Calgary’s forwards are finally slotted where they should be

One word comes to mind when looking at Calgary’s revamped group of forwards: depth. The Flames have transformed their forward unit over the last month and, at least on paper, it looks like the team’s biggest strength entering the season.

While Calgary has upgraded their top end, the most significant improvement comes further down the depth chart. An absolute wasteland last year, the team’s bottom six now looks markedly better, mainly because players are set to be slotted properly.

As a refresher, here’s a look at the forward changes made by the Flames since June’s blockbuster trade with Carolina.

James Neal Micheal Ferland
Elias Lindholm Kris Versteeg
Derek Ryan Matt Stajan
Austin Czarnik

The group of players entering the fold is certainly an upgrade on those departing, so let’s take a look at how things might trickle down in all situations.


From a player in, player out perspective, the Flames look to be better in their top six than they were for the majority of last season. With Neal and Lindholm likely replacing Ferland and Michael Frolik in the top two right wing slots, the top part of the depth chart should look something like this:

2017-2018 2018-2019
Gaudreau Monahan Ferland Gaudreau Monahan Neal
Tkachuk Backlund Frolik Tkachuk Backlund Lindholm

There’s some intrigue about where Neal and Lindholm are going to play, however. While there’s a good chance Calgary will roll with the above alignment, there’s also the possibility to swap, which creates interesting possibilities. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say a right wing duo of Lindholm and Neal is an upgrade on what Ferland and Frolik brought.

That’s no knock on either player, because both were relatively solid last season. The departed Ferland had a career year with 21 goals, but also did so with a 14.6 shooting percentage and a significant dip in the final third of the season. Frolik, on the other hand, had his worst offensive year with the Flames (70 GP, 10 G, 15 A, 25 PTS), but was still strong analytically as a part of the 3M Line.

Ferland and Frolik filled top six roles in admirable fashion last year, but it’s tough to definitively call them top six players. Neal and Lindholm don’t have that issue; the former has never scored fewer than 21 goals in his 10-year career while the latter has posted 45 and 44 points the last two seasons.

But as much as the top two lines look better for the Flames, the downhill effect looks to be even more significant. When you compare Calgary’s bottom six depth chart year over year, the difference is staggering.

2017-2018 2018-2019
Bennett Jankowski Versteeg Bennett Ryan Frolik
Hathaway Stajan Brouwer Czarnik Jankowski Brouwer
Lazar Hathaway Lazar Foo/Mangiapane

While the team’s lines might not look exactly as depicted, this gives you a pretty good idea of what the Flames will be working with. All of a sudden Frolik looks in a much better spot as a third line winger, while the additions of Ryan and Czarnik add more depth and, just as crucially, more competition.

It was an abyss at the bottom of Calgary’s depth chart last year. The group provided negligible offence and, to make matters worse, there were virtually no other options. But with recent additions, bottom six incumbents Troy Brouwer, Garnet Hathaway, and Curtis Lazar will have to battle for playing time. Furthermore, if someone like Spencer Foo takes a big step forward, the competition increases even more and so does the team’s depth.


As a fan, how many times did you utter a four letter word watching the Flames on the powerplay last year? There are never any guarantees, but you can feel somewhat confident your potty mouth can take a breather this season.

I’m fascinated to see how Bill Peters and Geoff Ward structure their powerplay units, but it’s a solid bet we’ll see at least one grouping deployed in the ‘1-3-1’ format. We’ve seen Calgary deploy in that fashion over the last two seasons with moderate success using a unit that looked mostly like this:


Here’s where things get fun, though. The Flames’ top powerplay unit got stagnant last year following Versteeg’s injury. Part of that was opposing penalty kills wising up. With or without Versteeg, Calgary lacked a dangerous shot from either flank; that area is probably Gaudreau’s weakest attribute, for instance. With Neal in the fold, though, that instantly changes and we could be looking at a first unit assembled like this:


Neal is a straight up sniper with one of the league’s most dangerous shots from the circle. Seeing him line up on the weak side (Neal has a left shot) ala Alex Ovechkin has some really intriguing possibilities.

