WWYDW: Who should be Tkachuk and Backlund’s linemate?

Losing Michael Frolik has hurt the Flames.

Well, yeah; injuries to top six forwards tend to hurt most teams. And though Frolik wasn’t quite playing on Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk’s level – certainly not points-wise, though that had been starting to turn around – his absence has resulted in a depleted lineup.

Troy Brouwer has been moved up in Frolik’s stead, from fourth line to top six forward. There is a certain logic to it: with the first and third lines rolling, there’s no need to want to disrupt those. And amongst fourth liners, Brouwer has both the most experience and most potential to score.

He’s no Frolik, though. Via Corsica, stats at 5v5:

RWer TOI w/ 19+11 CF% GF%
Frolik 387.88 59.59 45.45
Brouwer 74.13 50.33 42.86

That’s what the numbers say; the eyes show a disconnect, as well. Brouwer missed what should have been a tap-in goals via Backlund passes, and he just isn’t keeping up with the line, particularly in terms of both foot speed anticipation of the play.

Credit where credit is due, Brouwer has a goal and two assists since being moved up, but that’s about it.

So that begs this Wednesday’s question: would you keep Brouwer on the second line until Frolik returns, or try someone else? Brouwer’s case has already been made: he’s a veteran, well accustomed to the NHL, and with multiple 40-point seasons under his belt, no stranger to scoring.

Going with the assumption that the first line in untouchable – nobody is breaking up Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland – then I see four other candidates to move up to the second line.

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett went pointless for the first 15 games of the season. It was real bad. Since then, he’s scored 17 points over 30 games: not quite what one would have thought of a fourth overall pick, but a significant improvement.

Still, though, Bennett is on pace for a 31-point season, which beats last year’s tally of 26 points, but is still five points shy of his career high rookie season.

A rookie season during which he mostly played with Frolik and Backlund.

Bennett’s best year to date came alongside Backlund. Last season, he was initially tapped to be Tkachuk’s linemate. Though the Flames’ third line of Bennett, Mark Jankowski, and Garnet Hathaway was one of the best things about the team in December, they’ve dried up a bit since then – and maybe a small shakeup would be warranted, especially if it helps improve the second line.

Besides that, Bennett helps fill some of those Brouwer checkboxes, as well: in his third NHL season he knows what he’s doing, and he has scoring potential. When Monahan went down, Bennett was called on to fill in on the top line. Maybe he should get some extended time in the top six.

Andrew Mangiapane

Andrew Mangiapane has all of seven games of NHL experience. He technically isn’t even in the NHL right now, sent down to Stockton so he could get a game in during the Flames’ five-day break, but in all likelihood, he should be recalled come Friday. The Flames don’t have much in the way of extra forwards, and he’s the Heat’s highest scorer.

Speaking of high scorers: Mangiapane has mostly been toiling away in a fourth line role. It’s fine, but it’s clearly not his game, and probably part of the reason he’s still searching for his first NHL point. Maybe if he was given a chance and some linemates who could score, he’d be able to show us more of what he’s capable of. Considering how Mangiapane was brought up because of Frolik’s injury, it could be viewed as an extended audition.

Besides, Backlund has a pretty good record of helping out players who need it, including rookies (Bennett, Tkachuk). The defensive zone starts could be a problem, but if anyone can help Mangiapane adjust to the NHL, it’s probably Backlund.

Garnet Hathaway

Garnet Hathaway is a bit of an odd case. He’s older than the typical prospect-turned-NHLer – he turned 26 in November – but once he was recalled and settled onto a line with Bennett and Jankowski, he started contributing – not just with his physical, constantly hustling play, but with points, as well.

That was then. This is now. The effort is still there, but he has just two assists in his past 10 games. He has eight points in 22 games overall: one more than Jaromir Jagr got, and Jagr had the injury and age excuses going for him. Hathaway does not.

Still, he plays a very enthusiastic game, and maybe Tkachuk and Backlund could help him kickstart things. On the other hand, Hathaway may be better suited for the fourth line rather than the second.

Curtis Lazar

Curtis Lazar has not lived up to the second round pick it took to acquire him. He has five assists in 31 games. It’s probably fair to say that Ottawa ruined his development, but since Freddie Hamilton was recently claimed on waivers, sending Lazar down may not be an option at all.

Basically, that’s left Lazar stuck in limbo: either a healthy scratch or, now that there are no longer any healthy bodies, on the fourth line. He’s averaged 9:32 a game. Things have been incredibly disappointing all around.

