With injuries to Darren Helm, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tomas Vanek, the Red Wings have been slumping. Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill has some big decisions to make in the coming games. Both offensively and defensively, the team is under-performing, and I’m of the opinion that this is largely down to game and bench management by the coaching staff. This of course is only exacerbated by the overall issue of the team having been poorly assembled by Ken Holland.
What I propose to help boost the team’s performance moving forward is overhauling who is playing with who, the amount of time each line is getting, and player roles on special teams. Further, and I think this is most important, Blash needs to stop subjecting his players to the line blender every night. If he wants his players to perform with any kind of consistency, he needs to allow them to develop chemistry with their linemates. Constantly shifting players can be a tactic to throw opposing teams out of whack. It seems, however, that the benefits for the team are being outweighed by the negatives.
I propose these lines going forward:
Nyquist – Zetterburg – Larkin
This line has a balance between age and inexperience, speed and guile, and offensive productivity and defensive responsibility. This line should be able to hold its own against other teams’ elite players while also generating scoring themselves. Both Nyquist and Larkin have so far had semi-disappointing seasons, and they would need to step up their play for this line to function effectively.
Tatar – Nielsen – Abdelkader
This group would function more as line 1b rather than a second line. They would have similar roles to the group above, with the exception of Abby being more of a physical presence to generate space for Tatar and Nielsen. Ideally, this group faces other teams lower match ups, as they can hold their own defensively. Offensively, this group really needs Tatar to step up moving forward. With only 2 goals and 4 assists to his name so far, his performances have left a lot to be desired. When Athanasiou comes off of IR, he would take Abdelkader’s spot, who would then move down to the fourth line, taking Miller’s spot.
Mantha – Sheahan – Frk/Bertuzzi
This would be a reprisal of Babcock’s ‘kid line.’ Put Sheahan between some young guns, and see what might happen. This line is a definite wild card considering the relative inexperience of Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Frk in the NHL. I slightly prefer giving Frk a call up to see if he can offer anything offensively until the injured Vanek comes back to take his spot. Overall, it’s hard to gauge how this line would pan out, but it does have potential to succeed. Putting Sheahan between two players who have something to prove could wake him up a bit, and actually get some positive play out of him.
Miller – Glendening – Ott
I hate this line. It’s an outdated style of play, and it has been really bad so far this year. This line is the product of Holland’s poor decisions and we’re stuck with it. If they play ten minutes per night, it still might be too much. When Athanasiou comes back to push Abdelkader down here, it becomes marginally better. We just have to hope that they can win battles and work hard to not get scored on. If they can do that, I can be happy about them.
NOTE: Glendening is not a player who belongs on anything greater than the fourth line. He’s got energy, and he works hard, but anywhere else in the NHL, he is a fourth line player. Blash overuses him because he is a hard worker, but ultimately, it is a gross mismanagement of his bench resources.
Scratch/IR: Helm, Vanek, Athanasiou
Dekeyser – Green
This is our best defensive defender with our best offensive defender. These guys should face other teams’ best players, and should be able to hold their own doing so. There’s not much else to say about them, but that our defense corps overall is fairly weak by the NHL’s standards.
Smith – Sproul
This pairing is strongest starting in the offensive zone. Between the two of them, they should be able to pick a pass or put the puck on the net. If they do that, they should be relatively successful. The only worry is that Smith forgets how to play defense sometimes, and Sproul is untested over a run of games. So while this pairing has the potential to be really good in the offensive zone, it could be equally disastrous at the other end. Time will tell.
Ericsson – Ouellet
This year, we’ve found that Big E can actually be a good NHL defenseman if played properly. That seems to be on the third pairing, being the physical counterpart to a more skilled partner. In comes Ouellet, as the player who can make a pass, and seemed defensively adequate in the few games we saw him play. They can both play going both directions, and could prove to be a solid pairing for the Red Wings.
Scratch: Kronwall, Marchenko
NOTE: We scratch these guys because Kronwall does not look like he can skate anymore, and has been a liability since coming back from his injury. Marchenko just hasn’t looked as good as the rookies, so give him a breather, let him get some perspective.
These lines, given the opportunity, could be really good for the Red Wings while they deal with their injury problems. It allows our players to build some relationships while also facilitating what some of the players are already good at. Given time, I would expect these lines to show growth and improvement, which would then translate to results for the Wings.