Alternatively, as Mr. Pike analyzed last month, the Flames could use a strong side shot on the right flank, and that’s where Lindholm comes into play. Possessing a right shot, Lindholm could be an ideal fit on Gaudreau’s opposite side, even if his shot isn’t quite as terrifying as Neal’s. Regardless, a more dangerous shot from the half boards should make the team’s powerplay much more difficult to defend.

The options for the second unit are interesting, too. Calgary has spoken openly about their early desire to use Czarnik on the powerplay, so we’ll add him to the mix of potential forwards. That group will also include one of Neal or Lindhom, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, among others.


Elias Lindholm

Finally, the Flames look to have more forward options when playing shorthanded. The most important addition here is Lindholm, as Neal, Ryan, and Czarnik have seen very limited penalty kill time during their careers. Even still, Calgary’s top PK forwards will look different this year as opposed to 2017-18.

Player SH TOI/G
Mikael Backlund 2:22
Troy Brouwer 2:04
Michael Frolik 2:01
Matt Stajan 1:32

Lindholm averaged 1:21 of shorthanded time last year and will likely see his usage increased with Calgary. With Backlund and Frolik entrenched as PK mainstays, Lindholm’s addition should push Brouwer out of the frequent category. That leaves an opening for a second centre, which could open the door for Mark Jankowski, Bennett, or possibly Ryan.

Regardless, the shorthanded options follow suit with how things look on the powerplay and even strength. At least on paper, the Flames should have better, and more ideal, choices to make on the penalty kill.

  • yomamen11

    My 2 cents according to offensive lineup for next season:
    Gaudreau – Monahan – Lindholm
    Tkachuk – Jankowski – Neal
    Bennet – Backlund – Frolik
    combination of Czarnik, Ryan, Lazar, Brouwer or some young body from farm

      • freethe flames

        Only one way to find out; give him a go at that spot. It could be a heck of a line. I would move Bennett and hope Mangiapane could play with Backs and Frolik. Bennett/Ryan/??? could very well be a heck of a 2nd Defensive line with it’s own offensive ability. The thing is that for the first time in a long time there is tremendous opportunity to mix and match lines.

      • yomamen11

        He is strong on a skates and has soft hands, so his only mission will be winning a faceoffs and make place for himself in front of the net. Defence will focus on him and that will create space for Byng and Neil. They just need to shoot the puck and Janko will collect rebounds. Thats my humble idea

      • Korcan

        I agree with ‘Cfan in Van’. The issue i have in ‘experimenting’ with players like Jankowski and Bennett by putting them on lines with better teammates to see if they will “rise to the occasion” is this: the NHL is not a developmental league, it is a Win or You’re Fired league. So, you give Jankowski 10 games with Tkachuk and Neal to see if he has success and he doesn’t, meanwhile the team loses a majority of those games because of an ineffective second line. Now what do you do to make up those points you just lost by ‘experimenting’ with your line-up? You hurt your season for no reason but to try to develop your young players. It makes no sense.

        Last season, Mark Jankowski proved to be an effective (though less so as the season wore on) bottom six centerman. Does he have potential to be a #2 center? Sure. But do they play him in that role now in the hopes that he is ready when they already have a very good, and proven #2? Not a chance. The same things can be said for Bennett.

        This is the NHL where parity makes every point crucial. Slotting lesser players in positions where there are other players more suited is only going to result in games lost and people losing their jobs. If Bennett and Jankowski want to play in the top six they need to PROVE they are better than those currently slotted above them. To give them those opportunities without them earning it, in the hope that you will catch lightning in a bottle (a la William Karlson), is folly and will far more likely hurt the team’s success than help.