So maybe it’s time for a second chance, an opportunity born of someone else’s misfortune? Playing on Backlund’s line would give Lazar both regular minutes and talented linemates. He’s certainly got the speed to keep up. And if there was ever a line for him to prove he can contribute offensively, it’s likely this one: the first line is unavailable, and the third has gone a bit dry, itself. There’s also the fact that playing with Backlund tends to help players; Lance Bouma and Joe Colborne can attest to this.

At the very least, it would give Lazar something to actually do.

What would you do?

It’s been about three weeks since Frolik last played. In all likelihood, he’ll be out another couple of weeks. There are a number of options to fill in for him: there’s Brouwer himself, who’s been playing on that line all 2018 so far, and a number of younger options who may – or may not – be able to contribute in a top six role.

Who would you have play alongside Tkachuk and Backlund for the remainder of Frolik’s absence?

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  • JMK

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Bennett on the LW and the plus side would be seeing how Tkachuk manages the RW position.

    On a side note, I’d love to see an article on the 3M’s problems this year in that their GF% and plus/minus stats are quite low for such a dominant line. Plus minus has gotten a bit better lately in fairness especially for Tkachuk. Shooting percentages are not an issue, Frolik at career avg and Backlund (below) & Tkachuk (above) seem to balance out.

    • Baalzamon

      It’s all percentage driven. Their on-ice percentages are dog crap, giving them PDOs below 970. Yeah, their overall shooting percentages are normal(ish) but at even strength they’re shooting blanks and have the lowest on-ice save percentages on the team (by a lot). And you spend a lot more time at evens than on the powerplay.

      You ask what that line’s problems are and the simplest answer is really that there aren’t any. You get years like last season where everything goes right, and years like this one where they don’t. From an underlying perspective it’s the exact same line as last season.

    • Flames fan since 83

      I agree JMK.
      They say Tkachuk has and can play on the right side.
      Bennett would be a good compliment to the two M’s.
      Keep the Stockton line (Jank, Hath and Mange) together. Fourth line = and three of Staj, Troy, Curt and Hrivik.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    It’s a real shame how the Flames manage injury replacement. A top 6 goes down, the Flames move up a 4th liner to cover. In this case, it’s not even a 4th liner that is producing or able to do anything on the power play. A more reasonable choice would be to move a top 6 capable player up (Bennett) to cover Frolik’s spot. Replace Bennett with a top 6 capable farm hand (Mangiapane). At the very least, you have a tough playing 2nd line and a 3rd line that played a bunch of games together.


      Just keep in mind that Brouwer has been on the second line for this 7 win streak. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. His hockey IQ, experience, and leadership is invaluable and seemingly overlooked by all of you. He’s actually looked pretty decent on this streak.

      Yes, it would be nice to see mangia or Bennett up there, but I wouldn’t mess with that until we lose one!

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Brouwer and hockey IQ should never be used in the same sentence. The Flames have won in spite of Brouwer playing the 2nd line, not because. How many missed 2-1 do you need to see or boneheaded passes do you need to see ?

        As far as messing with things, 3 of 4 lines were broken up for the CAR game. That didn’t seem to hurt. In fact Hrivik brought a big presence to the 4th line, and he easily could have jumped up to Janko’s line. The lines also get jumbled when there are too many PK’s.

        Keep your defense pairs steady and you can use the forwards in different combinations.

      • Flames fan since 83

        I agree with the “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” motto.
        But it is easy to see that the Backlund line is, if not broke, certainly cracked. Addition to the above mentioned tap in goals that Troy missed, I recall the two on one error that Troy fumbled in the last game. Troy’s experience and leadership can be invaluable on the fourth line. His Hockey IQ is average at best.

  • Cheeky

    The real question should be: which line suffers the least with Brouwer on it? The new 4th line with speed and youth actually contributes so do you put Brouwer back on it to suffer. Could the 3rd line prop him up or do they get dragged down? Unfortunately GG will not sit Brouwer and considering the 3M line (minus 1 M) could prop up a Sears mannequin, my choice would be pressbox but I’m not making the decisions…I’d like to see how Lazar did on 3M and Mangipane on 3rd with Janko and Bennett, then Hathaway on 4th (with Hrivik)…

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I am also a fan of moving Bennett up and Tkachuk to RW. I’ve been pushing Tkachuk at RW for a while now and don’t understand why we don’t try this given our depth at LW. I’m thinking of this even long-term (not just due to Frolik’s injury. What about this next year?

