Big news for those of you wondering how the Winnipeg forward lines are going to play out. Sara Orlesky tweeted today that Claude Noel stated that the Jets are going to try rolling three "scoring" lines rather than having your traditional 3rd checking line. The running joke, of course, will be, "You mean, we had two scoring lines?"
Let's speculate a bit on what this means.
Each coach, when joining their team, must be aware of his personnel, their capabilities, and their strengths and weaknesses. In Winnipeg's case, we know that our top two lines are not high-scoring. Let's have a look at the likely top 2 lines going into the season:
Andrew Ladd --- Bryan Little --- Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane --- Alexander Burmistrov --- Nik Antropov
The speculation even going into the summer was that Burmistrov would move into the second line centre position this year, and Antropov's big body and experience on the wing combined with Kane's shooting and Burmistrov's attention to his own zone make sense (enough to appear as the 2nd line at Jets.Nhl.com). But, before the signing of Kyle Wellwood, the 3rd line looked very unlikely to be a "scoring line."
Tanner Glass --- Jim Slater --- Eric Fehr
There was also the possibility that it would be Tim Stapleton on the 3rd line, though I hadn't heard any rumor of this before (it just shows up on the Jets site). So:
Tanner Glass --- Tim Stapleton --- Eric Fehr
That makes a bit more sense as a "scoring line," with Glass as a sort of "disrupting force" for play along the boards. Now, add a dash of Wellwood:
Tanner Glass --- Kyle Wellwood --- Eric Fehr
I kind of like the look of this line, for the same reasons that I kind of liked Glass-Stapleton-Fehr; you have one guy who engages physically along the boards, and is fast enough to keep up with play, and two guys who very well could see additional time on the powerplay together. This could very likely end up with Tim Stapleton in the AHL, particularly if Noel's intention is to make the 4th line a physical line. If so, the 4th line could look like this:
David Koci --- Patrice Cormier --- Chris Thorburn
I don't think you invite Koci to a "tryout" if you didn't want to just plug him in to fit some kind of goon role. Those who have speculated that he could play defence are not realizing that we already have 7 NHL level defencemen, and a bunch of guys knocking on the door (Paul Postma, Arturs Kulda, Brett Festerling, Mark Flood, Derek Meech). As for Thorburn, I think his efforts in physicality and shot-blocking mask a guy who probably more of an AHL player...which is all the more reason we shouldn't be surprised if Spencer Machacek challenges for that 4th line RW spot. He's a bit more skilled player, and can basically do all the other things that Thorburn does with less truculence (Koci will apparently "take care" of that). Cormier and hopefully Koci should also feel like AHLers are breathing down their necks, as Jason Gregoire is bound to get a handful of NHL games next year, Ben Maxwell too. Jim Slater also potentially fits into this equation.
It's also worth speculating what the powerplay lines will look like. Wheeler wasn't really used as a powerplay guy last year (Ladd and Little were teamed up with Antropov), and it's very possible that he ends up in the same boat, particularly with Fehr on-board. Fehr and Wellwood are the kinds of guys you like on the powerplay, the former for his shooting and the latter for his playmaking. The way I see it:
Andrew Ladd --- Bryan Little --- Nik Antropov
Evander Kane --- Kyle Wellwood --- Eric Fehr
Obviously, this is not an elite lineup, but at the same time you're putting players on the ice according to their strengths.
Back to this issue of not having the traditional 3rd. In what kind of scenario would this make sense? Most scenarios, actually, but I digress. Technically, our 1st line has all the qualities of a shutdown 3rd line, with more offence. Appropriately, they will be taking the toughest minutes, against the opposing top lines. Should Burmistrov develop in his second season, our 2nd line should matchup pretty well to opposing 2nd lines in the Southeast Division. The big question will be whether our 3rd scoring line will be able to take advantage of a checking 3rd line, which is typically slower and less skilled with the puck, yet can win battles along the boards. The Philadelphia Flyers have been able to use this formula with some success, but their personnel was more talented than Winnipeg's. They also had a good defensive corps to back them up. Another big question is who can take up the slack if Fehr gets hurt - would we be able to roll three scoring lines then? The call-up would almost have to be Tim Stapleton, who has experience on the wing.
I like Claude Noel's idea because it seems to be well aware of who he has to work with, but the irony is that he also stated his concern about goals-against and the penalty kill. Three scoring lines is well and good if you're the Flyers with some solid D, but we don't have that. We have basically the same guys on defence that we had last year, so unless the team makes bold moves and eats some contract I have my doubts that any of those issues could get substantially better except maybe the penalty kill, where Zach Bogosian was given increased responsibility and did league-average.
Either way, interesting development on the team front.