Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins is taking the idea of defined roles to a whole new level.
So far this season, Eakins is working hard to play his players in tightly managed situations. Eakins has shielded his younger, offensively gifted stars from the hard work of playing defense in the defensive zone, relying instead on veteran players to own the defensive zone.
For defense-minded skaters such as Boyd Gordon, Eakins' strategy has led to an NHL-leading 70.2 percent defensive zone faceoff (DFZO) rate. Unsurprisingly, Gordon also leads the NHL in total defensive zone starts with 165.
Seventeen games into the 2014-15 NHL season, those figures are staggering.
For all of his work starting in the defensive zone, Gordon has a meager 7.7 percent offensive zone starts rate, which is third lowest in the NHL.
Talk about a defined role.
Eakins is one of the NHL’s leading proponents of deploying his players based on where the puck is about to be dropped, relying heavily on his most experienced pivot, Boyd Gordon, to do much of the heavy lifting. Gordon has been doing yeoman service taking faceoffs in his own end of the ice. ... This has enabled Eakins to deploy his other three centres primarily in the offensive zone, or at minimum shelter them with neutral zone draws.
However, Gordon isn't totally alone carrying this load.
Eakins has shown tremendous faith in this trio to do the not-so-glamorous work of defending the Oilers' own zone, helping goalies Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth protect the Edmonton net.
Sadly for the Oilers, the results have not been strong.
The Oilers are allowing 3.35 goals per game, ranking 28th in NHL for goals against. Gordon is clinging to an almost reasonable minus-3 rating, while Hendricks has slipped to minus-6 and Joensuu has posted a disappointing minus-7.
In terms of possession, Gordon, Joensuu and Hendricks have posted poor Corsi For percentages as well, though this is hardly surprising, given the line typically starts shifts in the defensive zone.
Perhaps Gordon, Joensuu and Hendricks have kept the goals-against total lower than it could have been, but their results so far have been less than inspiring. And the Oilers just aren't winning.
The temptation to protect young, offense-minded players like Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl and David Perron (all in the NHL's bottom 15 for defensive zone faceoff percentage) is obviously strong for Eakins.
Despite that urge, it's time for Eakins to consider a new line-deployment strategy.
The young Oilers need the experience to develop into complete hockey players; relying on Gordon and his linemates to handle the majority of the work in the defensive zone isn't producing positive results.
What do you think, Oilers fans? Do you support Dallas Eakins' line-deployment strategy or is it time for the youngsters to take on greater defensive responsibility?