Help on the Fourth Line

Looking at the Oilers from last season, the most obvious weakness was the team’s penalty-kill, which ranked 27th in the NHL at 77.5%. An increase even to the range of average (16th ranked Vancouver had an 81.4% success rate) would have saved the Oilers 13 goals against last year.

Believe it or not, all of this is a good thing – because fourth-line penalty-killing specialists are cheap and plentiful on the free agent market.

The Oilers have a little under 1.2-million in cap space, according to CapGeek.com. That figure assumes a starting lineup including Gilbert Brule, J-F Jacques, and Liam Reddox. Assuming that we believe Liam Reddox is a first-rate minor league player but not yet a regular NHL’er (which I do) let’s assume his spot is open, and his 515K cap hit is gone. We add that, and all of a sudden there’s 1.7-million to play with.

Let’s make a further assumption: that the team would like a little bit of salary cap breathing room for the trade deadline. If we leave 700K or so, that projects into (roughly) room for a 3-million dollar player at the trade deadline.

That gives the Edmonton Oilers one million dollars to play with. Assuming that they don’t have to ransom the world, they could spend that money on someone who could kill penalties. The following is a quick look at decent UFA penalty-killers who earned less than that figure last season (and excluding Dominic Moore, who will certainly cost more).

Matt Pettinger

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 1,000,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 59GP – 8G – 7A – 15PTS, -14
  • Key Number: 93 hits in 59 games played

Matt Pettinger was a go-to guy in the defensive zone for an awful team, along with linemates Jeff Halpern and Adam Hall. Unsurprisingly, all three ended up in the red +/- wise. Pettinger’s nothing special, really; after a pair of effective offensive seasons shortly after the lockout, he’s been a 4th-line player for Washington, Vancouver and Tampa Bay. He averaged 1:07 per game on the penalty-kill last season. He adds size (6’1”, 205lbs) and a physical edge.

How I Feel: He’s better than Reddox, and really that’s all that matters.

Dan Hinote

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 1,000,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 51GP – 1G – 4A – 5PTS, -7
  • Key number: Averaged 2:32 per game on the PK last season

Energetic forward Dan Hinote doesn’t add much in terms of size, adds nothing offensively (in eight seasons, his career high in points is 15) and didn’t even start out at the wrong end of the ice all that much last season.

How I Feel: The Sun headline the day after he scored his one goal in 2009-10 would be the “Hinote” of his season.

Dean McAmmond

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 875,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 62GP – 5G – 11A – 16PTS, +7
  • Key number: 9 points, +5 in 18 games after being traded to the Islanders

McAmmond saw a huge increase in his time on ice when he went to New York; jumping from 9:40 to more than 15 minutes a game – including more than 2 minutes a game on the PK. His underlying numbers all look decent, and he started in the wrong zone plenty. Still has blazing speed and questionable self-preservation. Plays either wing or centre, although he’s only a middling faceoff man.

How I Feel: I’ve always liked the guy, and he can help the team.

Marcel Goc

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 775,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 55GP – 2G – 9A – 11PTS, -6
  • Key number: 58.2% on faceoffs

Goc, who played a fourth-line role last season with the Sharks, would bring both size (6’1”, 200lbs) and speed to the Oilers lineup. He got killed a little bit by the percentages last year, but even with that the odds are that he isn’t going to put up a bunch of points. He turns 26 this week, and has been an NHL regular for four seasons. Goc isn’t averse to a physical game (83 hits in just 55 games last year) and kills penalties (averaged 1:28 on the PK last season). He was also one of the few Sharks to get more starts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone (with that good of a team, there’s not a lot of defensive zone starts to go around).

How I Feel: Goc would be a perfect fit for the Oilers.

Eric Perrin

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 750,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 78GP – 7G – 16A – 23PTS, -2
  • Key Number: 5’9”, 176lbs

The soon to be 34-year old has spent his entire career in the Southeast division. In 2007-08, he scored a career-high 45 points (after scoring 36 in 2006-07) but saw that total nearly cut in half this year. He was Marty Reasoner’s regular partner on the penalty-kill (averaged 3:17 per game). He generally plays wing but can also handle centre, and he went 52.1% on draws last season (213 total faceoffs taken).

How I Feel: Perrin’s a decent player but lacks size or a physical edge; he might be a better fit elsewhere.

Jiri Novotny

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 750,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 42GP – 4G – 3A – 7PTS, +4
  • Key Number: 6’4”, 209lbs

Novotny’s scoring touch never came along the way Buffalo thought it would when they invested a first round pick in him at the 2001 draft. Aside from offense, he’s a fine player for the most part (although his work ethic has been criticized before) and he brings a physical game (74 hits in just 42 games), the ability to win draws (52.9%) and of course some size. He spent some time on Ken Hitchcock’s PK unit as well (avg. 1:06 per game).

