The Flames have understandably been busy this offseason, and their moves have given them some flexibility with line combinations. In fact, this seems to have been a focus for GM Brad Treliving and his staff. With a number of middle and bottom six forwards added to the mix, there are lots of interesting options for the team in the upcoming season.
The Flames have three important questions to answer. The first, is how much do they want to change the lineup, just for the sake of change? This lineup has looked relatively static over the last few years (with the exception of a few chaotic weeks under Geoff Ward), and has usually been anchored by a first line that includes Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and a second line with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund.
But the team struggled last season, especially the top line. Do you break them up just for the chance at something better, or do you stick with one of the best lines in the entire 2018-19 season? The second line has actually been pretty good, even more so since Andrew Mangiapane was added. Should the club consider breaking that group up as well, perhaps to try and sprinkle some of their game driving abilities other places?
The second question is what to do with Elias Lindholm. Lindholm has been an efficient goal scorer on the right wing with Gaudreau and Monahan for a couple years, but there has always been the idea of moving him to centre.
With Monahan and Backlund unlikely to move out of the middle, Lindholm playing centre would significantly change the look of this team. Deciding whether he can play centre, and maybe more importantly whether someone else on the team can play on the first line right wing, is one of the biggest decisions to make.
And lastly, what the heck do you do with Sam Bennett? Bennett found his stride in this year’s playoffs at centre, but has been largely ineffective in the regular season. The Bennett situation is very similar to Lindholm’s: if Bennett plays centre, he would be at least behind Monahan and Backlund, and perhaps Lindholm as well.
Would there be enough minutes left? Is Bennett good enough to centre a third line for a whole year? After the playoffs, I would think yes, but number 93 is notoriously inconsistent, and needs to prove he can play not only the pivot long term, but consistently through the regular season in general. He did just played his best hockey in years, so one would have to think he starts at centre.
Let’s look at some options.
Run that back, Turbo
Pros: I mean, this is pretty simple. If the Gaudreau line plays like it did in 2018-19, then this lineup works well. The Flames are just two years removed from winning the west in the regular season, largely on the back of this lineup. Maybe catch lightning in a bottle again? Also Bennett at centre is a plus.
Cons: It hasn’t worked since 2018. If they want to make some changes, then this thing will get blown up.
Lindy at centre
Pros: Balance! That is the bet you make with putting Lindholm in the middle. You are betting that you will be able to create more consistent offence with Lindholm anchoring his own line, than you would having him on the top unit.
Keep in mind that any version of the lineup with Lindholm would need to have a more equitable distribution of ice time. These lines would be less numbered than past versions, with the first three being sort of equal.
This combo also depends on Josh Leivo‘s ability to play on the top line. I like Leivo because he is a righty, a good shooter, and he can help win battles and get the puck to Gaudreau. Comparing Leivo to Michael Ferland is a stretch, but I think that is the model for Leivo. Forecheck hard, create turn overs, and finish your chances. If he can do that even close as well as Ferland, this lineup has a chance.
Also… Bennett at centre.
Cons: Two jump out. The first is that it puts a lot on Leivo. I already made my case for Leivo, and I think he could do it, but still there is a risk there.
The second is that there are not enough talented wingers on this team to match up with the centres if Lindholm is in the middle. Balance is one thing, but playing with Dillon Dube and Dominik Simon is verging on wasting Lindholm’s offensive ability.
Break up the band
Pros: Nobody likes seeing their favourite band get broken up, but it might be time to think about breaking up Gaudreau and Monahan. It just has not worked as well as it used to, and the team might look for something new. Adding Dube to the Gaudreau line gives them some more speed, and pushes all the chips into the middle of the free-wheeling table.
I put Joakim Nordstrom into this lineup on the fourth line. I dont think there is any chance he plays on a non-fourth line, so I’ll put him in here.
Cons: Bennett at wing. More importantly, can Monahan anchor a line on his own? Mangiapane and Bennett are good players, but that line seems light on speed and shooting range. Mangiapane and Monahan are good finishers around the goal, but not sure how that line would get the puck to the dangerous areas.
This fourth line also won’t put much fear into the hearts of anyone, and doesn’t really have an identity. Not what you want out of a line costing approximately nine million dollars.
Break up the band part two
Pros: While there has been a fair amount of discussion about breaking up the top line, it might make more sense to break up Tkachuk and Backlund. The idea here would be to allow Tkachuk to produce more offensively, something the team could use, despite the fact that Tkachuk led the team in points last season.
That would take some of the pressure off Gaudreau and Monahan to not have to score quite as much, and could even help protect them, with things like more offensive zone starts.
And that third line, man would it be a pain in the butt to play against. Sure, Bennett would not be at centre, but this line would be essentially positionless, with three pretty similar players. If they could play minutes against other scoring lines, then they would let the other lines focus on scoring. I like the look of this.
Cons: Well copy and paste the previous concerns about Leivo, and an expensive fourth line that should not get minutes in this lineup. The other concern is that the third line wouldn’t have enough scoring, or that one of the top two lines falters. Other than that, I think this is a good look for the team.
Line them all up
There are endless combinations that the team can try, these were just a few of the ones that I thought made sense. Stay tuned to TWC for a look at the defensive pairings and what the team can choose to do there. Until then, let me know what you think about these lines. Which do you think is best?
Photo by: Trevor Hagan/Winnipeg Free Press