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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Who has been the best fit alongside Tkachuk and Backlund?

Since Elias Lindholm turned out to be a natural fit alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames haven’t had any problems with their first line. Their second line, though, has featured a rotating cast of right wingers – one that Michael Frolik seems to have laid a claim to, however long that lasts.

Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund are the undisputed regulars of the second line, but so far this season, they’ve also spent extensive time alongside Frolik (172:21 5v5 minutes), Sam Bennett (161:22), James Neal (75:19), and Austin Czarnik (71:07).

None of the four forwards have been able to solidify the spot as their right winger: Frolik has spent much of the season playing further down the lineup (when he wasn’t injured for a month, at least); Bennett has bounced around the middle six; Neal has been unable to land a spot in the top six, even though that’s where most would have thought he’d end up after signing with the Flames in free agency; and Czarnik, the original choice, has had a tough time regularly dressing in games to begin with.

While that’s led to lineup inconsistencies, it’s also given the Flames a chance to try to figure out which forward works best with Tkachuk and Backlund to fill out the top six. Via Natural Stat Trick and at 5v5, through 48 games of the season to date, here are the current results:

With… CF% HDCF% GF% PDO OZone%
Frolik 59.33 54.69 73.68 1.080 56.03
Bennett 54.90 51.85 57.14 1.004 59.43
Neal 53.62 41.18 25.00 0.938 55.17
Czarnik 58.00 47.50 33.33 0.950 52.27

Frolik continues to appear to be the best option of the bunch. It makes sense: he’s played the most with Tkachuk and Backlund in the past, and he’s generally regarded as a smart player who, while he may not necessarily live up to his contract offensively, is extremely capable defensively. The line has had some luck with Frolik on board – they have the highest PDO with him, which has likely partly resulted in an inflated goals for percentage – but the other stats are sound: the line largely controls both possession and high danger events when Frolik is a part of it.

Bennett, however, does appear to be the second best option. Frolik being unavailable due to injury for a month played a big part in Bennett getting a regular chance on that line, and though he doesn’t quite match up to the standards Frolik set, he hasn’t done poorly, either. The line did get a boost in offensive zone starts, but it still largely controlled corsi events for, including of a high danger nature. It’s been a less lucky line than with Frolik on it, but still a reasonably good one: that PDO is right within range to indicate the line wasn’t particularly seeing the bounces one way or the other, and the puck was still overall going the right way when Bennett was getting top six minutes.

That brings us to Neal and Czarnik. While their lines have still controlled overall corsi events, they’ve been outmatched when it comes to high danger events specifically. They’ve had worse luck than the other two options – and their goals for percentages match that drop in expectation – but fact of the matter is, the line just hasn’t been as strong compared to either Frolik or Bennett on it in their stead. Part of that could be due to them having gotten less of a chance (roughly 100 fewer 5v5 minutes than Frolik and Bennett have had to work with), but at the same time, giving them an extended look when there are, evidently, superior options wouldn’t make much sense.

Czarnik looks to be faring better than Neal on that line – Neal’s poor PDO aside (and the fact that he’s shooting roughly 7.6% below his career average, which was not foreseeable [not to mention an issue that plagued Frolik last year, albeit to a much less dramatic extent]), Czarnik has the better numbers across the board. Not enough to contend with Frolik, but enough to perhaps at least challenge Bennett, should that opportunity ever arise.

For the time being, though, it looks like Frolik is the answer to rounding out the Flames’ top six. Even considering the higher PDO, he’s had the better results across the board. And unless the Flames are able to acquire another forward to unquestionably make their top six better – say, at the trade deadline – it looks like it should be Frolik’s spot to lose.

Judging by his rising ice time over the past four games – during which six of his 10 points have come since his return to the lineup – Bill Peters seems to be in agreement, at least for however long this lasts.

  • The GREAT WW

    You are asking the wrong question.
    Byng and Backlund should never be on the same line.
    Backlund is a third line shut down C…..
    Byng is a top 6 stud…..

    WW

      • The GREAT WW

        Yup.
        The real question (after Byng signs an extension) is who should be on the third line with Backlund and Frolik?
        And who should be on the second line with Byng?

