Craig MacTavish Line Blender – Just Add Ice

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009 03:17PM

O'Sullivan

After rotating his lines around mid-game against Colorado on Saturday, Craig MacTavish has decided to employ new units for tomorrow’s game against the St. Louis Blues. I know that the concept of Craig MacTavish moving players from line to line with abandon is novel in these parts, so I thought it deserved full analysis.

The First Line: Patrick O’Sullivan, Shawn Horcoff, and Ales Hemsky

I like this line. Patrick O’Sullivan is a far superior player to Ales Kotalik at even-strength, and his 208 shots is well ahead of anyone else on the team, so it’s conceivable that he could be the triggerman that Ales Hemsky has needed for some time. This line will be run power-vs.-power, and I’d say this is an experiment that needs to be tried and has a decent shot at working.

The Second Line: Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, and Ales Kotalik

Sam Gagner has been the Oilers’ hottest player offensively of late, and that’s going to be tested here. Robert Nilsson has had a miserable season (although he’s looked better since being reinserted into the lineup), and Ales Kotalik has started his inevitable slide down the roster as his limited offensive game becomes apparent. Still, Kotalik is supposedly more comfortable on right wing, and Gagner’s been red hot so this should give him the best possible opportunity to be come a factor at even-strength. Plus, if MacTavish holds true to form he will shelter these guys from the best players as much as possible, so while this isn’t my preferred second line it has a decent chance at working out.

The Third Line: Liam Reddox, Andrew Cogliano, and Fernando Pisani

Welcome back, Liam Reddox. This line is a rather bizarre combination that I haven’t understood for some time; they aren’t quite reliable enough for checking duties, and they aren’t offensively capable enough to be a scoring unit. It seems to me like a waste of Andrew Cogliano’s offensive game and Fernando Pisani’s defensive game.

The Fourth Line: Ethan Moreau, Kyle Brodziak, and Dustin Penner

This line features three players who could all arguably be playing higher up in the lineup, and I would imagine they will be Craig MacTavish’s first choice for defensive zone deployment. It seems likely that the coach plans to use these guys to help ease some of the defensive burden off of the shoulders of the Horcoff line. None of these guys will be putting up pretty point totals in this particular scenario, but Brodziak has had this duty all season and has done alright, while Ethan Moreau and Dustin Penner add some size and should be equal to the task of containing the opposition. This looks to me much more like a specialized defensive line than a typical fourth line.

This isn’t a bad setup, all things considered, although the third line doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and of course I’m still wondering what Ales Kotalik brings to the lineup. Neither Zack Stortini or Marc Pouliot made the cut here; frankly I’d prefer either of them to Liam Reddox or Ales Kotalik.

The good news for those two players (and of course Jean-Francois Jacques) is that it likely won’t be long before everything is shuffled again.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Dennis
March 16 2009, 09:49PM
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JW: any day now, 18 could see the numbers slide against him. It's the first year I've compiled chances so by this time next year we'll know if luck extends past one season but both 18 and 34 have been getting outchanced this year and if it swallowed them whole in the last 14 games, I wouldn't be surprised.

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#52 Ogden Brother
March 16 2009, 10:12PM
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Chris wrote:

@ Traktor: I don’t envy Tambellini this offseason. The Oilers have too many centermen that should be playing in the top six… yet none of these guys are clearly dominant. Can the Oilers contend for the division with both Cogliano and Gagner playing center next season? Neither is particularly strong or able to win faceoffs… So can you keep them both? Who do you move? I sure wouldn’t give up on Gagner, but Coglino has been the more effective of the two… It’s an impossible decision. How do you integrate a shutdown PKing center into the lineup with both these guys still on the roster? Neither guy is dominant; Neither guy has developed a complete enough game yet to be heavily relied on moving forward; And Neither guy is effective on the wing or in a purly shutdown role. You absolutely need them both; but the Oilers simply can’t go into another season with only Horcoff and Brodziak deployed to win draws! Traktor, you wouldn’t play Cogliano with Pisani… but how do you manage having three substandard first line centers on one roster? Horcoff will get ice, if only to win draws… besides he may rebound and Tambellini probably can’t move that contract even if you want to move the player. Neither Cogs or Gagner are quite ready yet to usurpe Horcoff, but both are too good to move… It’s a conundrum that drives me mad…

Depends who's coming back. I'd give up Cogs + for J Staal, who would give us that big body and a game better fit for the 3rd line... not to mention adaquate offense.

3 years from now, Gagner/Staal would be a deadly 1-2 punch down the middle.

If we're able to pry a Kovalchuk/Heatly... maybe Spezza then Gagner can come into play.

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#53 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
March 16 2009, 10:28PM
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letterman wrote:

I personally believe MacT is doing the best he can considering what he has. Nothing seems to be fitting this year so what does he do, he keeps trying. You have to admire him for that. Most coaches/people would of given up by now. MacT has the support of the GM and the Head of Hockey operations. MacT has the support of the 17,149 people who attend the Oiler games. I could see if the building was half empty or if Steve and Kevin were not solid hockey people, but come on folks, how can 17,149 people plus Steve and Kevin be wrong. MacT is doing great. I almost forgot, he has 100% support of the dressing room, that is why the players are trying so hard. Look at them all.

