The Calgary Flames have a lot to be excited about right now. Not only is the team on a six-game winning streak, one of the biggest in-season trades in recent memory has just sent Tyler Toffoli to the team from Montreal.
In need of more scoring from outside the top line, the team was smart to bring in Toffoli, who can provide exactly that. A right wing who scored 28 goals last year, he could be just what the team needs to become a true contender in the playoffs.
But, what the actual lineup of the team will look like is still up in the air. While we wait to see how things play out, here are some of the options for the team going forward.
Ahead of tonight’s Flames contest, the bookies have predicted the Flames as the heavy favourite, with Betway Sports pricing the Flames at -170 and the Blue Jackets at +295 to win the game in regulation, with an overtime decision being priced at +380.
Minimizing disruption to the Flames’ lineup
One option is to leave the lines as untouched as possible. On a six-game winning streak, coach Darryl Sutter may be inclined to ease his new weapon into the lineup with little disruption. During those six wins, his top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk has been its usual consistent self, outscoring opponents 9–4.
The second line of Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, and Blake Coleman, has also found its groove, outscoring opponents 6–2 over the same span. Even the fourth line has managed to do better than tread water, outscoring opponents 2–0.
Only the third line has struggled, allowing two goals against and not even putting one on the board. It seems natural to slide Toffoli onto the struggling third trio, and hope he can spark some chemistry between the two Flames who have arguably struggled the most this season.
Although Treliving has referred to Toffoli as a top-six player, Sutter is not necessarily required to play him as one. A spin on the third line with Sean Monahan and Dillon Dube could spark those two struggling players, giving the team another line with a legitimate scoring threat.
If it works out, this gives Calgary the most balanced attack possible from the players available. Sutter’s preference is to roll four lines, and this lineup maximizes his ability to do so by strengthening the bottom of the roster, while not seriously disturbing the chemistry of the roster.
Bolstering the Flames’ second line
On the other hand, management didn’t ship out all those assets just for the sake of the third line. Toffoli is a talented top-six player and even if top two lines have been successful, that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved upon.
In this lineup, the Flames slot Toffoli into the second line, giving that group more of a scoring punch while still helping the Monahan line with the addition of Coleman, who slides down from his current position on the second line.
On the second line, Toffoli’s impressive shot and chance creation numbers could have a bigger impact as he would see the ice more, and spend that time with more effective line mates.
While questions could linger on about the strength of the bottom-six in this arrangement, Coleman and Adam Ruzicka have been playing their best hockey as Flames recently, and could very well turn the bottom two lines around.
Revamping Calgary’s middle-six
I like to think of this final choice as the “bet on Monahan” option. Elevating Monahan to the top-six carries serious risk with his lack of goal scoring over the past few seasons, and there are reasons to doubt he ever finds that touch again.
But, he has taken strides to become a more well-rounded player, and between two strong play-driving wingers like Toffoli and Mangiapane, could find himself in the perfect position to regain some offensive confidence. In the past, he was at his best playing a complimentary role to Gaudreau and Lindholm. Having another high-end winger in the fold allows the team to again position Monahan in a complementary top-six role, between two forwards who can carry their own weight.
If in that position he could recover some confidence and rediscover some of his scoring touch, the roster becomes even deeper than it does by just adding Toffoli.
As an added bonus, the two are former teammates from their junior days in Ottawa.
It also gives Calgary perhaps the most traditional set of lines of any of the listed arrangements, at least on paper. The top two are clear scoring lines, the third is made up of three strong shutdown players, and the fourth is reliable enough to not get totally hemmed in their own end, while making space for Trevor Lewis as a penalty kill specialist.
Of course, it all relies on a huge bet on Monahan returning to his old form, which makes this the most risky of the suggested lineups. But the potential to turn the addition of Toffoli into the addition of two top six players by way of saving Monahan also means it offers the biggest reward.
Whatever lines the team ends up settling on, the one certainty is they will be much improved compared to last game. Toffoli is a tremendous talent sure to bring offence to a team that has been heavily reliant on the top line for goals until this point in the season.
Cover photo: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports