Exploring Flames forward lines with the opening night roster set

Oct 2, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames right wing Matt Coronato (39) celebrates his goal with Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames right wing Matt Coronato (39) celebrates his goal with Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Calgary Flames have settled on their opening night roster of 22 players, consisting of 13 forwards, seven defencemen, and a pair of goalies. Last week, Matthew Wilson took a look at what ideal Flames forward lines could look like this season. Now that the roster is set and we’ve seen more recent practice lines, I’m revisiting the topic with some questions and suggestions to consider.

Matthew Wilson’s ideal Flames forward lines

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Sharangovich
Mangiapane – Kadri – Coronato
Ruzicka – Backlund – Dubé
Coleman – Schwindt/Zary- Duehr

While we won’t be seeing Matthew’s lineup on opening night due to the fact that Cole Schwindt and Connor Zary have been sent down to the Wranglers, we may see it eventually or something similar very soon.

Flames forward lines from practice on Monday, October 9

Via Pat Steinberg:

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Dubé
Sharangovich – Kadri – Coronato
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Hunt – Ruzicka – Duehr

I don’t love these lines. I understand the willingness to unite the trusted combination of 88-11-20, but there’s potential for Matt Coronato (who will wear 27 as a Flame, not his camp number 39) to be exposed playing on Nazem Kadri’s wing. Kadri is an offence-first centreman, while someone like Mikael Backlund might provide more 200-foot structure for the rookie Coronato (more on that below).

The most recent practice lineup throws Dillon Dubé into a high pressure situation: perform or be torn apart by the fanbase immediately. However, with the Lindholm-Huberdeau combo seeming to be a committed pair for Huska and Savard, Dubé does provide the left-handed pass option Huberdeau may need in at least one of his linemates.

With Kevin Rooney and Jakob Pelletier injured, and Zary, Schwindt, and Adam Klapka starting the season with the Wranglers, the 13th forward for the Flames will be just-acquired A.J. Greer (61 GP, 5 G, 7 A, 114 PIMs with the Bruins last season), leaving the Flames with unexpected options on the fourth line. If choosing among Hunt and Ruzicka for the middle slot, I like that responsibility going to the higher-ceiling player in Ruzicka.

UPDATE (Tuesday, October 10): Flames forward lines were adjusted slightly following the initial publication of this article. Newly acquired A.J. Greer slotted in on the fourth line in place of Dryden Hunt, who appears to be the 13th forward on opening night:

My Flames forward line combination suggestions

Flames forward lines – Combo 1

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Coronato
Sharangovich – Kadri – Dubé
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Hunt/Greer – Ruzicka – Duehr

Tweaking the practice lines ever so slightly by swapping Coronato and Dubé on the “top” two lines would give Coronato elevated offensive responsibility and probably a lift in ice time as well. He could be the Flames best shooter, so why not give him the full opportunity to skate with the team’s best centre (Elias Lindholm) and best passer (Jonathan Huberdeau)? Unlike the practice lines above, Coronato would also play alongside a more defensively responsible centre in Lindholm versus Kadri.

On the flip side, Huberdeau would not have a left-shooting linemate.

Flames forward lines – Combo 2

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Duehr
Sharangovich – Kadri – Ruzicka
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coronato
Hunt/Greer – Dubé – Coleman

Getting a little more creative, I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of damage Walker Duehr could do if given top-line responsibilities. Duehr had 11 points, including seven goals with a 14.9 shooting percentage in his 27 games last season – that’s 41-point and 26-goal pace over 82 games. Even if his shooting percentage was to drop, his 11:16 average TOI would increase. It might not be crazy to view Duehr as a legitimate offensive threat who could put up 40+ points with the right opportunities in his first full season as a Calgary Flame.

Unfortunately, this is another option that would leave Huberdeau with two right-handed players on his line.

This lineup also elevates another younger player, Adam Ruzicka, who looked – at times – worthy of a regular season opportunity to find the consistency his game so desperately needs. The question is whether or not Ruzicka is better on the wing or in the middle. With Lindholm, Kadri, and Backlund locked in as the top three centres, the only logical way to get Ruzicka into the top nine is by moving him to the wing.

While Backlund’s line is often the “third” line on paper, most Flames fans – and certainly the coaches – view his line as a 2B option. Backlund’s line is usually trustworthy defensively and therefore typically a net-positive at the end of the season. What I did here is try to place Coronato with a couple of linemates that would allow him to best play his game, while still seeing ample ice time. As Flames fans, we’ve seen what Backlund has done to support young wingers on his lines over time: Lance Bouma, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk come to mind. Additionally, Coronato would be flanked by Andrew Mangiapane, a player who can dig pucks out of the corners, is experienced playing with Backlund, and who can finish on rebounds/loose pucks. I really like the idea of Coronato with Backlund and Mangiapane, but as you can see, it would really shake things up in the right wing position.

Lastly of note for combo 2 is the fourth line, which features two top-nine regulars in Dubé and Coleman. While it would give Dubé the opportunity to take another spin at centre, Dryden Hunt (or A.J. Greer) is probably not the best winger for two players who probably need more ice time than this particular configuration would allow for.

Flames forward lines – Combo 3

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Mangiapane
Sharangovich/Dubé – Kadri – Sharangovich/Dubé
Coleman – Backlund – Coronato
Hunt/Greer – Ruzicka – Duehr

The goal here was to get a left-handed finisher on the right side of Lindholm and Huberdeau. While it’s been attempted recently in preseason action and does break up the Backlund-Coleman-Mangiapane line, 88 might be the best left-handed scorer the Flames have (Lindholm and Coronato both shoot right and Yegor Sharangovich’s career-high goals total is over ten fewer than Mangiapane’s).

All I have on the second line here is that Dubé and Sharangovich both can and have played on both the left and right wings, so you could toss either one on either side of Kadri.

Again, Coronato would play with Backlund and a veteran winger with experience flanking the captain, something I like for all of the aforementioned reasons.

The fourth line is simply what we’ve seen most recently in practice.

Flames forward lines – Combo 4

Huberdeau – Kadri – Coronato
Mangiapane – Lindholm – Sharangovich
Dubé – Backlund – Coleman
Hunt/Greer – Ruzicka – Duehr

This might be where I lost my mind. Huberdeau gets his left-handed receiver in Kadri and Coronato gets top line minutes on a line that might suffer mightily on the D side of the puck. Lindholm bumps down to centre Mangiapane and Sharangovich. The 88-11-20 line sees 88 replaced with 29. The fourth line from practice stays in tact.

The greatest takeaway from this exercise is that we might be yet to see Flames’ forward lines that will stay in tact for stretches of time. There are a lot of combinations to try and with the goal of finding chemistry, I would expect to see these combos in a blender fairly regularly until results dictate line stability.

Also to keep in mind is the fact that Hunt and Greer are definitely not proven with the Flames. If Greer underperforms, Hunt may draw into the lineup. If neither are the right option for fourth line minutes with the Flames, I’m sure Zary, Klapka, Schwindt and others will be braced for a call from Craig Conroy to fill voids in the Flames’ lineup until Rooney and Pelletier are ready to return.

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