Weekly Reader: The NHL's top 5 line combinations, Quebec's lament and more Jersey Fouls

ByGreg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hello, and welcome to the Weekly Reader, which will run every Friday and collect news and views from around the hockey world on the week's biggest stories. Seen something worth highlighting here? Hit me at greg.wyshynski@espn.com, or do the same if you have suggestions for the column going forward. Enjoy!

This week's NHL Power Rankings featured a gimmick in which we listed one player from each team who we're supremely bummed won't be competing in the 2018 Olympics. In writing it, it occurred to me that one of my biggest regrets isn't a player but a trio: the potential Team Canada line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby.

To say that line dominated the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 would be an understatement. I'm pretty sure the trio could have beaten Team USA alone had coach Mike Babcock quadruple-shifted them. Now, granted, that might say more about Team USA than anything else, but I digress ...

Watching three players form an unstoppable unit is one of those "unique-to-hockey" things we probably take for granted. How exhilarating is it to see ill-fitting puzzle pieces lock in with random teammates and turn into a juggernaut? For instance, at the time Phil Kesselwas traded to thePittsburgh Penguins, who was looking at Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino and thinking, "Oh yeah, in about year these guys are going to lift the Stanley Cup together as the HBK Line and get an endorsement from The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels himself"? (Probably not Shawn Michaels.)

Sidebar: The naming of productive lines is its own joy, and probably its own column one day. "The Triplets" might have been our most lasting recent line name, as those Tampa Bay Lightning players are still referred to as "members of the Triplets" like they were part of a wrestling faction. But the Los Angeles Kings' "That 70s Line" probably wins the creativity competition.

All of this got me thinking about my favorite current lines in the NHL. Through the miracle that is Corsica, here's a look at five of the best this season. Please note that not every line here is still together at the moment, but totally could be again in a moment's notice.

Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund

Nicknames! The 3M Line has been on a two-year run of excellence for the Flames, playing over 1,000 minutes together since October 2016. It has a shot-attempt differential of plus-322 during that span, a plus-11 goal differential and a relative Corsi of 8.92, meaning that the Flames are a much better team when it's on the ice. The world needs Grind Lines and Crash Lines and 3M Lines. Now, if Tkachuk could just keep his stick to himself near the bench.

Dallas Stars:Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin

This is one of those lines that you hope doesn't screw it up, or get broken up for the sake of the rest of the lineup. Not just because these players are the Stars' three greatest offensive wizards, but because the lines they play against are going to get their chances too: This trio has scored 10 goals at even strength and has given up 11. But that's worth it for the highlight-reel fodder it creates together. It's just a shame it doesn't have a fantastic nickname like the line Benn and Seguin had with Patrick Sharp: The GQ Line. Swoon.

Los Angeles Kings: Alex Iafallo, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown

"Hey, did you hear Anze Kopitar has 36 points in 30 games and is scoring at a previously unseen rate for his career?"

"Wow, that's awesome. Who is he skating with, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli?"

"No, Carter's hurt and no one is ever breaking up Tyler and Tanner Pearson. Actually, he's doing this while skating with noted offensive juggernaut Dustin Brown ..."

"Wait, how can he play for the Kings when he was traded to the Golden Knights for salary-cap relief?"

"That never happened, amazingly. So, yeah, it's Brown and something called Alex Iafallo. And Kopitar has 36 points in 30 games."

"Nothing in this world makes sense anymore, and I love it."

Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier

Look, I don't care that after 327 minutes together this season the Flyers have apparently decided to break up the band, which is the kind of thing you do when your losing streak hits double digits. These guys were plus-13 in goals at even strength and helped unleash the offensive beast in Couturier, one of my favorite players. I will light a candle for their inevitable revival.

St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz

Editor's note: This column was published prior to Schwartz hitting injured reserve with an ankle injury.

Blues coach Mike Yeo recently moved Tarasenko off this line as the Blues hit a little bump in the schedule, but they're too good to keep apart. In 224 even-strength minutes, they had a 59.07 percent Corsi advantage, scoring 13 more goals than they surrendered. I just loved the balance on this line: Tarasenko as the cannon, with Schenn and Schwartz playing a little two-man game, exhibiting the chemistry St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong anticipated they'd have when he traded for Schenn. Just a great combination of grind and skill. Hope to see them again.

What's your favorite current line combo?

Jersey Foul of the week

Reader Justin Baxter writes in:

Well, yes, of course it is. First, because the numerological-obsessed Crosby would start silently screaming when he saw that "86." But mostly because, once again, Geno's left out in the cold.

Meanwhile ...

Sometimes, it's the most direct Fouls that make the most impact.

The Quebec Lament

Congratulations to the hockey fans in Seattle, as it appears the NHL will be placing an expansion franchise there for the 2020-21 season. Please don't forget about us when the Sonics return a few years later and suck all the disposable income out of the sports entertainment pool.

(The fact that the price of a franchise increased from $500 million for the Vegas Golden Knights to $650 million for the Seattle [Hopefully Sasquatch] is pretty incredible. Although, as Forbes notes, the existence of the Knights probably helped boost that price tag. Eh, you snooze, you lose, as Seattle would have been approved in the first round of expansion had it had an arena and, hence, an owner.)

Condolences to the fans in Quebec City, who not only had to hear about another American city getting an NHL franchise but also about the Carolina Hurricanes, the most recent object of their relocation obsession, getting a new owner who's dedicated to keeping the team in Raleigh.