        WW

        • Albertabeef

          I have to educate more that just Walt on this I guess. Tkachuk has 20 powerplay points on the first unit. Technically he has 35 points in 48 games on the shutdown line. Which your second line shuts down the other teams top line. You don’t give one of the top NHL play drivers like Backlund 10 minutes a night on the third line. At least not in the modern NHL. FYI the Flames had the highest payroll in the league when they won they cup in 89. In today’s money it would probably equal 120-130 million dollars. You just can’t acquire that many great players on a team anymore. The league has also spread talent too thin through expansions over the years. You just can’t build a team that way anymore.

    • Styxx

      absolutely the right question…Backlund should be the 3C and Janks/Ryan the 4C.

      In an ideal world Tre would make a trade to get a Turris/Point/Stastny/Kuznetsov so other teams can’t just defence our top line. However its rumoured Tre is looking for a D-man to add depth.

      While always loathe to propose trades (and get 50 trashes) sending a 1st, Frolik and Czarnik to St.Louis Brayden Schenn and Colton Parayko works cap-wise by the TDL. Schenn has 1 more year @ $5.1M and Parayko 3 yrs @ $5.5M. Schenn as 2C with Tkachuk and Bennett/Neal/Mangi works nicely, Backlund as 3C with Bennett/Neal/Mangi/Ryan/Janks/Dube. Parayko brings needed truculence. The 1st rounder doesn’t go to waste buying a rental, and brings value so other higher-priced vets can be traded for picks and players after the season is over eg. Stone, Brodie or Hamonic? Trash away 🙂

      • Kevin R

        Love the trade but really, you dont think St Louis couldnt do better than a late 1st, a borderline top6-9 forward whose agent has come out about the players useage & a tweener who hasnt made an impact yet? Not trashing your trade proposal but its so unrealistic I cant cheer you either.

        • Styxx

          I agree it is a little light, but it looks like a buyer’s market this year which will keep prices down. Armstrong is an excellent GM too …wish it were Chiarelli instead! Packaging our first to get 2 needed pieces (2C, 4D) rather than one, if possible, makes way more sense.

          Other potential 2Cs all have warts …too old or contracts too long, too rich or short-term UFA rentals with a high price eg. Hayes, Duchene, Coyle, Carter

    • benfr

      Bying’s game is very closely patterned after his father Keith’s game. Keith’s views on Backlund-he’s one of the most under rated players in the game and Matthew is very lucky to play with him.
      I know you are much more knowledgeable thhan Keith Tkachuck so I’d like to hear your comments.

  • Skylardog

    It should not surprise anyone that Neal on that line is a disaster. They play, and should be asked to play, very different games. Anyone could tell you that Neal does not belong with Backs under ANY circumstances.

    If you insist on leaving Backs and Byng together, then the best option is none of the above. The answer is Kapanen.

    But if you really want to succeed, then the answer is:

    Byng-Jankow-Kapanen (or reasonable alternative)
    Lazar-Backs-Fro – in a shutdown role

    I have other thoughts on who the centre on that line should be, but what is there is enough to send most of you into bonkers mode already.

    Czar can play with Foo and Gawdin in Stockton

    Go ahead and trash.

      • Skylardog

        Kylington – should be close at straight up, as Defensemen have more value than forwards at the TDL, and Ky gives the Leafs a great cap hit situation next season. They covet agile, fast defensemen that can handle the puck. As should we…

        But Hanifin and Vali will always be a ahead of Ky, even once Gio leaves. we are giving them a top 4 defenseman, but here only giving up a 3rd pairing guy at best.

        • withachance

          It makes a lot of sense at the surface, but I think Dubas want a stay at home dman for the left, or another RHD – Kylington is neither.

          I mean TOR should still do that trade though… They’re going to lose Kapanen for nothing in the summer. I just doubt they trade a top6 fwd before a playoff run unless they get a top4 D in return

          • everton fc

            I had tossed Kylington out there, as bait for Kapanen. I added a pick, but think “straight-up” would be ideal, as I think Kapanen is superior, to Kylington.

            Dump Czarnik for Ferland, while we’re at it! 😉

    • Lazarus

      If the Backund Bump is indeed an infallible, inarguable thing I don’t see why you couldn’t play Neal with them. I don’t get that at all.
      It was only a few short years ago the 2Ms had success with Bouma one year, and Colborne the next, neither of whom is in the NHL any longer.
      If they can do it with them, why can’t they do it with a guy who until this season has been a lights out scorer.
      Neal needs more talented linemates.. Backlund has the power to lift players, Neal needs a lift. It should be a no brainer IMO

  • Skylardog

    Ok – I cant resist

    JG-Lind-Neal
    Byng-Monahan-Kapanen
    Lazar-Backs-Fro
    Benny-Janko-Hath

    You don’t want Neal on line one – go get Mark Stone, Hath sits, Neal with Benny and Janko.
    Unbeatable line up. That wins a cup this year.

