How will Dallas Eakins run his special teams?

Jonathan Willis
August 01 2013 07:49AM

A little over a week ago, with the Oilers seemingly done making significant changes, we looked at how the Oilers might run their even-strength lines. But what about special teams?

While we can’t know what Dallas Eakins has in mind for special teams, we can look at the personnel on the team and make some guesses.

The Power Play

One of the things I’ve tried to do is keep lines together; thus the presumed top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle forms the core of the first unit power play while David Perron, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov are all on the second unit.

I’m unfamiliar with how Dallas Eakins ran his power plays with the Toronto Marlies; initially I thought about sticking with the 1-3-1 setup the Oilers ran for much of last year but instead decided to model these units off San Jose’s fantastic group. From what I’ve seen of the Sharks (arguably the league’s best power play over the last few years) they typically have Logan Couture and Joe Thornton on each wing with Joe Pavelski in the slot and Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau on the points.

The first unit power play above features Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall on their off-wings, putting both in position to take a lot of shots and work the puck down low. Justin Schultz, unsurprisingly, takes one of the point positions while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins slides into the other. On the whole, that’s a quartet I really like – it would be nice if Nugent-Hopkins was more of a shooter, but this power play model is built more around puck movement and a variety of options rather than a big shot from the point, so it’s not a critical failing.

As strange as this sounds, I think the Oilers’ power play is going to miss Shawn Horcoff a little. Looking through potential candidates for power play work, it’s hard not to be struck by the lack of net-front players – ideally you want someone with size and strength and decent hands, and the Oilers don’t really have that guy. Horcoff had first-unit duty a year ago, and Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen also played the role at times. That’s where Ryan Smyth comes in: he’s built a career in that role, and given his presumably reduced responsibility at even-strength he can sub-in on the first unit power play in that net-front role.

The second unit has a very similar structure. Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov play either side up front here, while Sam Gagner mans one point and either Denis Grebeshkov or Anton Belov handles the other (Grebeshkov has had success on the Oilers’ power play in the past). All four are on their off-sides, encouraging shooting. David Perron isn’t really an ideal candidate for the slot role, but the trouble is that a) the Oilers don’t really have a lot of natural options for the job and b) Eberle, Hemsky and Perron are all ideally slotted along the left wall; one of them can’t be there. Besides, Perron’s no smaller than Joe Pavelski, and the Sharks have done just fine the last few years.

Naturally, this is just my read and I’m open to others. I was very tempted to put Hall in the slot and Yakupov on the right side on the first unit, bumping Smyth down to the slot position on the second and flanking him with Hemsky on the right and Perron on the left; it’s an arrangement I actually like a little better (because it loads up that top unit) but it breaks up the even-strength forward lines and introduces another element for the coach to juggle. I’m interested to see what the comments think; we have some bright readers and this is an interesting topic.

Also, I picture a line of Boyd Gordon, Ryan Jones and Jesse Joensuu for the first even-strength shift after the power play.

Penalty Kill

No major surprises here. As with the power play, I have endeavoured to keep even-strength combinations together.

Boyd Gordon centres the top penalty killing forward pair, along with either Ryan Jones or Ryan Smyth (depending on which player one sees winning the battle for the open third line wing job). Both players will be experienced veterans in the role.

The other of Smyth and Jones will join presumptive fourth-line centre Anton Lander on the second penalty killing unit; again, it’s a case of sticking the veteran defensive forwards in the primary penalty kill roles.

Generally two units will do the bulk of the work, but Sam Gagner and David Perron have both filled in on the penalty kill in the past and can either provide a third forward pairing or fill-ins for the first two pairings. I have Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins listed as a potential fourth pairing, with the thought that they can take over in the last 20-30 seconds of the penalty and provide some offensive push and a smooth transition back to even-strength play. I also see both players as strong fits talent-wise for the penalty kill; it wouldn’t bother me at all if Eakins chose to break them in as a regular third unit (though I prefer Gagner and Perron because they have an edge in age/experience and their responsibilities at even-strength and on the power play are less).

On defence, Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry reprise their role as the team’s top duo, while the other two logical candidates (Andrew Ference and Nick Schultz) take second pairing duty. The other defencemen on the team are somewhat problematic, but Denis Grebeshkov would be my choice for the number five role – he killed penalties for Craig MacTavish and is more of a known factor than either Anton Belov or Justin Schultz.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Klima's Mullet
August 01 2013, 07:55AM
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JW, in your PP scenarios, who takes the faceoffs?

