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Oilers Lines Coming Together

Who should center Pajjan?
Who should center Pajjan?

Jen Sharpe tells us in the Team Today that the following lines have been skating at practice:

Pääjärvi - Gagner - Hemsky
Penner - Cogliano - Brule
Reddox - Fraser - Jones
Giroux - O'Marra - McD.

Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Mac. - Stortini - Jacques
Ondrus - VDV - Omark


A few weeks ago, Scott wrote an article about managing the bench with all of these young players on the roster and so few veterans to help.  The Oilers aren't capable of running power vs. power without sending at least two other lines to the slaughter, and they've got exactly zero players that qualify as tradtional "checkers", so there's no way of running a checking line either.  Scott's solution:

For me, the roster would be broken into two parts with ten guys in the first part, and three guys in the bottom.  The first ten guys would be used to create three lines, and would each be composed of a "veteran," a "tweener," and a "rookie."   The actual lines don't matter much - in fact, I'd probably experiment quite a bit to see which combinations worked best - but I'd be dogmatic about using the V-T-R formula.  Here's an example:

Penner (V) - Brule (T) - Eberle (R)
Hall (R) - Gagner (T) - Hemsky (V)
Cogliano (T) - Horcoff (V) - Pääjärvi (R)


With this set-up, each line has a "mentor" that they can talk with on the bench, and each veteran knows he's responsible as a leader.  Further, none of the "tweeners" (Brule, Cogliano, and Gagner) are being asked to carry a line, which I think is very important.  In my opinion, one of the things that made Cogliano's last season so difficult was the fact that he was the best player on his line.  To me, that's a bad development strategy, and it's something I hope is rectified this season.  And as for the rookies, they know that they can just play, which is a real blessing.  

All of this leads us towards the lines Tom Renney is rumored to be considering at the moment (from multiple sources):
Pääjärvi - Gagner - Hemsky
Penner - Cogliano - Brule
Hall - Horcoff - Eberle
Reddox/Omark - Fraser - Stortini


Renney obviously realizes that power vs. power isn't an option either and has decided to go against Scott's advice.  Rather than run three lines of the V-T-R lineup, he's decided to go with one  V-T-R, one V-T-T and one V-R-R.  The V-T-R line (Pääjärvi - Gagner - Hemsky) looks as if it would be akin to the OIlers' scoring line and I suspect this line would receive generally favorable starting positions, probably second-easiest of the four lines.  The V-T-T line (Penner - Cogliano - Brule) would seem to be the closest thing to a power line in the bunch, especially considering Penner was always the power line in 2009-2010.  If Dustin Penner takes the lion's share of the faceoffs, this line will get more difficult starting positions, second-hardest of the four.

The two remaining lines are going to see the extreme starting positions.  With the V-R-R line, Renney is counting on his most complete center - and maybe his most complete forward - Shawn Horcoff to play goal line-to-goal line hockey and both babysit and cover the rink for his two young running mates.  With Horcoff's faceoff ability and two offensive-oriented rookies, this line would likely see the easiest starting positions in the lineup.  Scott was right about one thing.  It looks like the final line, the mucker/grinder/energy/grit line is going to be thrown to the wolves, which makes me think that Liam Reddox will get the first shot at the left wing on that line.  Expect to see Colin Fraser and Zack Stortini starting in their own end like Pat Quinn was still coaching and their names were Chorney and Strudwick.

Unfortunately, the importance placed on line combinations and the extensive discussions surrounding forwards won't make the other pressing problems go away.  Defensive depth is wafer thin and will remain that way unless Steve Tambellini pulls a rabbit out of a hat and trades Sheldon Souray.  There is one high-level penalty-killing forward and zero experienced penalty-killing defensemen on the roster.  And then there's the goaltending mess.  While line combinations make for spirited discussion and allow fans to play video-game coach, in reality, these Edmonton Oilers can count those combinations as but a minor problem on the list.