FlamesNation Mailbag: Sam, Sean, and Curtis

Saturday night’s win against the Jets was the best and worst of the Flames. They fell behind early due to failures on all three units, but clawed back thanks to strong 5v5 play and an interesting change in the gameplan.

Gulutzan’s line shuffling during the 6-3 win has provided a lot of speculation moving forward. The season is still young, but with a major game against Anaheim tonight and a thousand newly opened avenues to ice the roster, a lot were curious about the ways the Flames could ice their optimal lineup, mostly revolving around three players.

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I would have to say yes.

After three seasons together, we’ve probably seen that pair at their best. It’s a nice and reliable pairing, but there’s certainly a more optimal way to arrange the lineup…

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… especially with Sam Bennett taking a step forward.

Building off of the last question, there’s been indications (albeit in small sample size) over the first two games, the preseason, and last year, that Bennett is destined for greater things than dragging around the third line. Whenever he’s been with Johnny Gaudreau, magic happens.

No disrespect to Sean Monahan intended – he’s certainly a fine option at first line centre – but you have to love what you see from Bennett and Gaudreau more than what you see from Gaudreau and Monahan. If Bennett is now reaching the potential scouts saw in him, why wouldn’t you put him with the team’s #1 offensive weapon?

However, I hold off on this actually happening. One of my criticisms against Glen Gulutzan is that he occasionally adjusts mid-game and gets it absolutely right, but then lays off for the next game due to circumstance or what have you. I have doubts that we actually see Gaudreau and Bennett during practice rushes tomorrow.

(We’ll assume you mean Bennett instead of Kris Versteeg.)

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On the team? Definitely.

On that line? Not so sure about that. I’m sure the team keeps it as an option in the back pocket, but I really can’t see them making that the go-to right off the bat, especially with Jaromir Jagr on the roster. They have some time to figure out what Curtis Lazar really is, and I’m sure they don’t mind giving him reps at centre on the fourth line when they can. They’ll give Jagr playing time up front and give Lazar sheltered minutes.

Here’s the underlying problem with talking Lazar. It’s all hype after Saturday, but a lot do not remember to look long term.

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He did have a great game Saturday, but it is just one game (playing alongside two of the team’s best young forwards, to boot). Over the entire course of his career, Lazar has been below replacement level and his numbers since his rookie season have been getting worse and less promising. It seems doubtful that he’ll be much more than a third line wing in the immediate future, but if the “Ottawa ruined his development” narrative proves to be correct, then perhaps he can reclaim a bit of that potential.

Lazar could be a Matthew Tkachuk type for Bennett and Gaudreau, becoming the final piece of that line, or he could be a Lance Bouma type that’s just along for the ride. Time will tell, but his career numbers suggest that he will be the latter instead of the former. That’s why acquiring him was risky and assuming he will better just because is a bad bet.

I’ll guess that Jagr is replacing Lazar, but just in that role on Bennett’s wing. Lazar should be getting in the lineup for the foreseeable future, but they signed Jagr for a particular purpose (filling the void on the right side of the roster) and placing him a fourth line role is probably not the best use. Lazar still needs to learn the game at an NHL level. Jagr’s mastered it since before Lazar was born.

Who comes out? Well…

I’m struggling to offer an answer that isn’t “no,” mostly because I believe the team won’t healthy scratch him, but the answer is “no.”

Despite being in the best shape of his life, at least according to preseason reports, Troy Brouwer hasn’t shown any bounceback. He still looks out of place, both at 5v5 and on special teams. I haven’t minded him on the PK, but there are so many options there that would likely be better than Brouwer on that unit. It’s early in the season, but without any sort of improvement and one particular option waiting in the wings, healthy scratching seems to be the most optimal choice.

I guess they would want to keep him in the lineup just in case those trade rumours pop up again in order to boost his value, but if they really want to ice the best roster they can, it leads to Brouwer being off the ice.

I kept insisting throughout the summer that it was probably over as soon as hockey started back again, but it appears that Matt Bartkowski has made the roster.

I can’t really see why he’s playing over Brett Kulak besides the fact that Bartkowski has played more NHL hockey. Given results from last year, we can probably bet that Kulak will be the better defender. Bart hasn’t looked great in either of the two games, but I feel that Kulak’s poor showing in the preseason combined with a weak all around defensive effort against Edmonton gives Bart a bit of breathing room. The experiment is probably going to go on until Kulak actually wins that spot back, which could be a while.

He’s Dougie’s brother, he doesn’t complain, he does his job, and he shoots right; what more do you need from a 13th forward? It’s better if he keeps the pressbox seat rather than any prospect who could use the playing time. He hasn’t even played yet, so you can’t even make the argument that he’s stealing someone else’s minutes. If you want to get mad at something, get mad at Tanner Glass occupying that fourth line spot when anyone else can.

I don’t know if he’s here next year but I really wouldn’t be mad if he came back to play seven minutes a night once every four games.

It’s certainly a long ways ahead, and there’s the likelihood of everything changing, but we’ll peer into the crystal ball anyways.

The Flames will almost certainly have Matt Stajan, Freddie Hamilton, Glass, Jagr, and Garnet Hathaway off the roster by next season, and will probably have found someway to ditch Brouwer. That’s four spots that immediately open up, and a lot less competition in the way.

