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Hockey Challenge 2014

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What is a first line?

Reading all the recent discussions while in Victoria, I had a few questions for some of the commentators and readers of the blog.  I don't think any of these questions really have answers, I am just curious what people think, and continue the momentum we have here of discussion / debate.  I will try and post one every couple of days to give time for discussion, and leave space for games, thoughts, and anything else that comes up.

The first one that I really had to start debating myself was "What is a first line".  Quite a few of the comments were about player XYZ playing on the first line, getting first line ice time, etc.  So what do people feel a first line is?  Is it...
  • The line that starts
  • The line that gets the most ice time
  • The top scoring line
  • The line that other teams feel they must match their top defenders against
  • The line the coach wants out there in a close game
  • something completely different

How does a first line fit into a team like Portland last season (or arguable Seattle this season), where you have 3 or 4 lines deep?  Is there a true first line, or is it more line 1A or 1B?  Is there really a first line of forwards and a separate first line of defenders?

Since I asked the question, I guess I need to give an answer also.

To me, I have a problem calling any line the "first line" because it all depends on the what type of system your team is playing. A team with a defensive mentality might define a first line as the one that shuts down the other teams top end players. A run and gun (offensive) team might define it's first line as the one that can score at will. Also, I believe these "standards" are going to apply differently between the forward group and the defensemen group.

In my opinion, each line has a purpose.  I will start with forwards, and move from the bottom up.

The bottom line (4th if you want to call it that) is a line that is an energy line, used to fill in spots when you need to shake up the game, give your other lines a rest, or the biggest, reset you other lines.  This might be 16 year old rookies that are learning but it could also be 20 year old veterans on a team that has enough talent to fill other lines.

The checking line.  This is a line of hard working, forecheck hard, hit hard, and make sure the puck doesn't end up in your own net.  This line should be a very responsible line that you can match against the other teams top scoring line.  If you team is deep enough offensively, this line can also be expected to chip in some goals.

The scoring line 2.  This is your second best line of talented forwards.  I would like it to be a line of players who generally think scoring first, but also know their own end on the ice.  In a deep team, this should be set of players that the opponent has to figure out how and which set of players to match up against.

The scoring line 1.  This is the line I really count on when I need a goal.  I would like it to be one setup man, and two guys that have a goal scoring mentality.  These guys can be dump and chase, crash the net and force turnovers type of players.  Or they can be all speed and finesse, lethal shots, kill you with space types of players.  This line should be one the opponent has to put their top defenders against.  This might also be what I would roll out as my first power play unit.

On defense, I only define a special line, and that is a shutdown line.  This contains my two best players that can go against the other teams best line.  Otherwise, which ever guys play well together, and can cover for each others mistakes.

I wont go into powerplay or shorthand situations, because those could be a completely different post.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I agree with your very broad definitions, however I also see that there is some sort of hierarchy involved as well. A player who goes from the scoring line to the "4th" line hasn't been moved laterally in the team. Rather, he has been demoted and must prove that he has the ability to compete on another level in order to get that scoring line spot back.

With that said, I think your definition works really well because every line does have a purpose and the fourth line isn't simply the line with all the rookies and goons on it. On a decent team it should also be a line with a purpose other than giving the first three lines a rest.

If I could create an ideal team I would want my fourth line to be an energy line that is capable of getting the fans going with some big hits, important shot blocks, etc. My third line would be three guys that play like Luke Lockhart and my second line would be three guys that play like a mix of Swenson, Troock, Yak and Mac (which I would characterize as a mix of scoring touch and puck control). My top line though, which gets at your original question, would be guys two guys like Holmberg or Rattie or Lipsbergs centered by one guy like Nugent-Hopkins (the kind of player Barzal could be in two years). There Barzal haters, I did it. I compared him to RNH.... Again.

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