Properly Deploying the Lineup

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Do you know what I love?  A big ol’ badonkadonk on a beautiful woman.  But (pardon the pun) do you know WHAT ELSE I love?  Stepping outside and the sun is shining, but the air is a bit cool, and there is no humidity and a little condensation on the windows of my truck.  College football is now in full swing, my fantasy draft transpired last weekend, NFL gets going Thursday, junior hockey leagues are already getting into pre-season (doing colour for the Lloydminster Bobcats again this season who began their pre-season last Wednesday at home against Spurce Grove), and finally, NHL camps are about to open!  For some people, summer ending is the absolute worst.  Those people loathe me because I’m ecstatic that fall is here!

 

Speaking of which, we’re now only now a little over three weeks away from the Boundary Battle of Alberta!  Latest addition’s to the game are Oilers analyst on 630 CHED Rob Brown, and former Oilers captain Ethan Moreau.  Big names.  Brown is known as one of the greatest players in the history of the WHL.  212 points for Kamloops in the 86-87 season.  In 88-89, put up 49 goals and 115 points in just 68 games to help lead the Penguins to their first playoff appearance in six seasons.  After falling on hard times in the middle of his career, Brown’s resiliency was on full display after spending the large majority of five seasons (93-97) in the IHL, Brown found himself back with the Penguins for the 97-98 season, putting up 40 points in 82 games (let’s remember, 40 points in 98 was about the same as 70 points in 89).

 

Ethan Moreau faced his fair share of adversity in his career as well.  The 14th overall pick of the 1994 entry draft, Moreau was expected to be a scorer at the NHL level.  After a terrific rookie campaign in 96-97 for the Hawks, Moreau’s career stalled in Chicago and was eventually dealt to the Oilers right before the 1999 trade deadline in the Boris Mironov deal.  In Edmonton however, Moreau found a home and became part of the teams core.  He epitomized Oilers hockey in his years with the club.  His hard work both on and off the ice truly paid off in the 03-04 season with a career-high 20 goals.  Of course, that season likely paled in comparison to what the team accomplished in 05-06 as they went all the way to game seven of the Cup final, and Moreau’s efforts were rewarded with a four year extension prior to the 06-07 season.  He was named captain of the club prior to the 07-08 season, however once again his resiliency was put to the test as he’d missed most of 06-07 after needing reconstructive shoulder surgery, broke his tibia during the 07-08 pre-season, FINALLY returned to the lineup for the first time in over a year on December 29th, 2007…though only for two months as on February 25th his season was ended with a broken leg.  Most players might toss in the towel at that point.  Three major injuries in two seasons.  Moreau not only came back for the 08-09 season, but he played in 77 games and was rewarded with the NHL’s King Clancy award.  The guy was a total warrior.

The late game is sold out, but tickets are still available for the noon game! Proceeds go towards the mental health initiative Project Sunrise. Head to Boundary Ford in Lloydminster to purchase your tickets and check out some of the Oilers and Flames greats for just $25.00!

Onto other Oilers business…

 

Again I’m going to start off a piece with a grim reminder that the Oilers are very likely in a one year rebuild.  And again I’m going to say that while it’s a one year rebuild, it doesn’t at all mean that they’re tanking or not looking to win in any way.  So with the lineup looking so thin, what is the best way for head coach Dave Tippett to find balance throughout his lineup?  I have some suggestions…perhaps you’d like to read them…

 

As everyone should know by now, you want to find pairings up front, and then a 3rd man who more so simply fits on a line rather than a need to find a three man combination.  Obviously if you can afford to go with a trio (like the Bruins), you do so.  But the Oilers don’t have anywhere near that depth.

 

With this being said, here is what I’d look to do.

 

McDavid with Neal

This isn’t what will happen, but this is what I would like to see tried at least to start camp.  It’s maybe been stated 10-20 million times by now, but Draisaitl doesn’t need McDavid to produce.  I’m not as anti putting them together as I was at this time last year, but if Neal is in as good as shape as is being advertised, then these two have the potential to be a dynamic duo as well, and therefore Tippett should be able to spread the wealth so to speak by keeping McDavid and Draisaitl separated.

3rd Wheel?

I doubt many, if any, see it this way given how unproven the kid is, but I’ve liked the idea of trying Nygard with McDavid since they signed him.  This isn’t AT ALL suggesting that the kid is a first-line winger.  If he was, he’d have been in the league long ago.  But the thought of a burner like Nygard paired with McDavid is just so damn intriguing to me.  I realize that McDavid and Hall didn’t gel all that well when tried together, but that wasn’t because they were both great skaters, it was because neither were guys were used to deferring to someone else on their line.  Nygard with McDavid could potentially be a deadly combination in their own right.

 

Nugent-Hopkins with Draisaitl

A lot of us have discussed this a ton not just this off-season, it was heavily discussed leading into last season as I recall.  It’s simple: find a lesser name who McDavid can truly gel with (which could be Neal if last season was in fact an aberration), freeing up the 2nd and 3rd best offensive players to team up on their own line.  I will point out though that several people in the past have made the claim that Draisaitl is adamant he play with McDavid, so perhaps that is why it’s rarely been tried.

3rd Wheel?

Unlike with Nygard filling in on the top line, I’d feel comfortable with several options on the 2nd line.  As most likely would though, I’ll say Kassian.  Will he be able to produce as he did with McDavid and Draisaitl?  Highly unlikely.  But can he hold his own in the top six with Nuge and without McDavid?  I believe so.

