New Age Roster Construction: 4 Lines or 4 Superstars?

The idea of a “super-team” is a hot topic these days. Just look at the NBA. It’s easier to construct a team, with less players to divide the money between, but the concept can be executed to perfection. The Golden State Warriors are going to field a starting lineup made up entirely of All-Stars from last year’s All-Star game. It’s going to be a long season for Lebron and the Lakers.

That idea of a super-team is starting to create dynasties in the NHL. One look at the Pittsburgh Penguins powerplay line and I think you’ll understand. It’s one line, because that’s all they need. They just throw out Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, and whoever they want parked in front of the goalie (usually Hornqvist, who is a quality player in his own right). The Penguins have $32.25M tied up in those top 4 players. Each of those four players takes up ~10% of the pie individually and ~40% of the cap combined.

The Blues top four highest paid players, Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Pietrangelo, and STEEN, respectively, make up $27.75M of the cap hit. That equates to roughly 8.5% of the cap individually and about 34% collectively. The only glaring difference between the Penguins and Blues top 4 highest paid players would be your definition of a superstar. The only true (if we’re being honest with ourselves) superstars on the Blues out of their top four are Tarasenko and Pietrangelo. They’re both considered to be elite players at their respective positions. Ryan O’Reilly is a great player. He’s not a superstar. Steen, oh Steener, he’s stuck between a rock and father time. He’s seen a decline in offensive production each of the last 3 seasons (I hear Arizona likes to take on dead-weight contracts, just ask Chicago).

So what’s the difference between the make-up of the two teams? The difference lies in the remainder of the lineup. The Blues will start the season with arguably one of the deepest lineups in the NHL, one of their biggest flaws from last season. When you boast a, projected, third line of Bozak, Perron, and Steen, it looks formidable against a line of Derick Brassard, Bryan Rust, and Zach Aston-Reese. The collective cap hits are $14.75M for the Blues and $7.425M for the Penguins for their respective 3rd lines. That’s a stark contrast in 3rd line payroll. Almost double the cap hit for the Blues. The payoff will production by the end of the season and who pays less per goal scored.

We know what the Penguins have won, and the Blues haven’t, but is it the best way to construct a winner? It seems to have worked for the last few cup winners. The cup winners of the last 10 seasons include:

2008 – Detroit Red Wings

2009 – Pittsburgh Penguins

2010 – Chicago Blackhawks 

2011 – Boston Bruins

2012 – Los Angeles Kings

2013 – Chicago Blackhawks

2014 – Los Angeles Kings

2015 – Chicago Blackhawks

2016 – Pittsburgh Penguins

2017 – Pittsburgh Penguins

2018 – Washington Capitals

In those 10 seasons, we’ve seen the Penguins win 3 cups, the Hawks win 3 cups (UGH..), the Kings win 2 cups, and the Bruins, Capitals, and Red Wings win one a piece. What did the Penguins, Hawks, and Kings have in common? At least 3-4 players at the top of their game at the time of their respective team’s cup wins.

The Penguins teams had the obvious duo of Crosby and Malkin up front with Letang and Fleury (Murray for the last two) on the back-end. The Hawks trotted out Kane, Toews, a prime Hossa, and Duncan Keith (double birds to you, Mr. Keith). Los Angeles lined up Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. Pick your poisons with the other 3 cup winners mixed in. Bergeron/Krejci/Chara – Ovechkin/Backstrom/Holtby – Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Lidstrom.

It could be said that a couple of these teams just got hot at the right time. The 2012 Kings team certainly did after they entered the playoffs as the 8-seed and handled the 1, 2, and 3-seeded teams in those playoffs en route to their first ever championship. The Blues were the only opponent the Kings swept. There is also the role that “supporting players” play within the grind to the cup. Jake Guentzel had 13(!!) goals in 25 games for the Penguins on the way to their 16-17 cup last season. Even Bryan Rust potted 7 goals himself, one less than Crosby and Kessel (where you at, Perron?). The championship run in the season prior, Carl Hagelin scored the same amount of goals as Crosby and Malkin with six. In summation, your superstars carry the team and the role players fill-in the “lull” in scoring, if there is one.

