There is a sea change underway in the National Hockey League.
General Mangers have discovered that it is preferable to ice a lineup that can possess the puck and do something with it when they get it.
That it took so long for them to discover certainly gives one pause but I think we can see that there are some hockey executives who have been ahead of the curve and some others who are still grappling with the concept.
Traditionally, we’ve seen NHL teams ice a lineup that includes:
- A Power vs. Power line that, hopefully can outscore either the oppositions’ top line or a checking line thrown out against them depending on home or away situations or opposition tactics
- A second line with “secondary scorers” who often play softer minutes
- A third line comprised of “checkers”
- A fourth line comprised of with “energy” players or “face punchers” or some combination of both.
The issue with this traditional thinking is that more progressive teams have figured out that, if you can ice a third line with skill, it can easily outperform a third line of checkers if the skill level is high enough and, of course, if the oppositions’ third line is busy with other tasks depending on match ups.
Let’s take a look at the gold standard of NHL teams…the Los Angeles Kings. I am convinced this team is perfectly constructed to achieve in the contemporary NHL.
They, in my opinion, don’t have one hole in the lineup. They are built to win, they have all their core players locked up long term, they have young players on entry level contracts pushing the river and they have zero cap problems.
So, how have they adapted to the three scoring lines mantra?
Now, understand that what constitutes a third line is very fluid and depends to a large degree on coaching tactics, TOI, and a raft of other considerations. But, it’s likely that the the Kings “third line” is Mike Richards, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
Toffoli and Pearson scored 25 points in the NHL playoffs on the Kings’ march to a cup win, while Richards, relegated to “4th line” minutes in the playoffs managed to score 10 points in 26 games.
Going forward, I think a 3rd “scoring” line of Richards, Toffoli and Pearson may well surpass many other teams second line and, in some cases, threaten to expose the top lines of a few teams.
But, what about the other teams in the tough Western Conference?
Chicago can throw out a third line of Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger/Andrew Shaw and Kris Versteeg who scored more than 40 goals last season.
Now, let’s look at the Ducks.
They will likely employ some combination of Andrew Cogliano/Emerson Etem/Patrick Maroon/Devante Smith-Pelly on their third line.
Cogliano is the old man of that group and managed to score 21 goals and 42 points last season while playing the 4th most minutes among Anaheim centres (although he often played wing), and he’ll be joined by a couple of blue chip prospects.
(For those with long memories and a smidgen of humility, you’ll recall I said years ago that keeping Gagner and moving Cogliano was a HUGE mistake. Thank you, thank you very much.)
The Ducks have this thing figured out.
I’m not going to go though every team in the WC, but I think we can agree that some teams like Arizona and Calgary barely have enough decent forwards to ice a traditional “checking” line never mind a 3rd scoring line. They’ll just be trying to play for a draw.
But what about a couple of teams closer to home?
The Canucks have new voices in the room…all of whom have gone on record as wanting a skilled, puck possession team.
Their lineup is very much in flux but I wouldn’t be surprised if their third line is Chris Higgins/Linden Vey/Jannik Hansen.
Higgins scored 17 goals and 39 points last season.
Vey is, of course, a former WHL scoring champion and Hansen, while having a dreadful 2013/14 like most Canucks, does have a 16G 39P season to his credit.
Sounds like a work in progress to me but has some great potential.
Ideally, the Edmonton Oilers would have a third scoring line with a decent centre between Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov but based on MacT’s ramblings, Boyd Gordon is going to take that spot which immediately downgrades the line to a checking line and renders Yakupov’s singular skills someone moot.
Perhaps we’ll see Yakupov on the second line with Perron and (fill in the blank) but I wonder if a third line of Pouliot/Gordon/Purcell could be called a “scoring line”?
Sounds like an old school “checking line” to me.
And, if MacT keeps employing face punchers, I think we have all the information we need.