CP Story: Third Line Woes

September 27th, 2017 | Posted in Commentary | By: D'Arcy McGrath

Every National Hockey League team has an off season to do list, a chicken scratch highlighting additions the team needs to make to take that next step.

Some teams are in need of a complete tear down.

Some clubs are an element or two away and are combing the bushes for that key addition to put them over the top.

One team is a brand new entry to the circuit, and will hit the ice with a roster full of new faces.

All clubs come up against a very real and immovable object in either a budget or the salary cap that forces them to make their decisions wisely.

When we last saw the Calgary Flames in a meaningful game they were picking up the pieces of a four game sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. The sweep wasn’t indicative of the play on the ice fore the most part, and certainly wasn’t a commentary on where the club sat in it’s evolution from door mat to one day contender, but it did highlight the need for change and additions in several key areas …

  1. Goaltending.
  2. A top 4 defenseman.
  3. A top nine forward to improve the third line.

The goaltending has been changed with a strong hope that the adjective will emerge as improved rather than just different. The team has rounded out it’s top four defensemen by airlifting Travis Hamonic in to help TJ Brodie return to the player he should be instead of having to play nurse maid to a myriad of partners.

Leaving only the third line and who to play with Sam Bennett as a nagging issue.

With training camp cuts to date this issue just isn’t going away, in fact it’s on rails heading towards what many fans have feared the most during the off season; a reunion with Troy Brouwer.

To be honest with you, it hasn’t been their fault.

This summer they attempted to bring in veteran Patrick Sharp to fill the void. He wouldn’t have been my choice, but it was certainly an attempt to upgrade the right side without expending assets.

There were rumours for months that they were talking to Jaromir Jagr, and since #68 isn’t here, we can only assume said rumours were false, that Jagr didn’t want to come to Calgary, or that his contract demands didn’t fit in the Flames salary structure.

Which turns us to internal options.

I’d assume the Flame’s brass was hoping against hope that one of Spencer Foo, Emile Poirier or Curtis Lazar would seize the position and take the onerous head ache away.

That didn’t happen. The first two have been cut and the third likely has deserved the same fate but has escaped do this his contract and fear of losing the asset.

Which leads us back to Troy Brouwer.

The silver lining in this one requires a stretch, but there is fitness and health in the positive side of things. Brouwer is down 8 pounds and “in the best shape of his life”, which can’t hurt at his age. Additionally he’s had 9 months to recover from the broken hand that seemed to send his season into the toilet last December.

So I get it. The kids have failed, Brouwer is the opening night option, and I can live with that.

But lets assume the experiment doesn’t work. What do the Flames do then?

Do they rely on two top lines and throw away the third line for the season? Or do they weaken the top two lines to some degree to spread the wealth and gain a more balanced scoring attack.

Scotty Bowman was always an advocate of pairs; two forwards that are tied at the hip with the other member of the line a plug and play option that can more around the roster.

The Flames in my estimation have five core forwards in Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund (for symbolism I’ll assign them the letter “C”). They have three above average support players in Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett (letter “S”) and then two depth players going in different directions in Micheal Ferland and Troy Brouwer (letter “D”).

Currently the roster is projected as …

C + C + D
C + C + S
S + S + D

The drop off is noticeable.

To stick with math and symbols the team needs to decide if a a dampening of the first two lines in exchange for an upgrade to the third line will equal <> offense this season.

If pairs are to be sought the obvious choices would be Monahan/Gaudreau, Backlund/Frolik and Tkachuk/Bennett, creating …

C + C + _
_ + C + S
C + S + _

And already the balance is staring to take shape.

If you reinsert Ferland in the top spot and Versteeg in the bottom you’re putting Brouwer with the two players that can help him the most, that is if his presence doesn’t hurt the 3M line to the point of ineffectiveness.

Or they can be really bold and insert a new symbol in “P” for prospect and give Mark Jankowski a go with Backlund and Frolik, you’ll notice Mark starts with a “M” as well.

Whatever they decide the paramount thing to me is Sam Bennett and his value come the playoffs if he is allowed to develop/grow on a line with quality players.

The regular season isn’t the best time to break up what works, but a 50 point Sam Bennett is worth the chaos to develop.

Altering Bennett from a “S” to a “C” could change the Flaming “C” into “C”ontenders.



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