A balanced top-six

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.


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:

  • Stacking your line should kept as an ace up your sleeve until you need it. Babcock will stack Datsyuk and Zetterberg together at the right moment of the game. And was saw Chicago dominate after Toews, Kane and Bickell were re-united mid-series with Boston having no answer, not even Chara. I think having that option is like having an extra gear that you keep in reserve. Cruise in 5th gear and let the opposition get used to that, then surprise them mid-game when you kick it into 6th gear.

  • bwar

    I would love to see RNH and Yak paired together.
    I also feel that Hall can produce no matter who he is paired with.
    Switching the lines around could have a very nice effect on scoring production.

  • I like option #2. Playmakers are best with sharp-shooters (recall Gretzky/Kurri). But I think chemistry should be the top consideration. Certain people click together better. From what I can tell Gagner clicks better with Eberle and Hall than he does with Yak. What do you think?

  • JW:
    I like to use the web site:


    To look at who plays best with whom.
    looking at the last three years.
    the players still on the team.

    The best combinations (Gf-GA)/60min
    #1 Hall-XXX-Yak +5.54
    #2 XXX-Gagner-Eager +4.34
    #3 XXX-RNH-Eager +2.72
    #4 Smyth-XXX-Eberle +2.53
    #5 Smyth-Gagner-XXX +2.32
    #6 Smyth-XXX-Yak +1.73
    #7 Eager-XXX-Jones +1.44
    #8 Jones-XXX-Yak +1.42
    #9 Smyth-RNH-XXX +1.30
    #10 Smyth-Lander-XXX +1.05
    #11 XXX-RNH-Eberle +0.63
    #12 Hall-RNH-XXX +0.47
    #13 XXX-RNH-Hemsky +0.29
    #14 Hall-XXX-Eberle +0.25
    #15 XXX-GagnerJjones +0.17

    Interesting results and to see Eager and Smyth up at the top!

  • Another thing to consider is that with the parity in the NHL, even if you run a super-line, defences will become increasingly better at defending them. And in a playoff series, possibly shut them down.

    Better to put your best together on occasion and create havoc.

    Also depth is key in the playoffs, ask the Pens.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    I like line Alt 1. I would be shifting Hall to the 3rd line on occasion with Hemsky and Gordan. That would make an opposing coach worry. Hemsky with someone to give and receive passes.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Also….one of the keys to success is using your elite players to make other players around them better……which doesn’t happen if you play one superline……plus you can always reunite the super line and double shift them if you need a boost late in a game..

  • mrBacon

    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.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    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


    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.