NHL teams universally deploy 4 lines for forwards, each of which traditionally has a slightly different role, and are usually made up of a different caliber of player. The first line generally has the most talented offensive players on the team, and is responsible for bulk of that team’s scoring. A first line also receives the most ice time. The second line is another offensive-minded line, made up of the next best offensive forwards. Teams with multiple superstar players face the choice of either stacking their top line or splitting their stars between the first and second lines. That kind of choice can vary from game to game.
A prominent example over the last decade would be the Blackhawks, where coach Joel Quenneville would alternate between splitting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane between first and second lines and pairing them on the first line. The third line is traditionally referred to as the checking line, and usually features forwards who are skilled at defense and limited offensively.
The idea behind the classic third line is to match up against an opponent’s top line and frustrate them defensively. The fourth line is traditionally referred to as the energy line, and it receives the least ice time and tends to feature the least skilled forwards on the team. In years past, the fourth line is where low-skilled enforcers would play, though this is changing as the league grows away from that aspect of the game. In addition to the 4 line structure, teams feature lines which play on the penalty and to kill opposing penalties. Generally, the standout forwards from the first and second lines play on the power play lines, and gritty third liners can often feature on penalty kill lines.
A demotion from the first to the third line, or from the second to the fourth line, likely means a significant drop-off in ice time for a player. This is almost always going to have an impact on daily fantasy stats. And the converse is true: If a player is promoted to a higher line, chances are his value has now improved by virtue of more ice time. But the impact of line shuffling goes beyond just increased/decreased ice time. Certain players elevate the stats of players sharing a line with them. A player playing on a line with Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos will always score more points than that same player playing with a lesser center.
So, a player dropping from a first line pairing with Steven Stamkos to a third line pairing with Cedric Paquette is a double whammy. Not only is he receiving less ice time, but he’s no longer benefiting from all the extra opportunities and assists that Stamkos brings to his line. Beyond where a player is being slotted into his team’s four lines, be cognizant of how much usage a player gets on the power play, and to a lesser extent the penalty kill. Power play minutes are pure gold, as over 20% of all goals are scored on the power play. Often daily fantasy leagues offer a bonus for any goals or assists scored while shorthanded, so penalty kill minutes can be a minor bonus. But the main point is that players on power play lines should be valued appropriately for their greater likelihood to generate scoring.
Not All Ice Time Is Created Equally
The above is a solid guide to how to consider line combinations when trying to value players for daily fantasy hockey, but there’s one other consideration if you’re looking to properly judge players and their lines. NHL coaches aren’t just throwing their lines out on the ice in 1-2-3-4 order. They’re deploying them for specific reasons and in specific circumstances, and that strategy has a big impact on how much offense a given line or player produces. The two relevant ideas are Quality of Competition and Offensive/Defensive Zone Deployment. Simply put, some players and lines tend to be put on the ice against the opposing team’s best players, and some players and lines tend to either start their shifts more in either the offensive or defensive zones.
All of these metrics are tracked and can be accessed on a number of NHL stats websites, and paying proper attention to QoC (Quality of Competition) and OZ% (Offensive Zone Deployment Percentage) can help you recognize which players and lines are being put in the position to score more or fewer points than their raw talent would otherwise dictate. Take a player like Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues’ top line. Tarasenko is getting nearly 70% of his non-neutral zone starts in the offensive zone. Further, in 2019-2020 Tarasenko’s line was being matched with opponents’ weaker lines more often than not. The combination of those two factors means that Tarasenko and his line mates are in an ideal position to deliver the daily fantasy goods more often than not. Conversely, a line with more defensive zone starts than offensive ones that is also being paired with an opponent’s top line isn’t going to produce very many points.
To sum it all up, the perfect player for daily fantasy hockey plays on the first line and the top power play line, is paired with talented line mates, gets playing time against weaker opponent lines and generally is deployed for offensive zone starts to line shifts. The established stars in these situations are known quantities, and you’ll have to pay a premium for them. But keep your eyes open for changes in the usage patterns for players as the season progresses. A line shuffle or change in the OZ% for a player can mean that a lesser-valued player can suddenly begin to put up points like a top-tier star.
Why Teams Change Their Lines
We will often see teams run their morning skates before a game, and lines will be announced by beat writers or teams in general. This will give us an indication on what the lines will be for the upcoming game. Now throughout a season lines will change, but there will be some consistent stretches for the top lines. There are a few different reasons for why teams will change their lines throughout a season. Coaches will often try and change things on the fly if the offense is in a rut. Injuries and roster changes will often cause a coach to change around how lines are.
