Every coach at every level in the sport of hockey wants to balance minutes equally across the entire lineup. In a perfect world, the coach could just sit back and roll four lines keeping everyone fresh and ready to play at the highest level in their next shift.
But, the NHL is not a utopia and the divide between high-end players and everyone else often causes an imbalance of ice time.
I don’t know that you should have guys up in the 20’s (minutes) that are forwards. Are you getting maximum value out of them if they are over 20 every night for 82 games? We’ll see how that plays out and how the guys who are used to that manage that. If they can pull it off and give you maximum play then I’ll change the way I think. -Bruce Cassidy
Same goes on the flip side.
We shouldn’t have anybody under 10 minutes a night. If this team is functioning as we see it, I think that 4th line would be closer to 12 minutes because they are going to play against good people, get D-zone starts, and play on the PK. -Cassidy
Historically, VGK have used their 3rd and 4th lines in checking roles, but often would see their usage sheltered with offensive zone starts and/or favorable matchups. Cassidy wants his 3rd line of William Karlsson, Brett Howden, and Michael Amadio to operate as a strong defensive line with the 4th line also taking some of the most difficult minutes.
That’s defending, that’s penalty kill, the hard minutes. We have to be careful with guys over the course of the year because of fatigue, injury, and maybe age. -Cassidy
The challenge for Cassidy though will be the abilities of the players in the bottom-six in regards to holding up to the rigors of what he called “stressful minutes.”
Karlsson is obviously used to playing a strong 200-foot game and has been tasked with anchoring the Golden Knights defensively in any and every situation. But Amadio, Howden, Keegan Kolesar, William Carrier, Paul Cotter, and to a degree Nic Roy have not.
Cassidy wants, and needs, his bottom-six to take on penalty kill time if he is going to keep everyone between 10-20 minutes. He thinks he has enough guys who can do it, and if not, he’ll find them.
I do (think we have enough bottom-six guys who can penalty kill) and we’re going to build some if they don’t. That’s part of our job as coaches. Part of the reason you do that is they feel like they are a bigger part of the team as well. When you’ve got everybody feeling like they are a bigger part of the team then they’ll play better as a team. Now, they have to get the job done so there will be some growing pains for guys that we are building into it but we’re hopeful we’re teaching them properly and they are committed to it so we can ease off some of the minutes of some other guys. -Cassidy
At 5-on-5 though, the new head coach expressed concerns about the play of the 4th line after an up-and-down effort in the preseason against Arizona.
Right now our 4th line isn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be if they are going to contribute major minutes to our team in terms of that sort of shutdown role and identity line. We still have a couple of games to figure that out but to me right now that is something we have to correct. -Cassidy
It’s clear Cassidy has a plan of how he wants his team to look and how he plans on deploying the lines to get it there. At the moment, the question remains whether or not the Golden Knights have the personnel to do it.
There’s still time to figure it out, but that time is running out quickly.