Imagining A Lineup Featuring Ryan Smyth

Yesterday’s Ryan Smyth rumours took OilersNation by storm: here and elsewhere, Oilers fans voiced overwhelming approval for the idea of Smyth’s return. As of this writing, the poll on the right shows somewhere in the neighborhood of 94% of Oilers fans favour some kind of trade with Los Angeles; only 3% dismissed the deal outright.

I’ve already explained why I think the Oilers should bring Smyth back. After the jump, I indulge myself by imagining what a lineup featuring Ryan Smyth might look like.

We all know what the Oilers’ depth chart looks like right now. Or at least, I thought we all did; judging by some of the comments I saw yesterday (‘left wing is locked’ or ‘Smyth would take a spot from a young player’) it could be that there are those who forget what kind of team the Oilers iced last season. In any case, let’s look at it one more time (please note: there is no effort made here to match line combinations; this is just a depth chart of current players based on ice-time and games played from last season).

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Taylor Hall Shawn Horcoff Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi Sam Gagner Jordan Eberle
Linus Omark Andrew Cogliano Ryan Jones
Jean-Francois Jacques Colin Fraser Gilbert Brule
Steve MacIntyre    

Since Linus Omark can play on either wing, the basic impact of adding another top-six left-winger to the lineup is just to knock Ryan Jones down to the fourth line (where he should be anyway) and Magnus Paajarvi down to the third line (where he spent the majority of last season). It also (presumably) knocks one of Jacques/Brule out of the lineup, which is a good thing because one of them has no business being in the lineup in the first place and the other has spent seemingly half of his NHL career on injured reserve.

The addition of Smyth actually (I would argue) helps a lot. Here’s how I would arrange the forwards to start game one (assuming the addition of Smyth but no trades and the selection and return to junior of Nugent-Hopkins), with the lines ordered by the quality of competition they would face:

Line Left Wing Center Right Wing
First Taylor Hall Shawn Horcoff Ales Hemsky
Second Ryan Smyth Sam Gagner Jordan Eberle
Third Magnus Paajarvi Andrew Cogliano Linus Omark
Fourth Ryan Jones Colin Fraser Gilbert Brule

This lineup would require more line matching than Tom Renney did last year, but presumably the head coach will revert back to his New York form (matching lines and carefully controlling zone starts) once he’s trying to do more than simply develop players.

The first line would play the traditional power-vs.-power role: both Horcoff and Hemsky are old hands at this assignment and Taylor Hall looked ready to take on the world before he got hurt at the end of 2010-11, so this line could probably hold its own while giving Hall more experience fighting the head-to-head battle with the best players on Earth. This line would be used in both the offensive and defensive zones.

The second line would take on the next best players. Like Horcoff and Hemsky, Ryan Smyth has been handling a power-vs.-power role for years, so this shouldn’t be a challenge for him, but he’ll also be tasked with shepherding Gagner and Eberle as the only veteran on the line. Eberle’s defensive game was unexpectedly good last season, and Gagner’s shown flashes in the past, so this is a reasonable matchup. As with the first line, this line would be able to get the job done at either end of the rink.

In this scenario the third line would be used in the customary second-line role: laying offensive minutes against second-tier NHL players. Omark’s a natural fit for this role, and Paajarvi isn’t as far along in his development as Eberle and Hall, so this assignment would give both an opportunity to play some sheltered offensive minutes. It would also be a nice break for Andrew Cogliano, who has scoring ability but has seen his numbers drop off since his rookie season. This line would (ideally) get a lot of offensive zone starts.

The fourth line, as fourth lines always seem to, would take whatever is left. I’m not overly enamored with any of the players on the line, but all have shown flashes of ability and should at the least represent an upgrade over what the Oilers iced in this position last year.

Part of the reason I put this together, admittedly, is because I’m excited about the possibility of seeing Smyth in an Oilers’ jersey again. More than that, however, I wanted to demonstrate what the return of Smyth might look like, to make it abundantly clear that there is both room and a role for him on the 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers.

  • OilFan

    My biggest problem with any line up posted so far is the lack of a shooter. (except Hall,and Ebs quick release is good too)
    We have an abundance of skilled forwards with exceptional vision. (Hemsky, Eberle, Ganger, Omark)…great passes, no one to finish them.

    My lineup…only using existing players (not going to insert a draft pick b\c ST keeps indicating that the new kid wont start with the big club)

    Hall-Horcoff-Eberle …Horcs does heavy lifting in D-zone
    Hartikainen-Ganger-Hemsky …Ganger benefits here, Hemsky needs to shoot more (no kidding)

    MPS-Brule-Omark…Brule is natural shooter, Omark is setup man, MPS carries puck and drives net facing 3rd line opposition…ideal

    Jacques-Cogliano-Jones…dont like this line at all…Cogs and Jones get extra time on PK

    Hall and Ebs learn D, while continuing to put up pts

    Hartikainen goes to the net, and can retrieve puck from corner…nuff said(still no shooter on this line)…Hemsky could…but never does

    Swedes have chemistry, and Brule wins more faceoffs than Cogs, keeping time in own zone down compared to Cogs

    Jones production falls off, everyone says I told u so! Jacques sucks(has no idea how to play with the puck) Cogs lacks concentration on D, and cant win faceoffs.

