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A user guide to the 11-7 lineup
And using the Detroit Red Wings as an example of how it could work this season
This is admittedly a hockey concept I’ve been behind on, and let me tell you why.
When I was a young, impressionable AHL beat writer covering the Texas Stars in Cedar Park, Texas my view of running an 11-forward, seven-defenseman lineup was impacted by former Texas assistant coach Doug Lidster.
Lidster ran the Stars defense and hated the 11-7 format. As a coach, he felt it really disrupted the rhythm of the defense, in fact he believed it was easier and more efficient to run a defense with five defenders instead of seven.
I let this shape my view of the 11-7, probably dug my heels into the opinion a bit more than I should, and remember at one point arguing against the 11-7 on an episode of the Hockey PDOcast with friend of the site Dimitri Filipovic.
Looking back, I realized why I was wrong. I’m not saying Lidster was wrong, as a coach running an AHL defensive bench, I get where he’s coming from, but as an NHL application, the 11-7 can, and for some teams should, be used as tactical advantage.
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When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2020 in the bubble in Edmonton, they would frequently role out 11-7 lineups. The Edmonton Oilers, after Jay Woodcroft took over, have often used 11-7 lineups to capitalize more on their all-world top players.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde was an assistant with Tampa that won the 2020 Stanley Cup. This season he has a roster in Detroit that would be an ideal fit for 11-7, and he admitted as much on Friday morning.
Before we get into the specifics of the Red Wings potential 11-7, let’s talk about the pros and cons of going 11-7 vs. 12-6.
There are injury insurance protections with 11-7. While a team, for a game, can easily deal with a lost forward, losing a defender mid game becomes more tragic. Dressing an extra defender protects against this, and for a team dressing a player with injury questions or coming back from injury, going 11-7 can be a pro-active move by a coach to avoid future problems.
As noted before, there are also pros to the 11-7 that aren’t injury related.
For a team with more than six regular NHL defenders, or with a young defender that could be a candidate for frequent healthy scratches, running 11-7 keeps more defenders involved.
It also allows a team to create specialists on the blue line, whether that’s at even strength or on special teams, and allows coaches to protect certain players from situations where they struggle — for example, 11-7, this season would probably be a smart move for the Toronto Maple Leafs to get the most out of having John Klingberg in their lineup.
The other advantage, and this is more prevalent on the road, is a coach being able to sneak his top players into better matchups. This is something the Oilers have done quite frequently with Connor McDavid when deploring an 11-7 lineup, getting McDavid additional shifts with the fourth line wingers, and more shifts for the best player in the world is never a bad thing.
It also makes a team less predictable, and throws an element of chaos for the opposing team. Line matching strategies don’t typically work when their aren’t simple lines to match.
Now some of the cons.
There is more responsibly and stress on the coaching staff to get it right. Instead of calling for one line or pair, a coach has to call out individual names throughout the game. If a coach isn’t ready to run 11-7, there’s lots of room for mistakes and a player can easily get lost in the stuff.
On defense, if there aren’t many special teams opportunities, it can be really easy to lose that seventh defender — going back to Lidster’s original point of view, teams and coaches naturally revert to three pairs and forget they have another defender.
And if an injury does happen to a forward in a game, taking a team down to 10, a team has essentially neutered itself to three lines, which can be physically taxing during a condensed part of the schedule.
Keeping that in mind, there’s a reason most teams run 12-6 primarily. When GMs build teams, they typically think with this 12-6 mindset, not 11-7, and if a team can actually role four lines effectively with offensive depth, 12-6 still makes the most sense.
But as mentioned before, Detroit with it’s roster construction is a prime candidate for 11-7. Steve Yzerman went out and added a plethora of defenders, and the Red Wings have seven with NHL experience and everyone but Moritz Seider (who is still on his rookie deal) is making more than $2.3 million per season against the salary cap.
Up front Detroit has some depth, but based off camp and preseason, it’s hard to make a case that there are 12 forwards that should play every night.
So let’s set a hypothetical Detroit lineup using 11-7, and look at some of the nuance of how it could play out.
Alex DeBrincat — Dylan Larkin — Lucas Raymond
Robby Fabbri — JT Compher — David Perron
Klim Kostin — Andrew Copp — Daniel Sprong
Michael Rasmussen — (open) — Christian Fischer
With this hypothetical forward group, you have a clear No. 1 offensive option with the Larkin line, while the middle-six centered by Compher and Copp are a bit of a multi-tool unit depending on how things are working that evening.
Rasmussen and Fischer leave an opening where Detroit can sneak additional ice time for any member of the top line. That typically would mean Larkin, but because of Rasmussen’s ability to take face-offs, both DeBrincat and Raymond can take shifts on the wing with that group, adding some speed down the flank to a line that typically would get a traditional fourth line matchup.
It also puts Rasmussen in a space where he’s playing with more talented offensive linemates, something that seems less likely with a traditional 12-6 lineup right now.
For certain defensive scenarios, both Copp and Compher now have an opportunity to accrue additional minutes with Rasmussen and Fischer.
In the end, the goal here is to get move minutes for your best players, and in this hypothetical Larkin, DeBrincat, and Raymond are playing more.
Jake Walman — Moritz Seider
Olli Maata — Jeff Petry
Ben Chiarot — Justin Holl
The simple answer for Detroit with 11-7 comes on special teams, which is where Gostisbehere’s skill comes into play.
One of the things lacking from Detroit’s power play last season was creative and effective play from the flank. In his limited preseason play thus far, Gostisbehere has already shown he can help improve that facet of the Red Wings game from the flank of the 1-3-1 formation.
With Seider running the point on the first power play unit, and Walman running the second power play unit point, the Red Wings would have three of the seven defenders playing that part of special teams.
It allows the other four defenders to play a role on penalty kill, meaning each of the seven defenders in theory would have a role on special teams.
At even strength, we are going to assume Walman and Seider will play together primarily, but for the other two pairs, Gostisbehere brings more offensively for offensive zone situations. This is where you start to shoehorn in more minutes Gostisbehere, and also limit some of the minutes that a player like Chiarot is tasked with.
Once again, 11-7 isn’t an automatic solution for every team. But in many cases, like Detroit, it can work this season.