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Reworking the lines without Joe Thornton

How does a team cover losing their top line center? The FTF staff presents a few immediate solutions.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at San Jose Sharks Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Lines from morning skate today in San Jose paint an... interesting picture of what could happen against the Rangers tonight.

Instead of speculating on what the heck Pete DeBoer is thinking, Fear the Fin came up with optimized lines of their own.


I wanted to put together lines that had some basis in existing performance. I looked at all of the line combinations that have played at least 50 minutes of 5v5 together since last year. Then I tried to find the lines that were among the team’s best in three different categories (per The percentage of total shots the team takes, as that’s the best predictor of future goals; the rate of unblocked shots taken per hour; and, the rate of expected goals generated per hour.

Labanc - Couture - Pavelski: This line has no priors, but Labanc and Couture have been a solid duo this season.

Hansen - Hertl - Boedker: Last year’s “European Union” line was impressive.

Donskoi - Tierney - Meier: These guys were unstoppable earlier this season.

Sorensen - Goodrow - Ward: This line hasn’t wowed in limited minutes like Ward/Goodrow/Hansen has, but they’ve still been pretty good and it’s more important to optimize the top-9.

This leaves Karlsson as the odd man out. I doubt the coaching staff would ever scratch him — they seem to love him — but his underlying numbers suggest a player who has struggled mightily this season.

Erika Towne

Meier - Pavelski - Labanc

Hertl - Couture - Donskoi

Boedker - Tierney - Karlsson

Sorensen - Ward - Goodrow

I started out with the second line, which DeBoer called line 1b, but he might be switching it to 1a with Thornton out. With Donskoi back after a bout of the flu, he has to return to Couture’s wing. The Hertl - Couture - Donskoi line was dangerous until Donskoi was sidelined and it’s going to have to carry even more of the load now. I’ve really liked Labanc’s ability to create scoring chances, so I’m sliding Pavelski over to center and slotting him in on line 1a (or is it 1b?). The Boedker - Tierney - Karlsson line stays the same until Boedker does something else to get into DeBoer’s doghouse. As for the fourth line, Sorensen gets the nod over Hansen because Sorensen has three goals this season to Hansen’s goose egg.


Meier - Pavelski - Labanc

Hertl - Couture - Donskoi

Boedker - Tierney - Karlsson

Goodrow - Sorensen - Ward

I like these lines because they will mostly keep the current lines intact, with a few exceptions. Pavelski at center, which we all know he can play very well, Labanc will join that first line and make it a whole lot younger. Labanc has 18 assists this year and can build on that by setting up Pavs and Timo. A healthy Donskoi can fit in on the right wing where he’s played with Couture previously. If Labanc doesn’t produce on that first line, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Donskoi or Karlsson swap with him at some point. Marcus Sorensen steps into the 4C role with Goodrow and Ward grinding on his wings. Jannik Hansen sits as a healthy scratch.

After last season, we wondered what the Sharks’ lineup would potentially look like without Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, and it looked a little bit bare. But now looking at this lineup for the first time since then, it doesn’t look that bad. This will be the first time in a very long time (like seriously…how long? Five years? 10?) that the Sharks will be without both Marleau and Thornton for an extended period. Doug Wilson will also be able to get an idea of what the team will look like next year if Thornton doesn’t re-sign in the summer (Also, it’s kind of insane that 10 of those 12 forwards have never played for an NHL team other than the Sharks. Doug Wilson has built nearly an entire forward corps just from the draft).


Hertl - Couture - Donskoi

Boedker - Pavelski - Labanc

Meier - Tierney - Karlsson

Sorensen - Goodrow - Hansen

Obviously we have a situation where we’ve been dealt a bad hand. But let’s use it as an opportunity. The team is still in contention, so I like the idea of keeping the Couture/Hertl pairing with Donskoi intact as the top line. The big wild-card then in doing so is Pavs slatted with second line center duties. Every game this season I’ve thought to myself - Jumbo’s incredible, but how much longer can this last? What’s the future for Pavs post-Jumbo, or post-effective-Jumbo at least, in 1-2 years? Let’s see how the captain holds with a suddenly Hot-Boed (too hot for Jumbo... I know. Too soon) and dangerous-looking Labanc at his sides. I have enough optimism to combine it with the scenario’s advantage of keeping the rest of the lineup fairly intact and competitive to test it out. If not, switch Tomas with Pavs and see the disaster that enfolds what happens. Regardless of how things play out, Wilson needs to keep the ringer on both his phones at full volume over the next few weeks.


Karlsson - Pavelski - Labanc

Hertl - Couture - Meier

Boedker - Tierney - Donskoi

Ward - Goodrow - Sorensen

Keeping most of the bottom six the same and adding Sorensen to the mix is a simple change to the lines that is something that can work. But for the top line, it became a little bit harder. From the last time Thornton was out, the line of Karlsson - Pavelski - Labanc emerged and they did look good together and had some success. However, the idea of switching Labanc and Hertl is another good idea, in order to use the Labanc - Couture - Meier from last game. But I just left it as Hertl - Couture - Meier because of how good all three of this players could play together in a combination that has not been on the Sharks this year.


Meier - Couture - Pavelski

Hertl - Tierney - Labanc

Boedker - Donskoi - Karlsson

Ward - Goodrow - Hansen

Couture will finally get a chance to play on the first line after being the most consistent player this year and will hopefully find some old chemistry with linemates including Pavelski and Meier.

The second line will be known as the “young guns” which includes Hertl (24), Tierney (23), and Labanc (22) and will hope the speed and skill of these players can take over and help this team through the next couple of weeks. The Thornton injury will be noticeable as soon as we get to the third and fourth lines and will take a toll on this team in most games.

Donskoi will center a pair of struggling wingers in Karlsson and Boedker and will hope the line changes can get the boys going and provide the depth this team needs. The fourth line is going to be scary to watch, as the three linemates have combined for only 18 points so far this year. This line should only play a couple minutes a game (please) and provide some shut down minutes.


Meier - Couture - Pavs

Labanc - Hertl - Karlsson

Donskoi - Tierney - Boedker

Ward - Goodrow - Hansen

We have seen the bottom two lines work already. The Tierney line in particular was dynamite before Donkey got the flu. I see no reason to break up what works. We also have seen the fourth line work well too. The top lines now have a guy that should be able to drive lines at a top-6 rate in Hertl and Couture. Hertl can drag Karlsson around the ice and Labanc should be able to feed off of Hertl’s ability. Couture is going to have to take the Thornton production on his shoulders. He has worked well with Meier before and I assume Pavelski will be able to mesh with Couture.

East Bay Ry

Pavelski - Vlasic - Braun? Sure, why not.

Couture - Hertl - Meier? Best we can hope for.

Damphousse - Friesen - Nolan? Hell yeah!

Tavares - Donskoi - Laine? Aim for the stars kids.

Scott - Shelley - Gaetz? Ain’t nothing to fuck with!

Nothing matters. Let’s all eat Tide Pods.