Now when we circle back to the Blues roster, we can see the superstar power in Tarasenko and Pietrangelo, but we also see the depth within their lineup. Tarasenko scores in the playoffs, if you think otherwise then you’re not watching the games. 22 goals in 44 career playoff games gives him one of the best goal per game ratios OF ALL TIME. He’s right there with Ovechkin and the guy who wore the #16 hanging in the rafters at the Enterprise Center (still don’t know why they chose “Center” instead of “Arena”). Pietrangelo is the Blues #1 defenseman, but in prior years he has taken a backseat to the playoff glory while others like Shattenkirk took the offensive reigns, he will have an even greater responsibility to produce moving forward. Petro’s 26 points in 57 playoff games is good for a defenseman, but the Blues need a little bit more from him in the offensive zone. He took a step towards his old self by posting a career-high 54 points in the regular season last year, good for 13th among NHL defensemen. He also posted a career-high in goals. He is a prototypical #1 defenseman and Blues fans should cherish his time here like he was Chris Pronger.

It could be said that the Blues lack the right amount of star-power. The superstars are there, but it might not be enough to keep up. Obviously when the idea of John Tavares in a Blues sweater was a possibility, the superstar status of the Blues became an immediate thought. Tavares plays up top with Tarasenko and the Schenn-Schwartz combo on the 2nd line. There’s 3 pieces to the superstar puzzle in Tavares, Tarasenko, and Pietrangelo. Schenn showed that he can be a top star in this league last season and could have been your 4th piece to a star-studded lineup. The Note looks stronger and deeper than it has in a long while. They’re bringing in motivated pieces in O’Reilly and Bozak. There will be the opportunity for the youth movement to start in Thomas, Kyrou, and Kostin. The future is bright and that provides for much anticipation of what’s to come. We can only judge on what’s here and now. Right now, this lineup looks to have great quality, through all four lines, but might not pack the superstar punch of other teams.

The Blues centers going into the season will be Schenn, O’Reilly, Bozak, and one of either Barbashev or Thomas (IMO). If you look back at my piece on “Lineup Dreams”, I suggested the idea of having a different look on the 4th line. One that is molded out of speed and skill rather than grit and character. If you want scoring in all four lines, that’s the way to do it. The Blues should fill in their “grit and character” with players like Maroon, ones that can “grit” the puck past the goaler more than a few times per season. As mentioned in that article, the 4th line was composed of Soshnikov and Jaskin on the wings. Jaskin isn’t exactly a fan-favorite, but he’s a high-quality 4th liner in the right situation, as I explained. Blues fans have a lot to be happy about with a solid defensive core and quality centermen. Now they must provide the scoring up and down the lineup to keep Jake Allen afloat throughout the season. If his head isn’t right this season, we may be looking at another late season collapse and a one-way ticket out of town for him. At least now you don’t have to chuck your remote at the TV after watching this garbage… Hopefully..

Did You Miss It?

Former NHL goaltender Ray Emery has passed away at the way-too-young age of 35. He was found unresponsive after drowning in Lake Ontario near Hamilton, Ontario. RIP Razor, the hockey community will miss you.

Joel Edmundson’s arbitration hearing date is on July 25th. Only a week out and no rumblings of a new contract discussed prior to the hearing. I believe Armstrong will wait out the process as Eddy’s awarded contract shouldn’t be over $3M AAV (the Blues have $3.28M in cap space remaining) and they will be able to work out an extension with more cap space next off-season. Jordan Schmaltz is the only other remaining RFA, but Edmundson is the team’s top priority.

Max Pacioretty trade talk is heating up. Word is that the Flyers are in discussions with Montreal to acquire the scoring winger in a flip for Wayne Simmonds. It’s rumored that a 1st round pick could also be going to the Canadiens. Pacioretty is a perennial 30-goal scorer in the NHL. After a down year last season, look for “Patches” to rebound back to his usual self, whether it be in Montreal or somewhere else. A line of Giroux-Courturier-Pacioretty would pack A LOT of punch. The Blackhawks are also rumored to be interested after they dumped Marian Hossa’s dead cap hit on the Coyotes (Seriously John, stop helping them).

Erik Karlsson trade talk has evaporated into thin air.. There’s no knowing where this is headed at this point. The Lightning were rumored to have a deal in place for the superstar defenseman, but that turned out to be incorrectly reported. Talks are ongoing, but not close at this time.

Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts! More words for your eyeballs next week.



See my previous pieces:

Lineup Dreams

Preserving the Future: An Armstrong Armory

Free Agent Frenzy Preview

Blues Make Picks; Look Towards Free Agency

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