When the Flames drop the puck in mid-January, they’ll have one of the deeper forward groups in the brand new, all-Canadian North Division. I see Calgary as a top tier group when looking at their forwards top to bottom, but rank them in the middle when focused solely at the top of the depth chart. Let’s take a closer look at how the Flames stack up against the rest the country.
This is the second time we’ll look at the Flames compared to the rest of their division, as I had them ranked second in between the pipes. Am I being too hard on Calgary’s top group of forwards? Am I over-valuing their overall depth?
Top six forwards
I have the Flames ranked fifth here with the realization there’s potential to push into the top tier. For that to happen, though, they’ll need bounce back seasons from both Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Now, I know much is up in the air when it comes to what Calgary’s top six might look like, which makes this somewhat difficult. Will Gaudreau and Monahan even play together? Will Elias Lindholm play the wing or centre?
For the sake of this conversation, though, I’m considering the top six to be Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Andrew Mangiapane. Gaudreau and Monahan are coming off their worst regular seasons since being rookies and their performance in ten Return to Play games wasn’t much better. A rebound year from that duo isn’t out of the question by any means. A repeat performance, however, drags down the rest of this top six, even with effective, solid performers like Tkachuk and Lindholm.
Because Monahan and Gaudreau represent a pair of question marks, I have the Flames ranked at the bottom of the “middle tier” here with Vancouver. I give the Canucks a tiny edge because for one main reason: Elias Pettersson. Entering his third NHL season, Pettersson feels like he’s ready to solidify himself as a bona fide number one centre. That’s one thing Calgary doesn’t have right now, although I remain very curious to see if Lindholm will be given that chance.
The top tier for me is clear: Edmonton, Toronto, and Winnipeg. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are enough for me to give the Oilers the number one nod. That said, I can see how the group of Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander might convince you to put the Leafs in the top spot. Finally, I truly believe the Jets deserve a spot in the top tier. Mark Scheifele is one of the best centres in the game and that group of wingers (Wheeler, Laine, Connor, Ehlers) is tough to deal with.
This was close for me, because I think the Flames and Jets are neck and neck. I leaned Winnipeg because there’s a little more of a track record with their bottom six, led by Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. When together, those two are as good a defensive shutdown pairing you’ll find. Jack Roslovic, Mathieu Perreault, and newcomer Nate Thompson are all decent third or fourth line options.
Calgary is close, albeit with more question marks. Can Milan Lucic be passable in a limited role? Does Sam Bennett resemble the player we saw in August, or the less effective one we witnessed for most of the regular season? How and where do new signings Josh Leivo, Dominik Simon, and Joakim Nordstrom fit? What type of step is Dillon Dube poised to take? Don’t get me wrong, I think the Flames have really strong potential in their bottom six. But because there are more unanswered questions, I have them just a tick behind the Jets.
I don’t have a lot between the middle three of Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton. I give the Maple Leafs the edge with the addition of Joe Thornton and being able to stack him and Jason Spezza number three and four down the middle. The Habs have solid depth, too, after their offseason additions and could feature Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Paul Byron, and Jonathan Drouin in their bottom six. And, by adding Kyle Turris to their bottom six, the Oilers are probably deeper at forward than they have been in a while.