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Calgary’s top six forwards earn highest grades this season

Here’s a newsflash: the Flames are being led by their top two forward lines this season. While you peel yourself off the wall from that shocker, I’ll set up the premise of this article. Calgary’s top two lines have carried a lot of the weight this year and that becomes even more apparent when you dive a little deeper. It’s report card time as we run down the forward depth chart.

LINE ONE

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Micheal Ferland

Knowing what this trio is asked to do on a nightly basis, it’s tough to give them poor grades. Gaudreau has already set career totals in assists and points. Monahan has hit the 30-goal mark for the second time in his career and will likely eclipse his career bests in both goals and points. And everything Ferland does from here on out is gravy in that regard; he’s set new career totals in all three offensive categories.

The team’s top line has done what they’ve been asked to do: score. Gaudreau, Monahan, and Ferland have all been used in offensively slanted roles to play to their strengths and they’ve taken advantage. All three players sit near the top of the ledger when ranking their scoring rates in all situations.

Player G60 Rank A60 Rank P60 Rank OZS%
Johnny Gaudreau 0.95 4th 2.51 1st 3.47 1st 68.1
Sean Monahan 1.38 1st 1.47 2nd 2.84 2nd 67.5
Micheal Ferland 1.19 3rd 1.01 5th 2.19 4th 62.7

Only Matthew Tkachuk has kept Monahan, Gaudreau, and Ferland from a clean sweep in both goals and points per 60. As such, you can’t really ask for much more from this trio; the Flames need them to lead the way offensively and they’ve done just that.

Grade: A. I know Calgary’s top line can be a bit of an adventure defensively and, yes, Monahan and Ferland have had issues with consistency. But for a team that has struggled to score at times, these guys have been offensive mainstays for a good chunk of the season. When an entire line puts up career numbers, an ‘A’ grade seems appropriate.

LINE TWO

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik

This line undoubtedly would have led the way if we were doing these evaluations last season, but for me, they lag slightly behind the top line this year. That’s not a criticism of Calgary’s “3M Line” at all, because once again, they’ve been one of the NHL’s top shutdown lines.

Player CF% Rank HDCF% Rank OZS%
Mikael Backlund 56.0 5th 56.4 6th 44.3
Michael Frolik 57.1 4th 56.1 7th 45.2
Matthew Tkachuk 57.3 1st 54.9 11th 46.5

It has become a familiar refrain the last two years, but here’s the refresher course: on a regular basis, this line takes on the toughest opposition matchups paired with a ton of defensive starts and comes out on top more often than not. The five-on-five outputs above underline why this group remains so important to the team’s success.

Because the Flames rely on them for so much in the shutdown game, the most impressive number above might be their even strength high danger scoring chance ratio. All three players are well in the black despite spending so much of their time on ice matched up against the top offensive players in the game.

Where this group has taken a slight step back is with their offensive outputs… other than Tkachuk, who has made huge leaps forward. Backlund’s numbers will likely finish slightly off last year’s pace and, thanks to a number of unfortunate factors, Frolik will probably post his worst counting numbers since signing with Calgary.

Grade: B+. Yeah, the offensive numbers will end up slightly behind last year’s totals, but the Flames aren’t in the playoff hunt without the 3M Line. Backlund, Tkachuk, and Frolik make up one of the league’s best two-way lines and they still deserve high grades for their work this season.

LINE THREE

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Bennett-Mark Jankowski-Garnet Hathaway

The evaluations become a little more difficult when we get to the bottom six, as things haven’t been quite as set in stone this season. For the most part, though, Bennett, Jankowski, and Hathaway have made up a fairly steady line, albeit with inconsistent results.

This group has shown flashes of brilliance but has also gone cold for extended periods of time, which I guess isn’t totally unexpected. Jankowski is in his first NHL season, Hathaway his second, and Bennett his third; it’s a young line, so up and down results are sometimes part of the package.

That said, Calgary’s third line really hasn’t been consistently effective, especially considering their usage. Jankowski, Bennett, and Hathaway have been fed a heavy dose of offensive zone starts (all three players are in the team’s top four at 5v5) without making a ton of hay from a possession or scoring standpoint.

Player CF% OZS%
Mark Jankowski 51.1 60.7
Sam Bennett 51.2 58.0
Garnet Hathaway 53.4 57.5

Having all three players underperform compared to their five-on-five zone start ratio has stalled the team at times. To shelter this trio means hammering the second and fourth line with defensive responsibility, which is fine, but it becomes far less sensible when the offensive results aren’t there.

