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.
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