Hurricanes Line Consistency Crucial

The Carolina Hurricanes just came off their new head coach’s rookie season. Bill Peters, while a rookie as a head coach, has been in hockey his entire career. His stint with the Detroit Red Wings under Mike Babcock was time well-spent.

Peters knows hockey and has the same no-nonsense demeanor that characterizes Babcock. Tough, hard-working, and a winner would be accurate adjectives for both coaches. Babcock is entering a new chapter in his coaching career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. For Peters, the honeymoon of year one is over. ‘Canes fans want to see marked improvement in their team sooner rather than later.

Switchback

Over the course of last season, Peters routinely mixed up his line combinations. To the fans it was often difficult to understand what exactly his strategy was. Regardless of what seemed to work on a given night, Peters seemed to be searching for something elusive.

In my opinion, year two of the Peters era needs to see more consistency in the line combinations he puts on the ice. Switching back and forth may have been fine in his first year, given that he was new and trying to figure out what might work best. But, that experiment should have run its course by now.

Where’s the “C”

For example, our friends at Dobber Hockey break down the percentages for the various line combinations that Hurricanes captain Eric Staal was in throughout last season. Obviously pairings change throughout games, but it is amazing to see that Staal played center, left-wing, and right-wing with a variety of different line mates all season.

We see Staal with his brother Jordan Staal sometimes at center and sometimes on the wing. We see him with Elias Lindholm and Jiri Tlusty. Sometimes the captain is with Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin. At even strength, Eric Staal was on the same line 16% of the time. Compared with the captains of the two teams currently in the Stanley Cup Finals, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, we find Toews with the same line mates 33 percent of the time at even strength and Stamkos 21 percent.

Obviously this is not advanced analytics I admit. But, it does shine a little light onto my point that there is something positive to be said about consistency, especially on the top line. Over at www.leftwinglock.com, we can see Chicago’s line of Brandon Saad, Toews, and Marian Hossa slotted tied at fourth in line production during the regular season at 30 goals. Tampa Bay’s line of Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, and Stamkos, came in tied at 12th with 19 goals.

(By the way, I wonder of Marian Hossa is truly appreciated. Click here to read my thoughts on Hossa possibly not getting the love he deserves)

Again, I’m not drilling down into Corsi, TOI, or all of the other metrics of advanced analytics. I’m simply making the assertion that the Hurricanes may very well benefit from more consistency in who is on the ice with whom in the coming season.

Staal and…

Eric Staal has said he is comfortable on the wing. There was some speculation in the media a couple of seasons back that Kirk Muller putting him out there was not working. I’d like to see Staal on the wing consistently with brother Jordan at center. This should be the foundation of ‘Canes’ top line. Let’s give the Staal brothers a full season of consistency together and see what they can produce.

Who else to slot on the wing can be determined in the upcoming training camp and exhibition games. I’d love for it to be Jeff Skinner or Alexander Semin – if either can get their offensive prowess back. If not, then Elias Lindholm would be my next suggestion. But my thought is, let’s settle the makeup of the top line and go with it unless it absolutely fails.

By the way, I absolutely love Victor Rask anchoring the second line at center. He earned his spot in the NHL last season and I am convinced the upcoming season will see Rask not only developing more, but contributing even more significantly to the Hurricanes.

I’m just a guy with opinions. Opinions formed, however, from the press box and a lot of experience with the Hurricanes. I happen to agree with many of the fans on the topic of line consistency in the upcoming season.

For Coach Peters to be successful, it is crucial that he can dial in on his lines and go with them. I think it will better help him in working on the things that comprise his system, also, when he is not trying to find that special combination of players.

Peters is a great coach. Let’s hope he can put together a great set of lines and lead the ‘Canes to the playoffs.

How do you feel about E. Staal and J. Staal being on the top line consistently? Good idea? Or do you feel that splitting them up makes more sense? I’d love to have your comments.

Mark Shiver is a staff writer for The Hockey Writers  credentialed with the Carolina Hurricanes. You can follow him on Twitter @markshiver