The Calgary Flames have been absolutely rolling as of late, and a big part of it has been their top six forwards.
We’ve witnessed Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik work their magic all season long. The 3M line has absolutely dominated the NHL, putting up fantastic numbers while being tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top lines and sometimes going entire games without getting a single start in the offensive zone. Throughout much of the season, they’re what has been driving this team.
Then you have Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Two key parts of the Flames’ core, they’ve had bumpier seasons than the aforementioned 3M line. Nevertheless, they’re still two of the top Flames on the scoresheet, and once Micheal Ferland joined them on the right wing, it was as if their game reached a whole new level.
So being down two of those wingers obviously hurts, and quite a fair amount at that.
Ferland may have the mumps. Tkachuk will miss the next two games due to suspension. The saving grace is the Flames will go four straight games without facing a divisional opponent – they play the Capitals, the Predators, the Blues, and the Avalanche before six straight against California teams – but the playoffs (and in particular, playoff seeding) are on the line, so this is still far from ideal.
The Flames still have to ice a lineup, though, and there are going to be some changes. It’s probably safe to assume Gaudreau and Monahan will stick together, as will Backlund and Frolik, so now, the question is: who joins them?
Available for a promotion within the lineup are:
- Sam Bennett
- Lance Bouma
- Troy Brouwer
- Alex Chiasson
- Freddie Hamilton
- Curtis Lazar
- Matt Stajan
- Kris Versteeg
Plus the possibility of a recall – though he would likely be of the emergency variety, so his chances of slotting in to the lineup against the Capitals are low.
Two names stand above the rest
If it weren’t for insurance snafus, Versteeg would have spent his season in Europe. The Flames snagged him right before the NHL season began. He started on Gaudreau and Monahan’s wing. He’s sixth in forward scoring. If anyone’s in line for an instant bump up the lineup, it’s him.
Then, there’s Bennett. He was expected to be having a much better season than he is now – just 23 points in 71 games, and has been more notable for his fights as of late than any actual scoring – but he was taken fourth overall for a reason. This is a kid with serious talent and potential, and the Flames need to get him going more than anyone else. And let’s not forget – he played his best hockey last season alongside Backlund and Frolik.
Losing Ferland and Tkachuk hurts, but that’s a passable lineup combination.
Except then, your bottom six is left looking something like this…
And all of a sudden, yikes, the Flames’ lack of depth becomes glaring. Not to say that losing two top six wingers wouldn’t hurt any other team, but we’ve known throughout the season the Flames just aren’t quite deep enough, and these absences really drive that point home.
What about last game?
Ferland already missed the game against the Kings. To deal with that, Glen Gulutzan bumped Chiasson back to Gaudreau and Monahan’s line, while Stajan centred Versteeg and Brouwer. Bennett headed up the fourth line, with Bouma and Lazar flanking him.
Let’s assume Chiasson ends up with Gaudreau and Monahan again, because “why mess with what worked” seems to be a constant among NHL coaches. Gaudreau and Monahan flew against the Kings, Chiasson was there, it worked, whatever.
This still, in all likelihood, leaves us with one of Bennett or Versteeg playing alongside Backlund and Frolik. If it’s Bennett, then you probably end up with a bottom six looking like this:
In which Hamilton and Lazar, two right-shot centres, are probably interchangeable.
If, however, Versteeg gets bumped up and Bennett remains in the bottom six, you’re probably looking at something more like this:
Unless Bennett is moved to the fourth line wing, that has at least one player playing out of position – and three centres on one line, for some reason – so perhaps Bennett being promoted makes the most sense: both for cohesion throughout the rest of the lineup, and to hopefully renew his confidence with two of the best linemates he’s ever played with.