Jason Gregor recently spoke to Edmonton Oilers coach Pat Quinn, and he was nice enough not only to post his questions and Quinn's answers over at OilersNation, but also to ask a question that he knew I'd want an answer for:
For Jonathan Willis, I asked Quinn his thoughts on matching lines:
“At the start I want to find out the kind of depth we have. I’d be interested in playing all of our players. I’m more of a guy that thinks about handling a checking responsibility in terms of a defense pair, or maybe a defense pair and a given centre. As for matching a whole line, I think you can get confused some times. I think you can get caught up too much in the changing and sometimes I think you are telling players you are just a specialty player who can’t play in this circumstance.
I want to have a team that believes in themselves and can play in all circumstances. I know there are some nights you do pay attention to who is on the ice at certain times, but line matching is not as critical, especially during the regular season, as some of the other things we will want to do with our hockey team. Hopefully well have good balance so we can be a strong and up tempo four line, six defense team.”
That's a good quote, and eerily resembles something from Don Cherry's latest book. Here's that quote:
"If you talk to players, they really hate matchin' lines. What I'd do is put a checker on each line, so I could depend on every line....
That's how we ended up with eleven guys who had twenty goals or more - because we played everybody all the time. We had a flow goin' all the time, a nice flow....
I always had my ace in the hole, a guy called Donnie Marcotte. Every time their big line went out, no matter who went out, I'd just kind of sneak in Marcotte at the right time. He could make any line a checking line."
It's an approach that isn't really orthodox in the NHL anymore; the vast majority of coaches match lines, although some with more zeal than others. That isn't to say it can't work, particularly if every line is defensively responsible - and that's a key point. Could the Oilers ice four defensively responsible lines with their current roster? Aside from obvious things - like Shawn Horcoff and Fernando Pisani in particular being used as the one-player shadow - I'd say this is another good indicator that we're about to see more actual NHL players (as opposed to prospects) put on the roster.
This probably helps a guy like Patrick O'Sullivan (who has a wider range of skills than he's generally given credit for) while hurting a guy like Robert Nilsson, and driving one more nail into the coffin of Rob Schremp's NHL career.
As for the shutdown defense pairing, which two blueliners would the Oilers currently use in that role? Souray? Visnovsky? Staios? Gilbert? This is a top-four that's been built on a by-committee approach, with the tough assignments being split by those four and Denis Grebeshkov. I'd be very surprised if the Oilers don't bring in at least one bonafide shut-down man for the top-four; probably to take on that job in tandem with Tom Gilbert.