Anaheim Ducks Potential Lineup Options Under Coach Dallas Eakins

IRVINE, CA - JUNE 29: Anaheim Ducks team Morrison does end to end sprints after losing an Anaheim Ducks Development Camp game to Ducks team Wilford on June 29, 2019 at FivePoint Arena at the Great Park Ice in Irvine, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
IRVINE, CA - JUNE 29: Anaheim Ducks team Morrison does end to end sprints after losing an Anaheim Ducks Development Camp game to Ducks team Wilford on June 29, 2019 at FivePoint Arena at the Great Park Ice in Irvine, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
IRVINE, CA – JUNE 29: Anaheim Ducks team Morrison does end to end sprints after losing an Anaheim Ducks Development Camp game to Ducks team Wilford on June 29, 2019, at FivePoint Arena at the Great Park Ice in Irvine, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

There are a lot of different line combinations Dallas Eakins could deploy in his first year with the Anaheim Ducks. We’re taking a look at a few of his options.

With a new coach in the mix and a host of either unproven or brand new players, the Anaheim Ducks lineup is surely subject to change from seasons past. Certainly, certain combinations worked well and could be revisited. However, with a host of younger players being shuffled through the deck, the incoming coach may also wish to insulate them somewhat from certain situations. That is to say, some of the players may require sheltering. Particularly against bigger, more physical, teams.

With respect to team building, it makes some sense to run multiple five-man units, each with a different playing style. The differences in strategy on a line to line basis ensures that the opposition team is constantly in flux, having to adapt to changing circumstances. If one line is struggling to score against a certain defensive set up, then perhaps another can get it done by approaching it in a different manner.

Often in hockey, or at least in the fan-sphere, there is a focus on defensive pairings and forward lines as separate entities. However, none of these exists in isolation. The defense transitions into offense, while the forward group is always tasked with defensive duties. Additionally, NHL hockey should consider shifting from the traditional roles given to players and transition to “position-less” hockey, in the way that basketball and, to an extent, rugby has.

Players like Eric Karlsson and Brent Burns have transitioned from the traditional role of the defenceman, and provide a service similar to having a 4th forward on the ice. Typically speaking, for defencemen to transition to this level requires mobility and a quality passing game. Given these are two hallmarks of the Ducks drafting of defencemen during the current Bob Murray regime, the Ducks may consider transitioning to a more position-less system where each player is an equal part of the offense and defensive structure.

Spreading Out the Talent

Furthermore, the Ducks should attempt to build their units, so that they have the highest possible talent on the ice at all times, as this is reportedly the best return on investment for the aim of winning games. Looking at a Ducks-centric scenario in the now-distant past, the Ducks had one line consisting of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and another with Selanne as the focus points. The Getzlaf line played a heavy, behind the net cycle game, whereas the Selanne line attempted to succeed by odd-man rushes and speed.

There was elite talent on the ice for large portions of the game. Added to the mix, was a shutdown line and an energy line. While a dedicated shutdown line and/or energy line, may not currently be in vogue, the idea of multiple options is a strong one. With that in mind, the Ducks should consider balancing the offense so that each of the five-man units they can deploy, can take a different approach to scoring.

One line teams such as last season’s Colorado Avalanche should be taken as a warning and not as the blueprint. Certainly, their top forward line was incredible to watch, but with little depth behind it, they were not considered that tough of a team. In basketball, Dennis Rodman once said while he was on the Pistons team, that they would allow the freakish scorers to score while they worked on shutting down the rest of the team. Sometimes the Jordan’s of the world would beat them, but at the time the Pistons were champions and more often than not, they came out on top.

A similar rationale can be applied to hockey. Yes, those elite lines can dominate a game and win it by themselves. However with little depth or secondary scoring, eventually they will run short in the championship race. The Ducks, during this rebuilding period, should be looking to create a balanced attack that can produce up and down the lineup.

With that said, creating combinations which work within a five-man unit requires a little more tinkering. Initially, it would make some sense to have at least one gifted passer and one gifted shooter on a particular unit. Typically speaking, the shooter will be a forward, as for the most part, players who have reached the NHL as a forward are simply better shooters than their defensive counterparts. Passing, however, should be a more of a whole unit endeavor, although the stronger passing forward should be moved into a position to become the fulcrum of a triangle-styled offense.

Similarly, the more gifted passer of the defensive pairing should be given a rovers style role so that they may join the offense on the overlap (the overlap being a rugby-style terminology for a player who receives an inside pass going against the current flow of ball movement.) That is to say, when the puck is being moved from the right side to the left side, then the better passing defensive player should receive a pass as they enter the zone moving from the left side to the right. Think the patented Getzlaf drop pass, but instead of coming straight on, the defenceman is cutting to a side to open up more space on the offensive ice. With their passing skills and open space, they then become the new fulcrum of the triangle offense.

The third player of the forward group would often be suggested to be the puck retriever, and depending on the playing style this may carry more weight. For instance, if one of the units is dedicated to “getting pucks in deep” or “chip and chase” as a previous Ducks coach mentioned, then having a speedy player who does excellent work along the boards and in the corners is essential to regaining possession of the puck.

However, if the unit in question is dedicated to maintaining puck possession, then perhaps a different type of player would be required. A larger limbed player with reach, to keep the puck away from the opposition could be in order. Or perhaps this is the place for the vaunted “two-way” player, who the Ducks have seemingly been enamored with over the past half-decade.

The Concept of Handedness

It’s also worth mentioning prior to lineup design, the concept of handedness. In the not-to-distant past, it was considered a great boon to have players play on their correct wing. In today’s NHL, for one reason or another, not having a right-handed shot on their correct wing, means that they’ll instantly forget how to hockey. As a counterpoint to this, I’d argue that shifting some of the younger players to their off wing, at least initially, may be beneficial to their growth.

For instance, a player like Jacob Larsson who has yet to establish himself at the NHL level, and who has a limited offensive toolbox, may find a level of comfort playing on his off-side. As a skater and as a passer, he is adequate but not elite. As such, his offensive ceiling is somewhat limited. However, having him cut inside on the overlap from his off-wing, would allow him to get a shot off in space quicker than he otherwise would.

While not likely to be a scoring shot, it would provide opportunities for rebounds and general chaos in front of the net, which may lead to scoring from other avenues. On the defensive end, it would mean that he would not be intercepting pucks and closing off passing lanes through the central corridor on his backhand. Should he get adept and intercepting passes, this could easily turn into a one-touch block-pass to one of the forwards higher in the defensive zone. A pass which could lead to a breakout.

Nonetheless, it may allow for a slightly easier entry point into NHL hockey. A similar rationale would work for the newer forwards. Consider how long the call for moving Jakob Silfverberg to the opposite wing has been around for, as an example of shifting wings. Given the above rationales, I’ve taken a little bit of a stab at some potential five-man combinations that Coach Dallas Eakins could potentially consider after the jump.