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      I’d be interested in seeing most of this happen if the Flames get more breathing room. The one bit I don’t get is Lazar. He is a sub-par possession player with no NHL scoring touch. He has been -3 and -11 relCF% the past two seasons with the Flames. If we go with your line up put Ryan in that spot.

      • Skylardog

        I get your hesitation in using Lazar over Ryan here. It would be a good alternative.

        But Lazar has always played an exceptional game positionally. He is defensively responsible.
        But more importantly, he has the speed to match up with the elite players on the opposition, and the physical play needed to make playing against him miserable. Ryan has neither of those qualities, and is at best decent defensively.

        Lazar is apparently handling the puck really well now that he has had playing time. He was also the BEST Flame at killing penalties last season, and ranked 10th in the NHL in that category, using GA/60 with min 20 minutes. He is also a centre for faceoffs, like Ryan.

        Ryan will disappear in the playoffs, as will Czar, mark my words. Neither can stand up to the physical toll.

  • Nighteyes

    Backlund is our second line centre because he’s currently the second best centre on the team..it’s as simple as that. Janko has a lot of potential, but he’s currently not at the point where he’s a complete a player as backs. Until we find someone who can produce more than him on the second line, Backs is going to stay there. Tkachuk looks like he’s doing just fine with him–his stats speak for themselves. Stop acting like he’s in jail, he plays with good players.

    • withachance

      Can i cheers this twice? I’m also in the camp of getting Tkachuk more of a two way center instead of a shutdown center next year though.

      I think Skylar is thinking more in terms of depth and proper player roles when moving Backs down. WW is just a bully with Backlund.

      • deantheraven

        And in reality, your “shut down ” line is playing the other’ team’s top line= more ice time.
        By this logic, your Backlund shut down 3rd line would be on the ice more than your 2nd scoring line.
        In other words, Backs centres 2nd line (which also is charged with shutting down the opposition’s best line) and the 3rd line gets sheltered minutes with better match ups and, hopefully, more scoring.
        Same as it ever was… Same as it ever was…
        What is really needed is a bona fide threat on the 3rd (sheltered scoring)line.
        Try this:
        Johnny/Monny/ Lindy
        Benny/Backs/ Fro
        Byng/ Janks/ Neal
        Larry+Darryl+Darryl

        • deantheraven

          Or this:
          Johnny/Monny/Neal (I know, trash invitation. But if you never try…)
          Benny/Backs/Fro (shut down)
          Byng/Lindy/Czar (or Ryan)
          Larry/Curly/Moe
          If that 3rd line is ‘sheltered’, imagine how frightening it would be to have Lindy and Byng together against lesser opponents.
          (I minimize the importance of the 4th line here since BP seems to play a short bench most night, unless we’re up by 4+ goals.)

  • Sven

    It would seem the answer is obvious-

    evaluation of line production over the past 10 games shows the Flames top line as the most effective in the NHL when looking at :

    goals scored /shots generated / goals surrendered / shots surrendered and time of possession and penalty differential

    The second, third and fourth most effective lines over the last 10 games skate for San Jose, Columbus and Tampa Bay respectively

    the fifth most effective NHL line league wide over the last 10 games?

    The line of Tkachuk, Backlund and Frolik

    Eight goals scored as compared to one surrendered –
    and the margin by which the Flames second line out chances the line opposing them is the most pronounced of any line in the top five

    bodes well for YYC if Peters has the ability to ice two of the top five performing lines in the NHL night in / night out

  • Hello fellow Flames fans. Let’s get serious here. Pimples is the best player on this team and in this league. He should be awarded the Art Ross on awesomeness and he should be the Hart trophy winnner too. There is nobody better. Pimples is his own best linemate.

    • Kevin R

      I keep scratching my head on this concept. Maybe the definition of 2nd & 3rd liners can shed some light. If Backlund & Frolik are proficient at being a shutdown line & they have to go against the other teams top line, that top line plays lots of minutes. So based on minutes on the ice required by the 3rd line, wouldnt that make them the 2nd line?

      Kinda like Colonel Jessup being asked, “if the men always follow orders or lives are at stake, then why the order to transfer Santiago off the base?”