        • Just.Visiting

          Good points. That being said, training camp is a good time for an experiment, and there would be additional opportunities after Backlund had killed a penalty or in a one sided game.

          My overall concern is that the most common third one configuration is based on the hope that a Frolik returns to form and that Janko and Bennett elevate each other when they had more limited success last year than we had expected to see.

    • Kevin R

      Really really want to keep Janko & Bennett together.
      Frolik/Ryan/Brouwer (if he has to be on the team I guess here he goes) :-<

  • C-of-Dread

    Firstly sorry for the novel. Due to the continual site crashing issues, I typed it up in my email and copied it, wowzers! (No idea how to spell this slang word) Anyway. Here it is.

    The top six are certainly:
    Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, Backlund, Neal, and Lindholm. – In some configuration.

    The next four are likely:
    Jankowski, Bennett, Frolik, and Ryan

    Who are the other two that make the line-up and the two bench warmers:
    Czarnik, Foo, Mangipane, Brouwer, Graovac, Lazar, Ehliz, Robinson, Dube, Klimchuk, Hathaway, and Quine?

    I haven’t seen many rosters that include:
    Ehliz, Quine, Robinson, Klimchuk, or Graovac.

    I think the last 3 have at least a chance to make the team for the available 4th line or press box openings. Husks is a big Klimchuk fan, Robinson and Graovac are pretty big dudes who can skate and have at least decent scoring ability(not elite, but 4th line chip in kind of scoring ability). Hathaway may fit into this group too and I think at least 1 of these 4 takes a fth line spot.

    As much as you hate to see bigger $ playing fourth line minutes, the Flames will undoubtedly have that issue this year. Either Brouwer isn’t bought out, or even if he is, Frolik or Ryan will play down there. I doubt the Flames drop Jankowski to fourth line. As a rookie he scored 17 goals in only 72 games only playing 12 minutes a game on a team that couldn’t score. Does dropping him down the lineup sound likely, or even feasible?

    Foo or Mangipane are wasted and not a positional fit on the 4th.
    Ehliz likely needs a year in Stockton to adapt to N.American Hockey.
    Lazar will sink or swim, but likely takes one of the press box jobs.
    Have no idea what to think of Quine.

    I wouldn’t be shocked if the 4th line ended up looking like:
    Klimchuk – Graovac – Frolik
    Lazar – Ryan – Czarnik
    Dube – Ryan – Frolik
    Or even
    Klimchuk – Graovac – Robinson

    The best thing about this situation is the bottom six is going to be a battle for 8 jobs amongst 16 guys and hopefully that means the competition pushes these guys not only in camp, but throughout the season!

  • C-of-Dread

    A long standing philosophy is sports has been that a guy should loss his spot due to an injury. The Flames roster may lead to that this year. Someone exiting the line-up due to an injury, may have a difficult time securing their spot upon their return, I’m OK with that problem.

    • oilcanboyd

      isn’t the philosophy that a player should NOT lose his spot due to injury?
      But, I think, that should the replacement player be overwhelmingly better then that wouldn’t apply. Imagine the Real Deal gets injured and best player available was Brouwer? F*********K

    • cberg

      A well-known premise about injuries, but I was really surprised the other day when the Stampeders coach said with them its just the opposite. You definitely can and do lose your spot if injured and a better guy comes in and performs. Frankly, I like the “next man up” philosophy Dickinson employs and may the best guy get in the line-up. This “seniority” thinking doesn’t really lead to the best team and it would be refreshing if vets were not cut so much slack that prospects have to over perform to make it, which seems to be the case with the Flames.

  • C-of-Dread

    I guess my mind I’d wrapped around this, so I’m just typing it out. I’ll do something on PK later, but for now here’s one on PP’s.
    I’ve gotta get my mind off hockey, I’m gonna drive to the lake to get my mind off of it. Here you go.