    Klimchuk/Lazar(or Dube)/Hathaway

    I would like to see what Tkachuk can do with a little less defensive responsibility away from Backlund and Frolik (he has been a revelation on the power play). I think him on that line would help Bennett and Jankowski take the next step to being top six offensive players. We win the cup when Backlund/Frolik are the third line (shut-down) option.

  • oddclod

    4th line better without Troy, second line better without Troy. It’s not who you stick on the second line (Sam and Mangi to 3rd) it’s when is management gonna grow a pair and bury Troy. Last season was unforgivable. He could really care less about work. This year he’s hanging on by his teeth scrapping it out to save his career. Too late. The results in even in desperation are poor. San Jose can strip two captains and have zero controversy but Troy gets the ‘A’ for Ass. Coy boy Troy ain’t got no ploy he that boy that got all annoyed.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Benny on that line until Frolik is back. We have the proven lines of our first line and the Stockton line (AHL proven). Brouwer at best fits on 4th line (although if he is going to be there I’d like to see Hrivik to keep the pace up more than Stajan can). So that leaves Benny with 2M’s. SMM … S&M? Kinda fits those guys don’t you think? 🙂

  • BendingCorners

    Leave Brouwer there until they lose a couple of games. Then try Lazar since he is okay defensively and has some speed. If that doesn’t work then try Bennett and finally Mangiapane. I left him till last because he is the least experienced.
    If the modified line is playing really well when Frolik returns, does Frolik drop down to the third line?

  • Off the wall

    It doesn’t matter what we suggest, GG is slow to make any changes. Given our 7 game winning streak, it’s not on his radar to change it up, even if it’s a good thing.

    For me, I don’t think we need to move too many players around.
    It isn’t necessary.

    We gave up a second for Lazar, why don’t we give him a chance to gain confidence and move him up with Backlund and Tkachuk. He’s got the speed, he’s defensively responsible and perhaps this kick- starts his offence. He’s also grittier than our young gun in Mangiapane.

    Brouwer is not the answer no matter what, he’s not capable of being more than a 4th liner, I don’t care about his veteran status or the A he wears. He can use his mitts for fighting, he’s good at it.

    Unfortunately, this would leave Mangiapane or Hrivik to be 4th line with Stajan and Brouwer.
    Both are LW, unless I’m mistaken. I think Hrivik is better suited for the 4th line and he looked very respectable our last game. I love his size and toughness, plus he’s a lot faster than I expected.

    If someone gets sent back to Stockton, it will be Mangiapane,
    (sorry Fall) due to the needs of Stockton and his youth at the NHL level.

    That’s my take.

  • oilcanboyd

    It seems that the first line still drives this team. From Ari’s blog it appears there has been some fall off for most players on the other lines and flames still managed a 7 game win streak.

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I said that too, but tinkering with the 2nd to 4th lines will not affect game outcomes as long as the first line players keep producing.

    Why not give Hrvik a try with Backs/Tkachuk?

  • The Beej

    Honestly I wouldnt want to break up the chemistry of the first and third lines. Moving Brouwer off the fourth and playing Lazar and Mangie with Stajan has made that line a lot less old and slow. For now he stays on the second because he has been ok and because Backlund can carry him.

    We have really hit a point of no return with Brouwer though. If the fourth line has improved without him, barring further injuries, I dont see where he has a place in the lineup.

    Lazar is terrible and cant handle the puck or do anything with it… but he has blazing speed and if developed right and used properly he could be a defensive specialist. From what I have seen the fourth line has been better with Lazar in Brouwers spot.

    Hathaway is falling back to earth but is probably an ideal fourth liner in this team. There really isnt a roster spot for Brouwer other than as an injury fill in anymore.

    There is only one solution: We need to aqcuire a top 6 RW to play on the Jankowski line. Someone that can play on any line if there are injuries.

    Mark Stone
    Brendan Gallagher

    There are some RWs that should be available.

    If we put together a nice package and ate some salary on Brouwer could we move him and acquire aRW ?

    CON: Buyer beware because it could be a high price.

    PRO: We wouldnt really have any holes in our roster .

