A balanced top-six

Jonathan Willis
August 23 2013 07:55AM

I’m starting to wonder if the arrangement used for most of last season, one that saw the Oilers’ top line loaded up with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, was the best use of the team’s personnel.

Splitting Up The Difference Makers

Sticking the team’s best players together on one line isn’t something that every coach in the NHL does. For example, last year’s finalists in the West both tried something else:

Patrick Kane played 743:40 for the Blackhawks at even-strength; just 99:41 of that was spent on the same line as Jonathan Toews. Splitting up Toews and Kane let the Blackhawks run two extremely potent lines, one centered on Toews and Marian Hossa and the other on Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.

Pavel Datsyuk played 667:39 for the Red Wings at even-strength; 195:07 of it with Henrik Zetterberg. It’s a slightly different situation because Zetterberg plays both centre and wing, but the idea is the same: rather than running one super-powered line the Red Wings ran 1 and 1A lines.

If the Oilers go with a conventional one/two line arrangement, than one line will feature Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins and the other will have Gagner, David Perron and Nail Yakupov. It’s not a bad setup, but for opposing teams with one really good defence pairing it doesn’t take much thinking to decide where to put them.

Alternatives

Assuming that the top-six group is set with the players named above, if the Oilers want to split up the three difference makers how might they do it? There are four options:

If the object of the game is to create two lines of roughly equal ability, the first alternative strikes me as the best bet. Taylor Hall is the best forward on the team by a considerable measure; the only way to force opposition coaches to think hard about the matchup is to load up the other line as much as possible. It’s much the same thing the Oilers did with Doug Weight in 2000-01 when Mike Comrie made the team: if I remember correctly they gave Comrie Ryan Smyth and Anson Carter as wingers while Doug Weight packed around Dan Cleary and Sergei Zholtok.

Hall would have it a little better than Weight did. Sam Gagner’s a fine player, especially offensively, while Nail Yakupov is a truly remarkable talent in the early stages of his career. On the other line, the duo of Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins add David Perron, who while not Hall’s equal is a fine two-way player with goal-scoring ability.

It’s certainly a more balanced setup on a team that would lean heavily on both lines. Is it better than the conventional lineup?

Recently around the Nation Network

The player who might have been this summer's most controversial free agent seems to have finally found a new home. According to multiple reports, Mikhail Grabovski has agreed to a new contract with the Washington Capitals. From Leafs Nation:

I would suspect... that Grabovski took a while to sign because he was looking for the right situation, and he wouldn't be happy playing in a third line role again. Grabovski will probably have a chance to prove himself offensively, a tall task for a 30-year-old that is probably through with his scoring prime.

Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff:

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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 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
August 23 2013, 05:45PM
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Czar wrote:

If the rumors are true Mess was the multiple partners guy but that didn't keep him around long enough either. Maybe a more open minded Janet could have kept the whole gang together.

I'm hoping the shoulder was the reason for the lack of production and we see the Nuge of 2011-12.I think he still made strides in other areas of his game now if he could just win a faceoff. I have to agree with you that it would be nice to get him signed for 6-7 years at a good rate while we can.

Not too bold as far as I'm concerned. Cheers!

It would be interesting to see some kind of analysis on whether or not longer term contracts actually deliver the value they are perceived to deliver......there seem to be way too many contracts that go south before their expiration for a host of reasons.....Injury.....player under performs relative to the $, ...player over performs and demands more money or to be traded....player sulks......player has his cash in hand and so gets complacent....player bolts to the KHL....players CONTRACT becomes untradable...ETC.....what's wrong with signing a four or five year contract and the paying up if the player over achieves?

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#52 mrBacon
August 23 2013, 07:44PM
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Any combination of those top 6 players playing in their preferred position is going to be able to score it seems. It could change on a nightly basis to really make matching up against the top 2 lines difficult.

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#53 Randall Shermer
August 24 2013, 11:10AM
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Jordan Nugent-Hallkins wrote:

Splitting up Nuge and Hall could work out in the Oiler's favor. I think those two will be the focus of most teams (until Yak activates [yaktivates?] like Hall last year). Alternative 1 would be my choice, that way one of either Nuge/Ebs or Hall/Yak could wreak havoc against softer opposition. We need to see a Hall - Nuge - Yak line at least once this season though, that would be electric.

Sounds like soon someone will have to change their nick to Jordan Nugent-Hallkupov.

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#54 Uks Ya
August 24 2013, 10:26PM
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conven. line 3 :) Hall-RNH-Yak ** Perron-Gagner-Eberle** I figure that would work BEST!!! I wanna see Gagner and Perron together, possibly out preform line 1 with ebz

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#55 THRNHJE
August 28 2013, 11:54PM
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I see it as RNH and Eberle are the biggest playmakers, and Hall and Yaks are the run and gun big goal scorers, so having them prospectively separated onto two different lines is the best in my opinion. Option 2 seems to do that nicely.

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