Team Building Philosophies make the hockey world go round. No two are the same, but the best ones usually have more survivability, often imitated, never duplicated. In this post, I'm going to do my best to describe my theory. Its one of those things where you know what it is, but its hard to describe.
When dealing with forwards, the key to creating a line is having a good blend of speed, strength/power, guile, skill, youth, experience, offensive and defensive awareness. The key is having the sum of these parts filtered thoughout the 12 forwards in your lineup, the more things one player brings, the better the sum of the whole will be. I like the scoring lines to have a puck carrier, shooter, net-crasher/puck retriever. Also would like to have 1LH/2RH or 2RH/1LH shooter on the scoring lines, NOT 3 of the same shooting hand. I'm going to try and use the last year Oilers players as an example. I'll break down the lines:
Penner Gagner Hemsky (LINE 1)
Hall Horcoff Eberle (LINE 2)
Paajarvi Cogliano Brule (LINE 3)
MacIntyre Fraser Jones (LINE 4)
Line 1: Hemsky would be the puck carrier, Penner the net crasher. Both are passable at what they do, but both could also be better. The problem in this line is Gagner. He needs to take on an identity of a shooter (work on that shot) and be defensively responsible, essentially a RH version of Horcoff, with once again, more offense. Gagner has some things to work on for this line, as a whole, to become passable.
Line 2: Horcoff would be passable enough on this line if he could generate more offense on this line. When this line is ready to take off, like we are all hoping, Horcoff will have to try mightily to keep up or be an anchor, I'm betting on the latter. Hall and Eberle are projecting well as 2 high offensive wingers, so they will need a good 2 way C to compliment them. If Hall is the puck carrier, Eberle has enough guile to be a net crasher (more stealth like than through power). Horcoff is an ok shooter for this line, like I said above, just needs to be more productive.
Line 3: Oilers seem hellbent on going with 3 scoring lines, mostly due to personnel, but ideally this a line that should have a strong defensive conscience. PKers and players that are just flat out, hard on the puck. Instead the Oilers have Paajarvi (who could be a solid 3rd liner with some experience), Cogliano (scorer turned PKer, the try is there, but the learning curve is steep), and Brule (brutally miscast until he can buy into being a plugger). Horcoff would be a better bet for line 3, due to experience and style of play, but the Oilers are so bereft at center they have no choice but to put Horcoff on Line 2.
Line 4: Right types of players, just not enough to make up the sum of the whole. Ideally one would like to have a PK Center and 2 Jackhammer wingers. The Oilers have that but in Fraser and MacIntyre, they are too low grade to make an impact in other parts of the game. Jones, on the other hand, is a 4th liner ready to graduate to the 3rd line.
Ideally, when breaking in rookies, they should be breaking into the 2nd of 4th lines. Skilled scorers on the 2nd line, role players on the 4th line. Ideally you would like not to break in more than 2 rookies on a line, have one vet to look out for the kids. 1st and 3rd lines should be veterans. Players that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting for your hockey team. Injuries do happen, so moving players around is quite common, but if you have a strong base, its just a matter of slotting pieces in and out at that point.
The defense should have a makeup of 6 strong, physical, puck-moving, skating, shooting and defensively responsible. Ideally, you would like to have 4 PKers and 4 PPers, meaning 2 of the Dmen will have to do both, likely being your 2 best defensemen. Lets have a look at the Oilers defense pairings:
Whitney Gilbert (Pairing 1)
Smid Foster (Pairing 2)
Peckham Vandermeer (Pairing 3)
Pairing 1: Gilbert had an off year by everyone's standards, but I still think he is a good complement for Whitney. Whitney was having an outstanding year until he got hurt, Gilbert on the other hand was pretty mediocre. But Gilbert can both play on the PP and the PK and do both fairly well, which makes him a commodity. Gilbert needs to find a way to get more shots through on the PP and be quicker/better with his reads while dishing out the puck.
Pairing 2: This pairing just doesn't have enough to be a #2 pairing. Not enough offense, not enough defense, not enough PP, not enough PK, not enough puck-moving, not enough strength, just lacking all around. It was a pairing that was destined to give up more than what they get. Need a better 3 and 4 if you want a better team.
Pairing 3: Peckham and Vandermeer are 2 lead foots. Having one is OK, having 2 is overkill, having a waterbug type Dman partner would be more ideal for both of these guys. They are both tough as nails though.
If you want to break in rookie(s), its best to do it on the 3rd pair. No more than one, if you are breaking in 2 rookies on the D at once, you are likely in for a long year. The Oilers broke in Peckham officially last year, gave Petry a look to get him acclimatized to the NHL. Petry is the player you would like to break in on the 3rd pairing next year. Injuries go hand in hand with Dmen, so going through 10-11 Dmen a year is pretty standard, the key is, they just need constant feeding and reps. Like in a case with Petry, get him to learn defense before offense, once he gets that down pat, then teach him offence/PP situations. The key is, keep feeding him, but don't give him too much until he grasps what he is initially learning.
The Power Play:
The Power Play is a fickle creature. The key to the PP is doing something before your opponent has time to react to it. Quick passes, quick thoughts, quick shots. Going back to the top of the page, ideally you would like to have 3LH/2RH or 3RH/2LH shots on the PP, just so you can set up your one-timer options all over the ice. the one-timer is a great weapon, one that a lot of teams use, but one I don't feel teams use enough. Having players that can pass and shoot the puck all over the ice certainly comes in handy here. The example (I'll try to describe it, because it probably won't show up well here):
The style I have setup here is an umbrella style PP, one wher Hall sets up on the half boards, playing pitch and catch with Foster or Eberle. The flow can go back and forth. the only place where a one-timer option isn't present is going from Hall to Smid, but it can quickly go back to Hall for a one-timer option again. The key to a PP like this is quick reads and quick puck movement. Another key is to have someone (predetermined) attack the middle. If Hall has the puck on the half boards and the PKers back off of him, it is imperative that he attacks the box. Someone needs to attack the box to keep the PKers honest.
Essentially the same tactic as above, just from the opposite side of the ice.
The Penalty Kill:
The PK is for the heady, the gutsy and the courageous. Its simply put, wanting the puck more the other guy. Its easier to destroy than create, and thats a PKers philosophy. Ideally, one would like to have speed, body position, shot blocking, good sticks in lanes and shooting helps. Speed back the other teams defenseman from pinching in at will, they at least have to think about things. Nothing like scoring on the PK to quash the other team's hopes. Here's a look at some pairings:
Cogliano is the speed factor here, problem is he's a player that was learning on the job, so his ability to read plays was lacking. Jones' natural guile and gutsyness made the transition a little easier for him. I think he has the making of a solid PKer, contrary to some popular belief. I believe one speed factor forward and one gutsy with guile makes for a good tandem, you'd would also like someone who excels in faceoffs as well. Cogliano, still learning on the job. Dmen on the PK, essentially fight tooth and nail for pucks, win loose puck battles, pitch and bail players out of the slot, good body position is crucial. For Dmen the PK is essentially a tong war.
How the Dmen win the puck battles might be different but the setup is essentially the same.
If you have a defense and center corps as lacking as the one the Oilers employed over the last year, they might want to consider a more athletic style goaltender. Getting side to side is pretty crucial as it seems to happen a lot to this team. Essentially you just want a goaltender who will stop more pucks than the guy at the other end, but goaltending is one of those things that if you don't have it, you are desperately looking for it. If your team has solid defense, than you want a guy thats going to stop the first shot consistantly, but if your defense is pourous, than you want a goaltender that will make some spectacular saves, but the acrobatic ones usually give up more than their fair share of uglies. It all comes with the territory.
That's all I've got for now, I may add to this post as more things arise. 'Til the next time.