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Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The battle at the bottom of the depth chart

With so many significant changes made this summer, the Calgary Flames should have a few forward spots open to start the season. For the first time in quite a while, there’s a realistic chance we could see multiple young, fresh faces crack the roster out of training camp. Just as interesting is the number of bodies we could see in contention for those open spots. It all shapes up to be one of the hottest storylines when camp kicks off in a few weeks.

LAY OF THE LAND

If everybody is healthy at the end of training camp, and that’s a big if, it’s easy to project Calgary’s top group of forwards. Even with a tweak or two, it would be a bit of a shocker if the team’s top two lines didn’t look something like this:

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-James Neal

It’s not to say the grouping above doesn’t have promise or isn’t exciting, because it does and it is. But, barring injury, there’s not a whole lot of intrigue in how the Flames will assemble their top six. The conversation gets far more interesting when you take a deeper look at the back half of the depth chart, though.

Since the beginning of July, we’ve seen Calgary use a buyout on Troy Brouwer while also parting ways with Kris Versteeg and Matt Stajan as free agents. All three players have been bottom six mainstays over the last two seasons and their departures open a few doors.

Of course a few of those openings will likely be spoken for by some of the team’s new additions, but not all of them. Again, assuming good health, here’s a rough sketch of the players you can likely pencil in for bottom six assignments:

Sam Bennett-Derek Ryan-Michael Frolik
???-Mark Jankowski-Austin Czarnik
???-???

Whether it’s Lindholm or Neal playing on Backlund’s right side, it’s a fairly good bet we’ll see Frolik bumped down the depth chart, which would be a great fit for him. Entering his fourth season with the Flames, Frolik remains a top notch two-way winger and excels on the penalty kill. I’m not sure you can count on a ton of offence from him at this stage, though, which is why he slots well as the team’s third right winger.

Czarnik is the other interesting name listed above, and I think there’s a strong chance he starts the season as a regular forward. Knowing how heavily Calgary pursued him, and knowing their stated desire to see him on the second powerplay unit, it would be a shock to see Czarnik start anywhere but in the opening day lineup.

So what about those pesky question marks? Yep, those are the projected open spots, and there are a number of candidates to consider.

THE FRONTRUNNERS

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Spencer Foo. I was really impressed with Foo’s rapid progression as a rookie pro last season and I came away with a solid impression in his four-game NHL stint at the end of the year. Foo has a high level shot, solid offensive instincts, and I think he’ll get a long look this fall. There’s one caveat with Foo, though: he needs to play. Don’t have him up with Calgary if he’s going to be the 13th or 14th forward, because he’s got far more to gain from playing regular minutes in Stockton.

Andrew Mangiapane. The same condition I submitted in Foo’s case applies to Mangiapane, because playing games is more important than an NHL salary at this point. That said, Mangiapane didn’t look out of place when he spent a few weeks with the Flames in January and February. Yes, he didn’t put up any points in 10 games, but his AHL production over two seasons can’t be ignored.

Garnet Hathaway. Here’s a guy who has turned into quite the polarizing figure: some fans love seeing Hathaway in the lineup, some don’t. Like it or not, though, Hathaway played 59 games in Calgary last season and will be in the mix for the opening night roster this year. Unlike Foo and Mangiapane, though, Hathaway’s development isn’t as much of a priority. He turns 27 in November and has likely entered into “is what he is” territory. As such, he’d be a much better fit as the 13th or 14th man.

Curtis Lazar. Much like Hathaway, Lazar seems like an ideal fit for an “extra” role on the Flames’ forward depth chart. Lazar has yet to prove he’s anything more than a replacement level forward and now has four full NHL seasons under his belt. While not an ideal everyday guy at this point, Lazar can step in for spot duty and it’s less of a worry seeing him sit for long stretches of time.

Anthony Peluso. WHAT?!? A 29-year-old forward with 14 points in 144 career NHL games makes the list of frontrunners??? Before you log off, hear me out; this isn’t necessarily what I would do, but it’s my read on the situation. Agree or not, Calgary wants more size and toughness on their roster and Peluso brings that. He’s a solid candidate to occupy space in the press box if need be, and I think he’ll be given heavy consideration for a roster spot.

THE DARK HORSES

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Of all the less likely candidates, 2016 second round pick Dillon Dube leads the pack for me. He got a long look last fall before the Flames ultimately opted to send him back to junior, and this year the Western League isn’t really in the picture. Dube is eligible for AHL work now and, even if he doesn’t push for a spot in camp, I think he’ll see at least a little time on the big club this season.

Who else might be in this mix is anyone’s guess. Could Morgan Klimchuk continue trending upward? What kind of impression will Glenn Gawdin make now that he has his first NHL contract? Do we know enough about newcomer Yasin Ehliz to form an informed opinion?

The best part about this whole conversation is how few answers we have to the myriad questions that exist. It should make for an extremely competitive, and fairly intriguing, edition of training camp.



