Editorials

New York Islanders: What Tom Wilson Tells Us About This Year’s Lines

By Brian Wagner
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: (l-r) Mathew Barzal #13, Anthony Beauvillier #72, Jordan Eberle #7 and Dennis Seidenberg #4 of the New York Islanders celebrate a first period goal by Beauvillier at the Barclays Center on March 30, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: (l-r) Mathew Barzal #13, Anthony Beauvillier #72, Jordan Eberle #7 and Dennis Seidenberg #4 of the New York Islanders celebrate a first period goal by Beauvillier at the Barclays Center on March 30, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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To gain insights into how Barry Trotz may set up the New York Islanders forward lines this year you need only look at his top line with the Washington Capitals last year.

Tom Wilson is an agitator.  Tom Wilson is scrappy.  Tom Wilson is dirty.  These are common things you hear about Tom Wilson.  One thing you will never hear anyone say – Tom Wilson is a top line winger.   But Barry Trotz had him there last year, and it tells you all you need to know about the New York Islanders lines this year.

The Caps’ top line combination for 21% of the season – the second most common combination behind the 25.4% Vrana, Backstrom, Oshie line – was Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetzov, Tom Wilson.

One of these things is not like the others.

Ovechkin is the NHL’s most prolific goal-scorer of the 2000’s.  He is 19th in NHL history for goals scored in only 13 seasons played.  His center is a 26-year-old who has averaged .78 points per game in his career.

And their other winger is a guy with nearly as many suspensions as goals.  He had a previous career-high season of seven goals coming into the last season.

Say what you will about Tom Wilson (and his new contract), but he is a valuable player for his team and a physical presence that suits their style of play.  But he is not a traditional first-line winger.

That Barry Trotz felt so strongly to put him opposite a pair of 80-point players gives you a perfect glimpse into the Isles’ future.

With each line, he avoids having three veteran offense-first players.  We saw last year with the Isles how that played out on the top line.  You need at least that one defensively responsible player to cover the others.

You may give up some goals for, but you give up far fewer against.

The idea would be to avoid a line that scores but is weak defensively, and avoid anemic lines that are good only at annoying the opposing top lines.

It is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none mentality, but it consistently led to 100+ points and a cup win last year.

Forget about arguing whether it will be Beauviller or Lee to take the top line left-wing position.  Should we be considering that it might be Andrew Ladd?  Or Leo Komarov?  Or Cal Clutterbuck?

Those guys fit the Tom Wilson profile better than either Beauvillier or Lee.

Could the lines look something like this?  It may look crazy, but it’s something that aligns more closely with Trotz’s line strategy.

Ladd – Barzal – Eberle
Lee – Filppula – Bailey
Beauvillier – Kovar – Komarov
Nelson – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

or

Beauvillier – Barzal – Komarov
Lee – Filppula – Eberle
Nelson – Cizikas – Bailey
Ladd – Kovar – Clutterbuck

Next. The Optimist's Look at the 2018 Season

Does it seem like the way to build a team?  Not traditionally, but Barry Trotz is the Stanley Cup-winning coach, and his ability to build lines with the talent provided him may be his most unheralded talent.

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