    Special teams

    The power play was a hot mess last year, especially when Versteeg wasn’t available. Let’s hope that hiring a coach that has a recent track record of success in this area proves fruitful.

    I’ve seen plenty of ideas floated here and think first and foremost they MUST what is working with regularity in the league. How many times do you watch a Lightning, Caps, or Jets game and her the Play-by-play guy say, “There’s (Stamkos, Ovechkin, I Lainne) set up in their spot” and think to yourself, “The penalty killers and goalie know that’s the plan, why can’t they stop it” ?

    What don’t have a super elite marksman like either of those 3, or do we? I’ve seen Lindholm snipe some pretty filthy goals from that side on one-timer’s. The other thing it does is open other opportunities when teams try and specifically defend against it.

    Which leads to the next point. Each of those teams have a guy at the point fully prepared to blast a slapper at any time. TJ Brodie shouldn’t be on the first power play unit. Gio and Stone should be manning the point.

    Gio is the ideal QB to get the puck to Lindholm on the left side, tee it up for Stone, wrist it to the slot for Monny to redirect, or cross seam to Johnny.

    This set up puts the other team’s focus on our most lethal offensive weapon, #13 to dipsy doodle on the half boards to the left of their goalie. He and Gio can control the play from opposite sides of the ice, one down low, one up high. And both can distribute to the most dangerous available player. Johnny is also a serious threat to score from this spot. (Provided Eric Staal or Ryan Suter aren’t on the ice to chop his hands off)

    The second unit would be the get in the goalies face, cycle and move unit. Which ever of the forwards find themselves near the slot when they set up takes up residence at the top of the blue paint. All three of Bennett, Tkachuk and Neal are good with in tight puck movement and short passes, working off the boards and strong on the puck. Hanifin and Brodie are offensively minded and are elite passers.

    Lindholm – Monahan – Gaudreau
    Giordano – Stone

    Neal – Bennett – Tkachuk
    Hanifin- Brodie

    • flames2015

      Hard no to stone on the first unit PP. He has a wicked shot yes, but his shots also miss the net 80% of the time, then the puck clears the zone. Tkachuk in my opinion needs to be on the first unit PP.

      Tkachuk – Monahan – Gaudreau
      Gio – Lindholm

      • flames2015

        also to add, Tkachuk lead the team in powerplay goals and finished 3rd in PP points just behind Monahan and Gaudreau, with only playing on that first unit the second half of the season. He belongs on the top unit.

        • Redleader

          Flames special teams will not be a weakness this season, more and more I look at this roster and the potential of a lot of players taking steps forward including (God)reau,Monahan still young too , Lindholm,TKACHUK,Jankowski,Bennett,Hanifin,Kulak,Anderson,Mangy,Dube Foo ,Valimaki, Gillies I still think Parsons is gonna be a no.1 goalie, Klington etc. I think Bennett s going to be tough to handle this year , once this kid gains traction he could be in the top 6 by end of season and be a force in the playoffs. He was playing with a rookie centre and Hathaway last season .

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Everyone is fantasizing about forward depth and defensive depth, but without good goaltending, all is for not.
    Smith is not going to last as a number one goaltender, and I don’t see a dependable backup. I don’t care what kind of offense and defense you have, if the goalie can’t stop the puck you’re in big trouble.

    • Rockmorton65

      Last year, with that roster, a league average pp and goaltending, they would have challenged for a playoff spot. With the additions to the lineup, a defensive minded coach, a pp and goaltending in the top half of the league, I think this team is contending for the division.

    • buts

      JimmyH people on this site don’t realize how important goaltending is. I agree with you. The best lineup means nothing without goaltending. BT has not addressed this and it will haunt the flames.

  • Getpucksdeep

    I’ve been at work and my son’s wedding is coming up soon. I’ll post a couple to “catch up”. I have been reading guys though! 1st observation. It’s clear which Alberta team is pumped about the next season. Comments here are almost triple what you see on Oilersnation. They don’t actually seem that impressed up there LOL.

