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 Flames are in a bit of a downswing at the moment. There’s been lots of change this season, most notably with the coaching staff, and almost immediately after taking over head coaching duties, Geoff Ward deployed brand new line combinations.
The new top line no longer features previous mainstays Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan. Elias Lindholm now centers the top line with Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane on his wings. Monahan now centers the second line, with Mikael Backlund and Dillon Dube, and Gaudreau is on the third line with Derek Ryan and Milan Lucic.
It’s honestly a bit bizarre considering how prolific the top line was last season, but when things aren’t going right, changes need to be made.
The emergence of Mangiapane and Dube as solid top-nine, and even top-six forwards has prompted corresponding changes in the bottom-six. It’s caused a ripple down the lineup that has caused players like Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, and Austin Czarnik to spend time on the fourth line and in the press box. Depth is a nice problem to have, but based on how the team has performed thus far, the question posed this week was: who should be the Flames’ 13th forward?
Most respondents, 37%, said that Zac Rinaldo should be the extra man up front. It’s an interesting pick. Rinaldo was basically a below replacement player for a few years after winning a contract off a PTO with the Flames this season. He didn’t even play his first NHL game until the end of November, but has been a surprisingly effective fourth liner for the team. He’s been in and out of the lineup since, not including a brief stint with Stockton, and is a solid choice for the extra forward. He’s versatile, plays with heart and grit, and has even chipped in on the scoresheet with two goals on the year. Rinaldo wouldn’t have made my top 10 for this list at the start of the season, but credit where credit is due: he’s been good, and is definitely in the mix.
The next two players on the poll were Mark Jankowski and Bennett. I don’t even feel bad saying it anymore, but I think there’s a serious case to be made that these are the two worst forwards on the Flames’ roster right now. Jankowski has served as the healthy scratch a number of times this season, he didn’t pick up a single point until just recently, and has failed the eye test in more ways than one. Bennett has been spinning his wheels for years and has just settled into this checker role that is so replaceable in this league. He’s a fan favourite, but his ability to positively impact hockey games is extremely limited. I’d personally choose either of these two to be the 13th forward.
The player receiving the second highest share of the vote is Czarnik. I think Czarnik is underappreciated on this team. He’s proven to be too good for the AHL, further emphasized by how great he’s played there this season, and provided a ton of value on the MMA line last season. He’s effective when he’s given minutes, and I think he should be a permanent fixture on the team. I’d rather see Czarnik out there instead of the other three polling options. In my perfect world, the fourth line would be centered by Tobias Rieder with Czarnik and Frolik on his wings.
Who knows, if the team gets into a losing streak here, maybe that’s what we’ll see. Time will tell.
It was both surprising and not surprising to hear the Flames were one of the biggest players for Taylor Hall. Regardless of what you think of the person, it’s tough to discredit how good he is on the ice. He’s coming off a 93 point Hart Trophy winning season just two years ago, and prior to last last season he played at least 72 games in four of the previous five. His durability has improved, and he’s still one of the most dynamic players out there.
From a positional standpoint, it makes little sense to add Hall, another left winger, to this team that already has Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Mangiapane as natural left wingers. However, all three of these players have played on the right wing at times this season, and because that has worked well, there’s no reason to believe Hall couldn’t immediately step into this team’s top-six. Of course, Hall is now a Coyote, so all Hall talk can cease at least until the offseason.
What is more interesting than Hall himself is the fact that the Flames were in it until the end on another big trade piece. Brad Treliving is always trying to make this team better, and just like he was in the mix for Mark Stone at last year’s deadline and in for Hall this year, I’d expect him to be sniffing around expiring UFAs in advance of the trade deadline in the Spring.
There are quite a few interesting names that should be up for grabs this season. Our second poll of the week was: which pending UFA should the Flames go after?
The most popular answer among respondents was Tyler Toffoli, currently with the Los Angeles Kings. From the choices listed, he would be my first choice as well. He’s 27 years old, fast, a three-time 20 goal scorer, and most importantly is right handed.
Toffoli might not be a pure sniper, but he does have good offensive instincts and fits on the right side, a glaring weakness for this team, and it’s unlikely he’d cost too much either. The only caveat with Toffoli is that the Kings hate trading within their division. If there’s one major roadblock to trading for him, that would be it.
The next two answers, Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers and Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Ottawa Senators, are intriguing choices. Kreider would fit seamlessly onto the roster of any team in the league. He’s a four-time 20 goal scorer including two seasons with 28, he’s played up and down the lineup including on the powerplay, has finished the past six seasons with over 100 hits, and even received Selke votes in 2017. He’d be a tremendous add, but the asking price on him would likely be much higher than the other names on the list.
Pageau is in the same category as Kreider. He’s never been a huge offensive force until this season (he’s never hit the 20 goal mark), but Pageau is a reliable two-way forward, plays in all situations including powerplay and penalty kill, and most importantly plays center. If Ottawa isn’t able to re-sign him, teams will be lining up for his services, and to be perfectly honest, someone will probably overpay for him.
There are a ton of other players available outside of the poll options. @JCambers suggested Alex Pietrangelo on defense, Jaroslav Halak in net, and Hall up front. They’re all nice names, but will be extremely expensive and likely won’t sign in Calgary.
It’s tough, but don’t be surprised if the Flames are right back in the mix for these players in the coming months.
At least we can all agree, save for 5% of respondents, that Ilya Kovalchuk isn’t a player Treliving should chase. He’s a shadow of his former self, and isn’t worth the trouble.
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.