Bruce Boudreau recently mentioned that he would like to have more consistency with his forward lines. Not too long after that when facing the St. Louis Blues, Boudreau was forced to mix up his lines during the game to try and spark some offense from his team. He even went so far as to break up the Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund line, a.k.a. Please-don’t-touch-it-this-combination-is-a-perfect-storm-and-does-everything line (it might not be a catchy name, but it is an accurate one)! Boudreau shouldn’t be criticized for doing so, as it is far preferable that he attempt to adjust in-game and make changes rather than throwing out the same stuff and hope for different results.
Nevertheless, many Wild fans would be happy if their team’s forwards had enough time on some fixed lines to learn each other’s game and develop some chemistry. That begs the question, what should those lines look like? The answer depends on what philosophy does Boudreau want to use when building his team. Here are three approaches, what that might look like for the Wild, and the arguments for and against each.
Each Line Has a Specific Role
This is probably the most traditional approach. In it, Boudreau would have an ideal role for each of his lines to play and the conventional approach tends to follow this format:
Line 1: Scoring line, features the best offensive players on the team
Line 2: Scoring line, but one with less offensively-tilted, two-way players
Line 3: Checking line, wear down the other team and capitalize on the resulting opportunities with depth scoring
Line 4: Shutdown/energy line, least amount of skill present, used to provide a breather to the rest of the forwards and take tough defensive zone time
The specific roles of the lines depend on the roster, of course, and how the lines fulfill those roles can vary greatly. Nevertheless, the prevailing mindset is that each line has a job for which it is primarily responsible.
For the Wild, this approach might look like this:
Zucker - Eric Staal - Granlund
Nino Niederreiter - Koivu - Jason Pominville
Zach Parise - Martin Hanzal - Charlie Coyle
Chris Stewart - Erik Haula - Ryan White
Weird to consider breaking up the Zucker - Koivu - Granlund line, but doing so places the Wild’s overall points leader, it’s most effective 5v5 scorer, and the most offensively oriented center all on the same line. The second line boasts two of the three Wild forwards with a Corsi For % above 50 (Niederreiter and Pominville) and the Wild’s best two-way center. The third line has some punishing size with skill in Hanzal and Coyle and the pinnacle of opportunistic goal scoring with Parise. With strong board play, they could wear down teams from below the goal line much like Boudreau’s old favorites Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. The fourth line is a bit atypical with less size than might be expected under this framework. Still, White has been praised for his responsible play, Haula has been very good handling tough assignments, and Stewart provides a big body that enjoys delivering the hits normally seen from a fourth liner.
Advantages: Lines with specific roles gives Boudreau a diverse set of tools to use in game. If players get shuffled during the game, knowing their line’s specified role makes it clear what is expected of them. At home with last change, Boudreau can capitalize on favorable matchups with lines custom built to score.
Disadvantages: If a line fails in its role, it can leave the team exposed. Although the above roster still has scoring depth with at least one forward over 10 goals on every line, opponents can focus on shutting down one or two key lines and potentially disrupt the Wild’s offensive game. Line roles can shoehorn players into roles they are ill-suited to fill.
Under a balanced attack mindset, Boudreau would try to capitalize on the Wild’s biggest offensive strength of the year: scoring depth. While no one on the Wild is even close to winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, the team as a whole is scoring near the top of the entire NHL. The Wild also enjoys a great deal of speed and more size than it has had in years. The “new hero every night” approach is appealing, especially when there are so many forwards that have the ability to step up.
When asked about moving Stewart up to the top line with Staal and Parise, Boudreau explained that it made the team more balanced. As such, that lineup seems a fitting one to use for the “balanced attack” philosophy.
Stewart - Staal - Parise
Zucker - Koivu - Granlund
Niederreiter - Hanzal - Coyle
White - Haula - Pominville
Advantages: Opponents have to play a defensively stout game to silence these four lines, especially as the top three are all filled with 10+ goal scorers. Being on the road without last change is less of a disadvantage (at least on offense) when the lines are this balanced.
Disadvantages: No one line is in a position to push the team over the top, especially when facing teams gumming up passing lanes and locking down the neutral zone with a trap game. Shortening the bench late in the game necessitates breaking up lines and having players skate together that had been playing with someone else.
Maximize the Advantages
This approach is broadly similar to the first in that lines are formed with a specific ideal in mind. The difference is that paradigm for forming each line is different than the conventional roles seen above. Instead of forming a purely offensive line, Boudreau may wish to create an offensive line built around speed or size that can create mismatches to exploit. Depending on the roster and the types of lines Boudreau wants to use, lineups under this mindset could look wildly different, but here’s one approach:
Line 1: Playmaking on the wings with high volume shooting in the middle
Line 2: Punishing size that can play below the circles and goal line (i.e. Getzlaf/Perry approach)
Line 3: Speedy line that can force turnovers and create breakaways
Line 4: Defensively responsible line that can handle any assignment
If Boudreau likes the idea of lines with these particular attributes, he might decide to roll out a lineup that looks like this:
Granlund - Staal - Pominville
Niederreiter - Hanzal - Coyle
Parise - Haula - Zucker
White - Koivu - Schroeder
This is clearly a rough draft. Even rolling these lines evenly, it just looks wrong to have Koivu on the fourth line. Perhaps some different line paradigms would yield a less awkward result? In any case, this example demonstrates the philosophy behind this approach.
Advantages: Allows Boudreau to maximize the advantages of his players as he sees fit, resulting in tough matchups for the opponents. Keeps players in roles that best suit their talents. A balanced lineup is possible.
Disadvantages: Mismatches can cut both ways; for instance, a strong, heavy line could be exploited by fast opponents before setting up in the offensive zone. The lineup presented, at least, features the least amount of shared ice time among its forwards, so chemistry probably won’t come quickly. Potential for an awkward catch weight fourth line as Boudreau runs out of forwards that fit his idealized lines.
What do you think? Are there other philosophies to building a lineup that Boudreau should explore? Would you create different lineups using these frameworks?