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Moving Elias Lindholm to centre opens up all kinds of options

It’s hard to classify Elias Lindholm’s first season with the Flames as anything but a success. Even with a decline in production down the stretch and into the playoffs, Lindholm was a positive addition and a great fit on the right side of Calgary’s top line. But is he best used on the wing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau? For a few reasons, moving Lindholm to centre could be very beneficial for the Flames.

Is it a good fit?

Shifting Lindholm to the middle isn’t a brand new concept. Head coach Bill Peters mentioned it during the regular season and even tried it a few times late in the season. Then, at Monday’s locker cleanout, Peters brought it up again without being asked.

“When I talked to Lindy, I talked about possibly being a centerman,” Peters said. “I’ll try and let him know before he gets here for training camp. He’s got a chance to play for Sweden at the World Championship; he doesn’t know if he’s going to be a winger or a centre there. I’ve seen him play centre, I know he’s more than capable of doing that and if we do that then we need somebody to go in and play on that wing.”

Let’s not forget Lindholm was drafted as centre, not a winger, by Carolina in 2013. For the most part, though, he’s been used on the wing during his career. Peters used him sparingly down the middle this season in Calgary but used him there a little more in 2017-18, their final year with the Canes.

“I played more centre last year than usual and this year I played wing,” Lindholm said on Monday. “Obviously for me it doesn’t really matter; I just do the best I can in every position. But yeah, if they want me to play centre I’m ready to play centre, I don’t care.”

A look at Lindholm’s underlying numbers throughout his career shows a responsible two-way winger, which makes sense knowing his background as a centre. Underlying stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Season CF% HDCF% OZS%
2018-19 55.5 54.6 55.9
2017-18 53.3 50.6 56.9
2016-17 52.2 51.7 50.2
2015-16 53.5 53.3 54.2
2014-15 53.4 48.4 56.6

Knowing he’s familiar with the position, and knowing how well he’s performed in the two-way game, I’m confident Lindholm has what it takes to play down the middle in the NHL. His work on the penalty kill this season adds to that confidence; it showed off his defensive instincts and awareness on a consistent basis.

The final thing to consider when having this conversation is Lindholm’s work in the faceoff dot. While he sparingly took draws in the first four years of his career, Lindholm has been used in the faceoff dot far more often the last two seasons. As you can see, he’s been pretty proficient.

Season FOW FOL FO%
2018-19 509 428 54.3
2017-18 432 361 54.5

Whether you put a ton of stock into taking faceoffs or not, it’s part of what goes along with being a centre. Lindholm has been very good since being asked to shoulder more of the responsibility; he finished second only to Derek Ryan (58.2%) on the team this season.

Spreading things out

Moving Lindholm to centre has the potential to make Calgary more difficult to match up against. As we saw down the stretch, and especially in the playoffs, the Flames became much easier to defend when their top line was neutralized.

Monahan, Gaudreau, and Lindholm simply weren’t a match for Nathan MacKinnon and company and they couldn’t fight through tighter postseason checking. As a result, Calgary’s superior depth (at least on paper) was never given a chance. While Colorado’s top trio was continually setting up other units for success, Monahan’s line was doing precisely the opposite. It’s a problem and it’s not one that has an easy answer.

Monahan is used as this team’s top centre, but at least at this stage of his career, I don’t think you can call him a true number one compared to the rest of the league. That’s not to disparage Monahan at all; he’s a great player, a perennial 30-goal threat, and remains the most natural fit paired with Gaudreau. However, when it comes to a playoff chess match, I’m not taking him head-to-head with the likes of MacKinnon, Couture, Seguin, and Scheifele over seven games.

As it stands right now, I don’t believe the Flames have a true number one centre. Those guys aren’t easy to come by, however. Knowing that, Calgary’s best and most realistic bet going forward is to make the best of what they have. Part of that is playing to strengths, which is why I propose something that looks like this:

Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-?????
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-?????
Andrew Mangiapane-Elias Lindholm-?????

With Backlund and Lindholm, the Flames would have two centres to use in a “heavy minutes” role against top players on the other side. By giving those two the more difficult matchups and heavily slanted defensive starts, it would allow Peters to give Monahan and Gaudreau tons of high ground. Having that line around 65% or higher on offensive starts truly is playing to strength.

