Well, the Calgary Flames have comfortably made the playoffs and won the Pacific Division to boot. All eyes are now on the playoffs, but did we see results like this as a possibility when we saw the line combinations in training camp? I assessed the Calgary Flames’ line combinations back in training camp, and presented what I believed was a more optimized roster. Let’s take a look at how this team has changed over the season.
Flames line combinations then and now
First line at training camp:
|Matthew Tkachuk||Elias Lindholm||Blake Coleman|
First line at end of season:
|Johnny Gaudreau||Elias Lindholm||Matthew Tkachuk|
Although the training camp combination looked really good in theory, thank goodness the Flames put Gaudreau up there instead. This was very easily the best line in the league. Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk both finished with 100+ points and Elias Lindholm emerged as an elite number one centre for this team while putting up a point per game.
Last season we did see this line formed near the end of the season and we got a glimpse of the elite numbers they could put up. Back in September, I did write that I wanted to see this combination for the top line as I did believe there was something there, but I think it is safe to say that nobody predicted production like this. Look for them to make lots of noise in the playoffs.
Second line at training camp:
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Andrew Mangiapane|
Second line at end of season:
|Andrew Mangiapane||Mikael Backlund||Tyler Toffoli|
Poor Sean Monahan. I really hope he gets healthy and is able to continue to play hockey. All things being reliant on him staying healthy for the season, I really wanted to see Monahan centring the second line with Andrew Mangiapane and Blake Coleman on his wings as I thought that would be a great opportunity for him to bounce back.
However, during the season Monahan took over the role of a bottom-six centre while he was healthy. Mikael Backlund stepped up for the Flames as a second line centre and his line put up elite numbers while he had Coleman and Mangiapane on his wings.
Tyler Toffoli has since taken on the role of right wing on this line, and although his production may have cooled down as of late, I am not worried. He is a great scoring option to be alongside Mangiapane, and has shown that he can provide some very valuable depth to this roster earlier in the season.
Third line at training camp:
|Dillon Dube||Mikael Backlund||Tyler Pitlick|
Third line at end of season:
|Dillon Dube||Calle Jarnkrok||Blake Coleman|
This is the line that I believe really shows how much more depth the Flames got during the year. Having Coleman on your third line is a wonderful problem to have. On top of this, though he has not scored on the Flames yet, Calle Jarnkrok has shown to be a very serviceable third line centre for this team. He has done everything well, I just believe he has been snakebitten when it comes to goals.
Jarnkrok and Coleman are both defensively responsible, while Dillon Dube has really elevated his game recently, generating eight goals in his last ten games. If he is able to continue this play in the playoffs, there are not many third lines on teams that will be able to compete with this one. Though Tyler Pitlick on the Flames did not work out, we now have Toffoli because of it. I think this worked out for the Flames quite well.
Fourth line at training camp:
|Milan Lucic||Brad Richardson||Trevor Lewis|
Fourth line at end of season:
|Milan Lucic||Trevor Lewis||Brett Ritchie|
This line has not changed much from training camp. Despite this, the emergence of Adam Ruzicka and acquiring Ryan Carpenter provides some valuable security for the team after losing Brad Richardson on waivers. Ruzicka has shown that he can keep up and play well in a fourth line role on the Flames, and Lewis has proved that as well, as he has been a regular on this line.
Lucic on the other hand, has been a liability during the regular season in my opinion. Despite this, playoff hockey is completely different than regular season hockey. Can Lucic’s heavy play and presence help elevate this line and the roster as a whole? Will it limit him from taking unnecessary penalties? I sure hope so.
It’s no secret that Brett Ritchie has struggled to put points up this season, but that also isn’t his role on this team. Worst comes to worst, the Flames have more than enough depth to move some pieces around on this line if things don’t work out. Back in September, I wanted Pelletier and Phillips to be on the wings. It was very optimistic of me, but they dominated in the AHL this year. So although we didn’t see them this year on the fourth line, it may happen even as soon as next year.
First pairing at training camp:
|Noah Hanifin||Chris Tanev|
First pairing at end of season:
|Noah Hanifin||Rasmus Andersson|
The pairing of Noahan Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson has literally been one of the best pairings in the NHL. What an incredible bounce back season from Andersson, and what a step up in play Hanifin has shown. Hanifin finished the year with 48 points while Andersson has finished with 50 points. This is a top pairing in the NHL. Both have been reliable all year and I am very excited to see what they can do in the playoffs.
Second pairing at training camp:
|Nikita Zadorov||Rasmus Andersson|
Second pairing at end of sesason:
|Oliver Kylington||Chris Tanev|
I honestly don’t think it is possible to put into words not only how impressive Oliver Kylington has been this season, but also how much Chris Tanev elevated Kylington’s game. This was also such a great pairing for the Flames.
It is such a treat to have an incredibly mobile and shifty defenceman with offensive instincts paired with one of the best defensive defenceman in the league. Back in Septemeber I advocated to give Kylington a chance on the Flames roster as I thought it was overdue. Did I think he would end up being one of the most important defenceman on this team and serve in the top-four? Not in my wildest dreams. This pairing will cause problems for teams in the playoffs.
Third pairing at training camp:
|Juuso Valimaki||Erik Gudbranson|
Third pairing at end of season:
|Nikita Zadorov||Erik Gudbranson|
To say that I was wrong about Erik Gudbranson would be an understatement.
What a season from Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov. They proved to not only Flames fans, but to the whole league that they can be valuable defenceman. They were an incredible pair and were very tough to play against. The two are made for playoff hockey when it comes to there size and style of play.
They will be very valuable to this team if they are to make a run. Though Juuso Valimaki not being a regular on the roster was unexpected and even disappointing, hopefully his time in the minors and playing with increased minutes proves to be helpful for his overall development. I am not ready to write him off yet.
The Flames got very deep, very fast
Looking at the change in this roster from the start of training camp to now is really eye-opening. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Flames look like a complete team with no glaring holes in its roster. They are arguably one of, if not the most complete team in this year’s playoffs.
Though Flames fans have been hurt too many times, the 2022 playoffs should be looked at with optimism. The Flames have showed all year that they are a contender, and now, they have the depth, coach, and confidence to prove it.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire