When the Calgary Flames take the ice to kick off the 2016-17 National Hockey League season, they will do so with a complement of forwards that are drastically different from a year prior. In light of a disappointing 2015-16 season, Flames general manager Brad Treliving made a series of moves designed to upgrade the forward ranks and make his club more offensively dangerous and difficult to play against. Treliving’s certainly been busy, but have all of these moves definitively made his team’s forwards better? Is the team deeper up-front than they were before the summer began?
The 2015-16 Forwards
When fully healthy, here’s roughly how the Flames forwards lined up last season:
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler
Joe Colborne – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Micheal Ferland – Sam Bennett – Josh Jooris
Lance Bouma – Matt Stajan – David Jones
(Extras: Brandon Bollig & Mason Raymond)
The top six was relatively productive offensively, though quite dependent on Gaudreau and Monahan for offensive production. The bottom six grouping was a bit of a mess, in part due to Bouma being injured frequently and some uneven play by Jooris and Raymond that saw the latter player sent to the American Hockey League in March to give playing time to some younger players.
Through a series of conscious decisions and moves, the Flames divested themselves of five of those 14 regular forwards:
- On February 27, the Flames traded Hudler (a pending unrestricted free agent) to Florida for a pair of draft picks.
- On February 29, the Flames swapped expiring contracts with Minnesota, trading Jones to Minnesota for Niklas Backstrom and gaining a sixth-round pick in the process.
- On June 27, the Flames elected not to extend qualifying offers to pending restricted free agents Colborne and Jooris, making them both UFAs as of July 1.
- On June 29, the Flames bought out the final season of Raymond’s contract.
Through several subsequent moves, the Flames added four new forwards:
- On February 22, the Flames swapped AHL forward Markus Granlund to Vancouver for prospect Hunter Shinkaruk.
- On June 24, the Flames selected OHL standout Matthew Tkachuk in the NHL Draft.
- On June 27, the Flames traded AHL blueliner Patrick Sieloff to Ottawa for Alex Chiasson.
- On July 1, the Flames signed free agent Troy Brouwer.
- On July 5, the Flames signed free agent Linden Vey.
The 2016-17 Outlook
Here’s a vague guess at how the lines will shake out on October 12:
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Troy Brouwer
Micheal Ferland – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Matthew Tkachuk – Sam Bennett – Hunter Shinkaruk
Lance Bouma – Matt Stajan – Linden Vey
(Extras: Brandon Bollig and Alex Chiasson)
The 2016-17 forward lines look a bit more balanced (and a bit less top-heavy) than the 2015-16 club, but the success of the summer moves is probably dependent on how well Brouwer gels with the Gaudreau and Monahan or if Tkachuk is immediately NHL-ready. The bottom-six/top-six dichotomy seems to be abandoned in favour of having three offensively-oriented lines and then a handful of players rotating through an energy line with lower ice-time.
Looked at in another way, the last few months have seen Treliving make a series of swaps:
- Brouwer for Hudler
- Vey for Jones
- Tkachuk for Colborne
- Chiasson for Raymond
- Shinkaruk for Jooris
They’re a little bit younger and a little bit faster, but the moves aren’t a definitive slam-dunk on their face. If Brouwer clicks on the top line or Tkachuk is a decent NHL scorer from his first game onwards, the summer’s moves are a definitive upgrade. If not, the onus is on the growth of the team’s youngest players (Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett) to make up for any gaps in the talent brought in this summer. If nothing else, Treliving has at least made an attempt to shore up the team’s dependence on Gaudreau and Monahan going forward.