It’s something the Canucks did remarkably well during their most recent glory years. Take a look at how head coach Alain Vigneault structured his centres during the 2010-11 season:

Centre OZS% CF%
Henrik Sedin 71.7 55.6
Ryan Kesler 49.3 57.2
Manny Malhotra 24.1 45.1

Vancouver was the league’s best team by a country mile that year and a big reason was what they got from their group of centermen. With Kesler in elite form taking on the toughest matchups, and Malhotra taking three out of every four defensive draws, the Sedins were able to start almost 75% of their five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone.

While it’s not a perfect comparison, you can see how a structure like that might work for the Flames next season. Instead of seeing a giant chasm like what the Canucks had with Kesler and Malhotra, Calgary could use both Backlund and Lindholm somewhere between 35% and 40% in the offensive zone. If you factor in Ryan, you could have three centres at around 40% while getting Monahan and Gaudreau into the 70s.

Conclusion

Moving Lindholm to the middle leaves the Flames with new questions, but they’re ones that are far less difficult to answer. What would they do with Jankowski? If they’re rolling with Monahan, Backlund, Lindholm, and Ryan at centre, I can see them getting something nice in return for Jankowski in a trade.

Who would fill those spots on the wing? Well, Calgary has Sam Bennett, Dillon Dube, Austin Czarnik, and *gulp* perhaps James Neal as options to fill out those lines. Yes, complete lines are nice to have, but pairings are far more important. The lines I proposed above are just a conversation starter and a way to flesh out how this team might look with Lindholm at centre.

It’s an intriguing option the Flames have on the table going into next year. An early playoff exit doesn’t mean Calgary is in need of a major roster shakeup. What it might mean, though, is a bit of a rethink on what this team’s optimal lineup looks like. Moving Lindholm to the middle opens up a lot of brand new options and it’s something the Flames are rightfully going to give a lot of consideration to this summer.

  • Kzak

    When we acquired Lindholm, I recall someone on this thread mentioning a few times what a great pick up this was because we need a sold third line to go far in the playoffs and everytime that person said that, the post received multiple thumbs down. Anyway, this could be the right way to go, as it would give us amazing centre depth and open up more spots on the wing that allows us to cycle through some different combinations, including a player or two from Stockton, to get three or even four solid lines, which is what you need to win a cup.

  • Soupy19

    Fascinating article Pat. Thank you for this. I’d really be on board with a move like this especially if the Flames acquire another top 6 forward which seems to be in the plans (Zucker?).

    • Korcan

      With Toronto bowing out early again (and Kadri looking like a goat) and needing to upgrade their d and free up some cash, and with Calgary needing better center depth and more grit, i wonder if these two might be potential trade partners. Maybe something like a Brodie/Jankowski to TO for Kadri/(Pick? Prospect).

      Kadri would be an upgrade over Jankowski and even though i like the idea of Brodie’s versatility on the 3rd pairing on the blue line, if he could get Calgery a center like Kadri it would be worth trading.

      Jankowski would fit Toronto’s cap and fit in nicely at 3C. Kadri could give Peters even more options at center:

      Another thing i wonder is if Monahan could play on the RW. This would make him much less a liability in the d-zone and he takes all his feeds from the left already (via Gaudreau), so it may not be that much of a stretch for him to make the transition.

      Consider:
      Gaudreau-Lindholm-Monahan
      Tkachuck-Kadri-Bennett/Neal
      Mangiapane-Backlund-Frolik/Bennett
      Dube-Ryan-Hathaway

  • Beer League Coach

    This might give BP a chance to try Neal with Johnny & Monny. One last chance for him to perform or get off the pot. Trade Janko for a true RH shooting RW and trade Frolik for another RW. Dube could go with Mang & Lindy, Matty & Backs, or on a 4th line with Ryan and Hathaway. Yes, I would re-sign Hathaway for about $1 or less on a 1 or 2 year contract.

