The NHL preseason is almost over, and we are so close to the start of the regular season. During the preseason, we have seen the Calgary Flames tinker with line combinations to try and find some chemistry. We still don’t know 100% what the lines will be and how they will be deployed, but we do have an idea. Let’s assess what the Flames will probably go with for their opening night roster, and later on, some potential line optimizations.
The Flames’ most plausible lineup
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Elias Lindholm||Tyler Toffoli|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Nazem Kadri||Dillon Dube|
|Radim Zohorna||Mikael Backlund||Blake Coleman|
|Milan Lucic||Kevin Rooney||Trevor Lewis|
|Noah Hanifin||Rasmus Andersson|
|MacKenzie Weegar||Chris Tanev|
|Michael Stone||Nikita Zadorov|
Though there is still some uncertainty in the bottom-six, it looks like Sutter will most likely roll with this lineup during the season.
Forward Line 1: This line is going to be lethal and I am super excited to see how this turns out. Toffoli had the seventh most goals in the league just two years ago. Now that he has one of, if not the best passer in the league in Jonathan Huberdeau, and Elias Lindholm as his centre, do we see Toffoli get back to his peak goal scoring?
It is certainly possible. However, it is not out of the question to have Mangiapane in Toffoli’s spot instead, which just might happen as the season rolls along. One thing is certain though, this line will be getting lots of points.
Forward Line 2: Wow this line is going to be an absolute pain to play against. They have shown some great chemistry during the preseason, and having Dube elevated to the second line would really increase their ability to play with speed and pressure their opposition in the offensive zone.
They have the potential to be strong at both ends of the ice. Also, Mangiapane is going to thrive on this line with Kadri as his centre. Mangipane already scored 35 goals last year, but look for him to increase his scoring to levels we have never seen from him before.
Forward Line 3: This line is going to be defence-first with the secondary ability to contribute offensively. Backlund has been the Flames’ shut down centreman for what feels like a million years, and rightfully so. Now with Blake Coleman who is also strong on defence, and a 6’6″ 220 pound man in Radum Zohorna who plays with some finesse, this third line has lots of promise.
Forward Line 4: “Now we got problems.” Listen, Kevin Rooney has had a pretty good camp, and I do think he should make the team. However, I really don’t think this is a fourth line that will be beneficial in the long-term. It’s not bad, it’s certainly not great, it’s just… fine.
I can see teams taking advantage of the weaknesses of this fourth line, and if Sutter decides to roll all four lines like he has before, it could bite the Flames. However, I have been wrong before in this exact same post last year, so I am willing to have an open mind.
Defence Pairing 1: One of the best pairings in the NHL from last year looks to build off their success. Spoiler alert: I say they do it. Andersson set a career-high in points last year, and Hanifin was only two points behind him. On top of that, both played very well in their own end. Why try and fix what isn’t broken?
Defence Pairing 2: It is time for MacKenzie Weegar to officially pop off. He is already the Flames new number 1 defenceman, but now that he is with Tanev, he is going to see a big jump in production. It’s almost a guarantee.
We saw it with Hanifin, and then Kylington last year, whoever plays with Tanev becomes the best version of themselves. Weegar will also finally be seeing power play time—which didn’t happen in Florida. This has the potential to be one of the best pairings in the league.
Defence Pairing 3: It’s important to note that Michael Stone is just going to subbing in Oliver Kylington’s spot until he returns. This pairing is where there is some uncertainty. Zadorov has his positive impacts for sure, however penalties were still an issue last year.
If signed to a contract, will Stone be able to cover for some of the lapses that are made? Once Kylington returns, will he be able to add more discipline to his game to counter the penalities that Zadorov takes? I am not super worried about this pairing, but the risk is there.
Optimizing the Flames lineup
Honestly, not much should change. I really don’t mind the lineup as it is, however there are some things that I hope are explored:
I would really like to see Mangiapane get an audition on the top line as I believe his pace of play and his goal scoring ability would do wonders for the top line. Year after year, we have seen Mangiapane take his game to the next level. After scoring 35 goals while not even being on the best line on the team, why not give him top line responsibility?
Mangiapane makes every single line he plays on better. Don’t get me wrong, Toffoli is not a bad choice—in fact, he might just be the correct choice—but I do think giving Mangiapane a shot on the top line is worth it.
Also, I know Jakob Pelletier didn’t have an amazing camp, but it wasn’t bad. Does he deserve a spot after his training camp, well maybe not. But, from what we saw from his play in the AHL last year, and knowing his two-way play, I really think he needs a longer look on the Flames roster at some point this season.
Now lets move on to a player who had a great camp and still didn’t make the roster: Matthew Phillips. The Calgary-born winger had a very impressive showing and truly looked like he belonged in the league.
Despite the play, he was sent down to the AHL, and fans were terrified he would get claimed on waivers. Some may say there isn’t space for him on the roster. To that I say, I don’t care, you have to make space. He has the talent, and it is long overdue for Phillips to get the opportunity to be an NHL regular.
Time to contend
Oddly enough, I feel a lot more comfortable and optimistic about this season’s roster and lineups than I did last year. Is it me riding the high of the regular season success the Flames had last year? Am I finally trusting the decisions that were made after being incredibly wrong when I expressed my concerns last year?
Or, are the Flames actually going to be that good? Honestly, it’s probably a mix of all three, but I do think this year is going to be one to remember for this team. It’s a new look Flames, but they have the same goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire