Well gang, we have finally reached August. Hockey news is crawling along at an exceedingly slow pace, as transactions came to a screeching halt following July 1st, with some signings of entry-level deals, little free agent deals here and there and the Derick Brassard-Mika Zibanejad trade being the only deal of consequence since then. For followers of the Flames, we still await the signings of two pretty significant players, in Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Tyler Wotherspoon and Freddie Hamilton also remain without contracts, likely in limbo until the dominoes fall with Monahan and Gaudreau's eventual contracts. There is nothing to suggest that 13 and 23 will not sign, it is just a matter of when, how much and how long.
On October 12 the Flames will head to Edmonton on the opening night of the season to face the Oilers in their brand new arena. Both teams have made some significant changes this offseason, so it is bound to be an intriguing and exciting match up to start the season. While the Flames have some contract formalities to go through before the season gets under way, the roster is essentially set, so let's take a look at how the forward lines could be structured on opening night.
October 12, 2016 Forward Lines Projection
Extras: F. Hamilton, Hathaway
Line 1: Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland
This is how I would like to see the forward groupings on the first night of the season. On the first line, we have newly paid Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau driving the offense on the top-line once more. While it would not be surprising in the slightest to see Troy Brouwer placed on the right side, I would really like to see Ferland have a shot at it. Ferland was incredibly unlucky last year, scoring on an unbelievably low 3.3% of his shots this past season. Unless Ferland has befallen some horrible curse, that luck is bound to change this upcoming season. While Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland did not have much luck on the score sheet together last season, they posted dominant possession stats and it would be very worthwhile to give this group another shot, starting opening night.
Line 2: Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik
On the second line, I have Matt Tkachuk on the left side of Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. Backlund and Frolik are a terrific 2-way pairing that can aid any player placed with them. What better place to put your 18-year-old top prospect than alongside these guys. It worked quite well for Sam Bennett in his period with Backlund and Frolik this past season. While I have written earlier that in the long-term Bennett and Tkachuk could be a match made in heaven, it makes most sense to put Tkachuk in a place he can succeed to start his NHL career and putting him with Backlund and Frolik seems like the best place to do that. It is up to Tkachuk whether he can do enough at the start of the season to cement his place in the lineup for the entire year rather than go back to junior, but I would be quite surprised if he was not with the team for opening night.
Line 3: Shinkaruk-Bennett-Brouwer
The third line is going to receive sheltered minutes compared to the top two lines, which could provide the opportunity for whoever plays there to thrive. Sam Bennett is a lock to be the centre of this line, while I believe that Troy Brouwer would be a good fit for the right side of him unless Gulutzan chooses for Brouwer to go on the top-line with Monahan and Gaudreau (in that case, switch out Brouwer for Ferland here). The Flames have left the opportunity for jobs to be won by some of the younger forward prospects this year and I think that Hunter Shinkaruk has a great opportunity to be on the left-wing of this line. While smaller than his proposed line mates, we saw in his brief stint last season that Shinkaruk is willing to go to the areas necessary to score goals, a trait shared with Bennett and Brouwer. Shinkaruk is a player that needs to provide offense to contribute in the NHL and playing with Sam Bennett gives both players a great opportunity to succeed.
Line 4: Bouma-Stajan-Chiasson
The fourth line is where the debate could be hotly contested for the Flames, as there are several players in the organization that could end up on this line opening night. For me, Bouma-Stajan-Chiasson is how my fourth line would look opening night. Lance Bouma had a terrible season last year, but he should be able to rebound somewhat while playing in a role that he is best suited for, on the fourth line. The Flames still have him under contract for 2 years, plus they need him to play enough games in order to fulfill requirements of the expansion draft. Matt Stajan is in the line-up for essentially the same reason as Bouma, unfortunately he has slowed down but he can still help in a limited role and they have him signed for this season and the following one at just over 3 million dollars a season. The right-wing spot on this line is where things get most interesting, as Alex Chiasson, Freddie Hamilton, Garnet Hathaway and Linden Vey all have a strong opportunity to earn this spot. I am giving the edge to Chiasson as he possesses the highest offensive upside and the Flames went out of their way to acquire him this summer, so I believe they will want to give him a shot. Really any of the players listed above could have a place on this line with a strong training camp.
The Extras: F. Hamilton, Hathaway
My extras in the forward position are Freddie Hamilton and Garnet Hathaway. These are both older prospects at the age of 24, with a bit of NHL experience, and limited offensive upside but the ability to contribute throughout the lineup when given playing time. Linden Vey seems like a good bet to start in the AHL to provide some offensive help with all the Flames young prospects, and be a call-up when injuries occur at the NHL level.
You may have noticed that my line-up is lacking Brandon Bollig. I respect the guy and what he does bring to the organization, but if the Flames are trying to ice the best team possible, I see no place at all for him in the line-up. Every forward I have with the Flames on the opening night line-up brings more to the table in various regards, I just do not see how a logical and justifiable case can be made for him to be in the line-up over any of the other players. I think Bollig would be a great asset for a very young Stockton team, providing veteran leadership of what it takes to be a pro from a Stanley Cup winner. It will be interesting to see what happens in regards to this by opening night.
In the NHL, things are constantly in flux, ever changing. This is the forward line-up I think would be most exciting and offer the Flames the best chance of success on opening night. Do I expect it to pan out this way? I think the overall structure will resemble this, but I would be surprised to see this exact line up. Who knows what they do with Tkachuk. Will Shinkaruk make the team? Is Brouwer on the first line? Will Brandon Bollig be waived, or is he up with the team all year? It will be intriguing to see how it all plays out in the end.
Stay tuned for my projection of the defense and goaltending on opening night.
Please feel free to share your ideal opening night line-up for the Flames!