After a few failed experiments in 2017-18 to fill out the top line, the Calgary Flames need to find a permanent linemate for Gaudreau and Monahan.
The talk of the town is that the Calgary Flames need more depth at forward, and should consider parting with a key defenceman to get it. Whether or not such an exchange would actually happen remains to be seen. Because if there’s one thing we know about Brad Treliving, it’s that he doesn’t consult Twitter or the Calgary Sun when making trade decisions.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume it will happen. Rather than try and dissect the merits or viability of specific trades, perhaps it’s wise to consider what the Flames need in more general terms.
Just for context, here’s what we already know: Bill Peters has said he’s more of a pairing guy than a line guy when it comes to forwards, and intends to keep Gaudreau and Monahan together. We also know that a few wingers got to try their hand at playing on the top line with Johnny and Mony in 2017-18, all of whom fell short of expectations.
Two Options: Calgary’s Top Line
If you’re not moving Gaudreau and Monahan from their spots, and it sounds like Peters isn’t going to, then you really only have two options with the top line.
First, you could try to “balance it out.” After watching the frequent line juggles of last season, one could make the argument that the Flames need to trade a top-four D and acquire a right winger who can be locked into a first line role. Someone on a similar level to Gaudreau and Monahan, at least production-wise, to balance the top line.
And it may not be such an outlandish idea. Teams like the Vegas Knights, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, and Nashville Predators played their three best forwards on their top line. (Whether these trios were on the top line because they were the best, or were the best because they were on the top line, is a different discussion). In each case, those forwards ended the regular season with the same ballpark in stats like points or points-per-game.
The second option is to find a forward who does not put up the same numbers as Johnny and Mony, or at least hasn’t yet, but is reliable and hard-working. Someone who may not be a household name that increases jersey sales, but can keep up with Calgary’s two stars and finish the plays they create.
With the right chemistry, this arrangement can also work wonderfully. Look at teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals who have found success with this setup. Ask a non-fan about their top lines. Stamkos, Kucherov, and that other guy. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and what’s-his-face. A little exaggeration to make a larger point: Star pairings make their linemates better, even if said linemates aren’t stars themselves.
Is there any reason Gaudreau or Monahan would be the exception?
If Treliving and Peters lean towards option two, the next question becomes: Would the Flames even need to trade a blueliner to acquire someone? Or is such a player already on the Flames roster?
The Blasphemous Take: Learn from the Lightning
While it would be very nice to acquire another 0.8+ points-per-game forward to play alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, the Calgary Flames will not live and die on that acquisition, and would probably have to give up too much defensive talent (AKA Dougie Hamilton) to get it. Bill Peters is right to focus on solidifying the pairing, not refurbishing the line. A forward with a little less individual talent could do well on the first line right wing, provided the chemistry is there.
Consider for a moment Vladislav Namestnikov. Before getting traded to the Rangers, he found good chemistry with Kucherov and Stamkos. His point totals were roughly half of what his linemates produced, but that top line as a whole was successful night after night. He earned his place on that top line, despite the fact that Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point had better stats, by developing chemistry with Kuch and Stammer and by finishing plays.
The Flames don’t need another Gaudreau or Monahan. They need to find their Namestnikov.