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.


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.


Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.


Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • Jagrrrrr, baby. Yeah.

    It makes me sad that an unskilled (relative to NHL standards) player whose only virtue is his ability to give and take concussions is likely to get a roster spot over a young guy who could actually be a decent 4th line scoring winger with speed.
    Also, at least one of Hath and Laz will be on the roster to start the season.
    Move towards the light, Tre! There’s a whole world of better, faster, more exciting hockey awaiting all of us!

    • LannyMac

      Jags if Peluso doesn’t play there will be lots of spots open for the new kids due to teams taking liberties with our top six. If I was the coach Peluso would sit beside the back up goalie. The minute some a-hole goes over the edge with one of our players he would be over the boards to either give a warning or start swinging. It wouldn’t matter wether it was Mcsavior or Lucic. If he gets suspended Tre should have 3 or four guys in the system that can occupy that spot on the bench beside Rittich

    • WidemansAnger

      Jagrrr this is hockey not baseball. These men live for this and get compensated very well to live out there dreams. Physicality is important in hockey and part of what makes the game so great. No one likes seeing a player get injured or cuncussed but these are professionals who play the game hard and with emotion. Just cause someone plays a physical role doesn’t mean he is trying to end someones career with dirty play. Play the game and play hard and take my money!!!!

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Peluso won’t start, AHL guy. Hathaway and Lazar sent to Stockton, both have had there chance. The remaining players should make things interesting.
    By the way, when is Tre going to get a goaltender.

  • everton fc

    Hathaway won’t be sent to Stockton. He’ll most likely be an extra forward here – one who can draw penalties and be an asset on the PK, when he’s on the ice. Obviously, Hathaway’s never bothered me, as much as most here.

    I like Lazar as a person, and agree, he’s another decent bet for one of the extra forward spots. But I’d rather have Hathaway in the lineup, than Lazar.

    As for Peluso… I can’t see this team sitting Stone or Kulak, or Andersson… For Prout, if we’re playing a more physical, scrappy, bigger team. I could see them sitting one of the 4th line wings, whomever they may be, for Peluso. I assume he’ll start in the “A”, but would be at all surprised, if he’s on the opening day roster. Rychel could also push his way into the discussion, when it comes to “extra forwards”, as there’s not much else he can prove, in the “A”.

    I still think Klimchuk needs ice time. Foo and Mangiapane obviously do. Dube needs the same, and professional experience. As for goaltending, if we could dump Stone for Pickard, I’d do it.

  • TradeBrodie

    The bottom 6 should be Janko, Backlund, Frolik, Czarnik, Lazar, Ryan, and Rychel. Trade Frolik, open a up a spit for Foo or Mangiapane. All thos giving up on Lazar should shake their heads. He is still a kid with boat loads of upside. Could you imagine having to play in Ottawa and then calgary? Not exactly great playing destinations. Now with GG gone, he will flourish in a bottom 6 role not being tied to the anchor of Brouwer.

    • everton fc

      Trade Frolik? To give Foo or Mangiapane a spot?? That’s not a good move.

      If we can somehow keep Backlund and Frolik together, that would be ideal. But I see Backlund playing with Tkachuk, with Lindholm on RW. I like Jankowski as 3rd line centre, but I really think he’ll be the #4 centre. We need a bottom 6 that can score. Frolik on the 3rd line/RW, will score more than anyone we’ve had there for a while. My fears about Ryan, are captured below – the link will follow, pre-Flames signing;
      Here is a review of his strengths and weaknesses from Canes Country.

      “His biggest strength is that he’s not scared to get into the dirty zones. On a team that has issues being physical, hes not scared to go to the front of the net or battle along the boards. He has driven offense by digging pucks out and dishing them to the slot and by cleaning up rebounds in front of the net.

      “The issue with Derek Ryan is that he is a small forward that doesn’t necessarily have the speed or the hands to make up for his lack of size. There are a lot of times that he is able to get bodied off of the puck. As a center, his role is also to get in front of the net, but without the size, he doesn’t become a pesky presence.”


