There is an ongoing debate across the league around how best to organize lines. Does it make more sense for teams to stack their top players on the same line like David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron in Boston, or Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen in Colorado? Or, is it better to split up your offense across a number of lines for balanced scoring up and down the lineup, like how the Dallas Stars put Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov on separate lines?
In Calgary, the Flames have typically opted for the former strategy, deploying Johnny Gaudreau with Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm to form a top offensive line that had immense success in 2018-19 but was significantly less effective last season.
The second line of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane was primarily matched against other teams’ top lines, playing a strong two way game. They were typically responsible for defensive zone draws, and for moving the puck up the ice.
The third line of Sam Bennett centering Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube was a crash and bang line, starting in the offensive zone and typically bumping and bruising their way to the front of the net to try and create chances. This line really came alive through the playoffs, and was able to exploit other teams’ bottom six.
And the fourth line was… well, the fourth line. Trying to do things, mostly just trying to stay out of trouble. Let’s leave them aside for now.
Going into this season, Geoff Ward has talked about his plans to move Elias Lindholm to centre, thereby breaking up the line with Monahan and Gaudreau. Ward has also talked about liking to have two players on each line who can regularly win faceoffs. This would leave the Flames’ centre depth as the aforementioned Lindholm, Monahan, and Backlund, along with Bennett or more likely Derek Ryan. What this also does is open up the Flames to changing the deployment of their lines.
Assuming there are no more moves from GM Brad Treliving, this is likely how the Flames’ centre depth will look, with perhaps some swapping around with which line is the first, second, and third (with all due respect to Ryan).
Primary scoring line
Given how strongly Lindholm performed at centre last season, along with his strong two-way play, he will likely be relied on to be the team’s top centre. As we have written about before, separating Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan is likely the smartest suggestion for the team.
They have looked better apart than together at times, and it allows them to use their skillsets separately to better the team’s performance. Thus, keeping Gaudreau with Lindholm and adding an elite superstar in Matthew Tkachuk would make for an incredible top line. Besides, Tkachuk deserves top line minutes.
|Johnny Gaudreau||Elias Lindholm||Matthew Tkachuk|
This would be your scoring line. Putting Gaudreau’s playmaking abilities with Lindholm’s finishing skills, while also adding Tkachuk’s ability to create space in front of the net would give the line the greatest ability to succeed. On top of that, with Gaudreau struggling defensively, pairing him with Tkachuk, who was the best player on the second line last season would help minimize chances against.
It also gives Tkachuk the opportunity to play offense, starting more shifts in the offensive zone, and being less reliant to shut down other teams’ top lines. The Flames have rarely played him away from Backlund, and this gives them a chance to see if he can put up the type of points that we all think he is capable of when given real offensive opportunities at 5v5.
It also gives Lindholm two strong wingers, allowing him the best opportunity to succeed in the new role. With limited experience playing centre since joining the Flames, it may take him a few games to really get clicking in the new role. Having two elite scorers on either side of him, as well as the dynamism of both to create space and make plays, Lindholm is given the best possible opportunity to succeed.
Leaving the Monahan line aside for now, Backlund is the Flames’ top defensive forward. Regularly in the conversation for the Selke Award as the league’s top defensive forward, he has been relied on to shut down top players including Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and more. Given that talk of a Canadian Division simply won’t go away, it feels increasingly likely that the Flames will see a lot of both those players, and will need a line that can match up well against them.
The Flames will need Backlund centering this line. Keeping him with Mangiapane who grew into his role as an impressive two way forward would help the Flames manage offensive pressure. Then there is a question mark on the right side, with Tkachuk on the top line.
|Andrew Mangiapane||Mikael Backlund||Dillon Dube|
Enter Dillon Dube. A strong winger who elevated his game through the playoffs. Dube would be the natural choice to fill this spot. Having grown into his own over the last two seasons in the AHL and NHL, he has become an excellent two way forward. Dube showed in the playoffs that he can play against the best in the league, regularly facing off against the top players for Winnipeg and Dallas.
Putting him on this line would help him learn, and if he makes a mistake he has the team’s best defensive forward alongside him to help minimize the risk. On top of that, he has shown a willingness to compete, elevating his game when given the chance to play more. Over the last two years, he was the best player at development camp and has always performed well under pressure. Giving him increased responsibility will force him to elevate his game to the next level, and show the Flames what they have in the former Kelowna Rocket.
Both Mangiapane and Backlund have tangled with the best players in the league, and have been above 50% in the shot attempts department. Offensively, Dube had the highest individual expected goals for and most individual high danger chances for on the team in the playoffs. While the Flames did shelter him in the regular season, he was given an increased role in the playoffs, and performed admirably. It is time to give him a bigger role.
Secondary scoring line
This leaves Monahan as your third line centre, which gives him the ability to absolutely go to town on other teams’ bottom six guys. An elite sniper, if he can play with players who allow him to get to the front of the net, he can have immense success. Last season, Monahan struggled to get to that area, with Gaudreau unable to create enough space for Monahan to utilize his elite shot. Monahan was also boxed out from the slot area, relying on taking shots from further out, and thus being less successful.
Who is able to crash and bang and create space in front? Sam Bennett is. When he was not taking penalties, Bennett was able to create a ton of space for Dube and increasingly for Lucic as well. The line elevated their play in the playoffs, with both him and Dube being strong offensively and putting the puck in the net when it was not going for the top six.
Pairing Monahan with Bennett would allow the former the space he needs to get his shots off from the slot, and when playing against other teams’ third lines, which include the likes of Kyle Turris and Forever a Flame James Neal in Edmonton, or Adam Gaudette and Brandon Sutter in Vancouver, Monahan should be able to really light the lamp next season.
|Sam Bennett||Sean Monahan||Josh Leivo|
Pair those two with Josh Leivo, who finished second last season in scoring chances for per 60, third in shot attempts per 60, and fifth in high danger chances per 60, and you have yourself a second offensive line that can crush opposing teams. This centered by the Flames’ best faceoff taker can be a line that starts anywhere on the ice, and can give the team a chance to showcase Monahan’s two way play, which has not been on display much the last two years.
While technically a left winger, Leivo is a right handed shot and can play any forward position, playing right wing in Toronto two seasons ago, and both centre and left wing last season in Vancouver. This line has three players who can take draws, and can be effective at both ends of the ice.
What does this all mean?
Having two excellent scoring lines along with an elite shutdown line will make the Flames a very tough team to match up against. Each line has at least two players who can take draws (Lindholm and Tkachuk, Backlund and Dube, and Monahan, Bennett, and Leivo), and has a healthy balance of defensive and offensive ability.
By moving Lindholm to centre, the Flames make themselves much harder to play against. If Dube can take another step froward from his play in the postseason, and like Mangiapane, can develop into an elite two-way player with the offensive ability that we know he has, the second line will be sneakily one of the most dangerous two way lines in the league.
On top of that, having two strong scoring lines gives the Flames the ability to match up well against any team in the league, and makes them defensively stronger than they were last season. The play to move Lindholm to the middle may be the difference maker for the Flames this coming year.
What do you think is the best lineup for the team next season? Let us know below or on social media.