Just a couple of weeks ago our very own Jason Gregor made a
very salient point about three scoring lines not being realistic. However, we
are only perhaps a couple of weeks away from Yakupov and McDavid coming back
from injury. At this point I’m left asking myself why it can’t happen.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the NHL rarely sees three scoring
lines. There’s a reason for that. Nobody can afford that many talented
offensive players. The NHL pays for points and always has. A player can cash
out for years on one well timed contract year. A career year offensively even
once can boost a player’s earnings astronomically.
As such, there isn’t a team in the NHL that can keep three
quality lines together anymore. The age of unrestricted free agency is lower
than ever and there’s a Salary Cap. That’s the dream killer for three scoring
Of course there’s also the fact that NHL teams generally
have just three useful lines and a fourth that is mostly just there for
funsies. What we now think of a “traditional” setup for the forward lines goes
Top Line: Primary Scoring
Second Line: Secondary Scoring
Checking Line: Goes Up Against Top Opposition
Energy Line: Muck Stuff Up
The problem with this is that this just isn’t the way things
generally work in real life. It certainly isn’t the way the Oilers work in real
life. The biggest myth out there is that checking lines actually exist anymore.
There are lines that get heavy defensive zone assignments, but it’s a lot
closer to zone matching than checking. This is the way the Oilers and many
teams are configured:
Top Line: Primary scoring, especially at home with softer
Second Line: Faces top opposition, especially at home with
Faceoff Line: Heavy defensive zone usage. Line filled with penalty killers and faceoff winners.
AHL Line: Young players who are unestablished tweeners.
Sometimes there’s a fighter.
In actual use for the Oilers that’s:
Hall-Draisaitl-Purcell: No doubt the top offensive option.
Pouliot-RNH-Eberle: Nuge is the best two-way forward on the
team. Faces top opposition nightly.
Hendricks-Letestu-Korpikoski: Heaviest D-Zone starts by
percentage but are the second level checking unit.
Gazdic/Khaira-Lander-Pakarinen: McLellan prays nothing bad
happens. They add almost nothing.
This brings us back to the possibility of bringing back
McDavid and Yakupov to the roster in a few weeks. The Oilers have a chance to
do something that balanced teams simply cannot do. They have a chance to cut
out that terrible AHL line and replace it with legitimate NHL scoring talent. Let’s
also assume for a minute that in three weeks Zack Kassian proves he’s better than
the AHL (*spits*). There is nothing holding the Oilers back from running their
forward lines like this:
I’m sorry if I don’t cry about the Hendricks/Letestu line
having their even strength ice time reduced further to key faceoffs, shifts after power plays, and when the top three lines need a breather. Frankly, that line
is a lot closer to what we traditionally think of an “Energy” line than the
So if the Oilers do indeed opt to use the combinations above
(at no charge from myself) there would almost certainly be no major change to
RNH’s usage. He’s still going to face the toughest opposition at home and on
the fly when on the road. Hall and Draisaitl will still be counted on for
primary scoring. The Letestu line is still filled with the team’s primary penalty killers and takes heavy D-Zone starts. The only real difference is that
instead of another line with replacement level talent there’s the ultra
talented McDavid and company.
Edmonton has a chance to do something most other teams just
cannot do because the balance in their roster prevents them from icing the
forwards to do it. All it’s going to take is the willingness to look at the “traditional”
line configurations and see them for what they are: Products of necessity, not
ideals to strive for. Edmonton doesn’t have a “Checking Line”. Edmonton doesn’t
NEED a trio of players to provide “Energy”. The healthy Oiler 2015-2016 roster
can actually do something interesting.
That said, the Oilers as I’ve outlined above are not long
for this world for the same reason nobody else has three scoring lines. The
equation is unbalanced. There’s too much talent/money in the forward group and
not enough in the defense. It’s very likely that neither Purcell nor Eberle are
here in 2016-2017 because of free agency and the need to upgrade the defense. But in the here and now the Oilers do have the players. The equation wont be balanced until at least the summer.
Are three scoring lines realistic long term? No. Not with the
need to be better on the back end and in net. There’s money that needs to be
Are three scoring lines realistic when McDavid gets back?
Yes. What’s preventing them from doing it? I’d say nothing except the
willingness to be different.