Mike Babcock

It was probably the most-quoted line out of Mike Babcock’s mouth after Tuesday’s practice, and it came after he was asked about his oft-changing forward lines:

We’ve changed our lines, in my opinion, same at the last Olympics– too much. We’re trying to find the right way. It’s time to just let ’em go.

With full respect to the man in charge, I’m not sure I agree. Well, I agree with the last part, but definitely not the “too much” part. Hell, I barely think he agrees, given that he’s been the dude making the decisions, and he did the same thing during the 2010 Olympics. (…Which went fairly well, as I’m sure he recalls.)

There’s a certain number of Canadians who’d like to see their team’s coaching staff let well enough alone and “let the guys find some chemistry.” But Canada has done the right thing with all their line rejiggering. It’s time to find some consistency, but up until this point it’s made perfect sense.

Babcock could use a backhoe, scoop up five players and dump them on the ice every minute and the team could finish in the top five (y’know, assuming the other guys were changing for them. 10 players is too many). But at the same time, you want to maximize what all that talent can bring.

Canada was given a couple of tune-up games, and had they not changed their lines from game one to game two they would’ve been fools. Assuming there’s a ceiling on the maximum efficiency that you can draw from a group of any 25 players, which there logically is, what are the odds that the first time you got out a pen and paper you nailed it? Every shift is information, and while one bad go-round for a particular player with a line doesn’t mean they couldn’t end up as the best guy for that particular spot, a few more disappointing spins might indicate the start of a bad trend. You don’t have time to conduct a longitudinal study.

And so you have to use the small window you have, all your years of experience and that of the other coaches to come up with what you believe gives this group of 25 the best chance to win.

Going bold now: you aren’t finding Sedin-like chemistry during 12 days of practices and games. The chemistry you find is going to come in the form of puzzle pieces who fit together well based on playing styles.

Here’s what Sidney Crosby said about line shuffling:

No, I think it doesn’t really change how you play or what you do out there. I think you’re always aware of who you’re playing with, and what their strengths are, but I don’t think it changes what you do out there. I don’t think you really have a chance to over think too much. As far as what you’re doing individually, it’s more your game plan as a team is what’s going through your mind, rather than who you’re necessarily playing with. All the guys here are so good, I think you can just read off each other, no matter who you’re playing with.

Rick Nash added this:

It’s the same thing in the last Olympics, keep shuffling around until you found something that fits. The great thing about being a player is you don’t have to worry about that stuff. We have Mike to make those decisions.

Real chemistry between linemates can form (maybe you learn your linemate prefers to drive the net than lay high on a 3-on-2, and you’ve spoken about it, so he’ll do it even if you’re mid-lane), but in a tournament of this length, I don’t think it’s going to exist much in a way beyond how your playing styles fit.

Yes, having Perry with Getzlaf is good. They may have some real long-term chemistry. No, having Kunitz for Crosby isn’t, because his talent-level isn’t high enough that it would outweigh having a flat-out better player – John Tavares, maybe? – in his spot.

Because you aren’t going to establish some mental magic in two days is a perfect excuse to test some pieces in different spots. Playing three underdogs in your first four games isn’t ideal, so you should make sure to cash in on the few perks it provides you.

At some point – say, now-ish, maybe? – it’s time to stop tinkering because you’d like guys to have some measure of consistency, whether their situation is good or less so. Okay, I’m playing right wing and right wing only, I’m only playing with Toews and Marleau, I’m gonna see 15 minutes a night, let’s go get it. I’d like to see the Canadian coaches use the game against Latvia to get in a rhythm in that way. Black, white, get it, got it, good.

But in the lead up to the quarterfinal Babcock’s done nothing wrong by shuffling his lines about and seeing who looks best where. You can build a lot of things with the raw materials that coaching staff’s been given, so don’t fault them for trying to put together the best structure they can.

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Lines for Canada vs. Latvia:

F

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Patrice Bergeron

Patrick Marleau - Jonathan Toews - Jeff Carter

Jamie Benn - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry

Patrick Sharp - John Tavares - Rick Nash/Martin St. Louis

Matt Duchene (scratch)

D

Duncan Keith - Shea Weber

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Drew Doughty

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Dan Hamhuis

P.K. Subban (scratch)

G

Price

Luongo

Smith