The 2021-22 National Hockey League season is approaching its third week and the Calgary Flames are in the midst of a long road trip – they have an even longer trip next month. The Flames remain a bit of a work in progress, but they’ve done some good things and some less good things.
Let’s dive into the mailbag!
The first line right now is Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau. Three good players on objectively a good forward line. The second line is Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund and Tyler Pitlick. The remaining two lines include Brett Ritchie with Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube, and Trevor Lewis with Milan Lucic and Sean Monahan.
The first two lines serve obvious purposes, have players on them well-suited to those purposes, and are just… good lines for a hockey club to use. The other two lines involve Ritchie, a limited energy guy, playing with two promising young players and Monahan trying to work off his rust alongside Lucic and Lewis. Neither has really worked. (In a pure fourth line, limited minutes role, Lewis can be really effective, though.)
The logic behind the lines is probably giving them some balance, with the Flames in the midst of a five game road trip where they don’t control their match-ups. The hope was probably that Mangiapane can drive play on Ritchie’s line and Monahan can drive play on the Lewis line – unfortunately, neither has happened with much effectiveness thus far.
Unless Monahan rebounds on his own, perhaps we see him reuniting with Johnny Gaudreau before too long? Early in camp, the top two lines had Coleman, Tkachuk and Lindholm together and Gaudreau, Monahan and Mangiapane together. Right now Monahan isn’t a play-driver, but perhaps he can be an asset when paired with another strong play-driver instead? (There exists the possibility that his game doesn’t bounce back and he drags down a different forward line, though.)
Noah Hanifin was a solid secondary blueliner until last season, when he took a big step forward alongside Chris Tanev. At this point, he can be the primary guy on his pairing and help carry a somewhat lesser partner. He’s still very young and there’s a possibility that he could take another step and become a really good top line defender. But even if he’s topped out, his current level is that of a very good, TJ Brodie-level defenseman. Brodie was very effective for the Flames and right now, so is Hanifin.
In terms of pure point, Gaudreau is 10th in Flames franchise history in overall production. When you era-adjust his point production – the guys ahead of him played in higher-scoring eras in hockey – he moves up to third. (Stats via Hockey-Reference.)
If you want to make the case that Gaudreau is the third-best offensive talent in franchise history, well, here’s a big argument in your favour.
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