Keys To The Off-Season Part 1 - Building Like Vegas
Good morning everyone. Apologies for the few day hiatus, moved to a new house and finally have something of an office set up so I can finally sit down for a few minutes and type out some Oilers thoughts.
The Edmonton Oilers were beat by the Vegas Golden Knights. This we are all very aware of. The question is how the Golden Knights beat the Oilers. Goaltending? Sure that was certainly a major factor, but more specifically it was how Vegas was so effective at creating chances in the Oilers zone. I believe it was how Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy split up his lines.
Based off of production in the regular season, the Golden Knights top six were
In the playoffs, two of these forwards would be on the "third line." Vegas ran Barbashev with Eichel and Marchessault, Howden with Stephenson and Stone, and Roy with Karlsson and Smith. These lines were rolled out consistently at 5 on 5. The Oilers most played line at 5 on 5 was the Foegele-McLeod-Ryan line. This line played 32:58 together through the Vegas series. That fails in comparison to the Barbashev-Eichel-March line that played 61:51 at 5 on 5, or the Howden-Stephenson-Stone line that played 51:55 together and just a hair more than the Smith-Karlsson-Amadio line that played 29:30 together. The Golden Knights knew the combinations they wanted to run and they ran them without hesitation.
The Edmonton Oilers should look to move away from a typical "top six" and instead look to replicate this style of lineup.
We know the following forwards will certainly be back next season:
McLeod is an RFA but he has proven to be an excellent two-way center for this team and is only 23 years old. No reason to believe he isn't going to return.
These are the players you build your new look top 9 around. Here is how I would build the roster:
McDavid and Hyman
Hyman and McDavid have always been effective together. Last season, McDavid and Hyman played 774 minutes together. In those minutes they outscored the opposition 58-36 when they were on the ice. Without Hyman, McDavid played 533 minutes and surprisingly, the Oilers were outchanced going 17-26 in that time. Hyman has the speed and hands to play with McDavid and is aggressive in his puck retrieval. I see no reason to separate these two players.
Draisaitl and RNH
If Hyman and McDavid are going to be your Eichel and Marchessault comparison, Draisaitl and RNH fit pretty well as a Stone and Stephenson comparable. Draisaitl through the playoffs was one of the most dominant 5 on 5 producers. It didn't matter if he was playing with McDavid, or RNH, or even Klim Kostin, when Leon was on the ice his line outscored his opponent.
RNH and Draisaitl have always played well together. The duo played 289 minutes together last season, outscoring their opponent 19-15 at 5 on 5. This line also gives Edmonton two natural centers, increasing their chances of winning faceoffs and taking puck possession.
Kane and McLeod
This is the most interesting option for me because it is not a pair we have really seen play together much. Kane and McLeod played a total of 41:52 together last season at 5 on 5. They outscored their opposition 2-0 in those minutes; far too small a sample size to make any sweeping statements about.
McLeod despite only playing a mere 138 NHL games has shown to be a defensively sound player. His line was the Oilers most effective line against the Kings and Golden Knights at preventing goals against. He is an excellent playmaker but has shown to struggle in scoring on his chances. Kane meanwhile when healthy, is a pure offensive player with a shoot first mentality. He isn't much of a playmaker and does struggle defensively in his own end. The two are almost polar opposite players but could their strengths counteract each others weaknesses? I would like to see the coaching staff try.
The other advantage of playing these two together more in the regular season is that this duo are feature players on the Oilers second unit powerplay. Edmonton has always relied on the top unit to produce but if you want to try and cut McDavid and Draisaitl's minutes down in the regular season (you do), than the second unit needs to step up. Having McLeod and Kane develop more chemistry can only help these two become more comfortable knowing where the other will be in all situations.
Lineups will always be fluid. Down a goal and want to throw McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together? Go for it. Need to hold a lead and put McLeod with Derek Ryan instead of Evander Kane? Sounds good to me. Overall though Edmonton needs to think about separating their best players among three different lines and use complimentary players to bolster the remaining spots.
Who are those complimentary players? That's a topic for another blog.
Thanks for reading.