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I have no doubt the Calgary Flames will try several different wingers on the right side of the top line over the course of the season – and they should – but I think it makes sense to use Elias Lindholm as the primary guy in that spot.
Beyond balancing the scoring – James Neal, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau rank 1, 2, and 3 on the roster in both 5v5 goals and 5v5 goals/60 over the last two seasons – putting Lindholm on the right side would also make life a lot easier for Monahan.
We all know he was playing through with wrist/hand injuries last season. I don't think anyone on the outside knew how bad it got, though.
Monahan shed some light on that in an interview with Scott Cruickshank of The Athletic
“Yeah, crazy,” Monahan said. “I’ve been dealing with the wrist for a lot of years now. It adds up. It looked like my wrist was literally a piece of rubber. One of the grossest things I’ve seen.”
And, as a centreman, there was no way it could heal. The joint took a battering, thanks, in no small part, to his participation in 1,407 draws (of which he somehow won more than half).
“When you take 2,000 faceoffs against strong men every year, it takes a toll on your hands. You go into the draw, you get chopped at least 10 to 12 times on that (bottom) wrist every game. Do that 82 times a year, it adds up.
“My grip strength in this hand was, like, 10 per cent of (the right) hand. So, basically, nothing.”
Monahan also noted he couldn't move two of his fingers and he needed to straighten them with his right hand each time in order to be able to put on his glove. Not ideal!
Obviously, off-season surgeries and a few months to heal will help but it's probably a good idea to limit the wear and tear his hands take a little bit.
One way the Flames could do that is by giving some of the many faceoffs Monahan takes – particularly on the right side – to Lindholm.
Lindholm has taken better than 2,300 faceoffs in his career and has won 52.7% of them. Over the last two years, that number has hovered around 55%. Suffice to say, he can handle himself between the dots and, again, splitting duties would prevent Monahan from taking as much of a beating. The latter is only 23 years old is a massive part of the team's future. Keeping him healthy is really important and this is a way they can help do it without negatively impacting the team.
One thing I'm really interested to see in camp is how the Flames shape their bottom-6. Last year they received almost no production from that group and secondary scoring was a massive problem as a result. Their off-season additions should help but one way to ensure last year doesn't repeat itself is by abandoning the traditional 4th line and dressing four units capable of scoring. They have the personnel to do it.
Gaudreau - Monahan - Lindholm
Tkachuk -Backlund - Neal
Bennett - Jankowski - Frolik
Mangiapane/Dube - Ryan - Czarnik
I understand physicality is part of the game, but I think the Flames would be a much better, and more dangerous, team dressing a lineup like that as opposed to filling out the bottom of the roster with the likes of Curtis Lazar, Garnet Hathaway, Logan Shaw, and Anthony Peluso. Those guys may work hard and play with an edge but they don't get results and that's what it is all about. Let's hope Bill Peters, Brad Treliving and co. build their roster accordingly.
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