You are jocking right?

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#54 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
March 16 2009, 10:32PM
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you are joking not jocking

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#55 Bruno
March 16 2009, 11:00PM
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I personally believe MacT is doing the best he can considering what he has. Nothing seems to be fitting this year so what does he do, he keeps trying. You have to admire him for that. Most coaches/people would of given up by now. MacT has the support of the GM and the Head of Hockey operations. MacT has the support of the 17,149 people who attend the Oiler games. I could see if the building was half empty or if Steve and Kevin were not solid hockey people, but come on folks, how can 17,149 people plus Steve and Kevin be wrong. MacT is doing great. I almost forgot, he has 100% support of the dressing room, that is why the players are trying so hard. Look at them all. That is FREAKIN HILLARIOUS!!! Good one letterman.......Ummmmm.....you are kidding right..... Are you Bob Stauffer???

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#56 Bruno
March 16 2009, 11:04PM
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@ Bruno: And don't forget the fans that watch it on T.V. too. Letterman....so add another hundred thousand to thet..

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#57 Bruno
March 16 2009, 11:05PM
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Sorry I seem to be posting my comments wrong.

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#58 Jonathan Willis
March 16 2009, 11:23PM
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@ Dennis:

I know that Moreau is getting killed by scoring chances and Corsi, and I've got faith in both measures, but looking at context (rough competition, haphazard linemates) makes me think he could be the bookend of a Horcoff - Pisani line. Horcoff can carry a lot defensively and Pisani's no slouch either, so I think that trio would be one of the best checking units in the league if they were used together.

Of course, the only way it could happen would be if Gagner can handle a heavier workload than he's used to, but with Penner/O'Sullivan and Hemsky he might be able to handle it.

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#59 Chris
March 16 2009, 11:38PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I think Gagner is years away from being an effective first line center... It's a lot to ask of a teenager.

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#60 David S
March 16 2009, 11:51PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Seriously? All three of those guys have gone head to head with the best in the league and done just fine, thank you very much. As long as you don’t rely on them for offensive production they should hold their own against any unit in the league ala the “Nothing Line” in Anaheim or the Madden line in N.J.

Jonathan, you're probably right about these guys "holding their own", but from the looks of the practice lines, holding the fort is the last thing on MacT's mind. Looks like he's trying to compensate for a lack of special teams production by stacking the offense to the max.

I can only reiterate what Dennis said (without the statistical backup of course). It sure looks like those three guys have been getting owned lately.

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#61 humantorch
March 17 2009, 02:52AM
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Jesus Christ that's an expensive 4th line. Highest cap hit for a 4th line in NHL history?

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#62 Jonathan Willis
March 17 2009, 07:59AM
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@ Chris:

I think he's a long way away from bing a first-line centre in the pwoer-vs.-power mold, but if Horcoff is taking the toughs on a checking line, and Gagner's playing with competent wingers I think he could be OK in the role (at least, when the offense is coming like it is right now).

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#63 letterman
March 17 2009, 08:09AM
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Well, I must not be joking as look what the organization has done this year to help improve the team, nothing. Therefore it only makes sense that they are happy with the coaching and the team in general. Listen, Dan Tencer likes MacT, Fred Stauffer likes MacT, no one in the local media will rip on MacT, so what does that mean? Everyone is happy with Mact, everyone that counts I mean. Katz for crying out loud must be happy with MacT cause he aint said a word. All the OIl need to do is add to their coaching staff to help out MacT: Steve Smith to help out Smid Coffey to help out the puck moving def. Ken Linesman to help out the forwards with some grit' Kent Nilsson to help out his son Semenko to help out Zack Pozar to help teach the young guys to take one for the team Kevin Lowe to show how to block shots Glenn Anderson to show Cog's how to cut to the net Messier to show Gagne how to play with jam Ken Reid to help out Fred Stauffer and Dan Tencer with the radio stuff I think this is the start of a winning coaching staff >@ Bruno:

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#64 King Mob
March 17 2009, 10:02AM
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look, if nobody else is going to say it, I will.

We need to start dosing. As in, steroids. The whole team. Everyone. Even MacT.

I'm not above cheating if it means beating Calgary.

(is he "~"ing?)

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#65 Oilersordeath
March 17 2009, 10:52AM
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If we can at least break out of our zone with some speed and not lose control of the puck as soon as they gain the blue line I will probably cry from happiness! But I think St. Louis will outwork us for a 4-2 win. I hate to say it, just no fire in this team no determination to keep fighting.

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#66 Dennis
March 17 2009, 03:10PM
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JW: I can see what you're saying but I'd be afraid a 18-10-34 would get close to nothing done offensively;)

So, they would Have to be as good as the old Pahlsson line.

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