An idea that Bill Peters has been toying with all summer came up again on Tuesday, which is close enough to training camp to assume that Peters is likely going to try it out.
Talked about since the Calgary Flames lost in the first round is the idea of moving Elias Lindholm off the top line to play centre, presumably of the second line.
It's also become pretty clear (since the #Flames were bounced out of the 2019 playoffs and again today) that Peters is interested in playing Lindholm at centre this season.
— Kristen Anderson (@KdotAnderson) September 3, 2019
At first glance, you can see where Peters is coming from. He played Lindholm at centre during his time in Carolina, and was keen on the Swede taking face-offs even when we played alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. He’s won nearly 55% of all the draws he’s taken over the last three seasons (2,365 in total) and has been trusted to take more and more draws every season since 2015-16.
However, as far as the idea of Lindholm returning to play centre next season, I believe that Ariana Grande put it best:
thank u, next.
Who would replace Lindholm?
The biggest issue with Lindholm leaving the top line has nothing to do with Lindholm himself. It’s that he’s clearly the best fit on that line since 2014-15 Jiri Hudler. Since the Flames are seemingly allergic to players with a right-handed shot, it’s been shoehorning in a lot of players on their off-wing who can keep up Calgary’s most offensive-minded duo. Some could keep up for periods, like Hudler and Micheal Ferland. Most could not.
Originally, it was supposed to be James Neal last season who would ride shotgun with Monahan and Gaudreau. He’s not an even an option to replace Lindholm now. So who from the Flames gets that shot?
Is Milan Lucic, the man that Calgary replaced Neal with? The obvious answer should be no. Peters has indicated up to now that Lucic will see bottom six duties and limited time on PP2 as a presence in front of the net, which shows that they understand how to utilize Lucic best. Not even Connor McDavid was able to turn Lucic into an offensive dynamo. Granted, Lucic would have an easier time keeping up with literally any other skater, but that doesn’t mean that Calgary wants their top scoring threats to also play babysitter.
Sam Bennett has gotten several chances to play in the top six, but hasn’t really put the consistency together to stick there. For every shift he has like the majority of the ones played in the brief 2019 playoff run, he has another two shifts where he seemingly cannot buy a goal. He seems to be settling nicely into his role as a third liner with tenacity who can keep up when needed. Why try and force him to keep playing a role he can’t?
I don’t even think it’s worth discussing Mark Jankowski, who is the centreman most likely pushed to winger should Lindholm take one of the four spots down the middle.
Admittedly, the most tantalizing option is also Calgary’s only right-shooting winger: Austin Czarnik. He, like Bennett, has shown flashes of great hockey that make him worth considering. However, those flashes are much less frequent, and he spent most of last season fighting to even crack the lineup. Hell, he might even start the season down in the American Hockey League as a cap casualty.
Why gamble on someone maybe replacing Lindholm when we have enough question marks heading into the season?
Do the Flames even need to use Lindholm at 2C?
Love him (correct) or hate him (obviously incorrect), Mikael Backlund has been in the 2C position for years now in Calgary. It would be a luxury to have him at 3C, but he fills his current role admirably. After that, Jankowski is the 3C who should be 4C, and Derek Ryan as the inverse.
Last season, Lindholm had the highest 5v5 RelCF% of those four, although only Jankowski had poor numbers. However, if we look back the past few years (where Lindholm played centre) we can see that he didn’t drive play as strong as Ryan or Backlund, nor did he drive play as well as he did as a winger this season.
|PLAYER||2018-19 5v5 RelCF%||2017-18 5v5 RelCF%||2016-17 5v5 RelCF%|
On top of that, Calgary was third overall last season in face-off wins (an area that Peters prioritizes) with 52.4%. They aren’t hurting, and Lindholm took more face-offs last season than anyone named Backlund. It’s not like keeping him on the wing is hurting Calgary’s chances of starting the play with the puck.
Sure, one takeaway from this is that bumping Jankowski and shuffling everyone down the lineup would only make the centre depth of the Flames that much stronger. That’s probably why this idea keeps getting circulated.
However, with Tkachuk’s (and even Mangiapane’s) contracts looming large over the Flames and Frolik being potentially squeezed out of Calgary’s plans, there is only a small number of ready-to-go wingers left for Calgary with the skill to play in the top six. Lindholm as the top right wing offers a lot more value to the club at the present moment.
Perhaps if Jankowski was traded for a right wing with upside would moving Lindholm to centre make sense. However, even when Jankowski nearly got traded, it was for another centre, so that seems unlikely.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken
Even when everyone who is slated to play for the Flames has a contract and will take the ice, Lindholm still makes the most sense as one of Calgary’s three best wingers to be playing on the wing.
Sure, he could likely end up being one of Calgary’s three best centres, but they only need four of those, and have the depth in the minors to account for any bumps during the season. The situation isn’t particularly pretty for Calgary’s top eight wingers, and if the option is to plumb the depths of Stockton or just take the already-proven winger back, I know which idea sounds a lot better.