  • Getpucksdeep

    These” whats my line” things are fun.
    1st Line

    Gaudreau LW 1st unit PP obviously vision, skates on his edges, passes well, smart.
    Monahan C 40 goal potential 1st unit PP?
    Lindholm 1RW by virtue of adding a solid 200 foot game that JG doesn’t always have and he shoots right. Could still be Neal tough!

    2nd line

    Tkachuk 2nd line 1st PP unit LW we just brought in 3 good righties and Neal who plays RW but shoots left. I heard Peters, but why would you now move him to his off wing? And what a star anchor for a great 2nd line!
    Backlund 2nd line C He’s a Selke candidate/Corsi darling! Keep in mind he lost both his linemates during the season, Tkachuk for the remainder and when Frolik returned he was in a cage and so was his game. Great skater and uses it both ways. The guy is a veteran pro could have his best scoring season with the linemates he’s getting.
    Neal 2nd line LW 1st PP unit Gaudreau is the best playmaker but Tkachuk is no slouch at distribution. Neal will play with both and bag his 20 easily.

    3rd line
    This is everybody’s most contentious. You’d like a 3rd unit that basically plays all year together.

    3rd line LW Bennett Make it or break it for him this year. Nice to see management still has faith. He deserves the time and should be given 2 unit PP time.
    3rd line C Jankowski The upside is so good. I really like his skating, reach and skill. If he and Bennett can take the next step, stand back.
    3rd line LW Frolik Another Corsi darling and 200 foot player so theoretically you have one solid pro 2 way guy on each of the 3 lines.

    Is that 3rd line carved in stone? I doubt it because its not out of the realm of possibilty that Frolik gets moved. Ryan, Foo, Czarnik even Dube ro Brouwer!!! could all steal a 3rd line spot.

    Too many good options for a 4th line, I don’t even think about until Christmas.

  • mrroonie

    It seems that there is an inordinate number of people on FN who think that the Flames picked up Ryan to be a 4th line winger.

    Ryan had the 9th highest FOW% among all NHL players with 482 or more faceoff attempts last season at 56.5%. To put this into perspective, Stajan, who had exactly 482 attempts which is why I chose that number instead of a nice round 500, led the Flames in 58th spot at 51.4%, Monahan was 77th at 50.4%, Backlund was 80th at 50.0%, and Janko was 85th at 48.8%.

    Ryan was the Canes’ 3rd line center and scored 38 points (2 fewer goals but 15 more assists than Janko). The only players on the current roster who scored more points last season are Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Tkachuk, Backlund, and Neal who many agree will likely be the Flames’ top 6 this season.

    They didn’t go out and sign him for $3 mil plus per for the next 3 seasons to be a bit player like so many seem to think when making line predictions.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Respectfully disagree. Remember when they signed Engalland to a 2.9 a year deal knowing he’d play bottom pair? Stone 3.5 knowing he’d be bottom pair. I see Ryan as a really good upgrade over Stajan who made the same money. You know there will injuries, call ups and occasional doghouse demotions. 4th line C has to be flexible as to who the wingers will because they will change all year long. Until I see Ryan play I can’t see him dislodging an up and coming Janko. Janko does not need sheltered minutes. With this team depth no one does. Contract value doesn’t spell line position.

      • TKO

        Engalaand was also a heavy weight deterrent. we can argue if there i value to that, but come playoffs, all bets are off and you have to have guys who can hold teams accountable. i would rather the game stayed focused on skill, but the NHL has decided to let the post seaosn play by different rules completely (I wish they didn’t) so a team needs tough men who can handle it and dish it out

      • mrroonie

        Dislodging an up and coming Janko? Wow!!! Talk about always given, never earned. Until he actually up and comes, which hasn’t happened yet, he has nothing to be dislodged from.