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#2 Senhora
August 01 2013, 07:56AM
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Maybe Eakins will run special teams how Billy Moores tells him to. And if Moores is the guru of coaching why is he not the head coach?

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#3 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
August 01 2013, 08:03AM
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Senhora wrote:

Maybe Eakins will run special teams how Billy Moores tells him to. And if Moores is the guru of coaching why is he not the head coach?

just spitballin' here, but maybe it is because he is 65 years old and couldnt/wouldnt want to handle to grind of an 82 game NHL season?

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#4 Archaeologuy
August 01 2013, 08:11AM
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I wouldnt be surprised or upset to see Gagner and Hemsky switched in your list. I know Gagner has played the point before, but I think Hemsky is more comfortable with the puck up near the blueline than 89. With his puck carrying and passing skills he would have a lot of options from the point that might not be there on the wall.

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#5 Archaeologuy
August 01 2013, 08:13AM
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What is this Trash it! button?

Is this the negative props we've been dreaming of?

Wanye/Citizen Alpha, well played.

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#8 dawgbone
August 01 2013, 08:28AM
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I wouldn't worry too much about splitting lines 1 and 2 and mashing them together on the PP. Once the PP is over you can put out your 3rd line and then get your lines back together the way you want.

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#9 They're $hittie
August 01 2013, 08:42AM
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Considering last years p/60 I hope Eakins doesnt put the so called first pp out first all the time. It was the second unit that got it done all last year and that was because Kruger put Hall Eberle and Nuge out even if they were tired.

Who ever is the freshest should go out.

Also someone start getting a running (corsi) total on DSF trash props +-

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#10 SincetgeWHADays
August 01 2013, 08:44AM
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I think we'll see all these combos plus some if the coach is true to what he said about having multiple systems. Why not change the look of the PP regularity? It would make pre-scouting a nightmare for the opposition. Why not run both the 1-3-1 and the SJ method. I really believe this coach will have a very fluid style for all situations in the game. Deploying personnel depending on whos got the hot hand on any given night and any given period and any given shift. Just wait and see!!!

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#11 DieHard
August 01 2013, 08:48AM
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Senhora wrote:

Maybe Eakins will run special teams how Billy Moores tells him to. And if Moores is the guru of coaching why is he not the head coach?

Perhaps the goalie coach should just f(& play goal too.

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#12 DieHard
August 01 2013, 08:51AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Absolutely, that's certainly a possible switch. I put it the way I did because it looked last season like Gagner had really worked on taking the big shot, and I don't mind having that option available to the point man.

But if Gagner's more willing to shoot, maybe it makes more sense to stick him on the wall and bump Hemsky back to the point.

I think Hemsky on the point works better as he can get back faster if a break down occurred.

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#13 They're $hittie
August 01 2013, 09:04AM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Considering last years p/60 I hope Eakins doesnt put the so called first pp out first all the time. It was the second unit that got it done all last year and that was because Kruger put Hall Eberle and Nuge out even if they were tired.

Who ever is the freshest should go out.

Also someone start getting a running (corsi) total on DSF trash props +-

Sorry for replying to my own comment but the corsi total I am talking about should include any comments; props and trashes, for any comments directed at DSF or made by DSF

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#14 Archaeologuy
August 01 2013, 09:07AM
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How close are we to having a lifetime Props/Trash it! leaderboard up now?

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#15 Hammers
August 01 2013, 09:35AM
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My gut is Eakins staff will be more conventional on at least one of the PP units and use 2 "D" . Justin & Grebs .Belov also played the point in the KHL ? I also read something that Eakins if down in the 3rd with less than 10 to go and gets a PP he may pull his goalie and run 5 forwards & 1"D" .He did this with the Marlies. Not sure yet what to expect from this group . Also expect Acton to run PP. At this stage not sure if McT makes any more moves ie N.Schultz may not be on PK ?

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#16 Tom
August 01 2013, 09:38AM
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Senhora wrote:

Maybe Eakins will run special teams how Billy Moores tells him to. And if Moores is the guru of coaching why is he not the head coach?

Who the $?!# is Billy Moores?

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#17 John Chambers
August 01 2013, 09:38AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How close are we to having a lifetime Props/Trash it! leaderboard up now?

I think we all know a certain someone whose trashes would've exceeded the maximum count by now.

Kind of like MacDonalds' over 1 Billion asinine comments served.

