. Unfortunately, that leaves Brodie completely stranded one way or another, most often on the left side this season.

And because of the upcoming expansion draft, there really isn’t a fix for it this season. Next season, though, that should be a priority of the Flames – whether praying one of their upcoming defence prospects can step up and fill the gap sooner rather than later, or whether via free agency. There are a number of guys who haven’t yet been re-signed could be potential fits – Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Kulikov, for example – but for now, there isn’t really much that can be done.

Unless you actually wanted to dress Wotherspoon or even Brett Kulak when he was up and maybe even test them out in the top four alongside Brodie at some point, because it’s not like there would be anything to lose in such a scenario and at the minimum knowledge to gain, but that would be just crazy, wouldn’t it?

  • buts

    The best lineup is to put apples with apples and oranges with oranges or your best forwards on a line and best D together. Trying to balance lines and d’s just drag good players down i.e. when Chiasson plays with Jonny. They just think on the same page. Also when Dougie play with Gio or Brodie….he drags them down.

  • pcj42

    Chucky – Mony – Johnny

    Ferly – Benny – Brouws

    Frolls – Backs – Steeger

    Booms – Staj – Hathy

    – F. Hamilton & Chasser

    Gio – Hammy

    Spoons – Brods

    Kuls – Engs

    – Wides – Kevin

    Elliot
    Johnson

    That would be the best in my opinion, Trade Joki if possible

  • Ktop

    I posted this before. It’s something that hasn’t been done to my knowledge.

    Gaudreau – Backlund – Frolik

    Tkachuk – Bennett – Versteeg

    Ferland – Monahan – Brouwer

    4 line the rest of them can fight for it.

    It gives us three lines that can score and play D.

  • Lucky 13

    Gaudreau-Monahan- Versteeg

    Tkachuk- Bennett- Brouwer

    Ferland- Backlund- Frolik

    F Hamilton- Stajan- Chiasson

    Giordano- D Hamilton

    Wotherspoon- Brodie

    Jokipakka- Engelland

    Brian Elliott

    I absolutely love Johnson, but it’s time to see if Elliott can do something in the crease. We need to know where we are with him and he needs to prove it to himself (confidence)

    • AF

      It would be nice to see Ferland get more minutes, long overdue for a promotion & I’d be interested to see what Tkachuk does w/ Brouwer and Bennett, maybe he’d help that line drive play a bit more.

      I think a lot of people have Gaudreau and Monahan reunited with Versteeg on the wing, I’d like to see that too, think there’s a lot of chemistry there.

  • Baalzamon

    Bennett and Tkachuk were great together at the start of the season (remember, there was a period where Bennett had the best underlying results on the team; that’s while he was playing with Tkachuk). But putting them back together would break up the only consistent line on the team. Still, is Ferland – Backlund – Frolik that much worse? It would certainly score less.

    I’ve been thinking for a while now that it might be time to reunite Gaudreau and Monahan (and there are signs recently that Gulutzan is thinking the same thing).

    My choice would be:

    1. Gaudreau – Monahan – Brouwer
    2. Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
    3. Ferland – Bennett – Versteeg
    4. Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson

    Tkachuk and Ferland can be switched if Bennett continues to struggle.

    • Kevin R

      I would tweak this:

      1. Gaudreau-Monahan-Versteeg

      2. Tkachuk-Bennett-Brouwer

      3. Ferland-Backlund-Frolik

      4.Hathaway-Stajan-Chiasson

      I don’t even want to go there on the defensive pairings because it’s just too damn dysfunctional. The thing I am excited about is that Chucky is proving himself to be a top 6 power forward who gets totally under the skin of the opponents. Too bad him & Gaudreau play the same position because he is what the doctor ordered for Johnny, except we need the RW.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Moving Johnny on a line with Backland and Frolik makes a lot of sense. He needs to be on a line that drives possession and spends most of its time in the offensive zone. On his current line most of the time is spent in the D zone and Johnny does not provide much value in this regard.

    The flip side is Johnny would have the toughest zone assignments and be matched against the other team’s top lines. His two linemates are not known for finishing and his shot is average.

    Most of Johnny’s chances and subsequent points have been coming on the powerplay. He does not seem to be driving the offence 5 v 5 like he has in the past.

    There is a lot of upside putting him with Bennett and Tkachuk as well. Keep playing him with Monny and Versteeg on the PP since the have great chemistry.

  • Parallex

    Chiasson needs to move (way) down the rotation…

    Gaudreau – Bennett – Brouwer

    Ferland – Monahan – Versteeg

    Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik

    Bouma – Stajan – Chiasson

    Hathaway/Hamilton

    The D-pairings are “fine”… I mean Wideman should be shot into the sun and all, but if you did that then Engellend would just take his place and that’s no improvement. Poor Brodie is going to be saddled playing his less comfortable side with a true talent bottom-pairing defender for the foreseeable future. Sucks for him but someone’s gotta do it.

  • RKD

    I’m really not too concerned regarding the lineup, the Gaudreau Bennett duo has worked well because Bennett is a lot faster than Monahan. They need another top 6 forward someone who is a pure goal scorer to get some goals or drive shots and chances at even strength. Also another top 4 d-man on the second pairing because after Hamilton and Brodie the drop off is too steep. Slow vets puck watching caught out of position then making a lame attempt to play goalie only to get beaten easily.