    Draft legit C w\ 1rst overall(RNH anyone), trade for Smyth, Pick up capable LW and/or C on July 1. Use 19th pick to get Morrow. 31rst pick on John Gibson.

    PIPE DREAM would include Trading Ganger, Jacques, and D prospect for additional top 10 pick.
    Draft MIKA ZIBANEJAD (good 2-way C with heavy shot)…spends this yr in AHL, or back home. We’ll be back to the podium within the top 5 again next year. Plan for big improvement 2012-2013.

    I think Lander has potential to pass Brule and Cogs quickly. Still needs time in AHL though.
    Dont know much about Hamilton, but cant be worse than Jacques…right?

    Constructive critisim welcomed…pls no haters!

  • Mikeyboy

    Jonathan – thanks for this article. Again it is some interesting food for thought.

    I am not really crazy about the look of that lineup from the start of the season:

    1. It has the same holes up the middle as we’ve gotten used to.
    2. It’s replaced Penner with Smitty – more sandpaper – still not much for toughness or punch throughout.
    3. It is still very small compared to the lineups we are going to face nightly.
    4. God help us if the trend of injuries continue…

    I do think adding a couple of moderately priced UFA’s into the mix, and it starts to look quite a bit better (centre, third liner)?

    To your concluding point – there is definitely room for him. But I would hope we are looking at filling some of the bigger problems before we start with him.

  • paul wodehouse

    I love the idea of Smyth back. And to those who talk about Hartikanen and Hamilton needing a spot, let them grow up in the minors a bit. Actual NHLers people, that is what we need.

    As for lines, Gagner needs vets, Horcoff needs to babysit Hall and Eberle, and ideally we add a vet two way centre for the Swedish kids.

    Hall-Horcoff-Eberle

    Smyth-Gagner-Hemsky

    MPS-vet-Omark

    Jones-Cogliano-Brule

    I think it was Dreger who posted it earlier, but adding a Brooks Laich would be great but pricey. I would add Belanger as a fall back, or maybe the other Swede Lander comes over and lights it up with his countrymen.

  • Devon

    I like DBO’s line slightly better but there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Hemsky and Cogliano at this point. IF a trade for smyth was to happen Cogliano might be a piece going back the other way. And Hemsky may be moved for a top 10 draft choice. But it sounds good to me. If that other stuff happens maybe swap in Brule for Cogs and a winger from free agency then swap MPS for Hemsky. All speculation of course.

  • Devon

    That’s basically the exact same lineup that the Oilers started with last year, but swapping out Penner for Smyth, which is likely a downgrade. Sure, it helps, but they’re still a last place team.

  • Devon

    I dont know why everyone thinks the oilers will fail with a similar team next year. Injuries were the main reason for a last place finish, and even then alot of games were decided by one goal, sure we need to size up and win faceoffs but if our team stays healthy and adds a savy veteran like Ryan Smyth we are in the hunt for a playoff spot.

    Also someone said Smyth would be a downgrade to Penner and well thats just silly because Smittys mullet alone has more grit and determanation than penner has in his entire body.

  • paul wodehouse

    Good article.

    Looking at your lineup makes me think how little gm Steve tambellini has improved this team over the last few seasons. Taylor Hall…. Welcome to the top line with Horcoff here to set you up and Hemmer will make some nice plays for 50 games or so….. Yikes. Stamkos gets St Louis and or lecavelier on the pp but hears horcs for you. Full time first line center? No.

    Paajarvi is great but second line with a 19 and 21 year old. Not ready yet. Plus what do we expect out of that line? 2nd lines around the league are powerhouse lines with solid NHL talent. Vancouver ran a combination of Burrows Samuelson Raymond with Kesler at center. The Oilers net a great veteran on the line and drop Paajarvi to the third line. He will be a great nhler but full time second line is too much pressure for the young threesome.

    I agree Smyth could be a great fit…… Even at 6 mil cap hit this year? I vote a reluctant yes but still…. 6 mill? I think gm Steve Tambellini can do better.

  • paul wodehouse

    It’s been mentioned already, but I see too many posts where people are assuming a roster spot for Harski, or even Hamilton, Pitlick, Lander, or CVV. I realize some of them showed well at the end of the season, but they all belong in the AHL. Living in Manitoba I saw just how many of Vancouver’s current roster players came up through the Manitoba Moose, and they didn’t just spend a few months here and then jump into the show, they played here until it was inexcusable not to call them up. That’s how you build depth, not by saying “well CVV won a few faceoffs at the end of the season, let’s trade Gagner!”

  • paul wodehouse

    It’s interesting that the lines shown don’t suggest we need to give anything back to LA. Are the Kings in a pure salary dump mode with Smyth? If so and they are giving him away they might prefer to send him out of conference rather than even to the worst team in their conference.

    Would a Smyth trade be good for the oil? All depends on what they need to send back teh other way.

  • dean

    I recall hearing that they just looking for a 3rd ronder or so. I think more than anything they want to lose his salary for the year so they can make a serious run for Brad Richards.