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Nashville's Optimal Lineup: The Lines You Deserve But Not The Ones You Need

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With the acquisitions of Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, Nashville improved arguably the best defense in the league. Adding Santorelli improves scoring depth, but are the line combinations, not personnel, the real the issue?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville has shuffled their line combinations in recent games to address injuries as well as to improve their secondary scoring. A great article from Pensburgh looked at the scoring depth for each team, and unsurprisingly, Nashville is very top-heavy. The addition of Santorelli should hopefully distribute the scoring more evenly, but there's no guarantee one addition will do the trick. A reimagining of their lines provides a potential experiment for the Predators to try before getting to the playoffs where scoring depth becomes an even more important element.

At this point, it should be noted that the following line suggestions are completely hypothetical and will almost assuredly never happen. Remember that as you rant in the comments section.

Line 1: Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - James Neal

Forsberg has been playing on the third line in the last few games, and, while his play hasn't taken a dip, he still deserves to be on the first line. He ranks third in the team in even strength 5v5 points and ranks 5th in score-adjusted CF% at 55.9% among Nashville forwards who have played at least 100 minutes.

As far as Ribeiro and Neal, Ribeiro is the best center on this team whether he's a true number one or not. One could make the argument that either Colin Wilson or Craig Smith should be on the top line, but remember, these lines need to be balanced across the board.

Line 2: Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Craig Smith

Before the season began, many in Nashville were calling Wilson a bust. There probably aren't many people making that claim anymore as he has already set a career high in points this season and ranks 5th in score-adjusted SCF% (scoring chances for percentage) at 60.1% among all forwards who have played at least 100 minutes.

Fisher has been incredible since he returned from injury and is currently at 2.2 points per 60 minutes, good for 5th among forwards on the team with over 100 minutes played.

Smith, likewise, has been just as impressive as his hypothetical linemates; ranking 3rd in relative Corsi-for percentage at 4.3, just behind Ribeiro's 4.7 and Wilson's 5.7.

Line 3: Viktor Stalberg - Calle Jarnkrok - Mike Santorelli

And we now arrive at the controversial selections. As many of you have probably realized, I am a fan of Viktor Stalberg. I admit that his contract has no value, but that does not mean he should be buried in the minors, where the cap relief is essentially nonexistent. Let's take a look at his HERO chart courtesy of Domenic Galamini (@MimicoHero).

Viktor Stalberg HERO Chart

Since 2012-13, Viktor Stalberg has not only been a decent top-9 forward, he has been an elite shot generator. He has never been given the chance to utilize this in Nashville. I don't care what fish you compare his hands to, he deserves to be in the lineup every night.

Next to Stalberg on the line would be Jarnkrok. Surrounding Stalberg with a center like Jarnkrok will create a strong possession duo on the third line. Take a look at Jarnkrok's HERO chart.

Calle Jarnkrok HERO Chart

Jarnkrok has not put up points like many fans hoped for coming into the season, but if he can continue his strong usage-adjusted CA60 and UA Corsi%, he should start being recognized as one of the best depth centers in the league.

Finally on this line, there is the newly acquired Mike Santorelli. He had a slightly positive relative CF% on a terrible Leafs team while also putting up 21 points at 5v5. A combo of Stalberg, Jarnkrok, and Santorelli could be the trick to initiating some scoring depth.

Line 4: Gabriel Bourque - Matt Cullen - Taylor Beck

I've never been one to advocate an "energy" line, and I've always been baffled why teams don't just ice the four best lines possible. This fourth line would easily improve the scoring depth as these three players all have better possession numbers than both Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom. This lineup would miss out on the faceoff talent of Gaustad, but the possession numbers would improve.

Cullen on the fourth line may be surprising as he has recently been utilized on the second line, but his numbers just haven't been there this season. He has 9 points at 5v5 this season, but his score-adjusted CF% is at a respectable 53.8%. At 38, he is beyond his prime but not beyond helping spread out the scoring potential of this team.

Finally, Bourque and Beck, while not amazing players, are still better options than Gaustad and Nystrom if the goal is to increase scoring.

These line combinations are beyond anything we will see from Nashville. They have shown that they are invested in playing Nystrom and Gaustad while keeping more talented players like Stalberg in limbo. At first in the league, it's hard to argue with what has gotten them to this point. But instead of being complacent with where they are at, it seems more valuable to search for even more ways to separate this team from the rest of the league. Feel free to hit the comments to share your thoughts and line combinations you want to see most.

*All stats courtesy of War On Ice and use even strength 5v5 unless otherwise indicated

**HERO Charts courtesy of Domenic Galamini and Own The Puck