The trade deadline is just over a month away, and the Flames definitely look like they’ll be buyers. A backup goalie is probably on their minds, and perhaps another veteran defenceman, depending on how trusting they’re willing to be of a number of rookies in the playoffs.
But what about the forward group? The Flames’ is already formidable – but if they’re able to add to them, then they could potentially become unstoppable, able to roll out scoring line after scoring line. This is already one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL; what if they could be made even deadlier?
It’s hard to see Bill Peters messing with the top line anytime soon. Not only do Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have well-established chemistry, but Elias Lindholm looks like he’s belonged alongside them all this time. Throw in the fact they’re all about the same age, and it isn’t just a top line for this season; it’s a top line for years.
The middle six, on the other hand, has been tinkered with throughout the season. Before, it seemed as though there was at least one staple: Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund would be linemates, as they have been for most of Tkachuk’s NHL career. That’s changed over the past couple of games, however, with James Neal playing with Backlund and Michael Frolik, and Tkachuk bumped down to what would typically be called the third line.
The Flames’ middle six has mostly looked like this:
But lately, it’s shifted into this:
Will the new groupings stay? That might not be something one should bet on; not with Peters’ penchant for mixing things up until he finds the right combination. That doesn’t seem to have happened yet: just as the 3M line was finding its success once again with a now-healthy Frolik, and Neal seemed to be developing chemistry alongside Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski, the latest line changes happened.
Neal has taken some time to get going to start his Flames career, though. (That, and he’s had absolutely horrible luck – not only is he shooting about seven percent below his career average, but there aren’t really many other explanations for the puck bouncing over his stick on a wide open net. That’s been a summation of his entire season.) But, whether it’s just taking a really long time or playing alongside Backlund and Frolik has invigorated him, Neal certainly looks like he’s been playing his best hockey as a Flame as of late.
Which would be all well and good, except it bumps Tkachuk down to a lesser line: something of an odd decision for a 57-point forward. Is it worth downgrading Tkachuk’s linemates to get Neal going?
Or, to pose another possible solution: would it instead be worth it for the Flames to trade for another forward at the deadline?
Micheal Ferland’s name has started coming up in rumours, and that’s all well and good: he’s familiar with Calgary. We know he’s capable of playing a hard-nosed game, especially in the playoffs. If you were worried about the Flames not having enough grit in the lineup, then he’s a pretty good solution: one who can still score, at that.
On the other hand, Ferland wouldn’t be back playing with Gaudreau and Monahan. He’s still a little ahead of his previous season’s scoring pace, but he is playing primarily with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen; on the Flames, he’d be more of a middle six player, so he wouldn’t be playing with a team’s top scorers. This isn’t to say he isn’t worth looking into as a rental – he absolutely is – but would reacquiring Ferland upgrade Tkachuk’s linemates? Would he be able to play well alongside Neal?
Or, when regarding forward upgrades, could the Flames aim even higher? Say – to pick on a hypothetical target – could they trade for a Mark Stone or Matt Duchene, or any other unquestionably top offensive player who could so happen to end up on the market?
If the cost isn’t too extreme (and a first round pick isn’t too extreme – the way the Flames are playing, it’s going to be a late first. Don’t forget Jay Feaster’s insistence on getting a first rounder back for Jarome Iginla; Morgan Klimchuk isn’t exactly doing much for the organization nowadays), then adding another player of that caliber could make the Flames’ lineup deadly. Tkachuk already has 57 points; he’s in the top 20 in league scoring. Perhaps the solution for him is to acquire a player who can unquestionably keep up with him offensively – and then, in addition to loading up a potential second line, the Flames would still have a dangerous third line, and a fourth line that would be receiving a former middle six player.
How does a team defend against a forward lineup that stacked? Maybe it makes sense for the Flames to load up this season, after all: while the window shouldn’t be closing any time soon, it’s still a very, very good team that just might be able to win it all.
And while getting Ferland back might help, getting another deadly forward – one who’s closer to matching Tkachuk’s scoring pace, or one who’s capable of keeping Neal’s resurgence going – could potentially put this team over the top.
Or maybe the Flames shouldn’t focus on adding a forward at all, and sticking with the team that’s gotten them where they are today is the best move?
The trade deadline is in just over a month. The Flames are already good, but they might have the chance to get even better – and significantly so, at that. What would you do?