New York Islanders Barry Trotz Forward Lines Still Confusing

The forward lines for the New York Islanders during warm-up continue to confuse fans. Why is Tom Kuhnhackl still on the top line?

As the New York Islanders practiced in the leadup to their clash against the Columbus Blue Jackets Newsday’s Andrew Gross noted what lines Barry Trotz was running. These lines are typically what we see come puck drop. And for some reason, Tom Kuhnhackl is still on the top line.

Listen, Tom Kuhnhackl is a fine bottom-six player in the NHL. But a top-line player he is not. His 48 points in 208 NHL games should be enough evidence to make that point. But Trotz still puts Kuhnhackl out there alongside Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee.

Why?

If Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

With three wins in a row for the Islanders, Barry Trotz doesn’t want to rock the boat by moving his lineup around. If his setup worked why move it around?

It’s clear that Barry Trotz likes Tom Kuhnhackl. And that’s OK. Again, Kuhnhackl is a fine bottom-six player. He can skate well, he’s responsible with the puck, and he’s a tireless worker. Those are commendable attributes to have, just not for a top-line player where offensive production is expected.

You probably already know this, but Tom Kuhnhackl doesn’t provide any production. Again, he has 48 points in 208 career NHL games. In four games this year he has zero points.

More than that here are some of Kuhnhackl’s relative stats and how they rank amongst the rest of the Islanders forwards:

StatTTLRank (of 15)
FF%-5.8914
xGF%-23.7815
SCF%-17.0615
HDCF%-34.1915

*All stats from NaturalStatTrick.com

Offensively, Tom Kuhnhackl doesn’t give the Islanders what they need. Again, there’s nothing wrong in liking Tom Kuhnhackl as a player, but as a top-line player, he doesn’t fill the Islanders need.

I know the Islanders are dealing with an injury issue on the right side with Jordan Eberle being sidelined, but there’s still a way to maximize the talent that’s on this roster.

Alternate Lineup

Josh Bailey is currently on the left-side of line three, but over the last few seasons, Bailey has played on the right side. Slotting him next to Barzal on the right side of the top line makes sense.

Lee-Barzal-Bailey
Beauvillier-Nelson-Dal Colle
Kuhnhackl-Brassard-Wahlstrom
Martin-Komarov-Clutterbuck

Bailey has performed well recently, he’s scored four points in his last four games. Here are his relative stats and how they rank amongst Islanders forwards.

StatTTLRank (of 15)
FF%-1.2910
xGF%2.354
SCF%5.563
HDCF%2.927

*All stats from NaturalStatTrick.com

Look, this probably isn’t news to you, but Josh Bailey is a better offensive player than Tom Kuhnhackl. So why not use him in such a way to maximize what he can bring to the team?

I understand the “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sentiment. I also understand that lines are fluid. Even though Kunhackl is slotted on line one he’s not playing top-line minutes. He’s picked up more than 13 minutes in a game once since the Islanders winning streak started.

And to be fair the trio of Lee-Barzal-Kuhnhackl have only played a total of 17:38 at 5on5 over the last two games. But in that time together they generated zero goals, three scoring chances for and six scoring chances against, zero high danger chances for and three high danger chances against.

(All stats from NaturalStatTrick.com)

So say what you will about how infrequently the three actually play, or how lines are fluid, Tom Kuhnhackl on the top line just doesn’t work in any way shape or form. It’s time to change it up.