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#18 tileguy
August 01 2013, 09:42AM
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That’s where Ryan Smyth comes in: he’s built a career in that role, and given his presumably reduced responsibility at even-strength he can sub-in on the first unit power play in that net-front role. Smacks forehead, rolls eyes. Let's get this farewell tour over with and free up some cap room. The PP would have to wait 15 seconds for Smytty to skate in place, hell lets try Ben Eager there, at least he can skate fast.

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#19 Taylor Gang
August 01 2013, 09:44AM
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Woah when did the trash button get here? Me gusta... :)

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#20 Tim in Kelowna
August 01 2013, 09:47AM
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Good piece, JW. We certainly have the fire power to have a potent powerplay, but without a reliable faceoff man (aside from Gordon) I see the Oilers losing a ton of O-zone faceoffs and in turn losing 20-30 seconds off of the man advantage.

Your PP lines look right to me, but I'm more interested to see how Eakins has the PP unit entering the zone. That has been one of the more frustrating aspects of the Oilers game in the past few seasons.

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#23 tileguy
August 01 2013, 09:58AM
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@Jonathan Willis

No skating involved once you finally make it to the front of the net. I guess the Oilers can play catch around the perimeter until 84 gets there.

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#24 David S
August 01 2013, 10:05AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How close are we to having a lifetime Props/Trash it! leaderboard up now?

I can't even imagine the significance of such a thing!

*Tries to imagine*

*Fails*

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Thank you ON! The trash button is awesome. It's like bubble wrap. I just trashed every comment including this one. So much fun.

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#26 Rama Lama
August 01 2013, 10:23AM
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I thought Ralph Krueger was suppose to be the "systems" man............turns out he did'nt much of any system, except playing his favourites.

Dallas Eakins is suppose to have multiple systems for all three zones with a focus on transitioning .........not sure what that means but I get the sense that he expects a greater focus on players covering their man.

If there is one thing that will become patently clear about DE's systems play its, moving the puck out of danger and into the nuetral and offensive zones..........sort of like what Detroit does, regardless of their personnel.

If he coaches like Mac T .........I will be worried! Under his system pucks were always brought behind the net before launching an offensive attack. This always led to opposition teams pressuring us to cough up the puck, and then one of our defenseman shooting it down the ice.

I hope we can finally get and keep a coach that has a plan.

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#27 Tikkanese
August 01 2013, 10:23AM
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I wouldn't mind seeing Hall on the PK some. He seems to never give up on any play or shift and that is a good PK type of mentality. Not to mention his speed.

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#28 JeffG
August 01 2013, 10:30AM
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The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33 wrote:

Thank you ON! The trash button is awesome. It's like bubble wrap. I just trashed every comment including this one. So much fun.

Good job wasting the value of the Trash button.

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#29 sizzler
August 01 2013, 10:31AM
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Trash button is going to come handy when the season starts

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#30 Bushed
August 01 2013, 10:38AM
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Hemsky actually plays D in his summer league (roller hockey maybe? can't recall exactly). It's not NHL level, obviously, but that bit of "experience" plus his speed makes for a little less panic factor (for me) than having Sam back there.

Smyth has been one of the best net-front guys we've ever had. He could be effective in that role if his other minutes are reduced, and maybe he can teach Joensuu (or someone else) as the season rolls along. A little off-topic, but I'd like to see Smytty slide into a coaching role; he'd be worth his weight in gold if he could pass along the net-front skills and greasy board play to some younger players.

PS Lots of pressure with this new trash/props system--any goat awards in the works for worst trash scores? Awards/free Nation beer for high props scores? per article?

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#31 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
August 01 2013, 10:38AM
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JeffG wrote:

Good job wasting the value of the Trash button.

i think the value will still show itself, even with the odd rogue trash it vote.

im more wondering the over/under on number of days before DSF breaks the 100 mark for trashes on a single post.

3? 4?

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#32 Twoskidoos
August 01 2013, 10:39AM
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I don't even read the posts anymore, I just look to see how many trashes there are.

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#33 Twoskidoos
August 01 2013, 10:39AM
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I don't even read the posts anymore, I just look to see how many trashes there are.

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#34 The Soup Fascist
August 01 2013, 10:46AM
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Tom wrote:

Who the $?!# is Billy Moores?

He is the "Yoda" equivalent within the organization, presumably to advise Edmonton Oilers Coaches ..... Minus the light sabre, of course.

But the hairline is similar.

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#35 TigerUnderGlass
August 01 2013, 10:46AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

This is ludicrous.

How much skating do you think is really involved in being the net-front guy? Really?