Grade: C-. I know that grade might seem harsh knowing how young this line is, but for the sake of this article, we’re going to grade on a level playing field. Guys like Jankowski and Bennett have lots of potential growth ahead of them, but based solely on this season, the Flames just haven’t gotten enough from their third line on a regular basis.

LINE FOUR

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Brouwer-Matt Stajan-Curtis Lazar

Truthfully, Calgary’s fourth line has been a revolving door, so truly analyzing it is the most difficult task of the four. By and large, though, we’ve seen Stajan and Brouwer reside here for the better part of the season with different permutations on the other wing.

Look, I know Stajan and Brouwer take a lot of heat for their performance relative to their contract, and that’s fair; having $8 million tied up in a pair of fourth liners isn’t great cap management. I also understand being frustrated seeing Brouwer constantly given heavy special teams time that doesn’t seem to fit his skillset.

But, let’s suspend reality for a few moments and pretend the Flames are only spending, say, $2.5 million combined on their fourth line. Under those circumstances, the performance of guys like Brouwer and Stajan would be far easier to swallow. As strict bottom three forwards, they’ve been okay this season.

Player CF% OZS% GF GA
Matt Stajan 51.8 39.4 16 12
Troy Brouwer 50.0 39.4 18 20
Curtis Lazar 50.3 48.6 13 18

Specifically in the cases of Stajan and Brouwer, this line has been buried defensively, typically matched against other third and fourth lines. While neither has done a ton offensively, they also haven’t been crushed in their own end; Stajan has a five-on-five goal differential of +4 while Brouwer sits at -2.

Grade: B-. For what this line is asked to do, I think they’ve generally been fine, specifically if we’re not factoring in special teams situations for individual players. Sure, this line isn’t going to scare the opposition offensively, but they’re also not getting grossly outscored, either. Knowing the type of defensive responsibility they take on, that’s really all you can ask for.



  • Kzak

    The only way the Flames will become a legitimate Cup contender is if the 3-M line becomes the third line. What I mean by that is the current “third line” needs to put up more points than the 3-M line. As Pat said, the 3-M line has kept us in the playoff hunt, but a solid second scoring line would put us in the Cup hunt.

  • Eggs Bennett

    I think individual performances have been pretty good this season, but the play as a team has been underachieving. Too many defensive zone lapses, slow and inconsistent bottom 6, and poor offensive zone structure due to perimeter passing seem to be key themes based on the eye test. We have one of the most dangerous offences in generating chances off the rush, but we do not look nearly dangerous enough once established in the zone… sounds like a coaching issue to me

  • Trevy

    I personally think it’s time to recreate the 2nd line. As I mentioned before, Frolik seems to be slowing down and making more and more mistakes, especially after his injury. He’s lost confidence and it’s clearly evident. Bennett is playing with more determination and passion whenever he’s on the top two lines. This is where he belongs. Switch him and Frolik and you have a pretty decent top two lines. Then as a third line you can have, Versteeg Janko Frolik. Followed by Lazar Shore Brouwer. Hathaway, Stewart and the soon to be gone Stajan are all expendable. In the off season you can then try and find another decent RW using one of our plethora of dmen as bait

  • Off the wall

    Matty Franchise is 4 games away from his 1,000 game.
    I hope FN does some sort of tribute for him. He’s garnered a lot of flak on here, not really sure what else you expect a guy playing 4th line minutes to accomplish? Yes, his pay grade is high, however it’s not as if he’s a bad player. I’m actually impressed by the goal differential. It’s obvious ( to me at least) that he’s doing what is expected of him.

    Did you notice Smith’s reaction after Stajan blocked the shot against the Oilers in the dying seconds of the game?
    He pointed to Stajan and barrelled towards him to thank him.

    Who would you rather have? Stajan or Brouwer?

    No contest…

  • Cheeky

    I’d give the 4th line a D grade at best. Even if they were only making $2.5 mil, they still are not good. Compared to other 4th “energy” lines, ours barely keep themselves above water…Hopefully next year we will dress a young energetic 4th line that will help us win rather than just “hold on and hope the other team doesn’t score until we can get a line change”…

    • Squishin

      You’re living in a dream world. Of course no one likes their fourth line – they’re the worst players on the team. If our 4th line were making 2.5 mil I’d be quite happy with them, and the points mentioned in the article explain why. If the Flames deployed three kids on the 4th line, they would have to be sheltered with O-zone starts. Right now, the third line is getting the bulk of the sheltering, and there’s very little left over for anyone else. The first line needs enough O-zone starts as well in order to better their scoring chances. Having veterans on the bottom of the roster is frustrating, but it allows the other lines to do what they need to do.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Well This is interesting… From: Pat Steinberg (Twiter) #Flames today:

