I think most people who watch the Oilers this season have been frustrated or confused by the amount of line juggling we’ve seen from Head Coach Todd McLellan.
There are a few ways to look at this. Is McLellan not giving his lines enough time to develop chemistry? Does he simply not have the talent needed to find a trio or two that can make a positive impact? Have injuries simply crushed any chance for consistency?
Let’s eliminate the injury theory right away. The Oilers aren’t even among the top twenty teams in man games lost so far this season. It’s not that.
So is the McBlender a thing?
Chemistry Being Denied?
Here are the most commonly used lines in the NHL this season (prior to the games on Thursday night)
- Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland (704.92 Time On Ice)
- Marchessault – Karlsson – Smith (682.67 TOI)
- Lee – Tavares – Bailey (668.73 TOI)
- Landeskog – MacKinnon – Rantanen (658.12 TOI)
- Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown (639.73)
The most commonly used trio for the Oilers this season has been Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl; which got just over 289 minutes together prior to the Maroon trade.
The Oilers only have two other lines that have spent more than 100 minutes playing together this season.
Lucic – McDavid – Puljujarvi (177.40 TOI)
Khaira – Draisiatl– Strome (104.80 TOI)
The line of Nuge-McDavid-Rattie will also hit this 100 TOI mark in the near future. Yes, that’s right the current McDavid line has only been together for seven games and they are closing in on being one of the most commonly used trios by McLellan this season, that seems crazy doesn’t it?
The Oilers are one of two teams in the NHL this year that have had three or fewer line combinations spend at least 100 minutes of time together.
The Colorado Avalanche only have two lines who have played over 100 minutes together, but it’s a completely different story for them because they have a clearly defined top six.
The MacKinnon line has played over 650 minutes together while the trio of Comeau-Soderberg-Nieto has played 565 minutes together.
Todd McLellan has used twenty different threesomes for at least 50 minutes this season. Only the New York Rangers have used more combinations for that amount of time and you have to remember they completely dismantled their team prior to the deadline.
Production Not There?
Maybe Todd McLellan can’t find any lines that work so he is forced to keep rotating through options.
Let’s take a look at the top 30 goal-scoring lines in the NHL this season. The MacKinnon line we’ve talked about has been on the ice for 47 goals this season. Rounding out the top 30 is Panarin-Dubois-Anderson in Columbus with 16 goals.
Of the top 30 scoring lines in the NHL this season, only two of them have a Goals For Percentage below 50. The Lee-Tavares-Bailey line in New York has scored 31 goals and allowed 34. Tkachuk-Frolik-Ferland down in Calgary has found the back of the net 22 times, but has been beaten on 25 occasions.
So let’s use Goals for Percentage to see how the Oilers rarely used trio’s compare.
There are five combinations for the Oilers this season that have played over 40 minutes together and have a GF% above 50%.
1. Lucic – McDavid – Puljujarvi (66.67 GF% – 177.40 TOI)
2. Lucic – McDavid – Slepyshev (66.67 GF% – 42.12 TOI)
3. Nuge – McDavid – Rattie (64.70 GF% – 89.97 TOI)
4. Caggiula – Draisaitl – Aberg (62.50 GF% – 50.42 TOI)
5. Khaira – Draisaitl – Strome (55.56 GF% – 104.8 TOI)
The one thing you can take away from this is McDavid drives everything and no matter whom you have with him he’s very likely going to dominate. Surprise!
The case for McLellan here is that he simply couldn’t find any lines work without McDavid but once again how would you know when they didn’t really give them much time to gel.
So the eye test and the numbers line up on Todd McLellan. He is the only coach in the league to have 20 different trios with at least 50 minutes together this year while at the same time having just three lines to hit 100 minutes.
The question I want you to answer in the comments is this. Did the Oilers struggle this year because McLellan didn’t allow his lines time to find chemistry or did he simply not have the pieces to work with?
I understand this team needs more help on the wings, but I will never agree with a strategy of not allowing a line to have five or more games to actually develop some true chemistry.
I’m, once again, left frustrated by the lack of sample size we have to look at when analyzing these line combinations, which of course brings us back to the original issue.
Maybe next season the Oilers will use the first nine games of the year to develop chemistry among players who will be on the roster for the entire season as opposed to having a 19-year old just killing time before going back to junior. Maybe not.
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