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Calgary Flames 2021-22 mid-season report cards: forwards

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Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
11 months ago
The Calgary Flames have reached the All-Star Break with 42 games completed, roughly 51% of their regular season schedule. With this short gap in the hockey calendar, it’s time to take a thoughtful pause and take a look at how the Flames’ players have performed so far this season.
Our evaluations focus on a player’s performance relative to their role and cap hit. Let’s start with the forward group.
Note: Goals Above Replacement (GAR) figures are via Evolving Hockey, and are based upon a player’s entire on-ice performance. Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) are via Natural Stat Trick, and is based upon the number, location, quality and type of chances a player allows and generates when they’re on the ice at five-on-five. For both figures, higher is better.

Matthew Tkachuk

Cap Hit: $7 million
Role: first line winger, first unit power play
Boxcars: 20 goals, 25 assists, 45 points in 42 games, plus-24 (30 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 9.5 GAR, 61.1% xGF
Grade: A+ – Linemate Gaudreau may get the league-wide accolades (and rightfully so), but Tkachuk deserves all kinds of credit for the success of the top line. He’s excellent at puck retrieval, an agitator of the highest order, and he’s avoided poking the proverbial hornet’s nest in close games and getting into penalty trouble.

Johnny Gaudreau

Cap Hit: $6.75 million
Role: first line winger, first unit power play
Boxcars: 18 goals, 36 assists, 54 points in 42 games, plus-30 (37 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 14.2 GAR, 59.6% xGF
Grade: A+ – What can we say about Gaudreau that hasn’t already been said? He’s been one of the most dangerous offensive forwards in the game this season, but his play away from the puck has taken a big step forward. He’s hardly a Selke Trophy candidate, but his back-checking and puck pursuit is noticeable better than in years past and it’s keeping opponents on their toes whenever he’s on the ice.

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Sean Monahan

Cap Hit: $6.375 million
Role: third line centre, first unit power play
Boxcars: 7 goals, 12 assists, 19 points in 42 games, minus-13 (7 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 1.7 GAR, 53.1% xGF
Grade: C+ – The big challenge for Monahan is he hasn’t been moving the needle offensively at even strength. His underlying numbers are good, even relative to the team-wide strong underlying trends, but he’s just not scoring at the rate he used to. He’s a useful PP player, and at this point he might be a PP specialist. He’s pricey for a PP specialist.

Mikael Backlund

Cap Hit: $5.35 million
Role: second line centre, second unit power play, first unit penalty kill
Boxcars: 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points in 42 games, plus-4 (12 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 1.9 GAR, 55.8% xGF
Grade: B- – Backlund’s whole gig is facing the other team’s top lines and shutting them down offensively. If his line can score, too, that’s a bonus. His underlyings are good, he’s a big part of a very stingy PK group, and his line out-scores their opponents 20-14. It’d be better if that scoreline was more lopsided, but Backlund has been an effective defensive forward.

Milan Lucic

Cap Hit: $5.25 million (another $750,000 paid by the Edmonton Oilers)
Role: third and fourth line winger, second unit power play
Boxcars: 9 goals, 7 assists, 16 points in 42 games, minus-4 (12 5v5 points)
Underlyings: -0.1 GAR, 51.1% xGF
Grade: C+ – On a team that’s not getting a ton of scoring from their bottom six, Lucic has managed to score. His underlying numbers aren’t great relative to the rest of the team, but he’s been a positive contributor overall and he brings a physical element that nobody else does. (And he does so without spending a ton of time in the penalty box.)

Blake Coleman

Cap Hit: $4.95 million
Role: second line winger, second unit penalty kill
Boxcars: 10 goals, 8 assists, 18 points in 41 games, plus-5 (17 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 1.2 GAR, 56.3% xGF
Grade: B – Coleman started slow this season and didn’t really find a niche on the second line with Backlund until recently. He’s a steady offensive contributor with decent numbers both scoring and possession, but his calling card is his two-way play and his penalty killing. His grade is a little bit better than Backlund’s because he’s less expensive.