  • Zeb Zadock

    Dougie Hamilton was an elite defenseman in this league. We downgraded bigtime. Lindholm hasn’t proven much and he replaced Ferland who brought skill and grit. So idk if that was an upgrade or what. Time will tell. Peters replaced GG whose coaching records are both bad. The only move that is considered a for sure upgrade is Neal in for Brouwer. So I hope all this optimism about us improving mightily is remembered when things start to not go our way because I can see all the armchair GMs on here changing there tunes a little and will start to say things like “why would BT trade so and so or hire a guy with no winning experience” blah blah blah. This team is not ready to contend amongst the top teams and that’s just being realistic. Goaltending and overall team toughness is a major concern and it hasn’t been addressed.

    • LannyMac

      Your right Zeb the blind optimism is over the top. A puck hasn’t been dropped yet and you would think this is the year for a parade in June. Don’t worry it’s like that every year. Having said that Hamilton was an absolute joke in his defensive responsibilities. Ferland couldn’t give a $hit many nights and fox may never of put on a jersey. So are Lindholm and Hanifin better. Don’t know I’m waiting for a puck to drop.

      • Still no edit button?

        What fans are optimistic of their? Blasphemy.. over on ON they have the same thing. Maybe it’s just a common thing hoping for the best of your team?

    • Off the wall

      ZZ = Derzie
      And if you’re wrong, shall we hold you to it?

      Cuz all of us armchair GM’s are excited for the season! Try it, it might make a difference?

    • Danomitee

      Dougie & Ferland were easily the two most overrated players on our team the past couple of years. Hamilton was awful in the Ducks series and I’ll never get past that. I agree that Hanafin isn’t where Hamilton is yet, but Lindholm is a huge upgrade on Ferland so I disagree.

    • BringtheFire 2.O

      I disagree Zeb. I believe this team will turn heads this year. Once Hanifin is signed he will replace Hamilton with a more team friendly tingly happy feeling. No GG, no Brouwer, no Stajan. That alone is an improvement. Plus Backs will light it up with his new team friendly contract.

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        Way to regurgitate what other people say. How about a thought? Or, too much to ask? Hanafin is unproven, [email protected] Only time will tell if Backs’ contract is team friendly, sh!thead.

        Anyway, I’m startin’ to figure out what hours you work…

        • BringtheFire 2.O

          Please stick to hockey talk instead of your righteous slander. I dont mind that you have copied my screen name but perhaps its time you created your own so our opinions dont get confused with one and others. Again I am flattered but please change your name.

    • Jobu

      Downgraded?
      Hamilton was a defensive liability, not a team player, and a lazy-penalty machine (64 PIMs for someone who doesnt play physical). The only reason hes a plus 1 is because of Mr. Giordano. But lets erase all that for purposes of proving a point. Lets look at offense alone.

      GONE
      Hamilton: 17G, 27A, 44PTS (in 82 Games) = 0.54 points per game average
      Brouwer, Stajan, Versteeg combined: 13G, 29A, 42PTS (in a total of 168 games) = 0.25 ppg
      TOTALS: 30G, 56A, 86PTS

      ACQUIRED
      Hanafin: 10G, 22A, 32PTS (in 79 games) = 0.40 PPG
      Neal: 25G, 19A, 44PTS (in 71 games) = 0.61 PPG
      Lindholm: 16G, 28A, 44PTS (in 81 games) = 0.54 PPG
      Ryan: 15G, 23A, 38PTS (in 80 games) = 0.475 PPG
      Czarnik: 0G, 4A, 4PTS (in 10 games) = 0.40 PPG
      TOTALS: 56G, 96A, 152PTS

      That almost 100 more points and 26 more goals in a season. Jobu estimates that the goals alone would likely have equated to another 9-13 wins and a playoff birth.

      Nuff said

    • Mitchell

      That seems a little pessimistic, and it seems early for that doom a gloom rhetoric you’re spewing. Personally it sounds like you’re kind of trolling, but to each their own. All I’m saying is that players can improve over the summer. Likewise players can get worse due to injury or age, so like you said time will tell. Just don’t discount them at least until they get a few games in.

    • Rockmorton65

      ZZ – one more time for those a little slow on the upload.

      Dougie a) was a very good OFFENSIVE defenseman. b) didn’t want to be here

      We got a solid #4 defenseman with a higher ceiling than DH’s and a massive upgrade to our top 6.

      Monster win for BT.

        • Still no edit button?

          Umm will whether some one wants to play some where or not outs very consequential. Like any other job if you don’t want to be at your job you never perform as well as you can.

          • LannyMac

            You don’t get it do you. I will put it in simpler terms for you. Whether Doug Hamilton wanted to leave Calgary or it was the decision of the Calgary organization to get rid of him. In other words had Hamilton wished to stay he would have been trade any way. See where I’m going there.

          • Still no edit button?

            Haha you should share that crystal ball. If Hamilton wanted to be here and you know got along with his teammates and showed up to year end interviews instead of all his pouting after Calgary traded his brother good chance he stays here.

      • Still no edit button?