How I Feel: Might not be a bad fit.

Andy Hilbert

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 675,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 67GP – 11G – 16A – 27PTS, -3
  • Key Number: 85 blocked shots in 67 games

I’ve talked about Hilbert before (mostly here) and despite his size I think he’d be a great addition to the club. He played 2:41 per game short-handed last season, and that blocked shots number is huge for a forward. He’s also one of the most offensively proficient fourth-liners out there, and he’s been solid for the Islanders since the lockout. Of interest: the last three seasons, the Islanders have been -122; Hilbert’s been +9.

How I Feel: This is a quality player, and one of the best bargains remaining on the market.

Blair Betts

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 615,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 81GP – 6G – 4A – 10PTS, -5
  • Key Number: Averaged 2:59 TOI per game shorthanded

The 6’3” , 210 lb Betts has been mentioned repeatedly in connection with the Oilers, mostly by Jim Matheson. Apparently, the Oilers interest in the penalty-killer is lukewarm at most, and I can understand that. He does bring size and some physical play (93 hits last season) but is only a vanilla option on faceoffs (49.3% last year) and is only a middling skater by NHL standards. He has very limited offensive ability and isn’t as good a shutdown player 5-on-5 as some other options on the market.

How I Feel: Betts could be a good pickup, although he’s not the best available option.

Boyd Devereaux

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 575,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 23GP – 6G – 5A – 11PTS, +3
  • Key Number: Averaged 2:07 TOI per game shorthanded

Boyd Devereaux is not the offensive player his numbers make him seem; in 45 AHL games before being recalled he had only 16 points, and he’s never topped the 27 points he recorded as an Oiler in 1999-00. He’s still a phenomenal skater and has reinvented himself as a utility forward since being picked 6th overall by the Oilers in 1996. Injuries have largely ruined his career. He got some luck bounces-wise last year, and at this point isn’t much more than a tweener.

How I Feel: As much as I have a soft spot for the guy, I’d rather have Liam Reddox on my team.

Tomas Plihal

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 500,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 64GP – 5G – 8A – 13PTS, -4
  • Key Number: 52.7% on faceoffs

Plihal brings decent size (6’1”, 210lbs) to the lineup and like the rest of the players on this list saw some time killing penalties last season (averaged 1:05 per game shorthanded). That said, he’s got no offensive upside and he’s suffered a number of injuries since turning pro. His underlying numbers are decent but not extraordinary.

How I Feel: Plihal’s an above-average fourth-liner, but not at the top of this group.

Ryan Bayda

  • 2008-09 Cap Hit: 475,000
  • 2008-09 Stats Line: 70GP – 5G – 7A -12PTS, +2
  • Key Number: Averaged 1:48 per game shorthanded

Bayda’s not a big player, but that doesn’t prevent him from being an effective forechecker. He started with a territorial advantage, but didn’t do much with it last year and despite decent numbers in the AHL he doesn’t really bring offense to the NHL level. He does the little things (hits, blocks shots) but remains a fringe NHL’er.

How I Feel: Probably not worth signing.

The Final Tally

Here’s the order I’d pursue this group in if I were Steve Tambellini:

Priorities: Marcel Goc, Andy Hilbert
Possibilities: Jiri Novotny, Dean McAmmond, Blair Betts, Matt Pettinger, Tomas Plihal
Pass: Eric Perrin, Ryan Bayda, Boyd Devereaux, Dan Hinote

Goc and Hilbert rise to the top of this list because both represent players not just capable of filling in on the fourth line, but also of playing a more significant role if the need arises.

  • Hippy

    Is this the bling leading the blind here?

    We don't need any more 3rd and 4th liners here, the focus should be 2 top six forwards and shedding some of the crap we have now.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Basically, I’d like to see Goc brought in as the fourth line C and Hilbert as the fourth line LW. It would mean parting with MacIntyre, sending Reddox to the minors, and either sending down Brule (if he could clear waivers) or trying to move/demote Jacques.

    And people thought the Oilers lacked grit and toughness up front last season.
    Take away MacIntye and Jacques and leave only Stortini with the runts? This line-up would get manhandled night after night.

  • Hippy

    Thanks, JW. Didn't realize Goc was a name that was out there… I agree that he would be a great fit. Young. Decent size. And great in the faceoff circle. What do you think the Oilers are waiting for if this is fixed as easily as sending Reddox to the minors?

    Funny how Tambo could save a lot of face by signing this type of player after all we've been through with the high-end divas in the last couple of years…

  • Hippy

    total Oilers thread. cant fix your team qualitatively in the top 6 so you f-around quantitatively with the the fourth line. the only thing they CAN control in the UFA market.

    screw these fourth liners. im down for ONE, if its going to be a player who is worthy of a few seasons and plays an integral role. not this one year junk just to fill spots before the looming cap drop.

    this team isnt good enough, regardless of what Tambo says to the press, to waste spots on signing fourth liners and moving contracts to get them penciled in.

    play the kids in the system and purge the ones who blow by the trade deadline or end of the season.

