The Nashville Predators recently announced their plan to re-sign former captain and center Mike Fisher for the remainder of the season, in hopes that he can give the team that extra push to win two more games in June than they did last season.
With this new Fisher deal, Preds’ General Manager David Poile—known lovingly ‘round these parts as GMDP—may decide not to make a move for a rental winger, instead pushing one of our bottom six centers out to the wing.
With Fisher having his first practice with the team, no trade having been made currently and no knowledge of the Eeli Tolvanen situation, I put together 4 different line combinations that Peter Laviolette could throw out on the ice when April rolls around, assuming Nashville is one of the 16 teams continuing their for the Cup into the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Magic Number = 28 pts).
This is the first part of a two part story. The first two combinations will be posted today, with the remaining two in the second part on Friday.
These lines only include current players on the Predators or Admirals rosters, and they were crafted under the assumption that every player is healthy.
Before you start, there are a few NHL rules to remember. According to NHL rules, the 23-man roster limit is in effect from the conclusion of the preseason until 12:01 am on the day of the trade deadline. After that, a team can have as many players on the roster as it would like, as long as those players are signed to one of the 50 professional contracts a team is allowed.
The 20-man active roster limit is still in effect, and because of that I listed the remaining bench players as scratches. I did not list the goalies because both Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros will do just fine with any of these combinations in front of them.
Line Combination 1
Filip Forsberg—Ryan Johansen—Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala—Kyle Turris—Craig Smith
Calle Jarnkrok—Nick Bonino—Colton Sissons
Scott Hartnell—Mike Fisher—Austin Watson
Roman Josi—Ryan Ellis
P.K. Subban—Mattias Ekholm
Matt Irwin—Yannick Weber
Scratches: Pontus Aberg/Frederick Gaudreau/Anthony Bitetto/Miika Salomaki/Alexei Emelin
Lets start with the forwards. This combination reunites Prince Fil with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. When on the same line, they had 63 even strength points during the 2016-2017 regular season, 23 during the playoffs, and even with injuries the JoFA line leads the team with 32 even strength points this season.
On the second line, we see the FiTS line reunited. The acquisition of Kyle Turris earlier in the season has made a huge difference for the team. Not only did the Predators add more center depth to their roster, but Turris happened to be the catalyst for Kevin Fiala’s explosive return from injury. In 10 less games this season than the amount he played in his pro career prior to it, Fiala has more than doubled his career points total at the start of the season, not to mention that his 18 goals are tied for the team lead. If he can keep it up, we can expect to see a lot more goals like this one throughout his career.
His linemate, Craig Smith, has also benefitted from the addition of Turris. Smith spent most of last season jumping around in line combinations, and the line he was most commonly on the ice included Mike Ribeiro and Kevin Fiala. He finished last season with 29 points, an unusually low point total for someone of his talent, but he also landed a career-high total of 93 hits. As for this season, Smith is at 30 points and on pace for nearly 50.
The third line is definitely not the most talented, but it is arguably the most versatile. Colton Sissons, Nick Bonino, and Calle Jarnkrok all have experience in the faceoff circle, but they could also all play on the wings if necessary.
As for the fourth line, they’re out there for depth and to beat the living snot out of anyone who touches Kev or Arvy or one of the other little guys, but that doesn’t mean those guys can’t put up offense. Fisher totaled 42 points in 72 games last year, so if he’s getting a goal or assist in every other game, the Preds will be in a good position. Having three forwards who make a formidable dump and chase trio helps as well, as does having three guys that can crash the net, allowing the D-men to put some big shots up. Plus, when you have a line like this that tires the opponent out and crashes the net for rebounds, goals like this one can happen.
The defensive pairings are what they were for the majority of the playoffs last year, because, well, they worked. The Four Horsemen are a nearly unstoppable quartet of Top 4 D-men, and Yannick Weber seems to have some of his better nights when paired with Matt Irwin.