  • JMK

    Tkachuk-Lindholm-Zucker (Or other RW)
    Gaudreau-Monahan-Neal
    Mangipane-Backlund-Ryan
    Dube-Janko-Bennett

    Something like that might be worth a try. Janko might be part of RW trade so move Bennett to 3rd line RW, and Ryan to continue centering 4th line. Top line can match up against whoever, 2nd line high offensive sheltered (as much as possible), and 3rd and 4th lines handle defensive starts. Perhaps this puts Lindholm on over his head but getting a top C will probably be harder than a RW. Obviously for cap reasons, Frolik and at least one if two of the 3m+ defenders will need to be shipped out.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    From the All-Star break to Game 5 of the ill-fated series against the Avs, Johnny and Mony sucked! Peters continuing to play them as a unit is one of the reasons the Flames and Oilers are having their annual spring golf tourney.

    Maybe it is time to cleave Johnny and Mony. The thought of trading either is quite fascinating to ponder, but I don’t believe it is at all realistic at this time.

  • b

    How about:

    Gaudreau- Mony-Neal (high ozs as possible)
    Tkachuk-Lindholm-Bennett
    Dube-Backlund-Ryan
    Mangi-Jankowski-Hathaway

    This is based on current players obviously, if an extra top 6 winger can be had then even better.

    Rationale – If Lindholm moves to centre he should still be have great linemates, so Tkachuk! Bennett can play right side and take some draws. Backlund can help groom Dube like he has with so many others, Ryan for rh draws. The “AHL” line can handle 4th line duties.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Guys here have already forgiven Jimmy Neal and have him penciled in on next season’s depth chart. Can’t say that development is stunning because so many here thought Tre killed the Canes in the Hamilton deal and that Colorado was the Flames’ most favourable first round matchup.

    Neal has been a bust as a Flame. That isn’t going to change because of his heartfelt apology and his vow to shape up. The guy blamed long playoff runs the previous two seasons for not being in top condition this year. Is that really the kind of guy you want to depend on as the club enters its window of opportunity? So it is excusable for Neal to take 2020-21 off if the Flames go on a long run next season? The answer should be no pluckin’ way, but I am sure many of you muffs will be as forgiving then as you are now of the washed up Neal.

    • withachance

      We can keep complaining about Neal, or accept reality that its going to cost the organization assets most likely to move on from him and look for ways to get Neal going next year. Just a thought

    • b

      Just working with what we’ve got, another top 6 winger would help. I do recall someone saying things looked promising with the little time Neal had with JG… any stats to back that up?

      • redwhiteblack

        Neal could bounce back but I would $0.00 on it. Brouwer didn’t. He was to be the top 6 they are still missing. A #1 center is needed. Monahan is a 1B /2, certainly not a 1A.

    • Gazoinks!

      I agree, Neal is all filler n’ no thriller!
      his drivel about being exhausted and not showing up all season is infuriating.
      the Flames need a heart transplant top to bottom! 🤨

    • Beer League Coach

      I agree that he is washed up, but Flames are still obligated to pay that ridiculous salary regardless of what happens with Neal in the future. So it doesn’t hurt for them to give him a chance to redeem himself. If he does bounce back that is great. If he doesn’t Flames are no worse off than they are right now. Try to make the best of a bad situation.

      • oilcanboyd

        If playing third line and then being benched for the 5th playoff game didn’t make Neal snap out of his season long funk, then send him to the AHL if he has a poor training camp. He needs to be ready to go – no more excuses!

    • Puck Head

      So either the organization moves on from Neil or is ok with mediocrity. It would suck to walk away from an asset (actually more of a liability) but I would rather ship him to Stockton and give Dube his spot. See if he can stomach 4 years living there riding a bus to games.

  • withachance

    My lineup thoughts:

    JG- Lindholm – Zucker (or another top 6 RW)
    Tkachuk – Monny – Neal (all arent speed demons, could be a good cycle line)
    Mangiapane – Backlund – Bennett
    Dube – Ryan – Hathaway/Czarnik

  • redwhiteblack

    Top line was average since the All Star break. That trend continued in the playoffs. Every team understood how to shut them down. We need 1 or 2 more Iggy, Roberts or Nieuwendyk types to win. They won. This group is clearly softer and a big reason why we are talking prospects, RFAs, the Draft, where to play Lindholm and other like FN articles until October, instead of round 2 hockey.