So now what? Well, there will continue to be clarion calls in the Canadian media to bring back the Nordiques, and questions asked of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman from French-language media on when the team will be back.

But the bottom line is this, and it's been this for several years: Quebec City is the back-pocket, last-resort, safety-net relocation site for the NHL. The league knows Quebec City has an arena. It's fairly certain it has an ownership group. It won't need to do a ticket drive to prove the viability of interest in the market, like Seattle will and Vegas did.

Quebec City is Winnipeg, waiting for its Thrashers. OK, it's not totally like Winnipeg, given that Winnipeg was patient and quiet and Quebec was bussing fans toNew York Islandersgames to start chants, but you get the idea.

If a struggling franchise -- theFlorida Panthers or the Arizona Coyotes-- needs a new home, then Quebec City will be top of the list to rescue it. But it's not a sure thing: The NHL wants to mint new fans, and the NHL -- despite all the smoke Bettman blows -- wants to keep some semblance of geographic integrity. So if the Western Conference-based Coyotes ever needed a new home, it's worth watching the ever-growing interest from Houston. It's not the known commodity that Quebec is, but it's more in line with the objectives for Bettman and the board of governors.

Behind the Bobblehead

Bobblehead doll giveaways at games are fantastic. Your $75 per ticket should net you something more palpable than a magnetic schedule, and bobblehead dolls are basically hilarious. Mostly because the sculpts can be absolutely terrible, like giraffe-neck Tyler Seguin and that Alex Ovechkin one that looked like Sami Lepisto. But sometimes they're super clever, like the two meme-inspired ones you're about to read about here.

The Detroit Red Wings announced that they're releasing a Dylan Larkin bobblehead on Monday, Dec. 11, that depicts him in a flannel shirt with the word "D-Boss" on it. Which is a reference to a now infamous viral video of a teenaged Larkin putting on a "snip show" in his friend's basement.

The Red Wings had already done a "game-action pose" Larkin bobblehead, so they wanted to do something different for his second doll.

"Kevin Fisher, our game presentation manager, asked if I could check with Dylan to see if he'd be OK with us doing a D-Boss bobblehead instead of the typical hockey pose, in uniform," said Todd Beam, director of public relations for the Red Wings. "Dylan has embraced the D-Boss video, after initially trying to distance himself from it a bit when it first came out. And now, through his agent, has actually starting selling D-Boss T-shirts. So when I approached him with the idea for the bobblehead, he really liked it."

Larkin took an active role in creating the bobblehead, checking proofs through the production process. This video announcement above was the first time he saw the finished product, and Beams said he dug it.

So how did Joe Thornton feel about the ode to "Shirtless Joe" bobblehead the first time he saw it from the San Jose Sharks?

"Oh, he loved it," said Doug Bentz, vice president for marketing and digital for Sharks Sports and Entertainment.

The Sharks have always gotten the fun side of hockey marketing, from bobbleheads to T-shirts to those truly bizarre holiday videos.

But even for them, this reference was a little obscure: a 2016 photo of Jumbo strolling through Pittsburgh without his shirt on that went viral:

Was this too inside for a giveaway?

"I think there's that perfect balance. If you have that core group that understands the joke, that actually makes it more popular. People on the outside have to look into why it's funny. And once you're in that group, you're part of this tighter community that understands why Shirtless Joe is funny," said Bentz.

He said that the reason the Sharks' marketing efforts work so well is the buy-in from players like Thornton.

"When I first started here, we didn't do anything with the players. Eight or nine years ago, the marketing group decided they were our greatest asset. They're funny. You go into the locker room, and you're rolling in the aisles," Bentz said. "It's taken a long time to knock down those walls and build some trust. We've taken time to show them that what we're doing is good for the team. We're not going to make them look stupid. Once that's established, we can do more and more. We get a lot of our ideas from the guys."

Of course, it helps that the marketing team has a player's best interests in mind, as it clearly did with Jumbo's chiseled chest.

"I will say that most of these bobbleheads that aren't traditional bobbleheads, we go through nine or 10 variations with the vendor to make sure the guys look good. But obviously, when we can take creative liberties and make the guys look even better, we'll do that," said Bentz. "This is our first shirtless bobblehead. Maybe not our last. That's up the guys and where they walk around on the road."

Puck headlines

The Golden Knights could end up hurting Vegas ... as the sportsbooks. [Review Journal]

Former NHL front-office guy Frank Provenzano makes the argument that the Ottawa Senators are better off trading Erik Karlsson right now. Which is a good time to reference this classic "why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby" Hockey News article from 2015. [The Athletic]

Kudos to any Alex Carpenter story that doesn't use her father as a hook. Actually, this might be the first one in hockey journalism history. [Newbury Port News]

A deep dive into the NWHL, and where it is after the pay cuts last season. [Weiss Hockey]

Voting for the Sports Logos of 2017 is open, and more than a few hockey ones are in the running. Especially in the anniversary category. [Sports Logos]

It's kind of crazy to think that it's the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Senators and Zdeno Chara won't be in the alumni game because he's still playing. But hey: Ron Tugnutt sighting! [Senators.com]

Dave Lozo builds his own Miami Heat-style NHL superteam. In Nashville. [Vice]

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)

Hey, have you noticed how completely terrible the recently sold Carolina Hurricanes' attendance is this season? Here's a deep dive into the Hurricanes and some changes in their ticket distribution policy that have influenced those paltry numbers. [SB Nation]

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Vollman's Goaltender Calamity Index is always a fun time.