For a city that has had its fair share of high profile right wingers over the years, the 2019-20 version of the Calgary Flames sure is not leaning that way at the moment.
For Flames fans pining for the next Jarome Iginla, Lanny McDonald, or Theo Fleury to step up and patrol the right side – sorry, the pickings are mighty slim right now. The Flames’ top line last season had Elias Lindholm, a converted center, playing right wing with Johnny Gaudreau and center Sean Monahan.
Since it’s unlikely that coach Bill Peters will break up that highly productive trio, the options after that get a little questionable on the right side. Veteran Michael Frolik is currently holding down the second line spot for now. But at $4.3 million and a year left on his contract, Frolik has long been rumored to be on the trading block to help ease the Flames’ cap crunch so they can sign star forward Matthew Tkachuk. Frolik also has never been a favorite of Peters and was a healthy scratch a few times last season, prompting his agent to suggest a change of scenery might be good for everyone. He is also a left hand shot, so is not optimal for trapping the puck along the boards on his off-wing.
Speaking of off-wings, newly-signed forward Sam Bennett could also be tried over on the right side this season, but again he is a left shot player and has played almost exclusively at either left wing or center in the league. His brief tenure playing right wing with Gaudreau and Monahan did not go well as he struggled to read plays and convert passes with the talented duo.
Related link: Sam Bennett Signs with Flames
Then there is Auston Czarnik, an undersized speedster who has just over a year of NHL experience under his belt and played to mixed reviews last season. He could possibly hold down the number three or four position on the right side but currently doesn’t offer enough offensive punch and would be an odd fit with hulking players like left wing Milan Lucic and center Mark Jankowski.
Who does that leave? Veteran Derek Ryan could play right wing, but he is more comfortable at center and as a soon to be 33-year-old player is only a short-term solution regardless. Rookie Dillon Dube is creative and feisty and could crack the roster this Fall. But he is also a natural center and a left handed shot, so, again, not an ideal candidate. Of all the Flames prospects that will likely toil with the AHL Stockton Heat this season, only pint-sized Matthew Phillips and Finnish player Eetu Tuulola are natural right wings. Neither projects as ready for the NHL anytime soon, if ever.
Free Agent Solution?
So what about any of the remaining free agent right wings to fill the gap? Well, Flames general manager Brad Treliving has a spotty record in this area so they need to be careful. Aging veterans Jason Pominville and Justin Williams are technically available and offer name recognition. Williams is likely to only re-sign with the Carolina Hurricanes if he decides to play one more season and Pominville is probably finished in the NHL. Troy Brouwer? The Flames have seen that act already and didn’t like it the first time.
Perhaps 26-year-old unrestricted free agent Stefan Noesen, who played last year as a serviceable right winger with the New Jersey Devils could be considered. It would still mean Treliving would have to jettison a salary to make room for him and sign Tkachuk. It also means Frolik (or even defenseman T.J. Brodie) would likely be dealt for next to nothing in return. Not an ideal scenario.
So an organic or man-made solution doesn’t seem imminent right now. The other truly bizarre fact about the Flames is that not many of their current players actually shoot right. And it extends down to the farm team where the lineup is also top-heavy with left-handed shots. As they are currently constructed, of the 18 skaters projected to start on opening night for the Flames, only five shoot right (Lindholm, Czarnik, Ryan and defensemen Travis Hamonic and Rasmus Andersson).
Treliving likely doesn’t care what hand his players and prospects shoot, but it might make sense to take a closer look at it going forward. Most coaches like to have good balance on both sides, and players naturally find it more comfortable playing on their strong side of the ice. For a franchise that has typically produced great right wingers, there’s sure not much to choose from for the Flames right now.