On Monday, Kyle took a look at what the Red Wings Top-six forwards could look like for the 2016-17 season. Today, we build off that looking at how that shapes the bottom-six side of the lineup.
Just to refresh, Kyle showed the top two lines as:
1.) Henrik Zetterberg - Dylan Larkin - Gustav Nyquist
2.) Justin Abdelkader - Frans Nielsen - Tomas Tatar
I agree that this is in all likelihood what the Red Wings top-six will look like to start the season, with the potential that Abdelkader and Nyquist could be interchanged. This is largely the same personnel in the top-six as last year, except for the glaring aspect that Pavel Datsyuk has been replaced by Frans Nielsen. Nielsen, who as explained by StraightOuttaSverdlovsk with input from those at Lighthouse Hockey, has the potential to endear himself to the Red Wings faithful rather quickly. But Pavel Datsyuk, he will never be.
So this means to even tread water, and maintain there place as an also-ran in the playoffs the Red Wings need improvement from other places in their lineup. But looking at the roster, the team is looking at the same goaltending tandem and defensive personnel. Sure, several players could have better years such as Gus and Tats. But if this team wants to make a jump to the next level, the bottom-six forwards could be the answer. The Penguins demonstrated it this year on their way the Stanley Cup, using players like Bonino and Kessel, who was arguably the real MVP, on their third line. The Penguins won the championship, not on the backs of their stars, but in their ability to come at their opponents in waves.
With this in mind, Blashill and Co. have the potential to shake off last year’s late season roster decisions and play copy cat and create depth lines with the skill to overwhelm weaker competition.
Thomas Vanek - Darren Helm - Andreas Athanasiou
Off the top, this would return Helm to 3C, a role he was described by his former coach as the best in the NHL at once upon a time. That may not still be the case, but it is certainly a role he is better suited for than as a winger in the top-six. It would also be exciting to see what the speed combination of AA and Helm could do against their competition. Helm at center can relieve some of the defensive responsibilities from AA and it gives AA a chance to learn from Helm those aspects of the game. And who knows, maybe Helm will pick up some of AA’s hands on a breakaway. Having Vanek on the wing of these two would hopefully kick the offensive potential for this line into overdrive. Vanek is not the player he used to be, but even still he possesses a high level of skill and managed 18 goals last season in 74 games. Even replicating that would be great production from a third liner. Helm would be the reliable two-way forward, responsible defensively, while AA and Vanek use their outstanding skill to generate the offense.
This could realistically be the third line to start the year, and they could be a potent combination. Moving on to the bottom of the lineup, this is where I’d like to see something completely different from Blashill.
Tomas Jurco - Riley Sheahan - Anthony Mantha
Recall earlier when I stated scoring throughout the lineup is how this team is going to have to rise above the status quo. Now I know the first reaction to this is no way that happens. Agreed, there is a slim margin that this combination would be trotted out on the ice to the surprise of all. But don’t rule it completely out, Blashill showed an awareness to play young players in the lineup early in the season, allowing Larkin a place on the first line, and giving players like AA and Mantha a shot in the lineup. It wasn’t until the last couple months of the season with the team dancing dangerously close to landing outside the playoffs, that he hit the panic button and resorted to his predecessor’s theory of play the veterans.
With this in mind, this combination has the potential to put up some decent numbers while taking advantage of weak competition. This group also happens to have collectively good size, if you find that important. I’m not a big proponent of size being all that critical, especially if it’s a choice between size and skill. There’s no rule that says the fourth line has to be big grinders with limited skill. The argument against this trio is that they may not be strong enough defensively to play shut down roles. Well looking at the advanced stats for players like Luke Glendening, Drew Miller, and Steve Ott, (more likely members of the fourth line) they aren’t exactly effective at that role either despite what coaching and management have said about them. So while this group may fall short in their own end, they are much more likely to be able to put pucks in the back of the other net.
Tomas Jurco has proven to have tremendous skill level despite not receiving much of a chance in the lineup. Riley Sheahan would be the steadying influence on the line, a role he could thrive in. Lastly, Mantha proved he could fit in at the NHL level last season during a short stint. Give him sheltered minutes with capable offensive linemates here, and see what they’re able to do.
On a side note, if there is concern about what personnel are left to use on the PK. That piece will be covered another day. But back in June, work was done by a group here demonstrating that PK forwards can be considered almost interchangeable. Speed may be the most important attribute for PK forwards and AA and Helm have that in bunches. Sheahan and Abdelkader have both had time on the PK in the past and could be used in that role again. That brings me to those who didn’t quite crack the lineup.
Drew Miller - Luke Glendening
Minors: Steve Ott
LTIR: Teemu Pulkkinen
As mentioned before, Luke and Drew’s advanced stats don’t inspire much confidence let alone their offensive contributions. That is my reasoning for leaving them in the press box for the time being. Steve Ott has similar stats to these two but his cap hit is entirely buryable in the minors, which is the logic behind sending him down.
Lastly, the recent news of Pulkkinen’s surgery indicates he won’t be ready to start the season, so he’s been placed on LTIR. Once he returns to health, he will have trouble jumping four of the above players to get into the lineup. Ultimately, the hope would be he could be used for either Mantha or Jurco if they’re not performing well, or be used as an injury replacement on another line.
What Does It All Mean
Setting up the lines this way gives the Red Wings a chance to role four lines with the ability to put up offense, an area they lacked in last season. If the experiment fails, then resort to moving some of the veterans in. With the two-way ability of some of the members of the top two lines, the hope would be they can cancel out other teams top lines and allow the strength of the bottom-six to overwhelm their competition and take some of the offensive burden off of the top-six.
Give it a chance, Blash.
A quick shout out to J.J., Kyle, and the WIIM crew for allowing me to be a contributor to the team, looking forward to a fun season!
Defense is up next.. Stay tuned!