    Gaudreau-Jankowski-Ferland
    Bennett-Backlund-Frolik
    Versteeg-Shore-Hathaway
    Lazar-Stajan-Stewart

    Giordano-Hamilton
    Brodie-Hamonic
    Kulak-Stone

    Remember, Monahan and Tkachuk missing.
    10:19 AM – Mar 15, 2018

  • Joeyhere

    An “A” two “B’s and a “C-“ suggests a “B” average (or about 70%) but in the NHL Half the teams make the playoffs. if you miss the playoffs your below 50% clear and simple
    You’d be a very easy marker if you were a teacher Pat

  • Off the wall

    Sam Bennett- 71 games
    11G- 15A =26 points

    Mark Jankowski – 61 games
    12G- 8A= 20 points

    Garnet Hathaway- 48 games
    2 G- 8A= 10 points

    56 points from our 3rd line, however only 25 goals among them. Granted Hathaway hasn’t been on the 3rd line as much.

    Goals are what’s troubling though.
    Typically you see 1st line contribute about 35%
    2nd line 25%
    3rd line 15%
    4th line 10%
    And the balance of 15% from the D.( approx estimate)

    We have scored 199 goals. We are 21st in the league.
    No other team that is fighting for a playoff spot is in our position except Anaheim. I doubt they make the playoffs as well.

    I hope we have a more productive season next year. The top 2 lines have done their jobs well. Our 3rd and 4th need an upgrade for sure, but we’re not that far away from icing a pretty good team.

  • Alcanivorax

    This article is perhaps not the best place for this but some questions

    Position GF GA
    6th 205 190
    7th 220 203
    8th 203 177
    9th 198 193
    10th 198 206
    11th 191 182
    12th 199 207

    Chicago is 12th. Their GF and GA is for all intents and purposes the same as ours. They are basically eliminated.

    Other than 7th place Colorado the Flames appear to be scoring at the same rate as the teams around them (205, 203, 198, 198, 191).

    What we are not doing at the same rate as the teams around us is keep the puck out of the net. 16 more GA than Dallas. 29 more than LA. 13 more than Anaheim and 24 more than St. Louis.

    So what is wrong with this team?

    Offensively, we seem to be mostly in line with the playoff teams if not the “elite” teams at the top of the table (they score a lot more than us).

    Defensively, we would seem to be much worse than the playoff teams (or should I say “a playoff team?). Notwithstanding the fact that we are getting MVP level goaltending.

    Although we will find posters on here who complain about Brodie, Hamonic, Stone is it really fair to say that our defence is bad? I can’t see that myself. Could they be better on certain nights? Yes. So could some forwards.

    Is this a systems thing?
    I’m not an advance stats guy but if memory serves from most of the Post Game Embers articles the Flames have essentially won the possession battle on most nights.
    So is it that the players are unable to play the system? Are the forwards not properly helping the D?

    Did our season simply fall off when Smith went down and we let in more goals than we should have over that period of games?

    I haven’t checked but my suspicion is that we already had a negative goal differential before Smith’s injury.

    TL;DR
    My point is that offensively we would seem to be a playoff team even with a 3rd line that doesn’t quite contribute as much as it could/should.
    But we certainly don’t seem to be a playoff team from a defensive standpoint even with very good goaltending.

    Last season we averaged 2.76GF/game and 2.7GA/game
    This season: 2.79GF/game and 2.9GA/game

    We are scoring at a better rate than last year but defending worse. With arguably a better defence.

    Something is not right.

    • Baalzamon

      It’s special teams. The Flames are fine in basically every respect at even strength. They just get scored on too much while shorthanded and don’t score enough on the powerplay.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    What was the last team that won the cup that didn’t have two legitimate scoring lines?

    3M will never be a legitimate scoring line as Backs and Fracks aren’t offensively gifted and are not going to find the deft touch in their 30s.

    Rather than squawking for a 1st line right winger, seems the club needs an offensively talented centre and left winger. Can Janko become that centre? Possibly in a year or two. Anybody on the farm who could drive the second line from the left wing? We’ve got names with no NHL experience, so take that for what it is worth.

    If the second line becomes a line with offensive pop but still responsibly defensively, then what about the third line? Make that your true shutdown line. Backs and Fracks and some other guy. Fourth line should be high-energy grinders.

