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Is Mike Babcock a Gamer?

There tends to be something very familiar about the way that Mike Babcock builds his lines and how he always has. He’s a big fan of a physical presence on each line, combined with a playmaker, and a finisher. This combination reminds me of the grinder-playmaker-sniper for perfect chemistry in the EA NHL series. Now that the Leafs are running into a bit of trouble with their lines, maybe it’s time to address them using the EA methodology and keep all four lines rolling perfectly.

So like Mike Babcock, I’m gonna fire up my XBox, crack up a case of Mountain Dew Code Red, and go whole hog on a bag of Cheetos to figure out what lines work best for the Leafs.

What is defined as Perfect Chemistry

NHLGuides.net had exactly what I was looking for, a quick reference to what works in the incredibly relevant world of video games…

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Forward Combinations for Perfect Chemistry

Two-way forward – Two-way forward – Two-way forward

Playmaker – Sniper – Two-way forward

Playmaker – Playmaker – Sniper

Grinder – Grinder – Grinder

Grinder – Grinder – Two-way Forward

Two-way forward – Playmaker – Power Forward

Sniper – Playmaker – Grinder

[Defense] Combinations for Perfect Chemistry

Two-way defenseman – Two-way defenseman

Offensive defenseman – Defensive defenseman

There definitely seems to be a Babcock preference towards the Sniper-Playmaker-Grinder line, which to be honest, is the only one I knew about before the start of this exercise. The defensive pairings make sense as well, and there seems to be a Babcock preference towards the Offensive/Defensive combo, which I don’t blame him for. That’s how I’d roll too.

So what are the Leaf Players and How Do They Fit in?

As much as I’d love to classify the players myself, I don’t feel it’s worth opening myself up to having those roles debated, so once again I’m going to trust that EA knows what they are doing (narrator: they don’t) and go with their classifications. Here are the Leafs by role (via reddit)

Playmakers:
Auston Matthews
Mitch Marner
William Nylander

Two Way Forwards:
Connor Brown
Nazem Kadri
Tyler Bozak
Leo Komarov
Zach Hyman
Dominic Moore
Josh Leivo
Nikita Soshnikov

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Power Forwards:
James van Riemsdyk
Kerby Rychel

Snipers:
Patrick Marleau
Kasperi Kapanen

Grinders:
Matt Martin
Eric Fehr

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Two Way Defenders:
Morgan Rielly
Connor Carrick
Nikita Zaitsev
Martin Marincin
Jake Gardiner
Andreas Borgman
Calle Rosen

Defensive Defensemen:
Ron Hainsey

Okay, so I’m going to take issue with some of this, since I’d argue that Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner lean toward what has typically been labelled as offensive defensemen, but that might just be some pre-justification of how I’ll argue keeping Rielly and Hainsey together rather than making Hainsey the odd man out. On the forward side of things, I’d make the case for Komarov being a grinder rather than a two-way player, but as much as I’d like to make a grinder argument for Hyman, I won’t. I will say that Bozak isn’t a two way player in any known universe and should be a playmaker, but we’ll move on from that as well because we’re sticking with what works in EA.

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Babcock’s Lines

Hyman (two way forward)- Matthews (playmaker)- Nylander (playmaker) = not perfect chemistry
Komarov (two way forward)- Kadri (two way forward)- Marleau (sniper) = not perfect chemistry
van Riemsdyk (power forward)- Bozak (two way forward)- Marner (playmaker) = not perfect chemistry
Martin (grinder)- Moore (two way forward)- Brown (two way forward) = not perfect chemistry

Some of this seems unfair to Babcock. First, if you consider that Matthews is probably the greatest natural goal scorer to play for the Leafs ever, he can serve the purpose of being a sniper and that line has perfect chemistry. You could give the same consideration to Kadri being a playmaker, and that line has perfect chemistry. If you go with JVR as a sniper over a power forward and that line too has perfect chemistry, and if you swap in Eric Fehr for Dominic Moore and boom, we’ve again got perfect chemistry.

With a few definition adjustments, it appears that Babcock is running on the EA line chemistry engine. Defense is pretty straight forward, they are all perfect with the exception of the Rielly-Hainsey pairing, but you could make an equally strong case for Rielly as an offensive defenseman or Hainsey as a two-way defender and have it work out. It generally looks like Babcock is close to EA compliance.

Total EA Line Chemistry Compliance

Babcock is pretty darn close to perfect on what works, but let’s see what it looks like with perfect chemistry using EA’s player types.

Line 1: Kapanen-Matthews-Brown

This gives the sniper, playmaker, and two-way forward/grinder combo that gives you perfect line chemistry. Brown has to be considered an upgrade over Hyman, and while Kapanen has struggled to produce in the NHL, and would need to be recalled, we’ll stay true to EA definitions and have him play the role of sniper on this line. This might be asking Matthews to do a lot of heavy lifting, but when you look at what Pittsburgh does with Crosby, is this really all that different?

Line 2: van Riemsdyk-Kadri-Nylander

EA says there is only one combination for perfect chemistry with a power forward (JVR) and that’s paired with a playmaker (Nylander) and a two way forward (Kadri). This is a pretty solid second line, and hopefully Kadri can cover for the defensive deficit of the other players. The funny thing is we’re not too far removed from this being a dream first line for the Leafs, and here it is a wonderful second line and we still have Marner to use on the third line.

Line 3: Hyman-Marleau-Marner

Like the first line we’re back to a combination of a playmaker (Marner), sniper (Marleau), and a two way forward/grinder (Hyman). This is a pretty solid third line, and you could argue that it might be even more solid if you swap Hyman out for a more offensively gifted two-way player in Leivo. For now we’ll give Hyman the benefit of the doubt and hope that Marleau at center remains a thing so we can bump Bozak to the fourth line.

Line 4: Leivo-Bozak-Komarov

There you have it, the 3 two-way forward line, another perfect fit. Using Leivo here instead of Hyman seems to spread more offensive ability around the bottom six while staying true to the EA vision. I can honestly say I don’t hate this line or any of the others. Also if Bozak is dealt, you can immediately sub in Moore or Gauthier and the perfect chemistry remains intact.

Conclusion

Mike Babcock probably has never played a video game in his life. He probably calls all video games systems “Nintendos” and at best might have some nostalgic memory of playing pong back in the day before going going for a three hour run. It’s much more likely that EA sees that coaches like Babcock frequently build lines this way and they have success with them. Considering that and the fact that the lines the Leafs started with haven’t been working so hot lately, the EA line chemistry approach isn’t a bad way of seeing what the Babcock line blender could produce. We’ll probably never see any of these lines in a game, but at least to me, they all look like passable options.

Next time we’ll look at what plays work well in EA games and why Babcock should have his players do those more often. (we absolutely won’t be doing this.)

 


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