Grading the Flames forwards at the midway mark
The Calgary Flames are about to embark on a challenging second half of a season that seems like it should be three-quarters complete by now. It’s time for some quick grades and we’ll start with the forwards. Spoiler: there’s a reason the Flames are active on the NHL trade market.
As always, grades are subjective. But these are weighted by offensive numbers, defensive responsibility, underlying numbers and five-on-five play – with things like special teams and off-ice intangibles tossed in for good measure.
Johnny Gaudreau: A+
By the numbers: 42 games, 18 goals, 36 assists, 54 points, plus-30
Gaudreau was rightfully the Calgary Flames’ all-star and has been his team’s best player more often than not. Known as a playmaker, he still has 18 goals through the first half of the season and is on pace for his first 100-point season. Not a bad time to do it as an impending UFA. He’s going to cash in, whether it’s here or somewhere else. His offence has been perfection but it’s his overall game that has made him a Hart Trophy darkhorse. (No, really, people are talking about it).
Matthew Tkachuk: A
By the numbers: 42 games, 20 goals, 25 assists, 45 points, plus-24
Tkachuk is showing he’s captain material. It helps that he’s part of one of the best first lines in the league. Or is the line that good because Tkachuk is on it? On pace for a killer year in the last year of his current contract, Tkachuk is going to cash in. On top of his intense forecheck and knack for scoring goals with a wow factor, he’s underrated as a playmaker and doesn’t rely solely on powerplay stats. He could have been at the all-star game along with Gaudreau.
Elias Lindholm: A
By the numbers: 42 games, 15 goals, 22 assists, 37 points, plus-29
As good as Gaudreau has been as a 200-foot forward, Lindholm is the ultimate two-way player. He doesn’t sacrifice much offence, either, although his numbers aren’t nearly as flashy as his other two linemates. It’s his positioning and responsibility that allows Gaudreau and Tkachuk to take a few more liberties and his ability in the faceoff circles helps drive the line’s impressive possession metrics.
Andrew Mangiapane: B+
By the numbers: 42 games, 20 goals, seven assists, 27 points, plus-7
It’s tough giving the team’s leading goal scorer anything less than an ‘A’ but Mangiapane’s consistency is what keeps him from that next-level grading. With a heavy home schedule in the second half, his home-ice scoring is bound to rise to more closely match his success on the road but the anomaly has been an interesting one. He’s a ferocious forechecker and is a key to the team’s on-ice energy.
Blake Coleman: B
By the numbers: 10 goals, eight assists, 18 points in 41 games, plus-5
If the Calgary Flames secondary scorers weren’t so streaky, there wouldn’t be as much chatter about who to target on the NHL trade block. Coleman has been an important part of his new team’s success as a detail-oriented forward who can be relied on to do the right thing with and without the puck. His scoring has come on of late, too, and he looks like he could be a huge piece of the playoff picture down the stretch.
Mikael Backlund: B-
By the numbers: 42 games, six goals, nine assists, 15 points, plus-4
A lot of people will jump on this one and demand a lower grade, but if Backlund was your third-line centre, this could be a championship team. (Calling Claude Giroux!). Backlund is still a really strong shutdown pivot and he drives possession even though he’s not been big on the finishing this season. He’s a terrific penalty killer and shows flashes of just how talented he still is offensively on occasion. If he showed that a little more often, he’d be more appreciated.
Milan Lucic: B-
By the numbers: 42 games, nine goals, seven assists, 16 points, minus-4
This grade might be a little high if you’re looking only at the numbers, but Lucic is a critical piece of the leadership group and keeping the Calgary Flames accountable. His offensive numbers have been surprisingly good, too, and that’s important for a team that is so top-line reliant for scoring punch. His physical play helps set the tone for some of his teammates and so this grade is on the curve based on what most expected of him this season. Thanks, Edmonton, for the James Neal trade.
Sean Monahan: C+
By the numbers: 7 goals, 12 assists, 19 points in 42 games, minus-13
To understand what Sean Monahan is now, you have to forget what the Calgary Flames centre once was. He’s no longer the top-line scoring machine. His 30-goal days are behind him and it’s too bad injuries cost him that half step. Skating was never his strongest skill and deficit is now too much to overcome at five-on-five. His saving grace is the extra room he is allowed on the powerplay. He still has a knack for the net, he just excels on the man advantage – and head coach Darryl Sutter continues to give him time there as a bit of a powerplay specialist.
Adam Ruzicka: C+
By the numbers: 11 games, two goals, two assists, four points, plus-2
There is a lot to like about Ruzicka’s potential given how he’s played in a smattering of games (a half-dozen so far). Sutter has talked about him having all the tools he needs to be successful, and it feels like a matter of time before he cements himself as a fourth-line centre who can take advantage of some mismatches and provide some bonus offence.
Trevor Lewis: C
By the numbers: 42 games, four goals, five assists, nine points, minus-3
Aside from the Lucic bump, we don’t grade people on their locker-room effect – especially when it’s something we can’t actually witness. Lewis’ numbers are sub-par in every area, whether you’re looking at the traditional or advanced. Compared to most of his teammates, his possession numbers are appalling. I guess his offence is OK, and he’s part of the second penalty kill unit, but his grade only jumps if you start adding more value to those ‘intangibles’ we talked about.
Dillon Dube: C-
By the numbers: 42 games, four goals, seven assists, 11 points, minus-11
If anyone feels like they’re not living up to their immense potential, it’s Dube this year. We expected big things from him and Mangiapane but he hasn’t been able to take that next step. The shift to centre (at times) hasn’t helped him re-discover his confidence but Dube does have those moments where he looks like he could be a solid top-six talent. Unfortunately, he also has games where he’s as noticeable as Tyler Pitlick (more on him later).
Brett Ritchie: C-
By the numbers: 21 games, zero goals, zero assists, zero points, minus-5
Not sure how it’s possible but Ritchie is a bit of a possession darling for the Calgary Flames. He might be the most hated forward among the fanbase, if only because he constantly finds himself in the top nine rotation and has absolutely nothing to show for it offensively. No points. The only forward with a regular shift who has been skunked so far. But his expected goals for is 57% and it must be tied to what the coaching staff sees in him.
Brad Richardson: C-
By the numbers: 24 games, two goals, two assists, four points, minus-1
Again, it might seem like we’re picking on the bottom six rotation because of their poor offensive numbers. But the truth here is Richardson was set back by injury and has really been supplanted by Ruzicka as the fourth-line centre. And his advanced stats are stuck in the stone age. He contributes honest play in his own end and not much else.
Tyler Pitlick: F
By the numbers: 25 games, zero goals, two assists, two points, minus-5
Skipping the D grades and going right to the F. Maybe it’s the Michael Bunting effect but Pitlick came to Calgary out of Arizona with the expectation of some energy and two-way play that would include at least a little offence. He slotted in on the second line initially but it didn’t take long for him to be relegated to the bench. Injury has hurt his chances but he hasn’t done anything with the opportunities he has been given.