Ralph Krueger: In The Driver’s Seat

Unlike a lot of assistant/associate coach promotions, we’ve had a chance to see what a Ralph Krueger run bench looks like. During his time filling in for Tom Renney, how did he arrange his forward lines and how did he use them?

The following shows the line combinations that Krueger used at even-strength in the five games in which he was the main man behind the bench (the dates are via mc79hockey). I’ve ranked the lines be even-strength ice-time, and looked at how each was deployed with the phenomenal tools available at timeonice.com.

February 6 on the road against Toronto

The Lines

  • Smyth – Nugent-Hopkins – Hemsky
  • Hall – Gagner – Eberle
  • Belanger – Horcoff – Jones
  • Petrell – Lander – Hordichuk

How they were used: This was a road game, so Krueger didn’t control the matchups, but looking back through the shift charts and head-to-head ice-time it looks like what he tried to do was get the Horcoff line out in a checking role against the Kessle/Lupul duo. When he couldn’t get the Horcoff line out, the Nugent-Hopkins line – sensibly, given the veteran wingers – was the go-to choice. The Gagner line primarily saw depth opponents. Krueger also did his best to get the Nugent-Hopkins line on the ice in the offensive zone.

February 17 at home against Colorado

The Lines

  • Hall – Gagner – Eberle
  • Paajarvi – Horcoff – Hemsky
  • Smyth – Belanger – Jones
  • Petrell – Lander – Eager

How they were used: the top line was on the ice against either Colorado’s own top unit (Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Mark Olver) or against the Avs’ checking line centered by Jay McClement. The Belanger trio took on Colorado’s “second” line of Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and Daivd Jones, while the Horcoff trio got whatever was left. The fourth line was barely used at all.

February 19 at home against Vancouver

The Lines

  • Hall – Gagner – Eberle
  • Smyth – Horcoff – Jones
  • Petrell – Belanger – Eager
  • Paajarvi – Lander – Hemsky

How they were used: For the majority of the game the Horcoff line was designated to shadow Sedin/Sedin/Burrows. If the Horcoff line wasn’t available, that task went to the Belanger trio. Belanger and Horcoff both also saw significant minutes against the Kesler line. The Gagner line had an excellent game in the loss, and saw a fair bit of Kesler but also some time against the weaker Malhotra and Hodgson lines. The trio centered on Lander mostly drew Hodgson as an opponent.

February 21 on the road against Calgary

The Lines

  • Hall – Horcoff – Hemsky
  • Smyth – Gagner – Eberle
  • Paajarvi – Belanger – Eager
  • Petrell – Lander – Hordichuk

How they were used: In one of the Oilers most dominant outings this season, the Gagner line went head-to-head against Tanguay/Jokinen/Iginla. Beyond that the flames lines are a bit of a mess, but the Horcoff unit mostly drew Mike Cammalleri, Belanger’s line played largely against Stajan, and the fourth lines played against each other. Gagner’s line got the advantage of a bunch of offensive zone starts.

February 23 at home against Philadelphia

The Lines

  • Hall – Horcoff – Hemsky
  • Smyth – Gagner – Eberle
  • Paajarvi – Belanger – Eager
  • Petrell – Lander – Hordichuk

How they were used: Beyond the fact that the Horcoff line saw a lot of Claude Giroux, the matchups were something of a mess. Interestingly, the Gagner line got a lot of work in the defensive zone, something that had not been the norm in Krueger’s previous games. Hordichuk saw minimal ice-time and when he was off the ice Eric Belanger was the most frequent replacement, which only really makes sense if the Lander/Petrell pairing were being used in a defensive role.

My Take

It was interesting for me to go back and see what Krueger had done with the Oilers’ lines when he was in charge behind the bench, but it’s pretty hard to make any grand proclamations about his tendencies based on just five games. He opted for both an old-school checking line and then for a more balanced approach at various times while he was running the bench, so he could go with either (or both) next season and it wouldn’t really be a surprise.

As for individual players, there are some interesting things here. It’s important not to read too much into it – we’re looking at a five-game stretch with players like Nugent-Hopkins out of the lineup for the bulk of the games – but a few things stand out. Ryan Jones was a healthy scratch after the Vancouver game; he spent the last two games of Krueger’s tenure in the press box. Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner both got better minutes under Krueger than they did for much of Renney’s time, though of course Nugent-Hopkins was hurt and that played into things.

Individually, I think the loss against Vancouver is the most interesting game. Facing a lineup far tougher than his own, and with home-ice advantage, Krueger opted for two checking lines, one primary offensive unit and a fourth line with the potential to add some kick. Reading into those decisions a little bit, it’s as if Krueger’s strategy was to hope that the Horcoff/Belanger units could weather the storm against Vancouver’s tougher lines, and that either the Gagner vs. Hodgson or the Lander vs. the fourth-line matchups would chip in enough offense for the Oilers to squeak past. It didn’t work, but it does strike me as a sensible approach, though there’s the risk of not using Hemsky as much as his talents would dictate.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • Hall, Gagner and Eberle will make some hay this year given half a chance. Those guys read each other really well. You put Smyth on that line past December and they’re screwed. Buddy is running with no more than a quarter tank by then and simply cannot keep up. Half the muffins he fired at net last year were because he couldn’t follow the young guys in.

    Sweet dangles aside, I’d be plenty happy to see Hemsky/Horcoff/Smyth no farther up than the third line. Hemsky might have something left in him yet but I’d be making him earn those juicy 2-line minutes before I slotted him in there.

