Thoughts on Thursday: System Fits, Line Combinations and David Pastrnak

1. After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups on the back of speedy, energetic depth players, the Pittsburgh Penguins have set the model that rebuilding teams will look to emulate for years to come. The ebbs and flows of the NHL have lead to different methods of “optimal” roster construction based on what had succeeded recently.

At beginning of the decade, Boston and Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup with rosters built around heavy forechecking, physical play, and a grinding mentality from their players. For the next three years, Chicago and Los Angeles traded the Cup back and forth, as teams altered between modeling themselves after the speed and skill of the Blackhawks, or the Kings’ tenacious cycling system.

Now, with the last three championships being won by teams focusing primarily on quick puck movement, skating, and talent, the pendulum of team building has definitively swung in the other direction, and the results are showing. Teams have reached the point of prioritizing speed over skill, which is bad for the NHL. As much as many people throughout the hockey community (myself included) lambast executives who overvalue “grinders” and “enforcers” whose only purpose was to block shots and hit anything that moved, what’s happening today is no better.

The goal of an NHL general manager should be to build the best possible team. Not the biggest team, not the fastest team, not the most skilled team, the best team. 31 teams have opted against signing players like Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Winnik, and Cody Franson just to name a few, which means that general managers aren’t doing that. Fitting into a given system has become overrated to the point where teams are doing themselves a disservice by not doing everything in their power to acquire talented hockey players. Those players may not be the fleetest of foot, but they’ve proven themselves as valuable contributors throughout their NHL careers. If there are “systems” where good hockey players wouldn’t fit, then perhaps it’s time for those coaches to re-evaluate their systems.

2. Using the data from Ryan Stimson’s passing project, Sean Tierney has evaluated various teams across the league and conjured up “ideal” line combinations based on playing styles. According to him, Alain Vigneault’s lines should look like this when the team hits the ice against the Colorado Avalanche on October 5th:

At first glance, these combinations look peculiar. If Matt Puempel is taking a regular shift for the Rangers anywhere in the lineup, let alone skating alongside Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello, then something has gone horribly wrong. However, Tierney was focused more on balancing the lines out and finding a mix between roles and talent rather than stacking the top lines. The player classifications are a bit questionable, (I find it hard to believe that Hayes and Zuccarello are “balanced” players as opposed to “playmakers”) but for all the time Ryan has put into the project, his evaluations trump mine.

Aside from that, those lines could be a viable option. If Vigneault elects to give J.T. Miller another chance at centering the team’s 3rd line, all it would take is one more free agent signing or one player emerging out of camp with an unexpected roster spot to solidify New York’s forward depth for the time being. While the team doesn’t have enough salary cap space to sign a marquee name like Jagr, Jeff Gorton could sift through the bargain bin and identify other quality options like Winnik or P-A Parenteau to fill a role in the team’s bottom six. Something along the lines of this could work:

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

Rick Nash- Kevin Hayes- Mats Zuccarello

P-A Parenteau-J.T. Miller-Michael Grabner

Jimmy Vesey-David Desharnais-Jesper Fast

If Lias Andersson makes the team and sticks around past October, then he could slot on the team’s third line and remove the need for Parenteau, but the more options Jeff Gorton gives Alain Vigneault, the better.

3. As is Boston Bruins tradition, the team has once again entered contentious contract negotiations with one of its star players. After playing out his entry level deal and emerging as one of the best wingers in the NHL this past season, David Pastrnak is set to cash in on his next contract. Based on the rumors that have been flying around as of late, which team will sign him to that contract is anyone’s guess as of now:

Spelling errors aside, if Don Sweeney is seriously considering moving on from Pastrnak, then the Jeff Gorton should be calling Sweeney on a 24/7 basis until the two teams can reach an agreement. Whether it was Joe Thornton in 2005, or Phil Kessel in 2009, or Blake Wheeler in 2011, or Tyler Seguin in 2013, or Dougie Hamilton in 2015, the Bruins have a habit of trading away their star players for quarters on the dollar.

The Thornton, Wheeler, and Seguin trades netted spare parts that have since left the organization. The team swapped Hamilton for three draft picks that have yet to make an impact in the NHL, and the Kessel trade landed them draft picks that turned into.......Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.

Looking at those trades as a baseline, any deal involving Pastrnak doesn’t get off the ground without Chris Kreider going the other away. As a cost controlled top six forward who plays the type of game Boston admires, Kreider is a natural fit in any trade with the Bruins. Assuming Pastrnak wants a contract in the range of $7 Million, that would put the Rangers over the salary cap by over $1 Million.

A player like Michael Grabner or Nick Holden would serve as useful trade fodder in this case, as both players make enough money to send New York back under the cap, as well as providing Boston with another NHL caliber player to fill out the roster and trade at the deadline for assets. Holden would obviously be better for the Rangers to move, but Grabner is a better fit for Boston’s current needs. From there, Gorton would likely need to add a pick or prospect as well. A mid-tier prospect such as Ryan Gropp (I know I said mid-tier but bear with me) or Ryan Graves would presumably be enough to seal the deal.

Would that be a good trade for Boston? No, it’d be laughably horrible. But the organization has a track record of trading away their superstar forwards in laughably horrible trades, so it’s a possibility that should at least be considered. Even if Boston’s interest in dealing Pastrnak is overblown, it would be irresponsible of Jeff Gorton to with move on without kicking the tires on the Bruins most valuable asset.