Taking a look at some of the more interesting (and fantasy impactful) line combos from the Western Conference…
Every season there are some interesting line combinations that come out of training camp, even in situations where no one thought there was any possible reason to make a change. A spot on the right line can make all the difference, it is the only explanation for Keith Jones putting up 49 points in 66 games for the Flyers. That spot alongside John Leclair and Eric Lindros worked out really well as what amounted to his last hurrah before Mikael Renberg joined the ‘Legion of Doom’. For a more recent example check the career of Alex Burrows. The point being that finding a player who is getting a chance on a top scoring line can result in a career year. Ask Jonathan Cheechoo.
When the Blues traded TJ Oshie for Troy Brouwer and other assets this summer no one foresaw the domino effect that it would have on the rest of the lineup. After their dominance last season there was never any reason to expect that Hitchcock would deem it necessary to break up the ‘STL’ line but that is exactly what Hitch did. The new top line has the potential to do huge things though, as Tarasenko was the driving force behind the ‘STL’ line. The Blues scored 3.62 goals per 60 minutes (GF60) at even strength when he was playing as a part of the line and 3.42 GF60 when he was not part of the line.
Stastny figures to be the biggest beneficiary of this switch given the success he had with MacKinnon during the 2013/14 season when they were on the ice for 3.59 GF60 together. That proven success with a speedy dynamic offensive player bodes well for Stastny playing with Tarasenko. As for Steen the Blues scored 4.99 GF60 in the 200 minutes he skated with Tarasenko last year so he should fit in quite well. On the other hand Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera were very dependent on Tarasenko for their offensive production. Schwatz suffered more without Tarasenko than Lehtera did. This year they look set to play with Robby Fabbri or Patrik Berglund when he returns, either way the outlook is certainly much more bleak than it was during the offseason.
Injury of note: Jakob Silfverberg
This development may have something to do with absence of Jakob Silfverberg from the Anaheim lineup due to his recent injury but nonetheless Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are starting the season on different lines. This seems like an attempt to balance their scoring lines until Silfverberg can once again skate alongside Ryan Kesler. The Ducks have tons of depth at forward but very few of them produce at anything close to the level that Getzlaf and Perry do. The Silfverberg is the Duck who played more than 20 games last year that comes the closest, hence his importance as a factor in the Ducks’ ability to get consistent secondary scoring. At the end of last year and throughout the playoffs he showed that he and Kesler are very able to provide secondary scoring for the Ducks. This lends further credence to the notion that the separation of the Ducks’ dynamic duo is temporary.
The factor that could keep the duo separated is that Boudreau likes to use Cogliano as a checking line center, and to a lesser degree Ryan Kesler. With Silfverberg now seemingly expected to play a scoring role there is not an immediate defensively responsible option to play with Cogliano. As Kesler and Cogliano have started the season together it would make sense to slot Silfverberg alongside them to form a very offensively capable checking line. Getzlaf and Perry have shown the ability to produce on their own so they should not suffer but this lessens the probability that one specific winger will reap the massive rewards from playing alongside them.
The Jets’ first line is pretty much set in stone and has been for a few years now. There was however an open spot in the top six on the second line alongside Scheifele and Perreault. Ehlers has claimed that spot for now which makes sense as he would be wasted in the bottom six. That means that Drew Stafford has lost the top six role he was granted upon his acquisition from Buffalo. That should mean a down season for Stafford has Lowry and Burmistrov are not of the same caliber as his previous linemates.
The most promising factor for Ehlers is the success that Scheifele and Perreault had when they played together last season. As both missed significant time last year they were limited to only 400 minutes together last season. In that time they were on for seven goals every 10 games at even strength. For both that represents a significant increase in production over the rest of the season. For Scheifele and Perreault being on the ice for that many goals at even strength should result in 30 to 40 even strength points over a full season (Perreault will not play 82 games). Given two 30-point linemates Ehlers should be able to put up at least 25 points at even strength. Stafford on the other hand will likely be deployed in more of a checking role as Lowry is often deployed for many of the Jets’ defensive zone faceoffs.
While the news here is that Cody Eakin has the early line on one of the best gigs in the league do not lose sight of the fact that Hemsky has been relegated to the third or fourth line. While Mattias Janmark has the makings of a decent top six forward down the line it is still a huge drop from skating on Seguin or Spezza’s wing. Given that Hemsky has failed to score at a 50 point pace since 2010/11 the case can easily easily be made that he no longer warrants top six minutes anymore.
On to the more important development of Cody Eakin landing on the Stars’ top line. This is exciting for anyone who remembers the brief success the trio had last year in the 200 minutes they played together. Seguin and Benn are outstanding regardless of who plays on the top line, however there was a significant bump when Eakin was on the line. When Seguin and Benn were on the ice together the Stars scored 3.52 GF60. In the 200 minutes that Eakin played on the line they scored 4.09 GF60 at even strength. That works out to a goal per game pace for the trio at even strength. Over a full season that is an extra 12 goals scored over a full season. In other words Eakin makes for a low risk/high reward pick up early in the season.
Max Domi is the big winner coming out of Coyotes’ training camp. He landed on the line that will get all the best offensive zone starts against favourable matchups. Furthermore, Boedker and Vermette are much better matches for him stylistically than Martin Hanzal would have been. Even if Hanzal had not historically been relied upon to take on tougher matchups, he and Domi are a stylistic clash. Domi dashes around the ice, plays at a high speed and creates offensive opportunities by doing so. Martin Hanzal, on the other hand, is a slower player who holds the puck for long periods of time and plays a much more physical, cycle game. Hanzal is not capable of keeping up with Domi while Domi is not yet capable of playing the kind of game that Hanzal prefers. The result of matching up Hanzal and Domi would have been to tie an anchor to Domi and severely restrict much of what he does best.
The good news is that given the make up of the Coyotes lineup both the Hanzal and Vermette lines should garner plenty of offensive opportunities as the Coyotes bottom six will struggle to score. Their bottom six consists of a plethora of shutdown forwards like Boyd Gordon, Brad Richardson and Kyle Chipchura. That will make it very difficult for Shane Doan to have any success offensively this season other than on the occasions when he sees some power play ice time.