In the winter of 1971, Boston Bruins coach Tom Johnson had a problem. His monster offensive machine from the previous season wasn’t performing at the same level. The Wayne Cashman-Phil Esposito-Ken Hodge line, who had scored 140 goals in 1970-71 (1.79 goals per game), managed only 33 goals through the first 24 games of the season (1.38 goals per game).
The Athletic Edmonton features a fabulous cluster of stories (some linked below, some on the site). Great perspective from a ridiculous group of writers and analysts. Proud to be part of The Athletic, less than two coffees a month offer here.
- New Lowetide: Oilers prospect pipeline could deliver below-average group in 2020-21
- New Jonathan Willis: Several factors led to Oilers’ Zack Kassian’s inevitable hearing with NHL Player Safety
- Jonathan Willis: Zack Kassian calls Matthew Tkachuk a ‘p****,’ says he’d go after him again despite Oilers’ loss
- Lowetide: Projecting William Lagesson’s future with the Edmonton Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: Kailer Yamamoto has impressed the Oilers and especially star linemate Leon Draisaitl
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: 10 bold predictions for the Edmonton Oilers in 2020
- Jonathan Willis: Mike Smith stars in Oilers victory, but others’ struggles could prompt changes
- Jonathan Willis: Inside a coach’s impact: How Dave Tippett gets the most out of the Oilers’ players
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Deciding what to do with Darnell Nurse, Mike Smith, Tyler Benson and Evan Bouchard
- Lowetide: Ken Holland’s targets for his first trade deadline with the Oilers.
- Minnia Feng: Zamboni Ursula: What if Oilers fans could change something in the team’s past?
- Lowetide: Ken Holland’s trade deadline options for the Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: ‘That’s the nicest goal I’ve ever seen’: Connor McDavid’s teammates amazed by his latest effort
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers notebook: James Neal’s resurgence, Matt Benning’s injury and the Tyler Benson recall temptation
- Lowetide: Oilers farmhands are pushing hard for NHL jobs
- Jonathan Willis: Zack Kassian’s breakout performance presents Oilers GM Ken Holland with a familiar dilemma
- Lowetide: Ken Holland, the Oilers amateur procurement department and the 2020 draft
- Lowetide: Complete Oilers top 20 prospects list, winter 2019
The second line (Johnny Bucyk, Fred Stanfield, John McKenzie) were also off the pace. In ’70-71, the trio totaled 106 goals (1.36), and by December 1971 had 23 goals (0.959) between them.
In 1971, a team dressed 11 forwards, three full lines and then (usually) an extra center and a swingman. The swingman might be a rookie, a forward who could play defense, or a veteran who could penalty kill or fill in on a line when the team had a lead late. Montreal’s Jimmy Roberts was such a player, rambunctious rookie Bob Neely started in that spot for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Gerry Odrowski was a defenseman who could effectively PK as a forward for the Oakland Seals. Think “catcher who can play second base and center field. Weird. But true.
Johnson’s solution to the goal-scoring problem was to run five different men on the third line. In 1970-71, the third line (Wayne Carleton-Derek Sanderson-Eddie Westfall) scored 76 goals (0.97 goals per game).
By December ’71, Johnson decided he would run Sanderson at center and then mix and match depending on the opponent. Mike Walton and Ace Bailey were the left wingers, Walton the more talented scorer. Westfall was the checking right winger, with young Reggie Leach the offensive option. After 24 games of the 1971-72 season, Sanderson (3 goals), Walton (9), Westfall (5), Bailey (4) and Leach (4) seemed to benefit from the experience. By the spring Leach was playing for the Golden Seals and by summer the Bruins won the Stanley, but in those days of offensive uncertainty, it was good to have brilliant options at the ready. There’s a lesson there.
OILERS RECALL YAMAMOTO
The recall of Kailer Yamamoto ignited the Oilers No. 2 line offensively at five on five. Here is Nuge with his most common lines so far this season. Notice the goals and expected goals.
Yamamoto’s presence on the line is new (just over an hour) but the skill that has been added is obvious. Now, you want to possession number to follow along and we’ll see, but that’s a nice start. I do wonder if KY eventually gets a chance to run with McDavid. If they switch out again, Neal-Chiasson did good work.
MCDAVID’S LINES 2019-20
McDavid and Yamamoto would seem to be a fit of considerable promise, I’m also fascinated by the 35 minutes Nygard joined the band. Interesting. Have we discussed the idea of acquiring Tyler Ennis?
THE BRUINS CONNECTION
Back to my Bruins story. Tom Johnson had a team of scorers who were struggling, and some of them (hello, Ken Hodge) wouldn’t recover all season. So he gathered up all of the possibles (Walton, Bailey, Westfall and Leach), including a couple who spent time in the minors (Bailey and Leach) in 1970-71, and auditioned them in real time, with regular shifts.
Dave Tippett has been doing that all season, except the quality of the talent is far poorer. There is no Bucyk, there is no McKenzie, Hodge or even Cashman (who was kind of like Ryan Smyth). McDavid is unique in this conversation and Draisaitl is similar in ways to Phil Esposito but it’s not an easy connection.
Kailer Yamamoto represents the ‘Reggie Leach’ in my story, and Tyler Benson is the Garnet Bailey. I think the time has come to add another element. Yamamoto is now six games in, with 2-3-5 boxcars and some success in each game. Time to recall Tyler Benson.
A MODERN JASON CHIMERA
Fans of a certain age may remember the days around the turn of the century, when it seemed Jason Chimera would break camp with the big club each fall. He finally did make the club, after playing almost the entirety of his entry deal in the AHL. Fans were mad when Chimera was sent out each fall by Craig MacTavish, but math told us it was the right thing to do.
Chimera’s teams averaged 2.81, 2.84 and 3.09 goals per game. For his AHL career, his Hamilton Bulldogs would average 2.91 goals per game. Now, it’s easy to see why Chimera was left behind at 20, and he was still a little shy the following year. By the final year of his entry deal, he was ready. Now, let’s see about Benson.
Benson’s Bakersfield Condors averaged 3.56 goals per game in 2018-19, 3.09 goals per game this year and 3.40 overall. Comparing the two men (Chimera and Benson) is impossible, the two eras are almost 20 years apart. That said, at age 21 Chimera delivered .692 points-per-game for a team that scored 2.84 goals per game. Benson, age 21, is posting .914 points-per-game for a team that is scoring 3.09 goals per game. Even considering the team scoring gap, Benson should be considered a superior offensive player, age 21.
Chimera was bullet fast, Benson is rapier smart. Chimera played 1,107 NHL games, Benson hasn’t play one. I expect that to change and right soon.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
After an enjoyable week away, we’re back this morning for the Lowdown at 10, TSN1260. The show is still percolating, but Jason Gregor will be around at 11 to talk Oilers and NFL weekend, and we’ll probably have an NFL guest at 10:20. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Join me won’t you?