      Or am I getting too deep in the woods on this Backlund issue?

      • Derzie

        Lines are about purpose & function, not numbers. The numbers are a distraction that are generally tied to minutes or skill level.

        What I see is the Flames have these lines:
        Scoring
        Defensive
        Scoring Depth
        Defensive Depth

        Matching the opponent lines based on that.

    • Torchy

      What purpose does a label serve? Tkachuk is scoring huge points on a line that can shut down the league’s best. Can we just enjoy the nice things we have? It’s this same “never too clever” mentality that put T.J. Brodie playing on the wrong side of the ice for 2 seasons.

  • Garry T

    There is a sports net rumour that Toronto are looking for a skating puck moving D. This same source quotes someone from the Leafs that they will float their first, Kappenen and A. Johanssen. The main team is loaded and the Marlies are really loaded.

    Conversely, the Flames have been floundering trying to fit square pegs into a round hole with what we have on the main team and players from Stockton who are not quite ready yet.

    These deals now proposed really help us now and the future in Stockton.

    1. Brodie to Toronto for … Their 1st in 2019, Kappenen, either Moore or Johnsson plus a prospect D for Stockton in A D, Timothy Liljegrin.
    2. Bennett to Toronto for a 2nd this or next year, plus either Moore or Johnsson and 2 prospects for Stockton in Freddy Gauthier C, and Sandin a D. Or Collin Greening a big prototype C prospect.

    Stockton is vastly improved adding 2 D 2C and a 1 and 2 pick for the future.

    Now, the 2nd line. Frolik goes back and is playing extremely well. You leave that alone.
    Line 3 is Johnsson Jankowski and Kappenen or if you want try Kappenen with the 2nd and Frolik on 3 that’s ok.
    Line 4 is Moore, Ryan and Hathaway
    We are not as strong at C for the remainder of this year as I would like.
    So swing a deal for Sam Gagner as a stop gap for this year to center the 4th. For a 7th

    You have Ryan and Neal enjoying popcorn while you try to move Neal back to Vegas for a couple of higher picks plus a prospect C or D. Keep Ryan as a floater.

    Move Mang to Stockton

    You have Stone ready as far as he is concerned. Valimaki is close and Prout is looking good. You could also pick up a D off the waiver wire or apparently a lot of teams are making guys available and preparing for 2020.

    • everton fc

      Don’t trade Brodie. We are gunning for the Cup. Nothing dramatic. If the Leafs want a puck moving defencemen, they get Kylington, for Kapanen. Johnsson’s a decent player, but he’s a 7th round pick who may never be more than he currently is.

      Kadri’s at $4.5mill thru 2021-22. He’s a centre. He’d be a good fit w/Tkachuk, perhaps. Thinking out loud here…

      I didn’t think Valimaki is that close. Did I miss something?

  • redwhiteblack

    Neil was to be that 2nd line producer. That contract has cap cuffed our options. If Neil had 10-15 goals to date we would have an awesome top 6 and maybe more importantly greater options slotting the bottom 6. It is unfortunate he has started his NHL decline as a Flame. His years of past production would have been great to complement the elite talent maturity of the team.

  • Dr. Gonzo

    Alas, this is where I’d like to see BT make a splash for a legitimate 2nd line center. Someone who can drive the offense and pair up nicely with Tkchuck. This in turn could slide Backlund down to his rightful spot on the third line, and strengthen the second PP.
    Gaudreau Monahan Lindholm
    Tkchuck New Center Neal
    Janko Backlund Bennett

      • everton fc

        The point is this, and I agree w/WW here; Neal is potentially a bigger bust, than Brouwer. And at 5.5mill for many years to come… A potentially devestating millstone for our club. Not as bad as Bobby Ryan’s contract in Ottawa (Ryan, another outscoring Neal)… But in the same orbit, I think.

        Here’s hoping Neal goes on a scoring streak, soon. Real soon, in fact.

        • Dr. Gonzo

          Any player is potential bust. Neal has plenty of time to live up to expectations. Do not forget the Lindholm has played leaps and bounds above the level that was expected and stole that spot from Neal. Tell me, what is more important, that players give the Flames the most bang for their buck..be great bargains, or to win? Last I checked, we are all fans. Neal is just another piece in the mighty sea of red machine! Who care who gets paid what and who scores as long as the dubbleU’s keep on rolling in!

