After Tyler Toffoli‘s opening 15 games with the Calgary Flames, it started to become clear that his lack of proper conditioning was catching up to him. On December 11, 2021, it was announced that Toffoli was to be shut down for weeks as a result of needing hand surgery, months prior to the deadline trade to Calgary. The injury was however reportedly sustained on December 4.
The pace of play increased on the Flames when he was brought back under a Darryl Sutter system, making it even more abundant that he was a step behind the game.
However, Toffoli is a high-end sniper and elite finisher. Under a full summer with Sutter’s conditioning and training, he should round back into form in 2022–23. This is especially important if he earns the top line role most expect him to receive come the season opener on October 13.
Top-end scoring with Toffoli
The fact is that Toffoli is still a guy who could give you 25–30+ goals in the right situation. By the looks of it, the Flames might not add but rather internally promote. This shifts the players in their top-nine, and the door opens up quite a bit. For a guy like Toffoli, a chance to slot right next to Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm is not out of the question.
It is fair to assume that the question that’s currently on most Flames fans’ minds is how does the club replicate what Johnny Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk were able to do as a top line trio last season? They were simply the league’s best top line.
It’s going to depend a lot on what philosophy the club wants to apply. This is why the Nazem Kadri signing has now given the club a tremendous amount of flexibility in line combinations. They can now spread the wealth throughout the top-nine rather than being reliant on a top-heavy unit.
Spreading out the lines
So how should this wealth get spread? I think it depends on if you’re trying to replicate the Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk model or not. If the team’s philosophical goal is to aim for that return in maintaining the aspect of having a top-heavy first line, Huberdeau-Lindholm-Mangiapane would be the way to go.
If there is anyone who could grow into what Tkachuk brought within his two-way game, it would be Andrew Mangiapane. I don’t think there is any fan who wouldn’t want to see those three suit up together.
However, in the case of Toffoli, it seems clear that to get the most out of him, you have to play him with guys who can get him the puck. Go back to February 15 at home versus the Columbus Blue Jackets and take a look at his very first career goal as a Flame, there are two factors that stand out.
Firstly, only a guy like Gaudreau could’ve dished him that pass and secondly, only a guy who possesses Toffoli’s scoring calibre could finish it. Who’s feeding him that puck next season? Is it going to be Dillon Dube? Is it going to be Mikael Backlund? With all due respect, neither of those guys would fit that bill.
For years the third line has been absolute mishmash in terms of finding a cohesive and effectively well-rounded collective unit. Running with a deployment of Huberdeau-Lindholm-Toffoli and Mangiapane-Kadri-Coleman as the top-six would make this team absolutely brutal to play against.
Again, having Kadri as an option now down the middle, gives you more leeway. The Flames can sample the philosophy of what it could look like to have a pure scoring top line and a pain in the rear two-way second line. One line wreaks havoc in the offensive zone. The other excels and out-grinds any matched up opposition on both ends of the ice.
Toffoli can thrive under the right conditions
Toffoli’s career-high in goals is 31, and his registered career-high in points is 58. It is not unrealistic for him to hit numbers around that ballpark again—especially with a full season next to Huberdeau and Lindholm.
Even when it was blatantly clear that Toffoli wasn’t playing at his optimal level down the stretch and into this past year’s playoffs, he still did an excellent job in maintaining a high level of generating scoring chances. His relentlessness in the offensive zone sadly didn’t translate into better scoring luck but his tenacity was still there.
It should be also of note that Toffoli placed just behind Blake Coleman in terms of shot generation in 2021–22. Coleman recorded a rate of 11.52 shots per 60 minutes last season to lead the Flames. Toffoli placed just behind him at a rate of 10.06 shots per 60.
It’s clear that to get the most out of Toffoli, the Flames have to play him inside the top-six. It’s realistically not going to do him nor the team any good for him to be stapled in a limited role. He shouldn’t line up with players who can’t drive the bus for themselves and or create high-danger chances for. Placing him next to the guy who quite literally just broke the NHL single-season assist record by a left winger, could effectively utilize Toffoli’s strengths to the highest potential though.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire