It’s August and I’m bored so I’ve been playing around with the Red Wings’ roster, trying to figure out 1) what 2 players they’ll be moving and 2) what the lines will most likely look like. As far as the first issue is concerned, Winging It In Motown has already taken an in depth look at the issue. My guess is Emmerton and Tootoo end up waived or traded, since I doubt Samuelsson is interested in waiving his NTC. Assuming that is the case, I imagine the lines will look something like this:
Abdelkader, Datsyuk, Zetterberg
Franzen, Weiss, Alfredsson
Tatar, Helm, Nyquist
Eaves, Andersson, Miller
Bertuzzi & Samuelsson as the regular scratches
While it would be nice to see Nyquist or Tatar get significant top-6 minutes, Babcock’s preferred line construction doesn’t lend itself to playing three perimeter oriented forwards together. He likes having a player like Franzen or Abdelkader who can park himself in front of the net and give the other forwards room to move and create shots. Babcock will tinker as needed and I’m sure Nyquist and Tatar will see time with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Alfredsson, and Weiss but it won’t be a regular combination.
The more interesting possibilities, to me at least, are in the bottom six. Babcock has indicated the 3C job is Helm’s (assuming he’s healthy) but I wonder if he will stick to that once he gets to training camp. While his preference as always appeared to be depth and balance whenever possible, the current roster offers the option to split the bottom six up based on which end of the ice the face-off will take place.
Andersson showed good chemistry with both Nyquist and Tatar at different points of the season last year and all three show signs of being capable offensive contributors. Helm, Eaves, and Miller have all been solid defensive forwards with extensive PK work in the past. Would utilizing these groupings and deploying them based on where the face-off is create an advantage for Detroit?
Given Babcock’s willingness to use Datsyuk & Zetterberg against an opposing team’s top line and the potential offensive skill (even if it is in name only at this point) of the second line, it seems likely to assume the 3rd and 4th line will regularly see weaker competition. If Helm stays healthy, and Nyquist and Tatar both meet or exceed expectations it seems reasonable to think Detroit could have an advantage in quite a few games with that 3rd line. The downside is it creates limited opportunities to use the 4th line and considering the age of Detroit’s top 6 players I think they will need their 4th liners to play in the 12-14 minutes a night range rather than 10-12 minutes.
Swapping Helm and Andersson may unbalance each individual line’s abilities, but it could improve the team as a whole. Datsyuk & Zetterberg will still face an opponent’s top offensive players, but could an Eaves/Helm/Miller line be used against a 2nd or 3rd line and not be outplayed? I think against most teams, they would be able to hold their own. Teams like Chicago or Pittsburgh, with two very good lines, would be poor situations for this strategy but those teams are considered playoff teams already for a reason.
Additionally, a Tatar/Andersson/Nyquist could see huge success constantly facing 3rd or 4th lines with a very favorable zone start split. Again, getting a significant scoring contribution from the 3rd line lessens the need to overplay the top-6 during the regular season. An added bonus from these combinations is that when Bertuzzi or Samuelsson need to play, they can be placed on any of the top 3 lines without requiring major strategy adjustments (unless the injury is Helm, in which case who the hell knows what happens).
I doubt Babcock will start the season doing this, if only because of what he has said about Helm’s spot on the team, but he’s never been shy about line changes. If he sees a possible advantage in stacking each line for a specific zone, he’ll swap Helm and Andersson and see what happens. If he tries it, I think he’ll like the results.