Friends, barring the maelstrom of unpleasantness that is 2020 somehow getting worse – leave us alone, murder hornets – the Stanley Cup playoffs will begin sometime this summer. In the interest of sheer curiosity, we decided to dig into what the Calgary Flames’ lineup could look like when hockey returns in July or August.
The de facto top line for the Flames at the stoppage was Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm. With Monahan’s boosted physicality this season, the line seems ideally suited for some heavy lifting in the playoffs. If nothing else, this trio puts the three best offensive players on the club together – and isn’t that the whole point of a top line?
The second line, the heavy lifting trio in terms of match-ups, is Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. Mangiapane has speed and the ability to create offense at even strength. Backlund is a great two-way player. Tkachuk is just a pain to play against. Backlund was the team’s hottest player before the pause and keeping him with familiar linemates makes tons of sense.
The most consistent line for the Flames this season, in terms of bringing strong minutes every night, has been Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube. Put together when Dube was recalled on a road trip in November, the grouping has revitalized Lucic and been a constant thorn in the side of the opposition. Maybe not as skilled as the top two lines, but this trio brings pace and physicality.
The fourth line is a bit of a challenge, and somewhat of a “Well, these are the guys who are left over!” grouping. We have Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski and Tobias Rieder or Zac Rinaldo, likely depending on the style of game. Rieder plays with pace. Rinaldo plays with physicality. Both are replacement level players.
The current NHL roster has just two right shot forwards: Lindholm and Ryan.
The top defensive pair is ageless unicorn Mark Giordano with his usual partner TJ Brodie. Giordano could also play with Rasmus Andersson, but that would led to questions about the best place for Brodie and potentially unbalance the pairings down the rotation.
Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic are the likely second pair. Hanifin can also fit with Andersson, but then there’s the question of Hamonic – he and Brodie as a pairing can be a bit chaotic – and for stability’s sake keeping them together is arguably for the best.
The third pairing is the “here’s who’s left!” pairing, likely featuring Erik Gustafsson and Rasmus Andersson. Gustafsson is a power play specialist while Andersson is a reliable two-way defender who, as noted, can play with basically anybody on the defensive roster. (Gustafsson’s PP prowess gets him the nod over Derek Forbort, who is more limited offensively.)
(If you absolutely refused to put Giordano with Brodie, then the next-best sextet is likely Giordano-Andersson, Hanifin-Hamonic and Gustafsson-Brodie.)
The extra defenders will likely be Forbort, Oliver Kylington, Michael Stone and Juuso Valimaki.
The defensive group has three right shots: Hamonic, Andersson and Stone.
In goal, it’s a coin toss between David Rittich and Cam Talbot for Game 1 starter. Talbot is older, more experienced and was better down the stretch. Rittich has been the team’s top goalie for the past two seasons and is the only one of the duo signed for 2020-21. Rittich has a better body of work in 2019-20, but Talbot was better recently. Either choice is defensible, and it seems likely that both will get starts against Winnipeg.