      So Ryan may be a defencive liability, at times. He’s also not fleet of boot. Which makes a pairing with at least Frolik, smart. I’d like to see Ryan as the 4th line centre, and Janko as 3C. Janko’s plays good defence. As does Frolik. Maybe Lazar could “connect” with those two, but I think Lazar is a 4th line player. I hope I’m wrong, but my point is the value of Frolik, on a team like ours. Bennett-Jankowski-Frolik is my favourite 3rd line. I still have faith, in Bennett.

      • TradeBrodie

        Frolik was riding Backlund and Tkchucks coat tails last year. Backlund should be 3rd line center. Put Janko with him. Two solid guys that can take draws, and shut down the opponents top lines. Add someone like Foo who has a little nasty side, offensive flair and the a utility to play 200 feet. This gives the Flames the option of deploying Gaudreau Monahan Lindholm Neal Bennett and Tkchuck in their deserved top 6 roles. Then play Czarnik, Lazar, Ryan, Hathaway and Rychel accordingly.

  • Skylardog

    Some info on Czarnik and Lazar
    Czarnik – The line combinations he has played the most with, have produced very low on ice GF/60 rates. In 259:15, his top four on ice line combinations produced just four goals, a combined 0.926 GF/60. This included 43:34 on a line with David Krejci and Ryan Spooner that produced just one goal and a 1.38 GF/60.

    His contract is a mystery to me. He played just 10 games last season, 39 less than in 2016-17, and was only the 21st forward in terms of TOI for the Bruins. He was sent down to the AHL just a couple of days after Spooner was injured, a time when one would have expected him to see time in the lineup. Yet he gets a 2 year deal at $1.25 million per season. The deal is a one way, meaning he gets that whether he is here or in the AHL. He is 26, not young, was undrafted. He could clear waivers and makes a logical guy to move up and down from here to the farm, but they sign him to a one way. He is unproven and was playing a declining role in Boston, not showing signs of being a contributor.

    In contrast, even Lazar on a disappointing fourth line with Stajan and Brouwer, had an on ice rate of 1.64 GF/60 in 109:59 last season. In Ottawa, Lazar with Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman scored at 4.61 GF/60 in 91:08. He made a better winger for Hoff and Stone than Turris. Hoff and Stone without Lazar were in the 2.8 range. The Hoff, Stone, Lazar line were also solid defensively, scoring almost 2x more than they got scored on.

    Lazar’s top 5 line combinations by TOI in his career produced 25 goals in 646:17, 2.32 GF/60. It appears Lazar may be capable of contributing when given the right line mates. For example, Lazar and Gaudreau last season posted a 3.63 GF/60 in just over 66 minutes playing together. That is even better than Gaudreau with Monahan which produced 3.50 GF/60 last season, albeit on a much, much smaller sample compared to the 924 minutes the top 2 Flames forwards played together.

    Stajan and Lazar were one of the best tandems on the Flames roster in the final 20 games. With stability, they began to gel, finishing the final 20 games with a GF/60 of 2.41 and a GA/60 of 0.60. They were the best 2 forwards to end the season. Familiarity and consistent lines appear to be important for Lazar.

    Mangi has had little opportunity, but has not been on the ice for a single GF in 10 games. Foo with Gaudreau has an on ice GF/60 of 2.17, less than Lazar, Hath (5.23), Janko (3.76). Foo will get a chance this season.

    The guy I like, and one that would slide in with Backs and Fro is Klimchuk. Hope he gets a serious look in the right role.

    • everton fc

      Interesting info on Hathaway. Obviously, if you read my posts here, I see value, in Hathaway.

      I also think Klimchuk could become a good LW w/Backlund and Frolik. We shall see. If Klimchuk is somehow able to pull that off via a strong camp, then I wonder who they cut? If Stajan and Lazar could gel, so could Ryan and Lazar. Something else to consider.

      It’ll be an interesting process, that’s for certain. I am very much looking forward to it.

