Nicknaming the NHL's best new lines
For all its pride in traditions, hockey has let many customs lapse. Some—like playing helmetless or keeping a topless woman on top of the lockers—are gone with reason. But naming lines remains, though it is hard to top vintage monikers like the Rangers’ 1979 “Mafia Line” (Phil “The Godfather” Esposito and two Dons—Murdoch and Maloney).
The best line nicknames come about naturally in a flash of brilliance, not from a focus group. But if, with all apologies to Butch Goring, E=mc2 (the Islanders’ energy line of Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas) is the best the modern game has to offer, maybe a little brainstorming is in order. With so many new top lines forming this summer, I’ve taken the initiative to dub them. Trademarks are pending on all of these, unless of course they sound stupid, in which case I was joking.
The Lottery Line: Taylor Hall—Connor McDavid—Nail Yakupov. This unit is the terrifying flip-side to that “Edmonton Oilers: Lottery Dynasty” meme. So laugh now before McDavid picks apart your favorite defenseman. All three were No. 1 picks, so this line could not have happened without the Oilers' amazing luck in the draft lottery. I don't know if McDavid is the next Great One, but Nail Yakupov has a lot more natural talent than Esa Tikkanen.
Crosby, Skills and Smash: Chris Kunitz—Sidney Crosby—Phil Kessel. Who knows if the Penguins traded for Kessel with the intention of playing him with Crosby—that Malkin guy is pretty good too. But with Kessel and Kunitz, Crosby’s unit would boast a nice balance between speed and physicality, while finally providing an answer to the Blues’ classic Hull & Oates.
The Knockout Line: Evander Kane—Ryan O'Reilly—TBD. Whoever their right wing ends up being (Tyler Ennis?), Kane and O’Reilly are the featured players on this line. And besides being their initials, KO is also Kane’s signature move, a punishment he most famously doled out to Matt Cooke in 2010.
The BRB Line: Brandon Saad—Ryan Johansen—Boone Jenner. There have been many great first-initial acronyms throughout hockey history, but this one comes with a (flimsy) explanation: The Blue Jackets were the rare team last season to have a forward finish in the league’s top-three in shifts per game. Now that Columbus has amassed a bonafide top line, expect to see these three get right back on the ice often. At the very least, this nickname paves the way for future emoji-based sobriquets.
The San Andreas Line: Milan Lucic—Jeff Carter—Tyler Toffoli. Sorry, Tanner Pearson, That 70’s Line is over. If the San Andreas Fault doesn’t cause an earthquake in Los Angeles anytime soon, these guys will. Also considered: Clydesdale Line II.
Cold War Kids: Andre Burakovsky—Evgeny Kuznetsov—T.J. Oshie. This nickname plays on two facts: 1) Everyone on this line is either baby-faced or, in the 20-year-old Burakovsky’s case, a virtual kid, and 2) they're all connected to history's greatest rivalry. Oshie, of course, single-handedly propelled the U.S. past Russia in a memorable Olympic shootout in 2014. Kuznetsov is a two-time World Championships gold medalist for Team Russia. And Burakovsky, while Swedish, was born in Austria—a country jointly occupied by Oshie and Kuznetsov’s ancestors after World War II.