Six minutes per game

Jonathan Willis
June 23 2013 08:06AM

There's a theory out there - and it's one I'm often reminded of by readers - that the ultimate fourth line in the NHL is a crash-and-bang group. The idea is to load it up with guys who can skate and hit (and ideally fight) and let them skate around for six minutes or so causing mayhem to help tilt the physical scale, and not have them worry so much about anything else.

Personally, I think it's a terrible idea, but I've never really explained why.

The Trouble With Hitting

A hit statistic records more information than is always realized. Hits are generally seen as a measure of physical aggression, but they're also a measure of puck possession - when a hit is thrown, it means that the player making the hit doesn't have the puck. In other words, a team that hits a lot typically does so because a) they're physical (which is good) but also b) they don't have puck possession (which is bad, since having the puck is almost always better than not having the puck). Tyler Dellow talked about this in relation to the Boston Bruins the other day:

One of the things that we talked about was the idea that the Bruins are a big, bad team. I’m kind of skeptical. When I looked at hitting and getting out-hit earlier this year, the B’s weren’t a team that really tended to out-hit their opposition last year – if you don’t want to get hit a lot, play a really good team that has the puck more than you.

Of course, everybody is going to not have the puck for a portion of the game - and when the other team has the puck, hammering them is a good way to go. Boston's good at it - but Boston only ranked 16th in road hits this season because they generally also have the puck a lot more than the other team does. So being a top team in hits, as a general rule, suggests the team probably isn't very good.

The Fourth Line

When we take that information and apply it to the fourth line, the results are obvious: putting together a line composed entirely of players like Ben Eager and Mike Brown and Theo Peckham (when people suggest moving him to forward, they often have this concept in mind) and the like means ceding puck possession to the other team. There's a reason that Zack Stortini's best games in Edmonton generally happened when he was the least talented player on his line - there's a place on almost any team for a guy that can hit and will fight as long as he can play a regular shift, but there aren't generally places for three of them.

It's a black and blue and red line: the other team's fourth line and third defence pairing may be bruised and battered, but the goal light is only going to be triggered in the Oilers' end of the ice. (Incidentally, that's another problem with the concept: a player like Jonathan Toews doesn't run scared from a physical fourth line because, if by some chance he happened to take the ice against them they'd spend the whole shift running around in their own end. Mostly though, the guys they're hammering on the other team are guys that play on depth lines.)

The flip side is the 'that's why they only play six minutes a night' argument. But there's trouble there, too.

Margins

Six minutes represents 10 percent of the hockey game. Last year, the Oilers averaged 2.56 goals per game and 2.73 goals against per game. The two numbers aren't directly comparable because special teams ice-time leads to more goals than even-strength ice-time, but what would a 10 percent boost in goal scoring done for the Oilers? Aside from the far ends of the NHL scale - the really good and the brutally bad - parity means there isn't a lot of gap between the 20 or so teams in the middle. People like to say 'if you're trying to fix the fourth line, you probably have a pretty good team' but it isn't really true because at a team level winning or losing comes in the margins. Being just a little bit better matters a lot - and building a fourth line that bleeds goals and takes penalties, even only for six minutes per night means the team is just digging itself a hole they need to make up somewhere else.

That's before even getting into other apsects of the idea - that you might need that fourth line to play hockey at some point. The idea that Boston has the best fourth line in hockey is often raised by hockey commentators, but when Jonathan Toews went down in game five of the Stanley Cup Final, look who Chicago had on the ice in the final minutes with a one goal lead on the line:

Fourth-liners like Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger all played in the dying moments of one of the most important games of the year. Is it even possible to imagine a coach willingly plugging Mike Brown or Ben Eager in those minutes if injury intervened? It's an extreme example, but that kind of depth can matter a lot at critical moments.

The point basically boils down to this: winning is very hard in the NHL, and it's a foolish team that intentionally puts itself in a hole for the sake of adding toughness at the bottom end of the roster.