    • Stu Gotz

      Interesting how the Flames have a totally different read on Czarnik than you do. Apparently a long list of teams were lined up to sign him to a one way as they recognized he had skill, speed but unable to crack a talented Bruin lineup. I do agree on your assessment of Lazar…if he get’s an opportunity to play with decent players he may shine…..I like the depth Treliving has put in place in the event of non-performance or injury.

      • everton fc

        Every article I’ve read aboout Czarnik speaks of him as a “depth-centre”.

        I still see Czarnik starting on the 4th line/RW. Jankowski centering (don’t like this idea), and one of Hathaway and Lazar on LW. Which means Hathaway/Lazar is one of the extra forwards, with Peluso and maybe Rychel, as the other extra (I think it’ll be Peluso). The other kids need to play. ONly way Foo makes the team is if he beats out Czarnik. Which he might. Than the extra forwards are Hathaway/Lazar & Czarnik.

        • Skylardog

          Cheered that because it is accurate.
          The problem is that if we have a weak 4th line we will only be a marginal team. We need to spread the scoring out. I have little to no faith in Bennett, so if you have him in the top 3 lines you are now down to just 2 capable lines. Not going anywhere if that is the case.

          The level of success this season may hinge on how well Bennett recovers from 2 disasterous years. If he is going (or replaced by someone who is) we may be a contender.

          • Chucky

            Bennett needs to get it going this year or be traded to a team that will use his skills, Vegas and Winnipeg come to mind. That is the style he needs to succeed.

          • Redleader

            Bennett is better at defence at his age than Backlund was . Why would you call them disaster s you mean with GG ? 18 goals ,13 goals , 11 not exactly disasters , decline with the new coach . He helped Jankowski get a few goals too. Your saying it’s a stretch that Bennet increases 15 points to a very respectable 40 point season on a 3rd line ? With Jankowski coming into his second year and an upgrade on the RW . I have faith in the Kid (22)

    • Chucky

      Do you think that the problem with Lazar is the guys he plays with as opposed to a clear definition of his role. It is hard to see him as an offensive force but he does a lot of things right with speed. It would be disheartening to see him become a Bryon 2.0 . If he plays with Backlund and Frolik he would be available to pair with Jankowski on the PK considering the success those two had on the kill last year it could be a real advantage,

    • buts

      I agree skydog the highlights online of Czarnik show a small player getting some lucky goals. I hope BT didn’t get sucked in a bidding war but by the amount of teams that showed interest he must have something we haven’t seen and this coaching staff can’t possible do worse than the last. Here’s hoping for chemistry among all the forwards because other than a few combinations there was very little chemistry last year and I put most of the blame on the coaches systems, usage and bench management.

  • Fat Tony

    I like Mangiapane, he has certainly earned a shot, however, I feel as if Foo better suits a forth line role. He is still very skilled like mangi but he brings a nice physical aspect to the table which is better suited for this team as a depth forward. My prediction is that Foo cracks the opening night roster along side of Mark and Austin. Hath and Lazar sit and Mangiapane will be the first call up.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I hate seeing Janko on the 4th line when he has so much more to offer. Having said that, if Czarnik and Mangi are his wingers, I could see that line moved up to the 3rd line by the 20 game mark. My concern is that the 4 th line always gets heir minutes bumped in tight games but if the roll 4 capable lines then any line can be the top line in a given game.

  • MarbledBlueCheese

    Please, no Glass 2.0 to start the season. I’m afraid though that’s this team can’t help itself and will try to put face-punchin on the 4th line. Again.

  • freethe flames

    The question for me is do they have Backlund play on the second offensive line as suggested here or does he play on the top shut down line and still produce his 15+ goals. Personally I would prefer seeing one of the kids in the second offensive center role whether it be Janko or Bennett.

    • withachance

      I think the most likely scenario in this case is Lindholm plays second offensive C.