    • L.Kolkind

      You are so right, Brouwer being taken off the 4th has allowed them to play a more aggressive game and force turnovers. I know Lazar hasn’t produced offensively this year, but that line has looked very acceptable for a 4th line. Stajan has the experience and two-way ability to handle tough situations, Lazar forechecks super aggressively causing many turnovers. Mangiapane, I do think is more offensively suited, but a lack of RW’s is more of an issue. I would most definitely be willing to trade a 3rd and eat half of Brouwer’s salary just to get him off the ice. It will be addition by subtraction. Maybe he could even call up Chiarelli and get one of the famous one for one trades.

  • Flint

    I wouldn’t change a thing until we lose.

    OR until we get horribly outplayed and barely win in the shootout, 1-0, and Rittich makes 50 saves, and we get 10 shots, and all the game scores are -0.075 or worse, and it’s against Phoenix.

    Only then would I change something. Never before. Never.

  • everton fc

    I see Backlund and Frolik as our 3rd line, sometime in the near future, as they get older. I’d keep them together, if we are looking at building a Championship team.

    So… Tkachuk being a 1st/2nd line player… I would like to see Bennett-Jankowski-Tkachuk as our 2nd line, and one of Hathaway/Mangiapane/Klimchuk as the 3rd line, LW (Hathaway can play both wings, as has here, in Calgary).

  • deantheraven

    i know I’ll get trashed, but I’ve been touting Lazar all season. Despite his lack of results in 4th line deployments, I’d put him there. Last couple games he’s been getting sniffs, and he’s always working. Maybe with those two the puck starts going in more often.

  • L.Kolkind

    I like the idea of seeing Lazar playing on the 2nd for a bit and see if he can get something going. We gave up a very high 2nd which is already outperforming Lazar in the NHL. We may as well give Lazar a chance to prove Treliving right. When Lazar has played recently he has the benefit on not having Brouwer on his line which has made Lazar look a lot better. Yes bringing Brouwer back down to the 4th will once again destroy the thought of having 4 decent lines, but as long as Brouwer is still playing for the Flames one line will have to carry around a boat anchor. Lazar is a right shot plays with enough speed to keep up with Backlund and Tkachuk, and has more offensive potential than Brouwer. I wasn’t a fan of the Lazar trade, but it’s been almost a year since the trade and we still have no idea if he is an NHLer. Put him in a position to succeed and if does great, if not fine he can continue being a 13th forward. Although when Frolik comes back I would have Brouwer in the press box and the 4th line as

    Magiapane – Stajan – Lazar

  • buts

    Tkachuk should not be with Backlund he should be with high IQ players if we can find some to play with him. MB should stay with frolic and possibly Hathaway a be a true shut down line…..apples with apples and oranges with oranges

  • Pizzaman

    Put your first roundipuck on the second line (Sammy). Put your wasted second round pick(Lazar) on the 4th line. Test out Mangi with Janko and Garth, See if it sparks. TB and MS are 4th line (sounds like diseases) and test Lazar and Hrivik with them.

  • redwhiteblack

    Was it bad of me to hope that Brouwer was hurt and would sit for a few games a while back? There are better depth options even at the 4th line level and even with Frolik out.

  • Korcan

    I’m not sure any of the options mentioned, apart from Bennett who I would like to see left with Janko, would be an improvement over Brower. Mangi would be better offensively, but defensively? Might be too much to ask. A name not mentioned that has me intrigued is Marek Hrivik. He has NHL experience and a more rounded game than Mangi and may not be overwhelmed by the assignment.
    An alternative idea: I’ve fealt Brower’s game has improved significantly since being moved up and Backs and Tkachuk have just kept on rolling despite not having Frolik. This makes me wonder if GG might try Frolik with Bennett and Janks upon his return, moving Hath down to the 4th line. This could have potential for a very good third line to compliment the top two. Nice depth going into the stretch run and hopefully the playoffs.

  • Justthateasy

    okay I’ll bite and go with Lazar. We need to see if Lazar fits a better role. Time is short and we need to find out otherwise he will remain on the 4th Line banging around or doing Press Box time.

  • Until Frolik Comes back I’d like to see Bennett play there. Keep AM – Janko – Hathaway as your third line where they can be sheltered. Perhaps next year. You change things up a bit I’d like to see maybe AM – Sam Bennett – Ferland (as a line that can take some more tough minutes) to ease the load on the top 6. Perhaps the Flames pick up a Hoffman or an elite top 6 guy to play with Many/Johnny. This would def give them more options.

    Something like Johnny – Mony – Rwer/Tkachuk – Backs – Frolik/AM – Bennett – Ferland/ LWer – Janko – Hathaway.