  • everton fc

    We have no need to break up one of the best, if not the best first line, in the league. What we could use;

    1. A true 2nd line centre
    2. A 2nd line RW
    3. An AHL goalie who has NHL experience

    We don’t need to make any massive personnel moves. We are first in the West.

    Guys I’d look at;

    Kapanen. Kadri. Ferland. Johnsson (Toronto). Hayes/NYR will want a salary we can’t afford. We don’t have the chips to get Schenn from the Blues.

    Look at Kadri’s contract. It’d be a good fit here, if we could dump some cap.

    • Baalzamon

      Backlund is only “ideally” a third liner in the same sense that Malkin is “ideally” a second line center. The Flames don’t have a need for a “true” second line center. They already have one.

      What people are actually wanting is a second first line center.

  • Flaymin Frank

    Neal needs a lift??? Really?? He shows up to a new team in bad shape, with a bad attitude and a fat wallet. This snow flake needs a kick in the arse, not prime time minutes that he hasn’t earned. He should be mentoring the two young guns on his line, leading by example, showing them how a professional athlete contributes when the point production falters. Please. Give me a break.

  • Off the wall

    Well Ari sure opened up a Pandora’s box!

    Good comments and some outlandish ideas but interesting nonetheless.

    This morning my dog, Johnny Sockey had to go to the veterinarian. Imagine the Vet’s surprise when he saw my dogs name? Yup, he scratched his head, who names their dog, Johnny Sockey?

    Me, that’s who! Being a devout Flames fan, I might get a bit carried away at times, however I don’t think that’s necessarily bad.

    Johnny had to get his Booster shot, but he didn’t complain. He just sucked it up like a good boy!

    With all this trade talk, you’d think we have extra money and assets to spend. We don’t.

    I think the season rests on Neal and his confidence. He needs a Booster shot! You can tell his confidence has taken a nose dive. It happens.

    Many of us forget that James Neal is a productive forward come playoff time. In 100 playoff games he’s got 31 goals, 24 assists and 55 points.

    Having him in the playoffs is our Booster shot. However playing on the 3rd line isn’t.

    Between now and postseason, I would expect to see him in the top 6, otherwise we’re wasting his offence. Granted he’s not going to come out like a cannonball- you have to give him time. It’s a confidence thing that needs boosted, and right now he doesn’t have much.

    We can speculate about trades, however I’m trying to be as realistic as possible and I believe Neal will be the key to this.

    • freethe flames

      The only thing about Neal that is offensive is how badly he plays. I don’t hold the same hope for Neal as many do on this site; so far he is an overpaid passenger on a good hockey team. I am tired of the excuses being made by his supporters.

    • BendingCorners

      If Neal starts producing on the third line, he’ll get an opportunity in the top six. His past playoff performance means nothing; his past regular season performance is better than his current performance and there is no reason to believe that he will suddenly become effective on April 8th.

  • Vinnsanity1

    I agree with The GREAT WW, as long as we’re talking about Backlund as a 2C, then this teams ceiling is going to be below what is necessary to win a Cup. Backlund and Frolik as 3rd line mates, those kind of scenarios result in championships.

  • freethe flames

    At this moment it is Frolik, but I don’t own a crystal ball to see if the Flames acquire anyone before the deadline. Long term; start of next year I would like to see Tkachuk have some time with Janko. The RW that I would like to see on that line in the preseason is Phillips. If that worked out a line of Bennett/Backs/Frolik could be an excellent checking line that can create some of it’s own offense.

  • ChuckyChuckyByngByng

    Jesus chist.

    The flames are top of the western conference, we are the only team in the entire league with 4 players in the top 20 for scoring, we are having the best season of hockey that we’ve had in 30 years; and all I see on here is different wingnut trade proposals that would essentially blow up our core that has brought us to this point?

    I swear sometimes this hardcore fanbase can be just as bad as the coiler trolls.

    I’d understand all this garglygoop if we were on an extended losing streak, but alas, we are not.
    **Knock on wood**

    Ya’ll need to stop touching your dicks thinking you, AND ONLY YOU, could make this team better.

    We have one of the best teams in the league. We’re playing exciting and entertaining hockey.

    Just sit back and enjoy your team for once.

    Jesus.

    • Skylardog

      Pretty sure I am the target here – fine.
      But man can I antagonise the masses and create a ton of discussion. Frankly, I enjoy it.

      Brainstorming has led to so many great advancements. Consider all this one big brainstorming exercise.

      Now its just plain fun, right.