Calgary Flames

Evaluating three ways the Calgary Flames could lineup with Blake Coleman

Every Calgary Flames fan can pinpoint exactly where in the lineup is the team weakest: on the right side. For the past seven years, with minimal exceptions, the Flames have lacked a right winger that can play in the top-six. One who can either drive offence or handle heavy defensive minutes to allow the top line to go to work. Blake Coleman comes to the Flames as a solid answer to this problem.

What type of player is Blake Coleman?

While he is a left-handed shot, Coleman is a strong right winger who can play in all situations. Over the last three seasons, he has been a consistent performer offensively, putting up over 30 points per season in each of the last three years. His underlying numbers are also exceptional at 5v5, take a look at his latest three seasons below from Natural Stat Trick. For more information on what these statistics mean, check out TWC’s stats primer here.


Taking a look at these numbers, Coleman’s deployment has changed over the past four seasons. In New Jersey on a weak team, Coleman was deployed as a defensive specialist, facing off against other teams’ best players, and having reasonable success against them.

In his first few season in Tampa, they did the same in a smaller sample size of games, with slightly worse results. The caveat was that the season was paused shortly after the trade deadline so there wasn’t enough games to truly evaluate his usage. However in 2020–21, Coleman was deployed significantly more in the offensive zone that he ever has and thrived offensively.

Taking a look at this chart from, it is clear that Coleman is an incredibly strong player at both ends of the ice. His ability to score goals is right around average, but he can drive play offensively—particularly in front of the net. When he is on the ice, the team is stronger defensively and can handle the competition that is being thrown at them. Coleman is also a strong option on the penalty kill, excellent at limiting chances when down a man.

With this in mind, here are three options for how the Flames can lineup with Coleman:

Option 1: Strictly defined roles two offensive lines and one defensive line

Left WingCentreRight Wing
Johnny GaudreauElias LindholmMatthew Tkachuk
Andrew MangiapaneMikael BacklundBlake Coleman
TBDSean MonahanDillon Dube

In this scenario, the Flames get to deploy the top line of Lindholm between Gaudreau and Tkachuk against other team’s worser lines. They handle a substantial amount of offensive zone starts, and are able to then go to work in generating scoring chances. They can also handle defensive duties as needed, with Tkachuk and Lindholm both being strong two-way skaters.

Coleman in this case is deployed heavily defensively against other team’s top lines, be it the Connor McDavid line in Edmonton, the Elias Pettersson line in Vancouver or others. With premier two-way centre Backlund and budding two-way star Mangiapane, this forms one of the better shutdown lines in the league. This line can also produce offensively, with Backlund serving as the playmaker, Mangiapane able to play down low, and Coleman handling net-front duties. Put this together, and the Flames have the makings of an elite unit.

Furthermore, with this unit together, Calgary can shelter the second and third defensive pairings, which project to be weaker than in past years. Assuming Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin as the first pair, if the second line plays primarily with the duo of Rasmus Andersson and Nikita Zadorov, then it’s a balanced group that can really match up well against any line in the league.

This leaves the Flames with the makings of a third offensive line with Monahan at centre, and Dube on the wing. This can be cushioned with a guy like Milan Lucic on the left wing, allowing both players to really go to work in the offensive zone. While this adds a lot of size to the line, it can easily be exploited by a faster opponent.

Alternatively, the a guy like Matthew Phillips could make a push for this spot, who would add a lot of speed and the ability to play down low. While this wouldn’t be the biggest line on the ice, it would be incredibly offensive, and able to feast on other teams’ bottom six. Deploying this especially against shallower teams like the Oilers could be a gamebreaker.

Option 2: Looser roles with more balanced approach

Left wingCentreRight wing
Johnny GaudreauElias LindholmMatthew Tkachuk
Andrew MangiapaneSean MonahanBlake Coleman
TBDMikael BacklundDillon Dube

This lineup leaves the first line completely intact from the previous iteration. It was the line that the Flames ended last season with, and one which seemed to get the most out of both Tkachuk and Gaudreau in what was a tough season for both players. This line can matxchup against any line and still have reasonable odds for success.

Then Sean Monahan elevates to a second line, in a two-way role with more priorities towards offence. The Flames have constantly talked about Monahan having a lot of pride in his two-way game, and while that is not often seen on the ice, it gives him two reliable two-way wingers who can play a 200-foot game to better complement (and potentially buoy) Monahan.