  • Hippy

    As you stated, the Oil need toughness, PK and faceoff from their 4th line.

    TOUGHNESS:
    You have noted that some of these guys hit, but that is different that being tough. None of these guys is the least bit scary. If the Oilers are going to get tougher it will be on the 4th line. Jiri Novotny is not going to keep guys honest or get them off their game.

    PK:
    The PK should be covered with some combo of Moreau, Pisani, Pouliot, Horc, Sully and maybe Brule. The guys you mentioned have played PK before but were they any good at it?

    FACEOFFS:
    The only thing the Oilers seem to need is a faceoff guy. It would seem that this is a developmental issue.

    I can see the Oilers wanting to see what they have with JFJ and Brule before going with any of these moops. Brule and JFJ both have good speed and have the chance to be decent on the PK (eventually). Both bring more jam that the guys on your list, with JFJ having a chance to be a game changer on the forecheck.

    Toughness and a focus on development would be the keys to why the Oilers have not picked up anyone on your list. It may mean another year without playoffs but if they develop a few guys on the 4th line it may be better for the team in the longrun.

  • Hippy

    @ OvenChicken8:

    He played low-level opposition with lousy linemates (although he's faced higher-calibre opponents in years past). The reason his plus/minus isn't so good is because of an anemic 4.9% on-ice SH% and a very middling .915 on-ice SV% (PDO # .964).

    He's not a scorer, but both of those numbers should be better, and likely will be.

  • Hippy

    Fiveandagame wrote:

    With Prospal signing such a cheap deal in NY and the overwhelming about of veteran bottom six guys still available, I wouldn’t think it out of the question to see someone like a Malholtra or Moore sign for way less than their previous salary.
    It will be tough for these guys once training camp starts to find a team. I think the Oilers brass are well served waiting until that time to see what we can get, for cheap.
    No sense signing a guy now, when you can get him for 100k less in september.

    On the filp side: No sense missing out on a guy that you feel can ligitimitly help your team over $100,000.

  • Hippy

    jeff wrote:

    I’m curious to see if Stortini learnt anything from Laraque, because if he is getting better there is little space for Macintyre

    Storts is solid but I think we need Big Mac for the 6 times a year we play the boogey man from Minnesota

  • Hippy

    Mike Peca is still out there. He's a great leader and would fit right in that 3rd line centre spot between Pisani and Moreau. I really believe if the Oilers offered peca a 2 year deal at 1.5 per, he would play here again. For Peca its all about the term.

    Peca can also take key draws and give Horcs a rest when needed.

    Do it Tambs, Do it.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    the last three seasons, the Islanders have been -122; Hilbert’s been +9.

    That stat alone is sick. Plus the fact he can chip in 30 points isn't too shabby either. Unfortunately at under 6 feet and less than 200 pounds he doesn't bring a lot of size tho.

  • Hippy

    With Prospal signing such a cheap deal in NY and the overwhelming about of veteran bottom six guys still available, I wouldn't think it out of the question to see someone like a Malholtra or Moore sign for way less than their previous salary.

    It will be tough for these guys once training camp starts to find a team. I think the Oilers brass are well served waiting until that time to see what we can get, for cheap.

    No sense signing a guy now, when you can get him for 100k less in september.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Injuries have largely ruined his career

    Is it sad that I read Oilers have instead of injuries have haha.

    The number I'm concerned about is that Goc was a -6 on the Sharks.

  • Hippy

    @ Ogden Brother:
    I would send him to Washington for a pick.

    I'm curious to see if Stortini learnt anything from Laraque, because if he is getting better there is little space for Macintyre.

  • Hippy

    I hope managment addresses this obvious weakness!! I would be okay with Goc, or Hilbert. They both seem to fit in our cap situation, and are free agents, so let's get it done! I would feel a whole lot better about this coming season if we added a penalty killing center. Take some presure of Horcs.

  • Hippy

    jeff wrote:

    @ Ogden Brother:
    I doubt Big Mac clears, which I might be okay with.
    I’d prefer to send JFJ down before Pouilot too, but who knows.

    I like Mac and his story, love to see those guys finally succed, but really he should be the easiest guy on the roster to replace (and the last guy you worry about on waivers)

  • Hippy

    Basically, I'd like to see Goc brought in as the fourth line C and Hilbert as the fourth line LW. It would mean parting with MacIntyre, sending Reddox to the minors, and either sending down Brule (if he could clear waivers) or trying to move/demote Jacques.

    I don't really like sending out Jacques, but Goc and Hilbert are superior players.

    Anyways, as GM I'd definitely send Reddox to the minors and bring in Goc at the very least (assuming Goc was signable at a decent price).