Recently around the Nation Network

The Toronto Maple Leafs are rumoured to be chasing Jonathan Bernier, and at Leafs Nation Cam Charron thinks that's a bad idea:

That said, if the Leafs want him to be a starter and Bernier will only play if he's a starter, that makes no sense. The Leafs have a guy who can capably start, and there's no objective evidence that exists that suggests Bernier would be better at this point. He may be, but there is a long list of teams who made huge deals for a big-name goaltender and it came back to bite them down the road.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Etown
June 23 2013, 02:21PM
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Citizen David wrote:

Wow bitter much? Wait till september to see what our roster looks like. Then wait till at least January to make judgments on our GM's work.

No kidding!! The season isnt even over! Hemsky is garbage and needs to go. I have no clue why some Oiler fans think he still has it but he is done! Smith would be #3c and horc #4c. sign gagner for 2-3 years then draft Nurse. Package togethet a prospect maybe Marincin abd a second for some D help. Thats what I see happening. Buying out Horcoff makes zero sence right now. Forget about the cap hit cause we arent in cap trouble for a long while. He is a perfect 3/4 center

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#52 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 23 2013, 02:30PM
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As per CBC's Friedman: Shawn Horcoff allowed to contact other teams about a trade.

Well, at least, the ball is rolling. Lets see what shakes.

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#53 Dennis
June 23 2013, 03:02PM
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Not sure if this is true because I can't actually find it on McKenzie's twitter, but someone retweeted this.

Riley Campbell ‏@Campbell_91 12m "@TSNBobMcKenzie: And it's official. TOR trades D Dion Phaneuf for EDM F Sam Gagner and a conditional 2nd round pick." Wow Bob

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#54 washed up
June 23 2013, 03:05PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

As per CBC's Friedman: Shawn Horcoff allowed to contact other teams about a trade.

Well, at least, the ball is rolling. Lets see what shakes.

Pretty bad when you got to find your own way out of town.

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#55 Taylor Gang
June 23 2013, 03:20PM
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Does anyone know the legitimacy of these Zack Smith/Ales Hemsky trade rumors?

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#56 nuge2nail
June 23 2013, 03:56PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Smith for Hemsky, Phaneuf for Gagner would instantly improve team toughness.

Stafford, Phaneuf, Smith, Belov, and possibly Lindholm would make us big enough to compete in the new division next year.

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#57 Walter Sobchak
June 23 2013, 04:36PM
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Citizen David wrote:

There a too many question marks hanging on Hemsky. Injuries, offensive ceiling, age, contract length. It's a deal that could go either way. Hemsky could crash and burn or even just sizzle and then leave and the Oilers could have a great 25 year old 3rd line center locked in for four years. Or Hemsky could light it up and Smith could be a fourth liner.

Well lets look at that CD.

Injury status tells us his ankle is healed, his shoulders are repaired, he played most of last season so I think it's fair to say injuries are a past problem.

His offensive ceiling is almost a PPG player. If he's half that he's still double what Smith will bring.

I'm not sure why contract length is an issue? If he's traded and signed good, if he produces for OTT that's a win, if not he's a one year contract OTT can trade or walk away, very low risk.

Finally age.......he's 28?

Hemsky for Smith straight up his robbery.

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#58 DieHard
June 23 2013, 04:44PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Naw, Zack Smith is an upgrade to Smithson or Horcoff, he fights hits and is hard on the puck, does a lot of the little thing right that you haven't seen done in years here IMO.

However, if this trade goes through for a Hemsky for Smith then we just got ripped off.

I have to think at the very least a second coming back.

I think a conditional 2014 2nd pick coming back based on either Ottawa re-signing or number of games played next year.

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#59 DieHard
June 23 2013, 04:49PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

As per CBC's Friedman: Shawn Horcoff allowed to contact other teams about a trade.

Well, at least, the ball is rolling. Lets see what shakes.

Just letting Shawn know how truly bad his contract is.

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#60 Citizen David
June 23 2013, 05:02PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Well lets look at that CD.

Injury status tells us his ankle is healed, his shoulders are repaired, he played most of last season so I think it's fair to say injuries are a past problem.

His offensive ceiling is almost a PPG player. If he's half that he's still double what Smith will bring.