    Looking at the current forwards on the team, how many slots are filled? Your top line is set unless you want to put Matty on it. That’s a bad move. He should anchor the second line, which would allow Shotgun Ferland to remain on the top line. No centre or left wing for the second line right now but Janko could own a spot down the road. Could a third shutdown guy be found to play with Backs and Fracks? Probably. The 4th line is a gong show. All of the UFAs should climb aboard a UFO and be whisked away to I don’t care.

    Don’t see a spot for Bennett in this revamped lineup unless the club is looking long term. Bennett is not capable of being an everynight secondary scoring threat.

    The club has some massive holes to fill it hopes to win right away. I don’t see that happening. The club will continue to muddle along as a maddening middle-of-the-road club unless some of the young forwards in the system rapidly blossom into high-end NHL talent.

  • SeanCharles

    We need 3 new forwards to replace Stajan, Brouwer and Versteeg for next season.

    Gaudreau, Monahan, Ferland, Tkachuk, Backlund, Frolik, Bennett, Jankowski (8 of our top 9), Shore, Lazar and Hathaway (3 of our bottom 5) are worth keeping around.

    Add a top 6 RW and a couple fresh faces to the 4th line and our depth improves significantly.

    • Korcan

      Top 6 RW = Mike Hoffman (for Stone + Kylington – too much to hope for?)
      Top 6 RW = M. Nylander (for Brodie + ?)
      Fresh faces = Mangiapane/Dube/Klimchuk (though not sure I want Mangi and Dube on 4th line)

      Also, I’m not sure Hathaway has earned another contract. Besides grit, what does he provide? Klimchuk or Versteeg may be better options (or even Stajan).

  • Stu Cazz

    Successful teams are able to roll 4 lines. Each line makes some kind of impact. With the Flames the 3M impact was far less than previous season. The bottom 6 impact was minimal. Changes obviously will be made. Ras is ready to play and will be a legit starter next season. That combined with the Hamonic trade has given Flames the option of dealing Stone and/or Brodie for a skilled finisher and potentially draft choice(s). I still have trust on Treliving but not GG. My biggest fear this off season is the Islanders winning the lottery with Calgary’s pick…….

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    That “line 2” photo … better keep that for the archives. Byng has his mouthguard fully in place. Might not ever be captured on film again.

  • Chucky

    If you take out the special teams and the propensity to use Brouwer like he is having an all star season the Flames look good like a top 5 team. That is a nice concession that if the coaching staff had the sense God gave geese and could get out of the road we would have a legitimate playoff contender.
    Unfortunately reality bites and they have a coach that has cost them 20 points on player usage and a few more by just being stupid. If they get a playoff shot it will be because of player determination. If they get past the first round it will be because this is fundamentally a sound hockey team suffering from bad coaching.

  • Skylardog

    I couldn’t help but notice Pat is using stats that are relevant to his argument to push the view of the top 2 lines. Goals for and against is not used for the Backlund line, but is used for the 4th line and GF is used for the first line. Cherry picking stats for each line is a bit odd to say the least.

    So lets get a clear view on what is really going on with the Backlund line.

    Last season, that line was +14 in 741 minutes, 35 GF, 21 GA. GF/60 of 2.83, GA/60 of 1.70.
    This season they are -3 in 613 so far.22GF, 25 GA. GF/60 of 2.15, GA/60 of 2.45. They have already allowed more goals against than last year, despite there being 11 games left and superior goaltending compared to last year.

    The Backs lines failure to shut down the opposition this season is one of the MAJOR reasons this team will not make the playoffs. They have driven play at the expense of their defensive play. You just cannot do this against the leagues top goal scoring lines.

    Yet strangely, this is the only line that has not been split up for poor play. While guys have been pulled, sat, and split up on other lines, even while posting very good goal differentials, Backs line has never been touched by this coaching staff unless there was an injury. It is the one line that needed to be split up, to regain Backs and Frolik’s focus on what they need to do on the ice, and to help the third line become a producer by moving Matty onto a line that should be producing offensively.

    If you want to see the other reason we are struggling, go compare Gio and Hamilton this year to last year. It will shock you.

  • VK63

    I agree with the top lines grade but do note, GG needs to be far more proactive when Ferdaddy goes funk mode (which he does for extended games). Ferland is not a delicate flower, he can play banger minutes and get himself right. The stubborn insistence on having him work out of his funks on the most impactful line on the team is…Oilers with Lucic 2.0.
    In the words of Josh Donaldson……. this isn’t a try hard league its a get it done league.