THe Bottom Line on the 4th Line

Jason Strudwick
December 02 2013 10:04AM

Last week I posted this tweet on twitter:

"Note to Oilers fan....Worrying about the 4th line is like wondering if you left the toiler seat up while your house is burning down.
I am amazed at how much time we the media and fans spend discussing the Oilers fourth line. It actually baffles me! Why waste your time? In my opinion the fourth line for the Oilers has been pretty good most nights."

I have a lot of time for the guys on the fourth line and fifth, six and seventh d-man so this doesn't come from a place of not respecting them. If anything, I have more respect than anyone because I know exactly how they feel when they contribute to a win, and how frustrating it can be to sit out when you have not played badly and the coach just "wants a different look".

But Oilers fans it is time to get focused on what is really going on and why this team is struggling.

In every single NHL game there is 60 mins of ice time for the left winger, the right winger and the center. Add that all up and you have 180 mins of total forward ice time to be distributed amongst four lines or twelve forwards. I would say on average, most teams fourth lines average around eight to ten minutes of ice time. Adding that up we get thirty minutes of total ice time by the three players on the fourth line. That comes out to sixteen percent of the total ice time available (180mins). 16%!!!!!

For the Oilers this year, some nights, Eakins has used them closer to five minutes each. So that percentage drops down to 8%.  You get the idea of how much total ice time we are talking about here. Not a lot. Why spend so much time dissecting and analyzing a fourth line that gets so little ice time? I don't get it.

If the Oilers were near or at the top of the league I would be loving fourth line combination conversations. Who could the Oilers bring in to be the final element to the team? Do they need another penalty killer on the fourth line? Should they find a guy that can chip in ugly goals? It would make sense in a last piece of the puzzle scenario. Unfortunately the Oilers are near the bottom of the league in wins. Do you really think that the fourth line is holding this team back? Would the greatest fourth line in history make this group a playoff team?

Nope. It wouldn't. Sorry to be the bad guy.

When I look at this team there are other issues that are more pressing. Being able to play in heavy games that will require adjustment in personnel, consistency of effort and execution and attention to detail every shift are miles ahead of the fourth line even entering my thoughts. MILES AHEAD!

Those topics should be on the minds of concerned Oilers fans as well.  But since I am talking about the fourth line I will tell you what I would want if I was a coach and what I hated playing against. To start, any kind of goal production from a fourth line should be considered a bonus not a must. Goals should be a by-product of everything a fourth line does.

I hated playing against a fourth line that had attitude and was proud to be the fourth line. When I would see them jump over the boards and foaming at the mouth I knew it would be a long night.

My ideal fourth line plays balls out every shift, every night and does it with reckless abandon. They never stop moving their feet while getting in on the forecheck and finish checks. They cycle pucks in the offensive zone and have sustained pressure there. All three players crash the net like it is the most important thing in their lives. They create chaos all over the ice and do it with a smile on their faces.

When they get back to the bench the rest of the team is loving it and can't wait to get out there to follow up all that energy they brought to the team in the last forty seconds. I would also prefer to have two members of the line be able to kill penalties and do it well. This serves two purposes: keeps them in the game and trims minutes off the top nine.

I know lines like this exist because I played against many teams that had them and on teams with them. One of the best I ever got to play with was Colton Orr, Blair Betts and Ryan Hollweg. I loved being on the ice with these three. I knew they would be flying around making action happen and most importantly the other team knew that chaos was about to break loose. Our team loved that line.

They would chip in with the odd goal and the boys would love it! We would all get fired up. But they didn't score every night, what they did do was be a difference in the game, a positive influence on the energy and out come of the game because of their style.
If I was coaching I would like to have a fourth line like that. One that you noticed and knew you could count on to have an impact on the game.

With some of the personnel the Oilers have with Jones, Arco, Gadzic and Acton there are the makings of something. The challenge for these guys is to bring it every night. Bring the passion, jump and chaos that will have a positive impact for the Oilers every single game.

I hope that in the near future discussions about the fourth line are needed to address the last piece of a successful team. Until then, I will limit my talk about it to somewhere around 8% to 16% a night.

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Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
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#51 Hayek
December 02 2013, 06:32PM
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Well considering we are speaking 4th line, we should be looking at 5v5 ice time. Top Oilers are playing 15 minutes 5v5, while bottom players are average about 5 minutes.

Not saying 4th line can win games by themselves, but they are part of the team. If they are ineffective for 5 minutes, they hurt the team, while if they are effective, they help.

Obviously they don't have as big an impact as top players, but why the aversion to improving any aspect of the team?

The reason 4th line has been so criticized is because players such as Acton and Gazdic simply aren't NHL level. These players could be replaced by virtually any player on waivers, and help the Oilers.

Fixing large holes may be tough for management, but improving a 4th line is cheap and easy to do.

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#52 Ari Gold
December 02 2013, 06:36PM
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Perhaps in the regular season, the average 4th line plays 16% of the game. I think we should be looking, however, at the past few Stanley Cup finalists. Both Chicago and Boston had excellent 4th lines.

The measuring stick isn't for the league average but the best teams. Lets learn from the best. Paille-Kelly-Peverley last year for the Bs was an amazing trio that could play at any point in the game except for if the team was losing with 3 minutes to go. That's the goal.

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#53 j
December 03 2013, 08:56AM
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Struds - I totally agree with you regarding the amount of focus on this yet there is a contradiction in your column. You suggest that the 4th line is somewhat insignificant to the outcome of the game yet explain in some detail how integral they are/were in your experience. That really is the paradox - a good fourth line may not show up in the stats, nor truly affect the outcome but they are absolutely essential to passion in the locker room and on the bench. These guys are the glue, the personalities, and the players who take nothing for granted. They never stop moving their feet or their mouths when on the ice. The Oil need this more than any other team in the West. We need a good fourth line. Intangibles baby. Stats be damned!

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