Free? I Like Free
There is a lot of talk on #Isles twitter about who the Islanders can add offense to this roster at the trade deadline. I even wrote a piece about who they might give up. Well here’s one Lou’s Burger Barn menu item that wouldn’t cost a thing.
Barry Trotz doesn’t seem to like to move a lot of pieces around. To his credit there have been pairings together the whole season and he may move one wing amongst his core centers. So this rocks the apple cart just a bit.
Brock Nelson needs a puck mover to create offense. Anders Lee needs a distributor. Jordan Eberle is a jack of both trades, but master of neither. Matt Barzal is a master of both. In October I really thought we would get the BrockHoLee line. BrockLeeBar could be the best line of the Trotzformation.
I can see the reluctance of moving your C1 or C2 to RW. But why not? Barzal is the weakest of the four centers at things that define the position. He only wins 42% of his face-offs. He is built as an offensive force which often leaves him vulnerable defensively. Currently Josh Bailey handles a lot of those responsibilities from the RW position. Brock Nelson has been far better. 49% on faceoffs and he has a plus 14 rating.
What Brock Nelson has lacked his whole career with the Islanders is a puck mover. The short time he spent with Josh Ho-Sang to his right, may have been his most productive few weeks in terms of generating chances. Anders Lee has regressed offensively without Johnny Pajama and Josh Bailey obtaining the zone with possession and making sure he touches the puck with some space.
These three players were made to play together.
In this scenario Trotz could rotate Beauvillier, Ladd, Kuhnhackl and DalColle on left wing. There may be stretches where any of those players will add offense to the roster. I lean towards Beauvillier as I think he works best with both Bailey and Eberle. Beauvillier needs to evolve into a center, and this line will help him do that. He is the mover and distributor on the JoJoBeau line. When he is with Barzal there is only one puck, so he concedes that aspect of his game to the best on the team. When he’s with Flip n’ Leo there are two Fins, but no “finisher”. Eberle will be the target of his passes, and I believe they would create a formidable offensive triangle with Beau and Bails distributing the puck, and Ebs and Beau creating space and firing shots.
Josh Bailey was not the most productive center, but he does the things that define the position well. He wins 53% of his faceoffs. He has been the defensive component on a few of the better lines over the past decade. Josh’s defensive ability will pair nicely with the offensive abilities of “Ebs and Beau”. They might have some problems with wall battles and offensive zone puck retention. If that happens Trotz can promote any one of the other left wings.
Val and Leo have been together since the beginning of the season. They have made whoever they play with better. They make sure their end is covered, and create chances when they can. What this pair lacks is solid finisher. As they are the third line, that is not uncommon. Adding Andrew Ladd to this mix would give them the best two-way player with a history of finishing they’ve had to date.
Filppula is good at winning faceoffs and handles his defensive responsibilities rather well. Komarov is almost like having a third defenseman on the ice at all times. His economy of motion also lends itself to him being in good places in the offensive zone as well. He’s just not a finisher. Ladd is a solid two way forward, who much like Nelson, would benefit from a puck mover and distributor. Filppula is not Matt Barzal, but he is “Weird Frans”. He can get the puck into the offensive zone, and he can make sure his wings have opportunities. They won’t have the space a Barzal, or Ho-Sang might provide. But he can create enough chances to create above average third line chances.
I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on why this is the best fourth line in hockey, and why I wouldn’t want to change it. They have been creating offense all year.
If Barry Trotz could give this 5 games when Andrew Ladd returns it could give other teams something different to defend going into the playoffs. Something that coaches will need to defend as a singular offensively aggressive force. They use the three together on the power play, so I don’t think chemistry will be an issue. If anything, their added time together 5v5 might build in game chemistry quicker, and make the two remaining spots on the powerplay more “dynamic”. I could really see the two top lines in this configuration being deployed with either of the top two defensive pairings, or Toews and Pulock to form an improved power play.
Hopefully this will create a bit more offense without costing them too much of what has made them so good this year.