Those top teams that have lines with the top tier talent will remain consistent. You might see a change to move one of them off the top line if the second line is in need of some offense. Splitting up superstars is not uncommon, as Pittsburgh did that with Malkin and Crosby for a while. It is a way of not loading up on one line. Coaches will change lines up if they are struggling offensively. Over the course of a long season, shuffling of the lines will be needed. We also often see it with a power play line as a long struggle scoring power play goals will require quick action in changing the lines.
In a hard-hitting sport like hockey, there are going to be some injuries. An injury is going to require a coach to shuffle some lines around. Because that player is out, it doesn’t mean the replacing player goes right into that line. A coach might take a line three player and move him up to line two or wherever the position is that needs to be replaced. If there is a trade, a shift in line chemistry is going to occur. It might take the coach a few guesses to get things right among the new teammates.
Using Lines For Daily Fantasy Hockey
There is a lot of correlation with fantasy points and the top lines in hockey. As mentioned above, lines are going to impact minutes. There will be a trickle down effect, as the top line will get the most amount of minutes, while the fourth line is going to get the least amount of minutes. Now the score of a game can dictate that a bit on occasion, but in most circumstances this is going to be true. That is why knowing the lines ahead of time before you are building lineups is going to be important. Knowing the power play lines is also important, because on the man advantage you are going to want to get exposure to those guys who have a strong power play.
Now you can find value through lines, as coaches will make those changes throughout a season. Players that get moved up to the second or first line and are usually on the third or fourth will have great value. That is because they are likely going to be cheap based on their usual line, but sites will not have time to adjust to the salary, so you can get a bargain price on a player playing a higher amount of minutes and also with better line mates. That is the overlooked part, as a player is going to have more chances for assists and goals playing with a better set of offensive players.
Like any other sport, opportunity is the first thing we want to look at, and lines are going to showcase that for specific players. Those players that play on the top line and also the power play line are going to be big fantasy options, and when they come of value, you have to key in on then. In most cases those players will be more expensive because the minutes and production are a lot higher. Lines are equal to the starting lineups for other sports. They are going to show what players are going to see more minutes and pairing line mates for offensive upside is also something to note. A player gets a goal, and you have his teammate who sets him up with the assist, you are going to heighten your potential for fantasy points.
Power Play & Penalty Killing Lines
You might hear these lines referred to as special teams lines, but power play and penalty killing lines are important for success in the NHL. When you have a power play you are up a man, or possibly even two, while penalty killing means you are down a man, or two. Being able to capitalize on the power play is a recipe for success. The power play lines are going to feature the more talented offensive players on the team. Now when they struggle, a coach will tend to change things up. He will often ride a hot hand here as well if a player is on a hot streak and the coach wants to use him on the power play where he was initially not on the line anymore. Injuries and moves will occur as well, so that is why you fantasy players should be taking advantage of players who move within the power play lines.
Penalty killing lines are going to be your more defensive players, and they don’t have much fantasy value outside of maybe some blocked shots and a chance at a possible short-handed goal. Just like the power play lines there are going to be two pairings that are going to change in and out. Because a penalty kill is going to be two or four minutes, teams will often change a few times throughout the penalty. Teams need to be strong on the penalty kill, especially if they are a team prone to a lot of penalties.
NHL Team Line Combinations FAQ
What Is A Line In Hockey?
Lines are broken down by defenseman lines and forward lines. There are three defensive lines and four forward lines that will rotate throughout a hockey game. Teams will also have lines for when they are on a power play or penalty kill.
How Do Hockey Players Know When To Switch Lines?
A coach will be the one signaling line changes from the bench, which is going to be through whistling and yelling. Lines will often change when play is stopped, or when the puck is in the opposing zone and they have time to change.
Why Do Hockey Lines Change Players?
Coaches will change lines based on matchups for a specific game to game plan better against an opponent. If a line is struggling, a coach might switch lines up to try and jumpstart things on the offensive side or help a struggling player.
How Many Lines Are There In Hockey?
There are going to be four forward lines, which are listed one through four. They will usually lean on the top players at the number one line and so on. There are three defensive lines, which are pairs of two.
How Long Are Shifts In Hockey?
On average, shift changes will be every 45 to 60 seconds. Now they can be cut shorter and go longer at times, but on average this is how long shifts will be. Powerplay and penalty killing shifts might go on longer.
What Is Last Change Rule In Hockey?
When there is a stoppage in play, teams will often change lines. A home team has an advantage of having the last change, so after the away team makes a line change, the home team has the ability to see what they put out and make their decision on lines.