As for Eager, I assume you're being sarcastic, but wake me up when he scores 20 points in the AHL. Physical abilities are all well and good, but Smyth's far, far smarter on the ice and at some point converting that skill-set to results matters.

Smyth can complete the transformation to becoming the Oiler's Holmstrom.

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#36 oliveoilers
August 01 2013, 10:47AM
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Tikkanese wrote:

I wouldn't mind seeing Hall on the PK some. He seems to never give up on any play or shift and that is a good PK type of mentality. Not to mention his speed.

I seem to remember him and Ebs being out there for the last few seconds of a PK last season. The d-man tried to keep the puck in, hit hall with it. Him and Ebs were 2-0 and scored. Scary. The pressure on the D-Man pinching in, knowing that even a slight error and he has no chance of catching them. I think he should get some PK time, even if it's just gloating rights over the canucks fans. "Look, our superstars aren't too precious to PK."

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#38 geoilersgist
August 01 2013, 10:53AM
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Another great article JW. But in all seriousness by the time I hit the comments I have been lost in the Props. PROPS FOR ALL

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#39 TigerUnderGlass
August 01 2013, 10:57AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That was exactly the example I had in mind - fourth line EV, first line PP.

Yeah, this is probably the most effective possible way to use him.

Plus the coaching staff can point to Holmstrom as an example to Smyth and say, "see, this is no slap in the face, it's a dignified way to stay productive and help the team win".

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#40 Reahumatoid Arthritis
August 01 2013, 10:59AM
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I just got back from Red Lobster

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#41 Reg Dunlop
August 01 2013, 11:04AM
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So, where does Weber fit in? Gotta be 1st pp point.

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#42 Dulock
August 01 2013, 11:07AM
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I'm betting Jones and Joensuu will be the net front guys at some point during the season. Possibly due to injuries.

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#43 The Soup Fascist
August 01 2013, 11:08AM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

Yeah, this is probably the most effective possible way to use him.

Plus the coaching staff can point to Holmstrom as an example to Smyth and say, "see, this is no slap in the face, it's a dignified way to stay productive and help the team win".

I get the logic, but what type of ice time will PP1 / PK2 / EV3 or 4 add up to?

Too much for a worn down Smytty with no kicks left?

PP makes sense - not many guys have the stones to take the beating he does - but I would limit the PK time, personally. I think a Hall with his speed - and a little mentorship - could scare the bejesus out of some PP units. Smytty just can't get to the scene of the crime, anymore.

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#44 Grizztopia
August 01 2013, 11:19AM
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I really like the idea of putting Smyth in front of the net on the first line PP. I think that's an element of his game that isn't gone by any stretch.

And in response to you, The Soup Fascist, I'd say if the PP minutes add up to enough to wear Smytty down, we're probably owning the other team at the possession game, and taking the game right to them. Seems like a good problem to have.

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#45 oliveoilers
August 01 2013, 11:19AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That was exactly the example I had in mind - fourth line EV, first line PP.

I agree, but trashed it. Nobody gets away with 4 props and no trashes!

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#46 David S
August 01 2013, 11:23AM
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The biggest improvement on specialty teams will come when Eakins cleans out Ralph's book shelf and burns the book "Mastering the diamond penalty kill in three easy steps.".

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#47 David S
August 01 2013, 11:25AM
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You gotta love the little garbage truck that comes up when you scroll over the Trash It! button. That's all-world selling out.

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#48 geoilersgist
August 01 2013, 11:27AM
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David S wrote:

You gotta love the little garbage truck that comes up when you scroll over the Trash It! button. That's all-world selling out.

I can't wait to props/trash comments in the POLLZ

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#49 Rocket
August 01 2013, 11:59AM
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The special teams were actually quite effective last season so I hope not too much is different this upcoming season.

I will be interested to see how the PK does with Gordon instead of Horcoff. With the possibility of a few new defencemen, I hope the PK doesn't suffer . The Oilers need to get more calls in their favour as well to create PP opportunities.

Wasn't there a 2 game stretch last season where The Oilers didn't even get a PP? I could be wrong but I thought something like that happened.

BTW this new trash button is hilarious! Everybody is so trash happy; it's like crack. The high is short before the devastating low so you need more quickly. Kind of like cheering for The Oilers.

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#50 hatrock
August 01 2013, 12:23PM
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Absolutely agree with Smyth in front of the net on the PP. It's his staple. He's the king of garbage goals. He knows what it takes. He doesn't have to skate much when there. If this happens, and he deflects or plops a few in, then it would be a boon to the team morally.

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