The problem is that Dillon Dube and Matthew Phillips will likely have to battle guys like Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Spencer Foo, Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk, and Andrew Mangiapane for those four spots. Although both are younger and arguably more impressive than some of those names, there’s the situational reality of giving the older guys shots before cutting them loose for good. They’ve worked their way through the pros and will likely be more ready to slide in than Dube or Phillips.

  • buts

    Glass outplayed Freddie by a mile, also Brouwer, Stajan and Lazar. Freddie has done nothing since he got here and his nepotistic spot on the roster is a black eye on the flames.

    • supra steve

      “Freddie has done nothing since he got here and his nepotistic spot on the roster is a black eye on the flames.”
      Considering Freddie’s limited roll, and his apparent ability to come in cold and put in a decent effort in a very limited roll, your response seems a little over dramatic to me. Additionally, I’ve heard nothing to suggest he’s anything but a good fit with his teammates. Now, if he were playing regularly (like Brouwer), you may have a point, but as it is, I think you are in the minority with this opinion.

    • OKG

      It actually annoys me that people call his spot on the roster “nepotistic”. Let’s look back

      2015-16 – Freddie was probably the most successful callup late that year, including Shinkaruk and Hathaway. Only Ortio outperformed him. In particular Freddie looked great with Gaudreau and Monahan and on the penalty kill.
      2016-17 – Freddie was the best prospect in training camp sans Dube. he earned a spot full board. But because he’s a center and RW he found himself in the press box because Brouwer/Chiasson were the “big” acquisitions. There’s an argument to be made he would have been an upgrade on both those guys given consistent ice time at RW. His struggles came at center. He was the consummate pro and built a rapport with Gulutzan despite all these things.
      2017-18 – Jankowski, Poirier, and Dube are the only prospect forwards who ::clearly:: outplayed Hamilton in camp. Hamilton didn’t even have a bad camp. Out of those three – One guy is still junior eligible and should continue developing, another guy is still waiver-exempt and shouldn’t be in the press box, and finally Poirier didn’t show enough finish to not send him down considering his regression the last two years.

      Hamilton deserves his spot as the 13th forward. He can step in at either wing or center and not humiliate himself, he’s a great shot generator, he shoots right, he’s can kill penalties. If anything he should be our 4RW ahead of Brouwer and arguably even Lazar. But Lazar earned himself another shot with his fantastic game on Saturday evening.

    • Avalain

      Sure, and Glass Brouwer, Stajan, and Lazar are all playing while Freddie is not. He’s there to help in practices and take a small role when someone gets hurt right before a game or something. Seriously, you need to calm down about players who are sitting in the press box.

  • freethe flames

    The Flames need to embrace the idea of having 4 effective lines with distinct roles. The experiment with Johnny/Bennett/Lazar should continue for at least a couple of games. Neutral zone starts so they can use their speed, on the fly changes again to use their speed.
    Go with Versteeg/Monny/Jagr Ozone starts and PP time. In time maybe you replace Versteeg with Tkachuk. This line could be a beast in cycling the puck and creating quality scoring chances.
    Tkachuk/Backs/Frolik it seemed that in the 3rd period Tkachuk found his game again and that line is so effective it is hard to decide to change it. Dzone, drive possession and create your own offensive opportunities.
    Personally the last line centers around when the Flames decide to recall Janko; he needs to center a line and be called upon defensively and to be a backlund lite kind of line. Stajan is sound defensively and would help out on face offs , then you play Ferland on the other wing; his physical presence, speed, sound defensively and shooting ability would be a very good fit here. As the season progresses I could Mangiapane replacing Stajan(he and Janko have great chemisty)
    That leaves “The Burden” in the press box most nights and would require sending one of Glass or FHamilton to Stockton. I suspect Hirvik will be assigned there pretty soon as he has started skating with the big club. Hopefully he is fully recovered.(He also could be a dark horse to replace Stajan later in the year).

  • Alberta Ice

    Just glad GG is willing to do some bold line changes. It looked like Versteeg and Monahan had better chemistry than Gaudreau and Monahan. Gaudreau and Bennett have had great chemistry. Wow, add Jagr to that line or the Versteeg/Monahan line? Can’t wait to see on ice what looks deadly on paper right now. (Loved the TV feature on the travelling Jagr’s and Jaromir surprising them by his presence. Great fun by all.) The months ahead look bright.

    • The Fall

      The biggest take away wasn’t the players: it was Gully willing to switch them up.

      We all know how a bad goalie can unravel a good team. That’s what happened in the Flames favour this past game.

      • Skylardog

        First time I have felt good about GGs hiring – well, ever. He finally coached on the bench after 86.5 games. I have’t looked yet to see who the lines are going to be, but he needs to continue with what ended in the Winnipeg game.

  • HOCKEY83

    “After three seasons together, we’ve probably seen that pair at their best.”
    That’s just a silly statement. At 22 and 24 years old there’s no way we’ve seen these 2 at their best yet.

  • TriPPiNvdUb

    Well it looks like we could have a fun game tonight, Gully had the guys skating in practice with there new lines from the other night. I really liked what I saw from Johnny, Benny and Lazar. Curtis has always shown an ability to play with top end talent, I just don’t think he’s ever been given a opportunity to in the bigs.

  • Flamesfan4life

    I think the player who needs to come out of the line up once Jagr is ready to come in is Ferland. He has been mostly invisible the first 3 games and has been a streaky player throughout his career. Maybe a couple games in the press box will light a fire under him and get him compeating to get his spot back.