Calgary Flames

How the Calgary Flames could line up with Nazem Kadri

Hot Brad Summer continued last week with the Calgary Flames announcing another major addition to their roster: Nazem Kadri.

To fit Kadri onto the roster within the salary cap, the Flames traded their second longest tenured player, Sean Monahan, to the Montreal Canadiens. It has been a crazy summer for the Flames, as their roster has been completely overhauled. In addition to Kadri, the Flames have added Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, and Kevin Rooney. And on top of Monahan, the Flames have lost Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Erik Gudbranson, Calle Jarnkrok, and Ryan Carpenter.

Several players who were on the roster last year are also unsigned, including Michael Stone, Brett Ritchie, and restricted free agent Adam Ruzicka, who is a lock to sign another contract. Safe to say the Flames are going to look extremely different this season.

With the current roster, we can look at different lineup formations for the Flames. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to assume Ruzicka is not in the regular lineup, and instead all three of Lucic, Rooney, and Lewis are playing every single night. In actuality, Ruzicka should get plenty of playing time and help balance the lines accordingly.

While it remains to be seen whether the Flames are better or worse than their banner 2021–22 year, we are definitely in for a fun season. Now that the roster is pretty much solidified, let’s explore how the Flames’ forward lines could look with all their new players.

Scenario 1: Load up the top-six

Last year, the Flames were carried by their top line. It was the best line in the NHL and, unfortunately, Elias Lindholm is the only one left from that trio. The Flames could try to replicate this success. Their four best forwards are Huberdeau, Lindholm, Mangiapane, and Kadri. It’s very possible the Flames roll these four forwards on the top two lines. In doing so, they’d create the most lethal one-two offensive punch possible.

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
Mangiapane – Kadri – Coleman
Pelletier – Backlund – Dube
Lucic – Rooney – Lewis

In this scenario, the two best remaining wingers in Toffoli and Coleman slot in on those top two lines. The top line is exactly what everyone is penciling in as the starting combo, and a duo of Mangiapane and Kadri could do some serious damage. Coleman and Dube could swap as well, as a line of Mangiapane, Kadri, and Dube would be extremely nasty and an absolute nightmare to play against.

This third line allows Pelletier to have some insulation as a rookie alongside the ever dependable Backlund, and Dube joins as a speedy and gritty third. He adds some more finish and bite to that line.

The fourth line remains the same as is expected, and this won’t change in any of the scenarios. It’s probably safe to assume this trio is locked into that fourth line role, at least to start the season.

Scenario 2: Keep last year’s Backlund line together

Since the Flames’ second line last year was so dominant, it’s extremely plausible that they’ll keep that trio intact. With Backlund skating with Mangiapane and Coleman, the Flames know they’ll have a two-way beast of a line that is reliable and tested.

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Toffoli
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Pelletier – Kadri – Dube
Lucic – Rooney – Lewis

Kadri is a very underrated two-way player. He has put up extremely strong defensive possession results almost his entire career. Further, he can play both sides of the ice at a high level. In this scenario, Pelletier still gets insulation by playing with a defensively responsible centre. Better yet, he gets higher offensive exposure alongside Kadri. Dube adds speed and snarl to that line as well.

This scenario likely optimizes the Flames’ chances at having three dominant lines, with the fourth line merely existing as usual.

Scenario 3: Defence everywhere

In true Darryl Sutter fashion, there should be a scenario that allows every single line to be defensively dominant. Like the Flames did against the Oilers in their first matchup last season, Sutter may decide to lean into his reputation as a defence-first coach and ensure all four lines can play solid defence.

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Coleman
Mangiapane – Kadri – Dube
Pelletier – Backlund – Toffoli
Lucic – Rooney – Lewis

Having Coleman slot in on the top line balances out Huberdeau’s defensive gaps while maintaining his offensive punch. If Huberdeau is down low or late on the backcheck, Lindholm and Coleman can easily cover. The second line also has a nice balance of offence and defence while being horribly annoying to play against.

The third line has two very defensively responsible players to line up with the rookie Pelletier, and the fourth line can hold its own with Lucic and Lewis, both with strong defensive metrics for the bulk of their careers. The fourth line in all three scenarios so far won’t be relied upon for scoring, but at least their defensive play can still make an impact.

Scenario 4: Total balance

This is definitely a scenario I could see the Flames rolling out from time to time. With four players who can reliably drive their own lines, this setup creates a four-pronged attack that would cause serious matchup issues for every team in the league. If Huberdeau, Lindholm, Kadri, and Backlund all got to lead their own lines, all four lines could play 15 high impact minutes every single night. Ideally.

Mangiapane – Lindholm – Coleman
Huberdeau – Dube – Toffoli
Pelletier – Kadri – Lewis
Lucic – Backlund – Rooney

Truthfully, I have no idea how to make the wingers work for this combination. The top two lines work great, but then you have to saddle Kadri with Lewis and Pelletier, not exactly high quality line mates for a player who should have high quality line mates. And then, Backlund has to carry Lucic and Rooney which might just be a little too rude to do to Backlund.

If Ruzicka is in the lineup, that opens up a lot more options since he’s going to be an NHL centerman.

Mangiapane – Lindholm – Coleman
Huberdeau – Ruzicka – Toffoli
Pelletier – Kadri – Dube
Lucic – Backlund – Lewis

With Ruzicka in the lineup, it works a lot better. Dube slots in on Kadri’s wing to make things better on the third line, and Backlund get’s a better player in Lewis, also who’s a right shot.

It’s super intriguing to have four lines with a legit play driver, and I hope the Flames can find chemistry to make it work. I like this option with Ruzicka a lot.

Flexibility in the lineup

Most likely, the Flames will start the season with one of the first two lineups, or something very similar (like swapping out one player for Ruzicka). However, the Flames have gained this season something that they didn’t have in prior years: true flexibility in line combinations.

Regardless of how they lineup every game, this is going to be a super fun team to watch on the ice. It seems like they could use one more top-nine forward to get them out of some suboptimal combinations. Brad Treliving, if you’re reading this, you know what to do.

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