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    Perhaps one of the big issues I see is Monahan. Do we take him off of the first line? Do we maybe even make him a winger? It’s tough to go from wing to centre, but not so bad the other way. Mony doesn’t really play centre consistently anyways, and this would shore up a spot on wing if Lindy goes C

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      The problem here tho of course is how effective would Mony be away from JG? His quick release is made for those sweet passes.

      On the other hand, maybe splitting them up would be good for both of them? I.e. JG plays with folk who have speed (Lindy), and Mony is pushed to drive play on his own?

  • SgtRoadBlock

    poor Janko being trash here and only on his 2nd year as a pro under a Coach that could not get the Canes into the playoffs,

    Sean and Backland need to be fix waaaay before dealing with 3rd or 4th line centers being fix

    • Kevin R

      I think if you bring Kadri in you in effect fix the Backlund Monahan lines. Kadri centring Gaudreau & Lindholm could be intriguing. Monahan centring Tkachuk & try Benny on the RW, he played good there when BP moved him up with Johnny & Monny in last playoff game, except leave him there for awhile & let Benny play with some talent for awhile.
      Backlund down the 3rd line & build around him with the likes of Magpie or Dube & Czarnik.

      Brodie & Janko for Kadri & 2nd rounder is an interesting scenario & not unreasonable.

      • _vntony

        If Kadri somehow comes into the fold, I would love to see a Tkachuk – Kadri – Benny line.
        How much havoc would that cause for opposing defenders. Tkachuk in front of the net, while Bennett a Kadri crush defenders and win board battles.

        Gaudreau – Lindholm – New top 6/Monahan
        Tkachuk – Kadri – Bennett
        Mangiapane – Backlund – Frolik/Monahan

  • _vntony

    Gotta really commend Pat for the write-up.
    I think you’re one of the only few media members who follow the Flames daily and can boldly proclaim that Monahan isn’t a true #1C. That takes some guts.
    I know a lot of us here have said it only to have other fans just jump down our throats.
    You follow this team on the daily so maybe people will believe you when you say he’s not a true #1C in this league.

    • Kevin R

      One thing to remember is that these guys like each other & like playing together, especially Monahan & Gaudreau. I know they are not above the team but cant ignore the dressing room factor & the fact that these 3 had their best season ever together & despite the playoff flop, deserve another year together. BP will just have to adjust accordingly rather than give them the slack he did after they vanished after the All-Star break.

    • _vntony

      Not sure why the trashes. I mean last time I checked, Pat Steinberg is on the sportsnet payroll, part of the media round up at the Saddledome, talks to; coaches, players, staff more than any of us do…
      watches every single practice/game. Paid to break down each game. Seems to me like he’s more of an expert than many of us here…
      Trash away, but I would believe his assessment of Monahan being a #1C or not over the opinions of some armchair GMs here.

    • Justthateasy

      It’s painfully obvious that Monahan is not even close to a number one Center. He’s poor defensively. His release is slow. And most importantly, he is soft. Facts is facts.

  • oilcanboyd

    When Peters was hired he said that he wanted 2 “centres” on each line to take faceoffs. It certainly helped Monahan when he was recoverig from end of season surgeries. Not sure how Pat’s scheme will work…Perhaps Jankowski as first line centre and Mony on the wings….the rest? Ryan as second line right winger and Dube as third line RW..

  • KootenayFlamesFan

    There was an article on a ‘Nucks site that suggested that calgary would be willing to give up Dube in order for them to take Neal.

    I hope Tre isn’t that stupid!!!!

  • John Wayne's Hat

    Bad idea of the day. Trade Monahan for a very high pick or prospect. Sign Duchene for play centre. Hope said prospect plays well while on entry level contract.

  • Justthateasy

    Yes good Pat. You should be coach. What was the rest of theat crew thinking during the playoffs then?
    Whatever they do, they better settle for nothing less than Grit.
    Brody for Kadri straight up.
    Then flog Jankowski for some serious Grit and we should be good.
    That way all the Monahan lovers can be happy.

