For two days now, the Flames’ have stuck with the same lines in training camp. Matthew Tkachuk is still without a contract, but should his holdout extend into the season, there’s a decent chance the lines we’ve been seeing these past couple days are the same ones the Flames roll against the Colorado Avalanche on opening night in just a few weeks time.
The top line has been a trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm. There was talk all summer that Lindholm might be called upon to play center this season, but with Tkachuk already missing, the Flames really can’t spare to move one of their best wingers to another position. This trio was among the league’s best last season, and it looks like Bill Peters is counting on them to continue their success into this season.
The 3M line was one of the best shutdown trios in the NHL over the past few seasons, but with Tkachuk holding out, a prime opportunity is available. This year’s early winner of that spot? Sam Bennett. So far, the second line has consisted of Bennett, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik.
This group has played together at various times over the years, but with Bennett just inking a new contract with the Flames and management eager for him to finally break out, Bennett needs to make the most of this chance. If he doesn’t stick, does Andrew Mangiapane get a look here?
Last season, the third line was usually Mark Jankowski with Bennett and James Neal on his wings. So far, the third line has featured a grand total of zero of these players. The new look third line has consisted of Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, and Austin Czarnik. Ryan proved to be a great add for the Flames last season, with stellar defensive play and an offensive bite to boot.
It looks like Czarnik is being given a chance to stay in the lineup full time, and provides some much needed speed to balance out Lucic. This could be a sneaky line with both speed and size, if they do stick together. Last season indicated that Peters trusts Mangiapane a lot more than he does Czarnik, so it’s possible that Mangiapane bumps Czarnik down now that he has a contract.
PTO candidate Devante Smith-Pelly was given the first look on the fourth line, but since finishing as the second fittest player at camp and what is probably a giant chip on his shoulder, Tobias Rieder has played the right side of the fourth line for two straight days.
Mark Jankowski and Dillon Dube have been his linemates in what looks to be a young, fast, and skilled fourth line for the Flames. If Rieder is able to earn a contract with the Flames, it’s possible he gets a track partner in Dube to start the year with Jankowski in the middle.
The wildcard here, as it has been for the middle-six, is Mangiapane’s new contract. If he does get the third line spot over Czarnik, Rieder will have to compete with Czarnik to keep his tentative spot on the fourth line. They bring similar elements, so the Flames might opt to go with the player they know and have under contract over the one they don’t.
Brodano. Not much to say here after Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie formed one of the best pairings in the NHL last season. Brodie has been criticized the whole summer and was nearly traded, but it looks like he’s here to stay and Peters is confident he can have another solid year next to the captain.
No changes here as Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic have been the second pair for the entirety of training camp. These two spent almost the entire 2018-19 season together and with a full year working together, they should be a solid option for the Flames.
Juuso Valimaki‘s unfortunate injury has opened up a spot on the third pairing. Rasmus Andersson is the obvious choice on the right side, but the left side is open for the taking. Michael Stone, Oliver Kylington, and PTO candidate Andrew MacDonald are vying for that spot, but for the past two days, MacDonald has held it down over the others. Whether he earns a contract or not remains to be seen, but it looks like the Flames are giving him a long look.
As expected, David Rittich has been in the starter’s crease with Cam Talbot backing up. There’s no reason to expect this to change unless Talbot goes on an absolute tear, but the Flames are confident that Rittich can hold down the fort this season. It’s interesting to note that Jon Gillies has been the third string goalie, though his future this season is very much up in the air.
When can we see them in action?
The Flames open the preseason tonight against the Vancouver Canucks in split squad action. It’s likely the majority of the veterans will play in Calgary while the younger players play on the road in Victoria.
Image courtesy: @NHLFlames