Whatever happened to letting chemistry grow?

The Family Line.

That was what some Nashville Predators fans playfully coined the J.P. Dumont-Jason Arnott-Patric Hornqvist line at the start of the season due to Dumont and Arnott’s history as linemates and Hornqvist being the rookie (thus known as “Baby”).

But where is that line now?

For that matter, where are any of the lines now?

They’re all over the place. David Legwand skates with Dumont, who ends up skating with Martin Erat, who ends up skating with Joel Ward, who ends up skating with Antii Pihlstrom, who ends up skating with…

Take this past Saturday for example: Legwand, a center, started as a wing on a line with Arnott and Erat. Vern Fiddler then took some turns skating with Legwand and Erat. Even Philstrom found himself skating on that line during the game.

Now Radek Bonk re-injured himself early in the game so that always calls for some line juggling but let’s be honest, this juggling lines thing happens every game.

Heck, it happens every TV-timeout.

Whatever happened to letting players skate together and letting chemisty grow? Remember a little line out of Buffalo called The French Connection? Or maybe the Cold War-era KLM Line? Or, more recently, Philadelphia’s Legion of Doom? All those lines had superstar-type calibur ingredients and it would be crazy to compare Ward, Legwand and Erat to the Legion of Doom’s John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg but hey, those guys had to start somewhere.

So what’s the common theme in any famous NHL line combination? A potent scorer, a set-up man and a jack-of-all-trades (i.e. the guy who’s not afraid to do the dirty work). Need examples? The French Connection of the 1970′s Buffalo Sabres: Rick Martin was the sniper. He had one of the most respected (and feared) wrist and slapshots in the league. Gilbert Perreault was the playmaker. He could deke and/or head-fake defensemen out of their skates. Rene Robert was the complete package. He could score with the best of them but would practically volunteer to go into the corners and dig out pucks so his linemates could find open ice.

The Predators roster has plenty of guys who are willing to go into the corners and do the dirty work (Jones, Ward, Pihlstrom). They also have a fair share of playmakers and set-up guys (Dumont, Erat, Steve Sullivan). What’s left? The sniper.

Since Alexander Radulov left, they haven’t had a player that possesses blazing speed and strikes fear into the hearts of goalies every time they touch the puck.

It’s not being suggested that a Dumont-Arnott-Jones line or an Erat-Legwand-Ward line are the same calibur as a Legion of Doom or a French Connection, but it does help support the argument for some consistency. It’s not a given that chemistry is going to develop between any three players. It is a given, however, that chemistry takes time to develop.

So is Nashville shooting themselves in the foot? A strong argument could be made that if they want to be anything other than a “bubble team,” they need to let chemistry grow, and stop changing their lines every other shift.

Hockey, more than any other sport, relies on chemisty between players. The speed and style of the game is such that, without knowledge of what your teammate is going to do or where they’ll be, all you’re doing is playing blind. Growing and building chemistry between players allows those plays to be pre-determined, almost as if the players have a sixth sense of where to be and/or where to go.

That sixth sense is nowhere to be found in Nashville and it’s due to the lack of time players spend on consistent lines with each other.

So, for now, the Preds remain a single piece away from a line worthy of a nickname. Not because fans want a catchy nickname, like the “Family Line,” but because it leads to success on the ice and that’s what leads to winning.

The catchy nickname is just gravy.

3 Comments

  1. Paul Nicholson

    February 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Totally agree that more time together would be best, but i think the bigger issue is matching the lines well to start with. And as you’ve pointed out, we don’t have all the pieces (Mr Poile?!)

    Sully used to be the ‘sniper’ or at least finisher, but that’s the one aspect of his game that hasn’t come back since his return. Arnott’s also proven himself to be a scorer, but he plays the position like he thinks he’s Sully’s size and speed, which makes him less effective. He’s also not top-line caliber. On a great/good team he’s a 2nd line finisher at best.

    This idea of roles is also what frustrates me about Legwand. Where does he fit? He’s a great defensive forward. Like, crazy good. But on the offensive side, he doesn’t classically fit any of those roles. Normally a player like that would be on a 3rd/4th line (see: Smithson, Nichol) and on a great team (example: the Wings) that’s exactly where Leggy would be. But on this team, he’s one of the top 6 most talented forwards, so he plays on the top two lines – regardless of where his skills lie. Which leads to much gnashing of teeth among the fans.

  2. Codey

    February 25, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Based on the game last night, it doesn’t look like the stability in the lines is coming anytime soon.

  3. Dirk

    February 25, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I think it’s a tough hand that Trotz has been dealt, and he’s trying to shuffle things up to see if he can somehow get at least some offensive punch from three lines. Just about every team in the league has a couple decent defense pairs that they’re comfortable throwing out there against a team like Nashville, and where the Preds can make hay is if they can take advantage of other team’s depth players. Fiddler, Tootoo, Bonk, etc. just aren’t contributing offensively to any significant degree, however, so Trotz keeps trying different combos to see if anything starts to click…