  • Albertabeef

    Okay so here’s what I think. We trade Neal, Frolik, and Stone to Ottawa for one 5th round pick. We trade Jankowski to NJ for a second round pick. We then sign Simmonds and Eberle to reasonable 2 year deals(exp draft safe). Both play right ride and are UFA’s this summer. They are probably Tre’s targets July first whether I agree or not. Kind of makes sense if he can snag them. Lines might look something like:
    Tkachuk-Monahan-Eberle
    Johnny-Lindholm-Simmonds
    Mangiapane-Backlund-Czarnik
    Dube-Ryan-Hathaway

    • Albertabeef

      As I was just thinking we should shake up the D pairs too. Assuming nobody gets traded/bought-out besides Stone, and Gio doesn’t get slower.
      Gio-Andersson
      Valimaki-Hamonic
      Hanafin-Brodie
      Kylington subs through all spots in rotation and everyone gets every 7th game off. Until someone gets a boo-boo. It would give the team a good look at things going forward See what everyone is capable of. Hopefully keep guys fresh for the playoffs. Our win-loss record wasn’t so bad with Shy(lington) in the lineup. I think he deserves a bigger chance.

  • Albertabeef

    Was just flipping through stats and cherry picked one lol. Top 10 game winning goals from 2013-14 to 2018-19 regular season total among centers.
    Brayden Schenn 37
    Tyler Seguin 37
    Sean Monahan 35
    MacKinnon 35
    Pavelski 33
    Toews 33
    Malkin 32
    Tavares 31
    Crosby 31

    Mony is in some pretty elite company there.

    • Albertabeef

      One more Monahan factoid. He was the only Flames player to score a shoot-out goal this season.
      I lied, got one more lol. I’m not gonna look it up for exact rank but since 2013-14, Monahan is somewhere in the top 15(I think 11th) in the NHL in takeaways.

      I’m not calling him elite, but he has been a fairly reliable first line center for us over the last 5 seasons(he was sheltered mostly his first season). He’s quietly given us some pretty good numbers compared to other players we’ve had. He is arguably our best offensive center we’ve drafted since Niewendyk. He hit 30 goals in a season where fellow 6th overall pick Cory Stillman could not. Okay fine he is not a physical guy. He is still young and may gain that aspect, as some guys do in their late 20’s. But he has the IQ and tools to be effective as a first line center. I come back to rehab vs training last summer which might have had an impact on Mony’s season/playoffs. Same with Neal going to the finals and changing cities two summers in a row. Gotta be taxing on a person. Better show the f@%# up next season or else! lol

  • Albertabeef

    Okay so according to Hockeyreference.com At even strength Monahan was our only forward with a positive corsi% for this playoffs. Funny how it’s just a couple numbers different, but it’s true. I know how ya’ll love those corsi stats lol.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Monahan has 8 g – 13 pts in 20 playoff games. Two years ago vs Anaheim he had a goal a game. He is capable of showing up and was considered a “bright spot” in that forgettable series. Lots of good players have had a few “flat” playoff seasons during their careers.

      I’m not sure I’m buying what Pat’s selling regards Lindholm. Lindholm disappeared offensively just as much as Gaudreau and Monahan did. Pat should listen to Trelivings advice and step and let the emotion die down. Jankowski is a dynamite penalty killer and still should be given another season to blossom. One never knows how Tre will tinker though and we were surprised when Ferland was traded as part of getting Hamilton out. The team does need to create cap space but Janko’s cap isn’t enough to move the needle.

      BTW I never jumped on the Hamilton “bad” bandwagon. While still a work in progress defensively and even Carolina knows it, he is having the last laugh this playoff year. Just all the old Jaybo hate. I thought Bouwmeester was an elite skater who’s only fault was he needed the european 210′ x 90′ rink to really shine. He’s had a come back season in St Louis as well and is top 4 there this play off. Careful what you wish for.

      • piscera.infada

        Jankowski isn’t a “dynamite penalty killer” though. He had a lot of offensive success there scoring shorthanded goals. None of the Flames success in shorthanded goals will repeat next year–it’s a statistical anomaly that happens to one team every couple of years. The Flames had a bottom-third penalty kill this season, and that was masked in large part by the shorthanded success.

        I am fairly confident that Jankowski’s 2018/19 is the best season he’ll ever have. I’d be happy to be incorrect (and I’ll happily eat crow if that’s the case). But honestly, outside of the odd “timely” goal, how many times did he actually impact a game from start to finish? Not many to my recollection. That dude strikes me more as another Joe Colborne, than as a latent dominant player.