Elias Lindholm

Cap Hit: $4.85 million
Role: first line centre, first unit power play, first unit penalty kill
Boxcars: 15 goals, 22 assists, 37 points in 42 games, plus-29 (20 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 12.3 GAR, 59.5% xGF
Grade: A+ – Lindholm’s probably going to be getting Selke Trophy votes this season, and rightfully so. He’s the two-way conscience that allows Tkachuk and Gaudreau to play a more offensive-oriented game, and a lot of their sweet scoring sequences usually begin with a smart face-off play or turnover created by Lindholm. He’s extremely underrated and, relative to the value he creates for his club, supremely underpaid.

Andrew Mangiapane

Cap Hit: $2.425 million
Role: second line winger, second unit power play, third unit penalty kill
Boxcars: 20 goals, 7 assists, 27 points in 42 games, plus-7 (18 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 7.8 GAR, 59.7% xGF
Grade: A- – Mangiapane’s scoring has slowed down a bit recently, but his underlyings are superb, he’s responsible in all three zones, and he’s relied upon to play in every game situation. (He and Dube play late on penalty kills and are tasked with kick-starting the club’s transition game and push-back after kills.)

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Dillon Dube

Cap Hit: $2.3 million
Role: third line winger, third unit penalty kill (formerly second unit power play)
Boxcars: 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points in 42 games, minus-11 (9 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 2.6 GAR, 56.9% xGF
Grade: C – Dube’s had an up and down year. On one hand, his underlyings are good (even relative to the team) and he’s managed to use his speed well to create chances. On the other hand, he hasn’t been able to score on enough of his chances and occasionally he seems to be trying too hard to score, which has led to turnovers and penalties from time to time. He’s also recently lost his spot on the second PP unit to defender Oliver Kylington. He’s definitely not a “bad” player, but he seems to lack a niche or a calling-card within the lineup compared to the forwards higher up in the rotation.

Tyler Pitlick

Cap Hit: $1.75 million
Role: third and fourth line winger
Boxcars: 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points in 25 games, minus-5 (1 5v5 point)
Underlyings: -1.4 GAR, 49.1% xGF
Grade: D- – Pitlick came to Calgary with a reputation as being a solid two-way forward with limited offensive upside. He’s been hurt for the majority of the season. When he’s been healthy, he’s been out-scored at even strength. He has one even strength point this season. His acquisition cost was a fourth-round draft choice.

Brett Ritchie

Cap Hit: $900,000
Role: third and fourth line winger
Boxcars: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points in 21 games, minus-5 (0 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 0.4 GAR, 57.0% xGF
Grade: D – Ritchie is the only regular forward with zero points this season. His line has been out-scored and he, personally, hasn’t really done much to move that needle back in the right direction. His underlying figures are decent, but he just hasn’t been able to score.

Adam Ruzicka

Cap Hit: $801,666
Role: fourth line centre
Boxcars: 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points in 11 games, plus-2 (4 5v5 points)
Underlyings: 0.4 GAR, 51.2% xGF
Grade: C+ – He’s only been the consistent fourth line pivot for six games, so beware of a small sample size. But considering his role, inexperience and how he’s being used, it’s hard not to be pleased with how Ruzicka’s done. His line has out-scored the opposition when he’s on the ice, and that’s a pretty positive story from the fourth line. Hopefully he can keep it up.

Trevor Lewis

Cap Hit: $800,000
Role: fourth line winger, second unit penalty kill
Boxcars: 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points in 42 games, minus-3 (6 5v5 points)
Underlyings: -1.7 GAR, 46.4% xGF
Grade: C+ – Lewis’ underlyings aren’t great, especially compared to his teammates. But he’s generated some offense in a role that’s not usually suited to that, and he’s been a very solid contributor to one of the NHL’s best penalty kills. And he’s really inexpensive.

Brad Richardson

Cap Hit: $800,000
Role: fourth line winger and/or centre
Boxcars: 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points in 24 games, minus-1 (4 5v5 points)
Underlyings: -1.4 GAR, 38.3% xGF
Grade: C- – Richardson has missed a bit of time due to injury, but more recently he’s been bumped to the sidelines by Ruzicka’s emergence. He’s a perfectly adequate depth player, but his age and rough underlyings make him tough to use in a ton of situations, and he’s not really in the special teams mix at all. He’s inexpensive depth, but that may be it.

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