I'm not sure why contract length is an issue? If he's traded and signed good, if he produces for OTT that's a win, if not he's a one year contract OTT can trade or walk away, very low risk.

Finally age.......he's 28?

Hemsky for Smith straight up his robbery.

First off, he's 29 and will be 30 when the season starts. And the possibility exists for him to be a player Ottawa would like to sign but he opts for free agency because he hasn't had a shot at free agency and as he is getting older this will be his last shot to cash in on the best deal he can get.

We have no idea if his ankles and shoulders are strong as ever or liable to break. I think Hemsky's years of PPG are behind him. If everything goes right for him I would say 65 points tops. Which is good but again he could opt for free agency and Ottawa traded away a young centre entering his prime for one year of a player.

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#61 Citizen David
June 23 2013, 05:04PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Well lets look at that CD.

Injury status tells us his ankle is healed, his shoulders are repaired, he played most of last season so I think it's fair to say injuries are a past problem.

His offensive ceiling is almost a PPG player. If he's half that he's still double what Smith will bring.

I'm not sure why contract length is an issue? If he's traded and signed good, if he produces for OTT that's a win, if not he's a one year contract OTT can trade or walk away, very low risk.

Finally age.......he's 28?

Hemsky for Smith straight up his robbery.

I would like to see more come back (obviously) but Hemsky for Smith is a deal that could go either way. There are a ton of unknowns for both players.

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#62 DSF
June 23 2013, 05:38PM
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Bob Stauffer ‏@Bob_Stauffer 2h

Being asked about Hemsky to Ottawa rumours. At this time not a likely scenario. Hemsky's value should increase a week into free agency

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#63 Walter Sobchak
June 23 2013, 05:49PM
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DSF wrote:

Bob Stauffer ‏@Bob_Stauffer 2h

Being asked about Hemsky to Ottawa rumours. At this time not a likely scenario. Hemsky's value should increase a week into free agency

Do you think he Oilers are trying to put stuff out there to get teams in a bidding war?

Kind of reminds me of last years draft, Tencer and Stauffer going off on how the Oilers are taking Murray.

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#64 Walter Sobchak
June 23 2013, 05:52PM
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DieHard wrote:

I think a conditional 2014 2nd pick coming back based on either Ottawa re-signing or number of games played next year.

Good point, if this does shake lose then I can see a conditional pick coming back.

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#65 nuge2nail
June 23 2013, 06:52PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

2013 Oilers

Hall Hopkins Eberle- Penner Lindholm Yakupov- Paarajvi Smith Stafford- Smyth Belanger Brown-

Phaneuf Petry- J Shultz N Shultz- Smid Belov

Dubnyk

Defence looks bigger, stronger and more well balanced. Center position is weakened and I just put Penner on the second line lw slot for kicks. I'm sure it will get a reaction.

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#66 Woogie63
June 23 2013, 07:30PM
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Interesting arguement, strong points in a non cap world. To win the fourth line has to play 10%ish of the game but be paid about 6% of the cap. The best teams seem to have top 6 forward or top 9 fowards playing powerplay and PK. So what is the role for the fourth line? Interesting argument on puck possession, but since it is easier to control the puck in non dangerous non scoring portions of the ice is this really good measurement. What is six minutes a game, about 7 or 8 shifts. What impact is a poor $1.2 M player going to make?

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#67 Dockstaff
June 23 2013, 10:43PM
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@nuge2nail

Phaneuf for anything more than a bag of sticks and tickets to the Eskimos would be an error of grandiose proportions. He's a poor leader, doesn't score, telegraphs his big hits and is generally over-rated.

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#68 voom04
June 23 2013, 11:03PM
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hall nuge yak,N foligno gags eberle, pajaarvi coutourier petrell/briere,smyth/eager horcoff brown/lander. j johnson-j schultz,petry-smid,belhov-klefbom/fedun/peckham/nurse

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#69 Quicksilver ballet
June 23 2013, 11:13PM
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Well, thank goodness those rumours turned out to be nothing but hot air. Let Hemskys deal wait till mid July and try and create multiple offers if possible, that is, if he's still here and wasn't used to move up in the draft.

