Francis finally has 4 lines
Preventing mismatches is key benefit
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 8, 2003 12:00 AM
Bobby Francis wanted to roll out four lines in each of his four previous seasons in Phoenix, but each time he faced the same problems: injuries and lack of depth.
Francis, the NHL's Coach of the Year two seasons ago, has long believed a proficient offense is accountable defensively and evenly balanced. He may finally have that now.
"All four of our lines have a similar look," Francis said. "I don't think we'll have to look at any individual or individual line to provide the bulk of our offense.
"We do expect the scoring to be spread out pretty equally, and we won't have to depend on any one line. It'll make it more difficult for the opposition to key on any one line, particularly on the road."
Eight of the Coyotes' top 12 forwards - Ladislav Nagy, Shane Doan, Mike Johnson, Daymond Langkow, Chris Gratton, Jan Hrdina, Mike Sillinger and Brian Savage - have scored at least 20 goals in a season.
Winger Landon Wilson has scored 18 and center Krys Kolanos was en route to 20 goals but settled for 11 when his rookie season
two years ago was short-circuited by a concussion, which limited him to just two games last season. It's possible that winger Branko Radivojevic, who scored 12 as a rookie, will soon be a 20-goal scorer.
"I like the makeup of our forwards. We're deep, we're versatile and we've got size, skill and speed," Francis said.
"It'll give us an opportunity to play a lot of different types of hockey. If we want to be physical we can be. We can play a speed game. We can play a skill game. I like the look of our forwards.
"We feel like we not only have balanced offense up front, but we feel like our four lines are going to be responsible defensively so we're not going to be caught in a mismatch.
"Last year our scoring line was Nagy, Langkow and Johnson, which was also our top defensive line. It was inevitable that if we put a particular line out there, you'd see Peter Forsberg or Joe Sakic jump over the boards. Now we're not going to get caught in a vulnerable position."
After the Coyotes earned at least 90 points in Francis' first three seasons, they had only 78 points last year.
The biggest factor was that they had the second-most man-games lost to injury, and the off-season trade of Michal Handzus coupled with the unexpected loss of Kolanos left Francis with a doughnut to coach - no center.
"One area we wanted to get deeper at was the center position, and we feel we have five guys who are more than capable of playing that position," said Francis, referring to Langkow, Gratton, Kolanos, Sillinger and Hrdina. "In order to have balance up front, you have to be strong in the middle."
Unlike in past years, Francis finally thinks there is enough depth in the organization to start and finish the season with four lines.
"You look at our team right now, and we have 14 forwards who have played and are capable of playing in the NHL right now," he said.
"We have numerous prospects at (AHL) Springfield who are close to playing in the NHL. So we have quality people we can call up.
"We expect Springfield to have an outstanding team down there. It's a strong group we've put in place down there, and it will allow us the opportunity, if injuries occur, to call someone up and not miss a beat."