        That is the Oilers fans motto. Facts don’t matter. If you have not noticed ther FN commentors use facts all the time in their posts. It’s the Oilers trolls who come on make completely unrealistic comments

  • Skylardog

    The article is really out to lunch in my view. Cap, waivers, and the CBA will dictate the 14 here barring injury. They are:
    Mony
    JG
    Backs
    Fro
    Neal
    Lindholm
    Tkachuk
    Ryan
    Hath
    Bennett
    Janko
    Lazar
    Czarnik
    That leaves one spot, and I don’t see the Flames keeping a prospect up to put in the stands. That means a cheap vet like Rychel or Peluso as #14

    I know, you think Foo or Dube or Mangi are ahead of Lazar and Hath. Appearances are deceiving.

    Of the question marks, over the last 2 seasons, the worst player production wise given opportunity is Bennett. He had the most time with the top 4 forwards last season and squandered it. In terms of on ice GF/60, Lazar got almost no time with the top 4, and was better with JG than Mony, Ferland, or anyone else, except for Hath. Hath is the best guy at being on the ice to produce goals of the question marks, and Janko is our top point producer.

    We did not get a top top first line guy that can go on the first line night after night. Therefore we MUST balance the scoring. However, we have the best shut down pair in the NHL, Backs and Fro. They need to be retasked this season to play to their strengths. That means a focus on shutting down the oppositions first line. The perfect winger for them is Lazar. He is solid defensively, and can be effective if given the right line. That saves our scorers for the other 3 lines. Backs and Fro are not potting any more than 20 and 13 respectively. Not an offensive threat.

    So here it is. My 4 lines. Keep in mind Bennett has to produce or he is the odd man out. Mangi or Dube would be set to replace him.

    JG – Janko – Neal
    Tkachuk – Monahan – Lindholm
    Lazar – Backs – Fro
    Bennett – Ryan – Hath

    If the fourth is struggling do this

    JG – Mony – Hath (That 3 were 4.24 GF/60 over the last 2 seasons)
    Tkachuk – Janko – Lindholm
    Lazar – Backs – Fro
    Bennett – Ryan – Neal
    If Bennett can’t produce on that line he needs to go.
    In the stands – Czarnik with Peluso or Rychel until injury brings up a prospect.

    More on Czarnik later – This one has me shaking my head (I hope I am wrong)

          • Skylardog

            Not saying he does. But a line with JG and Neal pots 75 this season. Tkachuk Mony and Lindholm get 75 too.

            Mony JG and Neal get 80, but the Lindholm, Tkachuk and whoever (Janko or Ryan) only get 50. Each feed the other because you can’t shut down just one of the lines, like what happened to the Monahan line last year. Keep JG and Mony off the scoresheet and you had 2 points.

          • Cfan in Van

            Jankos GF/60 is better than Mony’s because of that one 4-goal nothing game against the Knights at the end of the season. Basing the lines around one game is ridiculous.

          • Skylardog

            Not basing lines on stats, more what I see as their strengths. Janko can snipe goals, so put him with JG saving Mony for Lindholm and Tkachuk. He should still get 35, but Janko will pick up 30 as well with JG. Neal also benefits from JGs playmaking.
            Lazar Backs were a disaster in a very short time played together. No goals for, and a huge 5+ GA/60. But they complement each other.

            Lindholm is better suited to feed Mony, than to try and score with JG.

    • freethe flames

      I agree with your premise that if this team wants to meet it’s potential that it has to go away from the old 4 line model and have 4 lines that can play I don’t agree with some of your conclusions and that is okay. I have stated countless times my vision of what this team can be:
      Line A primary purpose is to produce offense and gets mostly offensive starts and should produce 70+ goals. Johnny/Monny/Lindholm(he helps them be better defensively and helps in the FO circle as well).
      Line B:Primary goal produce goals mostly offensive starts while being defensively responsible.60+ goals Tkachuk/Janko/Neal; I would start with Janko in this spot but am not afraid to fill it with someone else if he struggles.
      Line C: Primary role is defensive responsibilities; most of the tough D zone starts. Has the ability to drive possession and create its own offense: ?/Backs/Frolik they can as a line score @40 goals.
      Line D: Primary role is defensive responsibilities but also gets the most mismatches during the game; will create it’s own offensive opportunities: Bennett/Ryan/?; again I think this kind of line could flirt with @40 goals.
      Everybody on lines A and B have the ability to play on the PP while everyone one on lines C and D can ply on the PK while some players can do both. The game is played @52 minutes 5 on 5 (i’m sure there is some stat’s guy who can find the exact number) That probably means 15 minutes each for lines A and C and 11 minutes each for B and D playing 5 on 5; plus the special teams time they get.

      • Skylardog

        You actually match my thinking almost exactly, just a few moves of guys in tweeking out the lines. Bennett Ryan and hath are never scoring 70, but if they could get 50? On the top 2 lines all you did is flip Gaudreau and Tkachuk. I also totally agree on your PP and PK assessment. I also placed Lazar and Hath, while you left it open.