If the Calgary Flames start the season without any more significant additions or subtractions, what will the lines look like?
Training camp is just around the corner, and we’ll get to see what head coach Darryl Sutter has in mind. In the meantime, the possibilities with the addition of another top six centre in Nazem Kadri are intriguing.
Let’s take a look at a few options, using only players currently under contract – leaving out RFA Adam Ruzicka. Potential free agent additions like Evan Rodrigues or PTO considerations like Joe Thornton are also omitted.
Option 1: The Usual Suspects
Top line: Jonathan Huberdeau replaces Johnny Gaudreau on Elias Lindholm’s left flank. We saw what Lindholm did with Gaudreau’s setup skills last season as he cracked 40 goals for the first time. In this scenario, the Calgary Flames hope Tyler Toffoli can rediscover his scoring ways and fill the Matthew Tkachuk role on that top line.
Toffoli came in hot after the Flames acquired him before the trade deadline, so it makes sense he’d get first crack here. Especially since he’s the team’s only natural right-shot right-winger.
It’s unlikely this trio matches the more than 120 goals produced by the top line last season, but the hope is a more balanced lineup that doesn’t depend on the No. 1 unit.
Second line: Free agent signing Nazem Kadri drops into the middle of what was an effective unit in the playoffs, bumping Mikael Backlund. Coleman, Backlund and Mangiapane worked well together late in the season, but Kadri may be able to bring more offence out of Coleman and the trio could also be tasked with shutting down the other team’s top trio.
Third line: New blood will be needed if things remain the same this month, and Jakob Pelletier is the prospect most likely to make a jump. This third line has lots of scoring potential with Dillon Dube scoring 18 goals last season and Pelletier showing a lot of offensive skill in the AHL. Backlund is the perfect centre to keep young wingers in check defensively. As a third set, they could find some mismatches to exploit.
Fourth line: It’s unlikely this one changes much unless Ruzicka is signed and he or Kevin Rooney moves to the wing on days veterans Milan Lucic or Trevor Lewis earn spots in the press box.
Option 2: Rising Bread
Bottom line: Calgary Flames fans have longed to see Mangiapane get more playing time and there’s a chance he is the guy picked to play alongside last year’s Selke runner-up and the slick new 115-point winger.
The question here is which winger — Toffoli or Mangiapane — finds chemistry with a Huberdeau/Lindholm combination first.
Option 3: The New Guys
Bottom line: One subtle flip — this time centres — changes the look slightly again. Sutter has historically been a man finding pairs that work and then mixing up the third man when necessary, so could it be Kadri and Toffoli, Lindholm and Mangiapane, Backlund and Dube as the top-nine duets? Huberdeau, Coleman and Pelletier all add different elements to add to any of those. If there’s a weakness, it’s a lack of a setup man on the Lindholm line.
Option 4: Depth Perception
Bottom line: This one may look like dart throwing but Dube showed real promise in April last season and hacs the speed to play with a Huberdeau/Lindholm combo. The second and third lines here are more like 2a and 2b and the premise for this collation is to keep the Coleman-Backlund-Mangiapane trio together. They were the Calgary Flames’ best line in the playoffs this past spring. Both Kadri and Toffoli pride themselves on a 200-foot game, which suits the addition of a promising rookie.
Drop a note in the comments on which groupings you want to see come camp.