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On the Calgary Flames' projected opening night lineup

January 13, 2021, 11:08 AM ET [23 Comments]
Todd Cordell
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A few Calgary Flames thoughts on the eve of their season opener:

1) I really like the forward lines they seem to have landed on (at least to start the season). In particular, the top-6 makes a ton of sense. Matthew Tkachuk has shown he can play with anyone and, realistically speaking, is probably the most valuable player on the team. He deserves a shot on L1. I like Elias Lindholm getting a chance to play center, thus pushing Sean Monahan down the lineup, and Dillon Dube seems like an awesome complimentary piece for them. His speed, play in transition, and forechecking ability should come in handy.

2) Andrew Mangiapane seems like the perfect candidate to be playing with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. One issue with the big line last season was not enough pace, and not enough puck retrieval. Mangiapane will help out in both regards. He’ll provide a 2nd option through the neutral zone so teams can’t constantly attack Gaudreau/sit on top of him waiting for the Flames to force the puck his way. He is also a forechecking monster. He is going to recover a ton of pucks and win extra possessions for Gaudreau and Monahan. Their percentages were probably bound to positively regress a little bit this year, anyway, but I think Mangiapane’s presence could really help revive them.

3) The bottom-6 mostly looks good – I like that Josh Leivo is getting a shot on the 3rd line – but I do have a couple nitpicks there. I’d like to drop Lucic from the 3rd line to the 4th (move Sam Bennett to LW3) and replace Joakim Nordstrom with Dominik Simon, who offers a lot more; particularly with the puck. That B6 would look like this:

Bennett - Backlund - Leivo
Lucic - Ryan - Simon

Bennett has worked well with Backlund in the past – they own a ~54 CF% and ~53xGF% in ~475 minutes over the last three years – and Leivo offers some pop on the right side.

Then the 4th line offers a nice mix of physicality (Lucic), smarts (Ryan), and pace/forechecking (Simon). I know Ryan did not 'make' the Flames, but I think that could just be some cap juggling. I would not be surprised if he is in the lineup opening night.

But back to the lineup. I mostly like what Geoff Ward has done, but I think he is a couple tweaks away from the optimal forward combinations.

Hopefully it doesn’t take too long for him to get there.

4) I love Rasmus Andersson with Mark Giordano. This might be a hot take but I think he is the best pure defender on the roster. Playing him with Giordano on the matchup pairing would cause nightmares for the opposing team’s top line. Unfortunately, playing Rasmus with Giordano means the Flames’ 2nd unit would cause nightmares for me.

Noah Hanifin’s outputs don’t match the tools and he can be prone to making very poor decisions. Putting him with a vastly declining Chris Tanev, who offers little with the puck, is a scary thought. I think they’d spend a ton of time in the defensive zone, and Tanev constantly deferring to Hanifin to do all the heavy lifting with the puck seems like a good way to increase the frequency of the bone-headed decisions.

Whether it is flipping Tanev and Andersson, or moving up Juuso Valimaki (he has the skating/puck skills to do all the transition work) in place of Hanifin, I don’t think the 2nd pairing is going to last very long.

Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com

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