      JG – Monny – Tkachuk
      Benny – Lindholm – Neal
      Frolik – Backs – Czarnik
      Mangi – Janko – Ryan

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        I think, if anything, they use Lindholm to supplement a LHS C. I could see somthing like this:


        You get balanced scoring on the lines, ability for LHS and RHS to take draws on all by the top line, and speed through the lineup.

        • mrroonie

          The problem with Neal on the first line with Johnny and Mony is faceoffs. Brouwer took only 7 faceoffs fewer last season than Neal (66 -139) and Gaudreau (6-12) have taken combined in their entire careers (Nick Shore won only 20 fewer faceoffs in his 9 games as a Flame than Neal and Gaudreau have in their combined 1015 NHL games). That means that if Mony gets kicked out, the chances of winning the faceoff are somewhere between slim and nil. This is why Lindholm on the first line is more likely than Neal. Chucky was 42.5% on the faceoff dot last year so he can step in if Backs gets kicked out.

          • Redleader

            It would be nice to have two guys on firstline that can win draws and two guys on second line . How much of a leap could Jankowski take this season? I think he’s too good for a fourthline role .
            Bennett Jankowski Ryan
            Frolik Dube Czar . That would give us two centres on 3rd and 4rth line

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            Considering that Monahan had a few months of taking draws with one good hand, he still managed to take a huge amount. I don;t think him getting kicked out is much of a concern.

          • mrroonie


            I’m really not sure how Monahan being injured or not has anything to do with him getting kicked out of faceoffs. Players get kicked out of the circle for faceoff violations all the time, and Monahan is no exception.

            Monahan does take the majority of faceoffs on that line, he took 1407 last season. When he was kicked out of the circle for a faceoff violation last season, Ferland (57 draws) or whoever was on the right side took the draw. Johnny went 1 for 5 last season and Neal went 0 for 2. Not having a second faceoff guy on the top line is foolish and neither Johnny (career 30%) nor Neal (career 32.2%) is a faceoff guy.

            Lindholm took almost 800 faceoffs last season, winning 54.5% of them (Mony was 50.4%). This means that the top line would be given the best chance for puck possession every time they take a faceoff. The second line with Backlund (50.0%) taking the majority of the faceoffs and Chucky (42.5%) as the backup means that Neal isn’t being relied on to regularly take faceoffs.

            A third line of Ryan (56.5%), Bennett (54.3%), and Frolik (45.8%) would be strong on the dot and could be used for a lot of the D-zone starts, while a fourth line of Janko (48.8%), Czarnik (44.1%), and whoever the 4th line LW is should be able to hold their own as well.

          • Redleader

            Foo/Czar for pp? I think these extra spots could get felt out for special teams options more than just bottom six , if Klimchuck is a better penalty killer than Mangy is on pp etc .

        • Stu Gotz

          FlamesFanOtherCity…That’s exactly how I would line them up! Flames just invested $30M on Neal…they will do everything to make him successful and get his 25 goals with Johnny setting him up. Backs & Lindholm speak & think alike. Frolik makes the 3rd line stronger. 4th line an improvement. Hathaway also slotted in occasionally for Mange. Nice post!

      • wot96

        Switch Ryan and Czarnik and the the Backs line is a true shutdown line that can chip in. The fourth is fast and skilled with a big Centre to control opposing skill lines and a right handed Centre in case they get trapped defensively.

        I like those lines.

  • Puckhead

    I will be in Anaheim next week and am toying with the idea of putting on a WW mask with a Giordano jersey, walking up the steps of the Honda Center (the Pond), pinching a deuce in a paper bag, and setting it alight at the front door.

    Hit trash for yes and cheers for hell yes!

  • Korcan

    I like Jankowski and believe he has a good ceiling, which he is still far from reaching, but to move him up the lineup ahead of Backlund and even Ryan is not in the team’s (or his) best interest. Backs and Ryan are presently better centermen with more experience and maturity who can better handle the responsibilities that come with playing up in the lineup. If you look at Jank’s points production from last season and exclude his four goal night in the final, meaningless game, you will notice almost all his points came in the first half. He needs more experience and consistency in his game before giving him more responsibility. 4th line C with a pair of young offensively skilled wingers is the perfect scenario for Jankowski to further his development. If he takes off and has a great season, then they can consider moving him up the lineup later in the year. But why push him when its not necessary.

