Calgary Flames

Sunday Census: Mikael Backlund, suspension concerns, and Battle of Alberta questions

Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!

The final few minutes of the game against the Minnesota Wild were extremely costly for the Calgary Flames. Due to an series of unfortunate events, a questionable hit from Matt Dumba would end up sending Mikael Backlund into the NHL concussion protocol. He leaves an extremely big hole in the lineup, and the value he brings on the ice cannot be simply replaced. The Flames can only hope he will be back shortly.

In the meantime, the Flames need to fill that second line center void somehow. Luckily, the team has a wealth of options in terms of the centre ice position. Many players on their NHL roster have played as centres before. Of those players, Elias Lindholm, Sam Bennett, Derek Ryan, and Mark Jankowski are the players who could best slot in for a short period of time.

While Flames fans favoured Ryan the least, he ended up taking the first shot at the second line role against the Nashville Predators last night. Perhaps Bill Peters wanted to give Ryan a better opportunity, given how high he was on the 31-year-old centre prior to the start of the season.

Lindholm and Jankowski were the next two players, in increasing order, with 26% and 30% respectively. Surprising to see Lindholm get such few votes, while the same can be said for seeing Jankowski getting more.

Bennett had the most votes out of the options. Fans appear to have liked enough of what they have seen from him this season to earn more responsibility down the middle of the ice. Unfortunately, Bennett did not start as a centre on the second line, and he also found himself dropping down to the fourth line last night in favour of Hathaway. It’s too bad he wasn’t given the proper opportunity, but perhaps he will get his shot against the Oilers.

My vote actually went for Lindholm, which was a wildly unpopular pick. Shortly after the news of Backlund’s injury, I proposed the following lineup:

I thought that this would be the most strategic positioning of the lineup, but obviously at the cost of breaking up the stupidly amazing top line. Depending on how long Backlund is out for, it may eventually be a better option for the Flames. Similar to 2014-15, being top heavy is not necessarily the best option, but only time will tell.

The other upsetting news coming out of the Minnesota contest was the resulting two game suspension for Mark Giordano. The automatic one game suspension for Ryan Lomberg was expected (which turned to two games for leaving the bench to start a fight), but Giordano’s suspension was a bit more a surprise. The play was indeed dangerous, and resulted in an injury to Mikko Koivu, but during the game it didn’t draw a whole lot of attention. The two game suspension was far more surprising, based on the disciplinary actions taken this season.

Maybe fans saw things differently and could justify the suspension. Turns out this wasn’t the case.

The fans voted in increasing order from strongly agree all the way to strongly disagree, which took the majority at 54%. It is obvious that people aren’t pleased with suspension thrown at Giordano. Perhaps it is due to the fact that no disciplinary action was taken on Dumba, the type of play that Giordano made, or even simply at the number of games. Regardless, fans aren’t too pleased.

Originally my thoughts went immediately to “strongly disagree”, but the more I think about it I only now “slightly disagree”. My biggest frustration lies at the two game suspension, when perhaps it should levy a single game. I do think the play was dangerous, and sometimes Giordano can play on the line, but I don’t know if a full two games was warranted.

The Flames currently sit atop the Pacific Division Western Conference. While the conference lead may bounce around between the top teams, there is a stronger and stronger argument that the Flames might just stay first in the Pacific for the remainder of the season. Of course, it is much easier said than done. We wanted to see which team fans think poses the greatest threat to the Flames chances at the Pacific crown.

Whether it is due to the quality of team, or out of spite, fans are not as concerned with the Edmonton Oilers. Even with their coaching change, recent hot streak, and Connor McDavid, the people have spoken and they do not believe the Oilers will be a threat. Edmonton has a much bigger hill to climb in order to be considered a contender in the division.

The Golden Knights, surprisingly, only slightly edged out the Oilers with 14% of the vote. Last year’s narrative is long gone, but the Knights were expected to be major players in the division. Early season injuries and regression have caused them to be a bit behind their ceiling at the moment. Easily a team that should be much better than their record suggests, the Knights could sneak their way up this list later in the season.

On the opposite ends, a team who’s record does not reflect their quality of play, the Anaheim Ducks have used a long string of luck and John Gibson to stay in the playoff hunt. Found near the bottom of the list across a ton of statistical categories, the Ducks may not look good on paper, but consistently find ways to win.

The majority winner, with 52% of the vote, is the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are clearly the scariest team in the division, as they are nowhere near their potential. Erik Karlsson has yet to find his groove, Martin Jones‘ numbers aren’t fantastic, and their normal offensive stars are not their usual selves. Without a doubt, this team could be lurking in the deep for the majority of the season, waiting to strike at a moments’ notice.

All that being said, and although it seems like the idiotic choice, I just feel as if the Ducks are going to find another way to infuriate the Flames this year. Whenever Calgary is able to exorcise their demons against the Ducks I will be a happy man, but until then I will remain hesitant and anxious.

Heading into tonight’s Battle of Alberta: Round 2, Backlund’s absence will be felt immensely as the Flames will have to assign a new player to cover Connor McDavid. With lineup projections unknown at the time, it is tough to tell which unit will be deployed against the red hot McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Alex Chiasson line.

Ryan did not get a lot of love this time around either, and perhaps he drops back to the third or fourth line tonight. Lindholm and Bennett got similar amounts of votes, but this simply comes down to which line plays against McDavid. Does Bill Peters match his dynamic top line against McDavid? If so then Lindholm will easily be tasked with monitoring him. If he happens to deploy his makeshift second line, then perhaps Bennett takes that role.

If the second line gets the assignment, then the fans overwhelmingly see Matthew Tkachuk being the antidote to McDavid. Although he is not the most defensively-minded player, Tkachuck could easily fill the “pest” role. He may not be able to completely shut him down, but perhaps just frustrate him enough to throw him off his game. Not the ideal choice, but it could be one hell of a band-aid solution. For the fans and myself, our votes go towards the Matthew Tkachuk Friendship Tour.

Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.

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