        I agree that contract value doesn’t spell line position, hence the data provided in my second and third paragraphs above. With the team’s depth, until Janko starts to win more than half the faceoffs he takes and scores more than 0.347 pts. per game (0.296 in his first 71 games, that last game skewed his numbers quite a bit), putting him anywhere but the 4th line seems foolish when there are others who do put up those stats.

        The NHL is a competitive league, not a development league, so the object is to put the best players on the ice in each roster spot in an effort to win every game.

    • TKO

      the beauty of our forward group is that is has ben upgraded substantially, to the point where people playing the third line would have been second line last year, people playing fourth line would have played third or second line last year… depth pushes everyone down the chart. if the players are as good as advertised, the team can roll four line in a much more balanced way time wise, and the fourth line can play 12 minutes instead of 8, and so on up the line, and eat their competitions lunch in the process. this allows for a speed attack, up tempo sustainalabe attack. things look exceptional for this team everywhere but in the net. the goalie situation may work out, but there is a huge gamble there. that being said, there is often chances to pick goalies up, if need be

    • Redleader

      That depends if Jankowski takes a step up and Ryan a step down ,Jankowski has the potential to be secondline centre if he gets even bigger and stronger he will be a dominant force in front of the net he was hard to budge in his rookie season,Flames will win the division .

  • Baalzamon

    Tom Wilson just got 5.16 million per.

    Five million. For a guy who’s never had more than 35 points in spite of playing most of his career with Ovechkin and Backstom.

    And people think Backlund is overpaid. Good grief.

      • The GREAT WW

        Backlund has a horrible contract.
        Long after the Brouwer blues are gone, we will be stuck with a soft Corsi king who adds nothing to winning games….


        • Redleader

          I’d like to see the Feistier Backs that slams Crosby to the ice I agree but he has like the best stats vs Mcdavid in the entire league and I like having a player that is a wicked skater and perfect positioning and is a gem puck stealer ! Come on Walt the cap keeps going up this contract will keep looking better and better every season,because they way he plays he could be playing into his 40s ,same with Monahan.

        • SoCalFlamesFan

          If contracts were the same pay every year that would be true. In 3 years backlunds salary drops significantly, I think that is when he gets traded, then he gets the rest of the salary guaranteed elsewhere.

  • super6646

    Peters had an interview yesterday (2 days ago now) in which he stated that Lindholm will start on the top line, but that Neal and him could be swapped if the top line needs that extra scoring touch.


    Kulak-Andersson/Stone (could see Stone being shipped if Andersson proves he’s ready).


  • Ktownhockey

    Gaudreau – lindholm – Neal
    Tkachuk – monahan – Bennet
    Mangi – backlund – Frolik
    Czarnik -Janks – ryan

    Think itd be cool to see a Monahan tkachuk line , almost looks like two fort lines with strong d players on the bottom 2 lines and scoring prowess

  • freethe flames

    The way I see it the Flames have 10 forwards that can play in the traditional top 9 roles; (johnny, monny, lindholm, backs, frolik, tkachuk, neal, ryan, janko and bennett) so the question that come to me is do you build 3 very good lines and someone falls to 4th line or do you build 2 excellent offensive lines with whomever you see as you top 6 offensive forwards and 2 solid two way shut down lines with 2 of the remaining guys on each line with players looking to prove themselves. I would go the latter way.

    So lets ask ourselves who do you see as your top 2 offensive centers? Monny is a no brainer but after that who is it? Is it Backs or is he better suited for another role? Is it Lindholm or do you see him elsewhere? That leaves Ryan, Janko and Bennett(who IMO seems more productive on the LW). Ryan’s older and his numbers last year were better than Janko’s but Janko is younger and with more room to grow into a second offensive center; he showed glimpses of that last year playing with Hathaway on his RW; there are much better options available this year.

    Filling out the battle lines for the other two forwards positions are: Hathaway, Lazar, Czr, Mangiapane, Foo, and Brouwer to name a few.