Rather odd to see these two long serving Oilers dumped this way. Their departures have a Souray Light tone to them.

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#70 NewAgeSys
June 24 2013, 10:24AM
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Seamless offense from all 4 lines, and seamless defense from all 4 lines.

There should be as much parity as possible system and execution-wise from all 4 lines.

Or you can assign specific different System roles and execution to each of your 4 lines , or as Dallas seems to be hinting at doing you can teach all 4 lines multiple system tactics and adjust them all at once.

Teaching multiple Systems as opposed to simply the singular NewAge Hockey System to achieve this Dynamic Adjustment ability is less than optimal .

I dont believe this method and approach can be dominant consistantly and produce consistant winning results without a specific and concrete "single" System Template based on a very high degree of superior Intuitive input, or a pure and natural Intuit running the show.

Trying to utilise a multiple System approach is not exactly a new concept. NHL teams have always searched for this Holy Grail dynamic, but it takes a New Age Hockey System to provide this influence on ONE System Template thereby reducing the cerebral volume the roster needs to absorb, manage, and execute. This inevitable player cerebral overload is the reason why this approach is basiclly ignored historiclly.

Getting them in better shape so they can process MORE cerebrally late in games when they are tired so they can accomodate multiple System inputs from the bench is , ha ha ha, original, but it just moves the challenge around, camoflages the issue, if the players cant handle the cerebral volume required to execute this approach then the NHSs single low maintenance Template is still needed.

If this new approach fails it will be strike three, first Darkhorse, then Krueger, and now we will see a "multiple system" approach, two of these attempts have not replicated the NHSs influences yet and I dont believe our latest ideology will do much better. LA has one Cup, Chicago has number 2 both using limited NHS data, what the hell is wrong here?

Heres a taste of the NHS, all Boston needs to do is drive the puck all the way to the net instead of trying to finesse it.

Make a slap pass from up high or whatever and have the first pass initiate the charge to the net, not a shot, a charge. Stop using your size in only a defensive manner and get some penaltys called for you, Chicago cannot stop the big bodies if they take it to the bucket but they can stop them using the boards and better system defense if you piss around at all, admit their system is sharper because it is an NHS influenced Adjusted-Hybrid and it is superior.

Chicago is giving Boston the perimeter enough to draw the puck out of them quickly after a shot from up high.

Get the bodies moving right to the net from everywhere, just keep a man back to cover deep, , it is the same idea as the Tactical Shooting Program, just take it in hard the same ways consistantly for 60 mins looking for and creating cracks and you will dominate, but dont waffle do it for 60 full mins.

If Chicago is going to get possesion of the puck back it has to be after a charge to the net, NOT a perimeter shot, Boston MUST convert as many possesions into high % scoring chances instead of perimeter shots or they will be history. The outside shots give the Hawks puck possesion to fast, draw it out and hold onto the puck as long as you can on every shift.

If the puck rusher charges then changes his mind and trys a pass he will screw the cover man because if the pass is deflected or bobbled the opponents transition to offense will be very fast it is designed that way and you will get nipped.

I wanna see the Bruins making one fast lateral pass up high not off the rush but after the zone is gained and the Hawks start to set up, with the d-man recieving the puck charging in full speed over and over until the Hawks spread it out more and dont stop for 60 mins, make the Hawks drag the big men down as they pound to the net hard. Bring the rushing d-man in with an arm out inside and the puck outside so he can lean in and wont surrender it to the Hawks in the middle for a quick-strike transition, dont headman the puck or you will get stripped and defeat the purpose which is NOT to shoot but to take it right in every time.

This is the NHS advice, without the explanation. I wanna see a 7th game. The more hockey the better.

Game 6 for Boston is a game that must be won using the 6 minute, 4th line mentality of KISS and carry the mail in and hand-deliver it for 60 minutes from ALL lines.

Watch for it.For 60 minutes. Just like my template says. More completed net charges, fewer perimeter and overall shots due to reduced rebounds as the tender covers up in close, and less hits because they will have the puck more, and more goals will show up on the stats sheet for the Bruins if they follow the NHS advice and win.

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