 

Marody with Benson

So the last time around I was pretty steadfast that I didn’t like this idea.  But the more I’ve given it thought not just of where they’d line up, but how my lineup would look, perhaps it is best to try them together.  Add to that, it could be a big benefit for both to have that comfort level on the ice that they would.  I definitely believe there was merit to what I said last time around in keeping them separate not only for experience purposes but also for speed purposes.  But if you’re deploying the lineup properly, it should leave Marody and Benson (should both even make the opening night roster) with a lot of soft minutes on the 3rd line.

3rd Wheel?

For me, I love the idea of Josh Archibald here.  Talked about the lack of speed with the combination of Marody and Benson, well Archibald gives this line that.  He’s shown a pretty decent ability to finish as well.  I’m well aware that some would be screaming that I say Gagner or Chiasson in this spot, but with both players you have a lack of speed.  I’m not too eager to try what would make for a pretty slow line, no matter how soft of minutes they’re seeing.

 

Haas with Chiasson

By no means would I suggest that this is a combination that can do damage, even on the 4th line.  We’re not even sure if Gaetan Haas can play in the NHL (according to Bob Stauffer and the people he talks to, the jury is out).  But as I look at this lineup, I worry about guys who can kill penalties.  Kassian is ok at it, as is Archibald, but more is needed and the hope is that Haas can be that guy.  Chiasson was impressive at the start of last season playing on the 4th line, and was back down near that level once his hot stick finally cooled.

 

3rd Wheel?

Most would probably say Jujhar Khaira here.  I definitely am not against Khaira in this spot myself.  However, Markus Granlund is going to play, and I don’t have him anywhere in the lineup.  Granlund is a little better on the PK, a little more speed, and is a little better playing the middle if need be.

 

This leaves Sam Gagner and Khaira as the odd men out of the lineup.  It also sends Colby Cave to the minors.  With Gagner specifically, I really don’t like leaving him out as I still believe he has the ability to contribute 40-45 points (32 point pace last season for the Oilers with none of it coming on the PP).  If it’s me, he’s in direct competition with Marody for that 3rd line centre role.  But if Marody shows better than Gagner in the pre-season, I believe he should be the guy as he’s younger and is under team control for several more seasons.  In the case of Cave, I join most in being a fan, but this lineup is just so desperate for speed and Cave didn’t provide much of it last season.  It’s not that either guy is incapable of playing, but I’m having trouble finding a spot for either of them, or Khaira.

 

Again though, this is what I personally would do at this point without having seen these guys play pre-season.  Not that pre-season should be everything for a roster, but with this one they have about 15 forwards truly vying for spots.  It’ll play a big factor.

 

If I had to guess at what Tippett will do, I’d suggest that it’s something like this:

Draisaitl – McDavid – Kassian

Benson – Nugent-Hopkins – Neal

Granlund – Gagner – Chiasson

Khaira – Haas – Archibald

 

The D is another story, mainly because we’ve got a little insight as to what they’re planning thanks to Jim Playfair’s interview with Bob Stauffer last week.  Nurse and Larsson seeing top matchups last season weren’t good.  Now, in saying that, I’ve always been and will continue to be a big believer in Nurse’s upside deep into his 20’s as he continues to grow.  Larsson is capable of being one of the best shutdown D-men in the sport, but it has now been two years since we’ve seen that player.  Can it work?  100%.  Will it work?  I have my fears.

 

The other thing that came of that interview was that Playfair talked about possibly moving Kris Russell to the left side.  I have no problem with that at all…except…if this was the plan all summer, why didn’t Ken Holland at least explore a trade of Russell?  They have as good of a D-man coming in Caleb Jones whom they will also want to play the left side.  They also have William Lagesson who isn’t flashy but brings a VERY solid defensive game to the table.  I’m all for Russell playing the left side, but it doesn’t make any sense when you look at what else they have to work with.  I assume that they’re going to try Klefbom with Benning, which analytically does make some sense, but for me personally, I’m not a fan of that pairing.

 

If it’s me, I keep Klefbom and Larsson together, use them as the shutdown pairing.  I’d then use Nurse with one of Persson or Bear (outside chance of Bouchard but obviously as I and many others have repeatedly said, much prefer Bouchard to spend the season in Bakersfield).

 

Interesting tidbit yesterday on Twitter as Bob Stauffer talked about William Lagesson.  I’ve talked at length about Lagesson in the past, especially this off-season as being very ready to play in the show.  But the interesting thing is that if Lagesson plays, where does that leave pretty much everyone else?  Russell is supposedly going to play the left side and that means he’s at best on the third pair.  If Benning is with Klefbom, then I guess that third pair right side spot is open.  However, the coaching staff has been pretty open about wanting D-men playing on their strong sides.  They also have others such as Joel Persson and Ethan Bear who are righties ready to fill that role.  I just cannot figure out why more of an effort wasn’t made to move out Kris Russell this off-season.  Not even a whisper.  And I realize that a lot of people love Russell’s game, but even if you’re one of those people, you’d have to agree that he no longer fits with the club from a cap POV given the kids they have who are ready for minutes.  You have as many as five defencemen ready to play, you need minutes in Bakersfield for the likes of Bouchard and Samorukov, and here you have a four million dollar a year defencemen who is your third best LH shooting D-man blocking the path for several kids who are ready to play.  It just couldn’t make less sense.

 

This team has some depth.  It remains to be seen if it is QUALITY depth, but they are deeper (especially on the back end) then they have been in a long time.  Word is that Tippett would like to give most of the kids one pre-season game and then immediately send them down to have a much smaller camp, and when you go through the roster you can definitely see why as there are a lot of tough decisions to make, and a lot of time needs to be dedicated towards seeing how the pieces fit.

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