  • Just.Visiting

    The experiments on the right side to date have not paid the expected dividends and the current approaches seem to have us being on the path to being a possible playoff bubble team, so I’d be inclined to make some significant changes.

    I think that Monahan and Gaudreau seem to have recaptured their magic, and I’m not seeing the JG-Bennett magic at the moment, so I’d move SM and JG back together.

    Given that Tkachuk deserves top six minutes and potentially top line minutes, I’d try playing Matt with them and keep them together on the PP with Matt playing the front of net role. We’ve tried everything else on the RW, so I don’t know why we wouldn’t give this a try. While this may at first seem like it’s Matt’s off wing, he did play the right side in junior last year. (Like one of the other posters, I think that the idea of JG on the right side could also be interesting because of the vision this offers as he sets up plays, but that is not widely supported.)

    Of course, this leaves a hole on the “three M” line, so who better to fill that hole than Michael Ferland. He is playing his best hockey this year and is showing a nice blend of skill and physicality in a way that is very disciplined. He plays a similar game to Matt in many ways, so this seems like a natural fit. And he does deserve more minutes than he has been getting.

    I’d have Versteeg and Brower flank Sam.

    Fourth line is then Stajan and whomever feels right, although I do like Hathaway’s energy.

    On defence, the Gio-Hamilton pairing has worked much better than I expected. Unfortunately, this has meant that Brodie has suffered and is playing his less comfortable side. Perhaps try him with Joki and then have Wideman and DE on bottom pair, with Wideman getting some PP time or potentially shifted up to second pairing on occasion.

    In goal, I’d give Elliott a couple of starts to see what how he can contribute and then play it by ear in what might be a 1A-1B model.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I’m advocating for one change that should happen immediately. Put Brodie on the right side and make someone else play the left side (possibly Wotherspoon). The experiment on the left is over and I’d rather see Engelland or Wideman struggle than Brodie. When Brodie’s playing well he can overcome his partners’ shortcomings.

  • Greatsave

    @Ari

    Between “What side should Versteeg play on?” and “Seriously, I don’t understand how this hasn’t happened already.”, a sense of deja vu washed over me.

    Was this posted a couple weeks ago?

  • everton fc

    Ferland needs to stay on LW. 3rd line minimum. Tkachuk can play RW. Move Ferland to LW w/Backlund and Frolik (Frolik’s been cold as ice, of late – may be helpful to him) and try Tkachuk on RW w/Gaudreau and either Bennett or Monahan in the middle. Why not? Bouma slots in as 4th line LW, w/Stajan and Hathaway, or Chiasson.

    Chaisson is a 4th line RW. So is Hathaway. What to do?

    Freddie has reached his ceiling here, and in the NHL. He is replaceable.

    Versteeg has value and should be re-signed. He has value on both wings.

    Brouwer will prove a way over-paid mistake, though I like him and his game. A 4.5mill/year player should be more than Brouwer currently is.

    What we need is a 1st line RW. Unless we go with Tkachuk as a temporary solution… This is what we need.

    On defence, if we could move Wideman and give one of Kulak/Wotherspoon/Andersson a run… I’d be content.

    Our goalies are struggling. “Happens”. Not much we can do there, at present.

  • Stu Cazz

    I am always amused reading suggestions that certain players play out of position to suit the armchair GM’s line combinations. No thought given whatsoever to the actual player and the additional challenges of playing “out of position” in the toughest league in the world. These young guys have incredible pressure as it is to consistently produce at a position that they are accustomed to and should be set up for success rather than presented with additional burdens…..

    • Greatsave

      Agreed. It’s one thing to ask Versteeg (who’s done it in the past) to switch wings or Stajan to play on the left, but asking Tkachuk or Ferland, or even Chiasson or Bouma or Hathaway to do it seems arbitrary and not in the best interests of the team. Changing lines up is disruptive enough in itself; no need to pile on the addition adjustment of switching wings.

  • Blackgold

    The more things change the more they stay the same. Last year after 35 games 17-16-2. This year 17-16-2. Doesn’t matter what they do, they haven’t improved, even with all the changes in the off season. Unless someone ahead of them in the standings folds, it is another season out of the playoffs.

  • freethe flames

    Trying to juggle these lines is cause of frustration simply because we don’t have enough talent up front. Until someone from the farm proves to be a top 6 forward we will struggle offensively. Hurry up Mangiapane or someone.

    However living with who we have why not try the following:
    Tkachuk/Monny/Versteeg(mucker/goal scorer/play maker)
    Johnny/Bennett/Brouwer(play maker/mucker/goal scorer)
    Ferland/Backs/Frolik(mucker/two way/two way)
    Bouma/Stajan/Chiasson.(who they are)

    This gets everyone playing their natural position and more or less their correct roles.

  • Ktop

    Gaudreau – Backlund – Versteeg

    Tkachuk – Bennett – Frolik

    Ferland – Monahan – Brouwer

    I want to see Backlund with Johnny. He’s are best center.

    It might help Backs start scoring. I’ve never been a big Backlund fan but this year he has great speed and he’s pushing the play.

    Frolik has gone cold

    I just want the flames to make the playoffs. This season is the last with really bad contracts so I don’t want to set the bar high. We have better players that aren’t playing right now.

    Just an opinion.

    GFG!

    • freethe flames

      Who are these better players that are not playing? Are you speaking about the first and second year prospects playing in the AHL? Basically they are yet ready,