Both 3rd pairing defensemen have a positive plus/minus, with Irwin at a +/- of 4 and Weber at 1 so far in the season. They also are low on penalty minutes, as Irwin has only 6 and Weber has 12. This pairing is in no way meant to be the slow, hard-hitting D pairing, but rather the guys that can get in front of shots when necessary and also lead the rush sometimes. They only have 11 combined points this year, but as the third D pairing, their biggest jobs will be to keep the other team from scoring and try to set up the forwards in front of them with good shots.
The third line is one of the potential issues with this combination. The talent on the first two lines is amazing, and there is definitely talent on the third line, but those three players have all had extensive cold streaks during this season. Granted, one of them—or all of them—could become the next PCW (Playoff Colin Wilson for anyone new here), but if not we could be looking at the top two lines to carry the offense a lot this postseason.
Another problem is the speed of the 4th line. Sure, they can be the bruisers, but when you play a team like Tampa Bay or Vegas, where you want the most speed on the ice, that 4th line isn’t going to do it for you. They would get burned left and right by younger, faster guys, and that line could become a liability against a fast team very quickly (no pun intended).
The production from the 3rd defensive pairing also scares me. Although Weber and Irwin don’t need to be scoring goals at the pace of some of their teammates, if they can’t even help out offensively when on the ice then Nashville could be in some major trouble come April.
Well, I’m not sure that GMDP and HCPL would put Emelin on the bench, but other than that I really enjoy this lineup.
Line Combination 2
The first line is the same as it is in combination one, and if you want to know why I am including the JoFA line under “The Good”, I encourage you to either A) scroll up and read through my analysis of Line Combo 1 B) Open a new tab and google their stats C) Turn on a Preds game OR D) All of the above.
The second line, however, sees a shift from the first combo. The Hartnell-Turris-Smith line saw a lot of action during the Forsberg injury, and despite only scoring 3 points as a line during that time, they did their job preventing opposing second lines from scoring. And when the grittiness of playoff hockey rears its ugly head, having someone like Scott Hartnell to do the dirty work and screen the goalie for someone with a shot like Craig Smith can make a huge difference. And when he isn’t screening the goalie, Hartnell will do anything (and I mean anything) to hit someone and keep the puck in the zone, freeing up space for goals like this to happen.
The third line is extremely intriguing, and for many reasons. Firstly, each of the three on the line are more than capable of scoring, but none of them have the touch that snipers like Forsberg have. Instead, they’ll usually make passes and lay the lumber on opponents until someone has an open shot. Having three possession forwards on a line isn’t always great, but if that happens on the third line there really isn’t anything to complain about.
The fourth line has made its way onto the ice together a few times this season, and though they have not produced much in terms of points, many of Jarnkrok’s and Sissons’s shots seem to have the worst puck luck of anyone in the league, and if they can just get a few of those to bounce their way, the Preds are in great position with a speedy, young 4th line.
The Four Horsemen are still together in this line-up, as they are in all of the combinations I’ve drawn up. The third line sees Emelin back in the lineup, not for his offense, but for his heavy hitting. Weber can be the offensive-minded defenseman in the third pairing, and the Preds can utilize Emelin’s checking abilities to their fullest potential, as seen by his check on Marc Staal against the Rangers earlier this month.
The first potentially glaring issue with this line combination is the second line. Yes, Turris and Smith could potentially benefit from having a bigger guy like Hartnell to screen the goalie, but the drop-off from Fiala to Hartnell is noticeable. Not only that, but the chemistry that line has built definitely plays into their success this season, and separating them could greatly lower the number of points they get in the postseason.
Also, the third line could cause some issues for the Preds. Fiala has been playing extremely well this year, but a majority of his production has come when he is on the ice with Turris and Smith. Obviously he has the talent to still score goals and collect assists, but it will probably not happen as often if he is with Fisher and Bonino.
Not only that, but at this point in their careers, I believe that both Fisher and Bonino are so used to playing a purely center role that throwing one of them on the wing could be counter-productive, or at the very least just non-productive.
JoFA isn’t split up and neither are the Four Horsemen. Though it isn’t really the best line combination against every team, don’t be surprised if HCPL throws this group of guys out on the ice.
Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week!