This is Joe Murphy. A November 1989 trade that brought him to Edmonton was a key element in the Oilers run to their 1990 Stanley. Murphy developed great chemistry with Adam Graves and they formed the heart of the "Kid Line" that spring.
Sometimes a slight adjustment is all it takes.
In recent games, Sam Gagner has been placed on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Although it took some time (Gagner is also recovering from an injury and adjsting to a move to RW), the trio is starting to find the range and offer the Oilers another scoring option on a nightly basis.
Old timey fans will remember the days of the high flying Oilers, a time when the dedicated skill lines had a third threesome who could do damage too. I think the Oilers might be close to having enough skilled personnel to fill the required 9 slots for three skill lines.
The problem may be chemistry.
A month ago, the Oilers top 3 lines went like this (C-L-R):
That’s from the Detroit game on Remembrance Day. Since then, injuries and ineffectiveness have led to some shuffling, and the RNH-Smyth-Eberle line has had a very nice run. The Horcoff-Gagner-Hemsky line is also playing well in recent games, and even the third line (Belanger-Paajarvi-Jones) has shown some things.
Taylor Hall is close to returning, and Anton Lander might play in the Oilers next game. So the club has some options, and chemistry will play a major role in how things play out. Veterans Smyth and Horcoff appear to be the most adaptable of the old hands, and I’d suggest that Jordan Eberle can be creative with pretty much everyone and leads the youngsters in this area (at least at even strength).
So, if we "pair up" three lines, like this:
it’s a matter of finding the best chemistry available from the group that includes Gagner, Jones, Belanger, Paajarvi and Lander. Ben Eager may also be in photo. I’d suggest leaving Gagner on the Horcoff-Hemsky line (they’re already creating) and trying Ryan Jones with Smyth and RNH (he’s done well everywhere else they’ve tried him this season).
Which leaves us with the choice of Belanger between Hall and Eberle. Now, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know when saying Eric Belanger has struggled this season offensively. However, he’s also endured a terrible Zone Start and hasn’t had the best linemates this season. This might be a time for Belanger to get the "push" to see if he can help this team get something they haven’t had in ages–balanced scoring.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers have enough talent to reach the tipping point offensively–icing a team with three lines that could make you pay at any given time. The gifted kids (RNH, Hall, Eberle) married to the quality veterans (Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky) could form the foundation for a strong 9 up front.
Sam Gagner is better and finding the range; Ryan Jones is having a terrific season in all areas; Eric Belanger is a veteran with successful offensive seasons in the recent past. Jason Gregor wrote a fine article on Belanger today and it’s probably time for this solid veteran to step up.
The opportunity exists for the Edmonton Oilers to roll three lines that can score goals.