Training Camp is almost over and quite a few things have become very apparent for the Ducks. Some that come to mind are the true importance of Ryan Getzlaf (like we didn’t know that already), the softness of Luca Sbisa, and the lack of depth the Ducks actually have.
But wasn’t this supposed to be the season the Ducks actually do have depth? Yes and no. We’ve obviously acquired a couple of good forwards with the additions of Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul to play with Teemu Selanne, and we already had a great first line in the RPG line that was created last year. But don’t forget all the familiar faces that have left the team since last training camp: Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Travis Moen, Chris Kunitz, and Drew Miller.
All those players have two things in common. Stanley Cup rings (which hurts to think about, actually), and tenacious back-checking. I already wrote about the importance of the checking line and how the RPG line should fill that role in this article. But that’s not the point here.
The point is that after our first two lines, there’s a HUGE drop-off in offensive production. Many will point out that we still have Andrew Ebbett who performed extremely well last year alongside Selanne. People will also say that Erik Christensen didn’t play that bad, either. I totally agree. Those two players were seventh and eighth, respectively, in terms of production last year. But those two players also played with Selanne or our other top line players which almost certainly inflated their stats.
Christensen, however, hasn’t yet played a preseason game because of the shoulder injury he’s recovering from. Ebbett, meanwhile, has played on every line at least once this preseason in hopes of finding the right fit (he actually looked GREAT alongside Koivu and Selanne when Lupul was out). And the rest of the team, Evgeny Artyukhin, Petteri Nokelainen, Mike Brown, George Parros, Ryan Carter, and Todd Marchant, are better at hitting or fighting than scoring. So what are the Ducks to do?
There are two options that stick out in my eyes. We can either trade Ebbett and Christensen to make room for full checking and energy lines and gain other assets in the process, or we can go with three full offensive lines and have some players sit out on certain nights.
The former, trading Ebbett and Christensen, would anger quite a few Ducks fans. Why would we trade players that are so productive? The short answer is there’s no room. The long answer is that the two have been pigeonholed into the “offensive players” category and would therefore not be ideal for the third- or fourth-line, so the team should trade them to allow actual energy players to do what they do best while the team receives assets in return.
Ebbett and Christensen are both fairly young players and can probably develop better in a situation where they’ll have more playing time and where they can play offensive roles. Meanwhile, the other six players I listed would fit nicely into the bottom-six of Coach Randy Carlyle’s lineup. Some are solid defensively while others can provide some much-needed protection for the scoring lines.
The other option is to go with three scoring lines. We all know that Carlyle likes to work with pairs with his forward lines, and this would provide him with a lot of options. Getzlaf-Corey Perryand Koivu-Selanne are locks to play together. The third pair would probably be Ebbett-Bobby Ryan because they’ve played together in the minors and showed chemistry together with the Ducks last year in limited playing time. Then I’d go with Lupul on the first line, Carter on the second, and Christensen on the third. Those three are interchangeable and the coaching staff can choose the best way to arrange them.
So what does that leave for the fourth line? That would depend on the opponent on any particular night. If we need to have a shut-down line to go against a tough opposing first-line, we should go with Nokelainen-Marchant-Brown. If we need some muscle to play against the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL, we would go with Artyukhin-Marchant-Parros. Each line, one through four, would have a role to play and would be defensively responsible. There is no all-eggs-in-one-basket approach like last year, but rather a consistent attack from three forward lines with a fourth to mix it up a bit if needed.
So what should the Ducks do? Personally, I’m on the fence on this one. I will, however, say that I’m leaning towards the three scoring lines approach because I really believe that the RPG line can develop into our checking line, as I wrote about here. I’m also a big fan of Andrew Ebbett and would hate to see him go. I feel like he can develop into the second-coming of Andy McDonald, though I know that’s ambitious.
If nothing else, the Ducks have options this season. General Manager Bob Murray has done a fantastic job with trades in his short time as the Ducks’ GM, so we know he’ll be able to work some magic if need be. Here’s to hoping that Carlyle and the coaching staff can come up with the right combinations to make everything work as the regular season begins in exactly one week.