This line will have to play both ends of the ice and will be tasked with sharing some of the difficult minutes. This will give the Flames hopefully more success against fast-break teams like the Golden Knights, who they have struggled against. Even if Monahan gets exploited defensively, there are still two other forwards who can pitch in as needed.

The biggest problem with this strategy is both Coleman and Monahan love playing in front of the net, and would require some adjustment for where both play. In this lineup, Monahan likely plays in front of the net, and Coleman is up top generating chances for his linemates. This may take some getting used to for all three players, but can likely get to being effective.

The third line then handles a combination of defensive and offensive duties, and matches up nicely against other teams’ bottom six lines. This works particularly well against teams that have strong third lines like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Colorado Avalanche, and limits their ability to exploit Calgary’s bottom-six. Putting someone like Milan Lucic or even someone young like Adam Ruzicka could help make this line incredibly hard to play against.

Option 3: The reunion option

Left wingCentreRight wing
Johnny GaudreauSean MonahanBlake Coleman
Andrew MangiapaneElias LindholmMatthew Tkachuk
TBDMikael BacklundDillon Dube

Out with the new and back in with the old, this lineup reunites the Flames’ most common duo from the past decade and pairs them with a strong right winger who can complement their play. Coleman would be playing heavier offensive minutes, while also being the third man who can track back when the team turns the puck over in the offensive zone.

While you do have the same issue as above with Coleman and Monahan both playing the same part of the ice, you add more width by moving Coleman or Monahan to roam the middle and right side to generate chances while the other plays in front of the net and through the slot. Gaudreau is your natural playmaker, making passes and creating space for scoring chances.

The second line again plays a more defensive role, but has significantly more offensive upside. It reunites Mangiapane with Tkachuk, but puts Lindholm between them to add more offence to the group. This is a group that can play against any line in the league with a high chance of success both offensively and defensively, and allows the team to deploy effectively against teams with strong top-sixes.

Finally the third line again gives you more balance against deep teams, but also can be deployed offensively depending on who the third person on the line ends up being. Lucic feels like the natural fit on the right side, and has great chemistry with both Backlund and Dube, but the argument could be made for almost any of the Flames’ bottom-six forwards.

Backlund has a tendency to make anyone he plays with better, so pairing him with younger players like Dube or Ruzicka or Phillips could help them all to improve. There is no real loss to the Flames with whoever they put on this line, but it changes the nature of the group offensively or defensively.

What makes most sense?

Options one or two likely make the most sense, despite nostalgia having a fair pull for option three. The Flames have shown a willingness to keep their first line together and to separate 13 from 23, and as a result, it becomes a question of making the middle-six work rather than changing the first line. Coleman may be worth making some chances to start the season, but the bet is that he’s a surefire reinforcement to the second line.

I can see the Flames moving their roster around depending on their opponent. When they are playing a team with a strong top-six but a weak bottom-six, the first option probably makes the most sense. Against a team like the Oilers, putting the Backlund line against the McDavid line has historically been successful. This then leaves the Lindholm line to faceoff against the Leon Draisaitl line, which would likely be a wash depending on the night.

The cherry on top would be to watch Monahan and Dube feast on the Oilers’ weak bottom-six. At home, the Oilers could always exploit this line occasionally by facing it off against either of their top-two lines, but then that leaves their bottom-six vulnerable against any of the Flames’ top groups. This bodes well for the Flames on paper.

Against a more balanced team like the Montreal Candiens, the Flames could opt for option two, which would give them three balanced lines to go up against any of the Habs’ top three lines. Any of the lines could be trusted to shutdown the Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, or Jake Evans and Josh Anderson lines, and would likely be able to generate chances on net against any of the three groups.

Whichever way Coach Sutter and his team end up going, one thing is for certain: the addition of Blake Coleman gives the Flames substantially more flexibility in terms of how they structure their lines. Now the team has eight players who can handle top-nine roles with ease, and have three centres who can play centre at a high level. See how having a winger who can play on the right side immediately gives the team a lot of options in how they lineup? Who could have saw that coming?

One thing is certain about this season’s Flames. It is going to be a very different looking lineup on the merit of not having their long-time captain, but they’ll have a new-look forward group too. We’ll soon learn how the Flames are able to manage their roster and usage, but the addition of Coleman gives flexibility to the lineup, and that’s exactly what the Flames need as they transition into a new era for the team.

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