    • justDOit

      Sure was, so was a game with LA later I believe. Had to like Renny’s comments after though. Would have loved to see what Tortarello’s reaction to it would have been.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Wow it seems that everyone is totally obsessed with all this Schultz! I think this guy has potential, but he is unproven, small, and never played with men not wearing a visor!

    I am fearful that the Oilers brass have put all their eggs in the Schultz basket …….and based on what? A comment by Bob McKenzie that he like Edmonton.

    He is not coming to Edmonton, and he is not going to be an effective player for a couple of years anyways!

    I hope that Tamby and company have a plan B!

  • vetinari

    RE Krueger – I think that the line combo’s from those games goes with what Krueger said at the earlier press conference which was players who are following through with their assignments and doing what they are suppose to will get ice time and those that don’t get to watch the game from the press box.

    RE Schultz – I think that management and fans are banking too much on a player who has never played a game in the NHL to fix our defensive woes. Defencemen are different than forwards; you can hide a defensively weak forward on a line with responsible teammates or cut their defensive zone starts and still use the player effectively but defencemen can leave their partners and goaltenders vulnerable to odd man rushes and turnovers. I hope Schultz signs with the Oil but realisticly, don’t expect more from him than maybe finishing as a plus player, or averaging 16 minutes or more a game, or having more than 15-20 points on the season.

    • justDOit

      You’re right about Schultz, but I don’t see anyone saying he’s going to be the saviour this year – only that to pick up a good prospect for nothing would be a huge bonus. To have to keep him on the big club will certainly result in some growing pains, no doubt.

      As far as his upside, you’ve nailed it, but I think he’ll have the chance to get more points than that. Combined with Krueger’s PP strategies, I think that Schultz could be deployed in a successful role in man-advantage situations and see some better numbers posted because of that.

  • A-Mc

    Definitely too small of a sample size to really judge Krueger’s methods.

    I’m very hopeful that Tambolini can pickup a defenseman or two for Krueger so he has something to work with.

  • Brownlee loves the word meow

    By the way JW, this was a very impressive article. The time that you took to write this really showed. I am impressed with this type of approach you took towards shining a light on the type of coach we can expect. The amount of effort that went into this really makes you a gem to the nation JW. Great mix of facts, detailed explanations, and opinion… especially given the small sample size you had to work with

  • The Soup Fascist

    @ J Willis

    Don’t sweat it Willis. You are waaay too young to remember that show. I am old and pretty sure I saw reruns in syndication.

    But the Sgt. Schultz catch phrase and smokin’ blonde secretary were the most memorable things from the show.

    What is most unbelievable, is it hard to believe that someone thought a comedy about the Nazis would make a good TV show (~I mean really, what could be funnier than the Holocaust?).

    Can you imagine some TV exec pitching a comedy based on the September 11th Twin Tower attacks (which was about 1500 times less lethal) today – Mohamed and Ahmed take Manhattan?? How Hogan’s Heroes ever made it to the air without boycotts and demonstrations is beyond me. Different time I suppose.

    • justDOit

      Nice observations re Hogan’s Heroes. But because the show was about a POW camp, and not a concentration camp, the whole spectre of the Jewish genocide is removed one step.

      So as an analogy of a show pitched today, I would offer a sitcom based on an Al Qaeda training facility in Afghanistan. Characters would include a dim-witted camp commander (not sure how to work a blonde secretary in there…), a bumbling but well meaning sgt, a jittery-handed explosives expert, and some smart-@ssed trainees. There you’ve used the basic setting behind the trade center attacks as a premise, without involving any images of dying civilians.

      • striatic

        there’s a black comedy movie based on that concept called “Four Lions”, and it is hilarious. well, pretty funny at least.

        it does have an element of realism to it that makes the movie sort of complicated though.


  • justDOit

    On Schultz, the point is that he will likely become part of the Oilers core of top notch young players, sooner rather than later. NHL scouts are pretty much unanimous that he can step in, likely play Top 4 minutes (for a team like the Oilers) and play the point on the PP. On the Canucks he would probably play only the second PP unit, if that. On the Oil he would probably play on the first unit, which is as good as any in the league, but lacks a quality point man. Plus he shoots right. Remember he will turn 22 next week, so has far more experience than Ryan Murray or Adam Larson.
    He would definitely help this year and will likely help a lot more going forward. It is hard to find Top 4 D man because with exceptions like Doughty, teams are understandably reluctant to draft them high in the first round, later first round make more sense but are still unpredictable, teams are reluctant to trade them and often ask too much and you usually have to pay over value over a long term for veteran free agnets, as Calgary’s Wideman signing demonstrates.
    Schultz, if we can get him, maybe a 30% chance, would fill a huge need without overpaying or risking draft picks. It would be a huge win for the organization.

    • justDOit

      I’ll give you 5% and donate another 10% to ON to be my witnesses in court.

      Edit: But ultimately the show will fail, because there’s no way to work in the hot, blonde secretary into a setting in Afghanistan.

  • I read on one site a heading that O . Jokenin was going to free agency and unlikely to be a Flame next season . Would he be worth us going after if he goes the Ufa route , and at what cost ? Seeing how Musil does in camp as well as Fedun to see if one of them might make the grade and Klefbom allowed to go back to Sweden as he appears to want at this stage . I’d prefer Klefbom play in N.America, such as Yakupov choose to do ,even if he does not make the team this year .

  • yes, ralph has read the book …art of war…funny you felt that……he is an unreal motivater and person,,,,people young and old always look up to him…a real leader…. far far ahead of the times…should have replaced the recycled trash long ago….