  • Joeyhere

    Agreed it is exciting to see some healthy can competition for the bottom six, and it’s good news for the Flames future to develop these guys vs playing over paid over the hill veterans
    But somewhat lost in this conversation is Jankowski. The development of a tall fast 17goal scoring rookie is not best served by fourth line duty if that role is assigned more shut down duties. My hope is BP uses Foo / Mangiapane over guys like Peluso and Hathaway. challenge the 4h line to be an offensive energy line. Use the Vegas example and roll four real lines

    It’s better hockey and it’s a better way to develop the young talent

    • Sea of Redd

      I agree. And Jankowski probably doesn’t deserve to be on the 4th line. But there’s something about a Mangiapane – Jankowski – Czarnik 4th line that would be me excited to see them every night. Could even get more points than a Bennett – Ryan – Frolik 3rd line.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    This is unfamiliar territory for Flames fans, we don’t have dead money tied up in aging veterans clogging the bottom of the roster anymore……could not be more excited for training camp

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    If Mark Jankowski is not the 3C this upcoming season, then Tree-Peet are playing the GM-Coach game wrong.
    They’re not. Mark Jankowski will be the third line centre this year. Janko and Bennett should, and will, be a pairing.

    • Chucky

      It would be wise to have a little bit of experience on the fourth line. Look for Bennett, Jankowski, Ryan as the third line and Frolik, Dube and Czarnik as the fourth. PK will feature a Jankowski Ryan pairing following and Backlund Frolik.

    • mrroonie

      Jankowski: 17g, 8a, 25p.; 0.342 ppg.; 48.8 FOW%; $1.675 mil.
      Ryan: 15g, 23a, 38p.; 0.475 ppg.; 56.5 FOW%; $3.125 mil.

      Not exactly seeing anything that says having Janko start the season as the 4C is “playing the GM-Coach game wrong.” If BP rolls 4 lines rather than having the traditional line setup, Ryan with Bennett and Frolik could be a combination similar to the 3M line that is good defensively but has decent scoring ability, while Janko, Czarnik and either Mangi or Foo would be a speedy energy line. Janko should be a top-6 center in the near future but still needs to earn the spot.

  • RedMile

    I believe that Lindholm will be on first line with mony-johnny. Since they get mostly offensive zone starts, you want the highest chance of face off wins/o-zone possession. Having mony and lindholm able to take draws on their strong sides will give the line more chances to score.

    • RedMile

      I think lines play out like this.
      As much as I wish Janko was the 3c, a 4th line like that is pretty appealing with young speed and skill. Also, I think that Bennett will hopefully improve with some arguable better line mates, especially since both are more defensively responsible will allow him to attach more on the forecheck and with his offence.

          • freethe flames

            I have to admit I sometimes go and read the other sites to see if there is anything interesting but I can’t remember the last time I posted anything there or even brought them up here. There is enough stuff on our own site to talk about.

          • Getpucksdeep

            Exactly. I don’t join their sites at all, or troll them. You can’t assess you’re own club as if its in a vaccum. I’ve been in a 50-60 entry hockey pool for 7 years. (top 3 pays and 5 times in the money in 7 years …Yahoo) I want to know what the hometown fans have to say about their own clubs to help weigh it all out. Edm and Van are in our division. I do want to know what their fans think of their teams. Like it or not all the different sports sites will be “predicting” team standing positions soon. That’ll whip up a few choice comments for sure. Its like the current list of 20 prospects going on. They are writers opinions and of no more value than anyone elses, including mine. For me, the trick is to separate the “emotional” fans from the “analytical” fans. Do the moderators here not want such comments?????

  • freethe flames

    One thought about this years battle for the bottom 6 is that many of these players we are talking about last year played up the line up; this bodes well for this year.