Three Scoring Lines, A Second Opinion

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
lines.

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
like this:

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
opposition.

Second Line: Faces top opposition, especially at home with
last change.

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:

Hall-Draisaitl-Purcell

Pouliot-RNH-Eberle

Kassian-McDavid-Yakupov

Hendricks-Letestu-Korpikoski/Lander

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
Lander/Gazdic line.

unicorns

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
spent elsewhere.

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.

  • Stack Pad Save

    Maybe the Oilers try it this year because it’s what they have to work with, but I’m not so sure it’s a good strategy. These current players are vulnerable to the opposing team’s cycle, the forwards don’t get involved with team defense, and not that much going to the net for garbage.

    NHL goals are mostly tips, rebounds, and screens. To get those you need players in the kill zone, and having 3 lines of fly-by’s, one and done rushes will get some pretty goals but maybe not win games.

    We already spend most of the games in our own zone, so is adding another sort of soft, highly skilled line with our current defense going to help that?

    I hope like hell it works, but not so sure you can just assume another “scoring line” is going to result in wins if the current weaknesses are still there.

  • Serious Gord

    Three scoring lines at best is a fleetingly temporary thing. Maybe ten games.

    Likely by the trade deadline one of the forward core will be gone in exchange for defense help.

    Three scoring lines aren’t much use if there is nil defense.

    Interesting that Matt highlights what is really hurting EDM scoring this season:

    1. The hall line simply isn’t that good when they face the other team’s top line. That is what is happening on the road.

    2. And while on the road the second line – even though it is getting matched against the second pairing isn’t producing.

    Sure would be nice to have a defensive pairing that actually contributed some offense.

  • Stack Pad Save

    I couldn’t agree with you more archeology guy.

    Based on how the Oilers roster is configured you may as well run 3 “scoring” lines. This and try to play good defence by playing the game in the other teams end and giving opposition coaches and players match up fits.

    If you are Joe quenvillemwho do you put Duncan kieth out against? McDavid? RNH? Draistle?

  • camdog

    Okay my take.

    3 scoring lines is blogger speak for I don’t know what to write about.

    In 07 pronged and a few other key d left. The oilers signed Elias and expected a continuation of Pisani play off output.

    All things were pointing up. Executive they hadn’t played a game yet.

    I think Elias got 2 goals in that first game vrs the flames.

    Point is 3 lines do not work and edmonton fans have been bringing it up perpetually for a decade.

    Top players need a certain amount of ice time to be effective.

  • Serious Gord

    It can (only?) work if the players agree to take team-friendly salary. But just imagine a line up with CMd – RNH – Drai playing center. The closest thing in recent times I can think of is Crosby – Malkin – Staal, but I think the Oilers version might be even better.

    • Serious Gord

      Does it ever.

      If Kassian can find his game, that could pay huge dividends. He’s got 20+ goal potential, showed it in Van – and playing with McDavid he could flourish as a power forward. Toss in a successful Yak and you are laughing.

  • bwar

    Khaira had some success playing with rnh and eberle. Pouliot also had great success playing with mcdavid and yakupov. So if kassian is a dud or the oilers just don’t want to call him up, khaira is a perfectly acceptable alternative.