FOUR!

The Edmonton Oilers have employed some very effective 4th lines over the years. Jim Dowd was just this side of a folk hero during his time in Edmonton, Shawn Horcoff got his start there and over the next several years Oiler fans will be seeing a lot of kids like Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick breaking in on the 4line. Quick question: how soon can they get here?

Eric Belanger was considered a key member of the Oilers bottom six this season. With Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner plus the phenom RNH on the C depth chart, it was assumed Belanger would give depth to the 4line while also helping on the penalty-kill.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Sam Gagner got hurt, Anton Lander impressed and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stomped the guts out of the available competition to emerge as a legit top 6 center as an 18-year old. Belanger then found a home (for the most part) on the 3line and has played significant PP minutes as well as PK time. What’s more, when Gagner finally returned to the lineup, 89 was moved to RW and the beat raged on at center ice.

The curious item here is the consistently poor performance of the 4th line and coach Renney’s decision to leave Belanger on the top 9F. Recently, Jonathan Willis counted Dennis King scoring chances for all Oiler forwards (article is here) and it gives us a tremendous look at the entire roster at forward. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on the 4line.

Oilers 4th liners this season include Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi, Ben Eager, Lennart Petrell, Darcy Hordichuk and Eric Belanger has played some on the 4line (most recently at Dallas). It’s easy to spot them, they are all at the bottom of the table.

I’m curious about a few things in regard to these players. With the performance of rookie Anton Lander, why not send him to OKC for a few weeks? Belanger isn’t delivering offense at even strength, why not attempt to construct a "veteran" 4line that can step in and do good things in short shifts? Belanger could still play a big part of special teams. If the struggles of the 4line continue, why not option Petrell to OKC and have a long look at Teemy Hartikainen?

Based on JW’s chart, I’d say that all of Lander, Petrell and Eager should be questionable options and Hordichuk (who doesn’t appear on the chart) is also in that category. Although the physical element represented by Eager and Hordichuk would be absent, new hire Colten Teubert has been doing more hitting than Eager since the minute he got here.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The reason the Oilers offloaded Zack Stortini had little to do with toughness. He was not able (in the coach’s estimation) to keep up with the fast track NHL. That 4th line they’re sending out right now has some skating issues (Petrell), but they also have experience issues (Lander), coming off concussion issues (Eager) and new to town getting used to things issues (Belanger, Hordichuk).

The defense is holding together better than expected and the goaltending has been grade A. Patience is a virtue, but I don’t see one damn thing that’s good about a 4th line that bleeds deep red every night.

It should be the easiest fix in the world. Help is a phonecall away. It’s curious no phones are ringing.

  • The Farmer

    I don’t disagree with you at all in your assessment LT . The only thing is I thought I recently heard teemu was a healthy scratch in okc. Do you think he would be that big of an upgrade?

  • Seriously....Gord?

    I’d love to see Temmu come up for a look. Lander has had a long look and doing well but could spend some time in OKC.

    Temmu, Samwise and Maggie….. Could be a good third line. Speed, Size, Skill!

  • Crazycanook

    So I am curious. When players sign as a UFA, for example Belanger (who was fairly popular I’m sure), do you think he is promised certain ice time?

    I’m wondering if part of his deal was we will play you top 9 minutes as long as you perform (other than pts, I think he has done his job).

    Maybe Renney’s hands are tied.

    I guess my point is we really don’t know what goes on behind the scenes with UFA signings.. and perhaps that weighs in on where players play.

    A future article?

  • Lowetide

    LT: Right now its a huge improvement on last year. Petrell is a huge asset on the pk. I like Hartikainen, but can he play the pk minutes we’d lose if Petrell went down? Its a sincere question–I don’t remember him on the kill in training camp.

    • Lowetide

      At 5×5 the 4line is a giant sucker. Petrell was part of a very effective early PK, but it has been slipping of late. I don’t know the Oilers can keep him around all year with what he’s bringing at even strength.

  • oilredemption

    Exactly! Well time for deja vu for the ON. Bring harski in! He has grit and skill and needs nhl ice now to develop imo. Plus I think to be a force in the league u need a quality grit guy to complement the top 6. Lucic, burrows to name a couple and I am a firm believer harski has the ability to be at that quality in a couple years but I think at this point 3rd/fourth line nhl duties would further his confidence and ability. Thank you, that is all

  • oilredemption

    With how many skilled and able hockey players that are drafted into the league every year, “edges” are the difference between most IMO. It’s the difference that is significant between RNH and Gagner, who have similar skill sets.

    It seems most of the players who struggle have skating issues. I hope the brass sees this. And I will take the opportunity to restate that I don’t think the brass expected to win as much this year, and they team shouldn’t want to (wasting another good pick and asset gain) given all that was left undone.

  • Lowetide

    1) Belanger wouldn’t be able to soften Horcoff’s d-zone face-off role if he were on the 4th line.

    2) Hartikainen doesn’t kill penalties. Lander and Petrell do. This eases the PK load for Horcoff and Smyth, again, giving them more energy for their other roles. One of the reasons for the Oilers greater success this year is better penalty-killing.

    3) I think we may see more of Paajarvi on RW with Lander on the 4th line, and Paajarvi should help that line move the puck in the right direction with his puck lugging ability.

    4) Strange that LT was begging for a competent veteran 3rd line centre for years, and now that Tambellini has finally gotten one in Belanger, is complaining about a temporary boxcar clitch.

    • Lowetide

      Petrell and Lander are the 5/6 F’s on the PK, and as I mentioned above it isn’t like the club has been splendid at the discipline lately. If the Oilers send down Lander and recall Hartikainen, I’m certain someone can pick up the 1:38 in PK slack the rookie takes currently.

      I wasn’t the only one begging for a PK/2-way center, but there’s nothing written in stone that he has to be a 3rd liner. I seem to recall the Oilers waxing poetic about “3 scoring lines” but that doesn’t get a lot of mention anymore.

      Hey, I think Lander is going to be a helluva player. Really. But there’s evidence he isn’t part of the solution at 5×5 currently. I think some time in OKC would help.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Temporary boxcar glich? Understatement of the year goes to godot10. What belanger have you been watching this year? This ain’t the coyotes or the Wild he is playing with anymore. It almost appears he is at odds ith what to do withe puck when he lines up with the likes of Gagner and MP. What I see is a player with specific skills in the defensive area.

      My concern is not so much for his boxcars but for the 2 linemates he is playing with. Especially if they are MP and Gagner.His lack of creativeness is affecting thier play. He lacks the offesive flair that those 2 players have in spades.
      Left to do the dirty work on the 4th line would seem more in line with Belangers skill set. He has been put on the PP on the point and has shown nothing in the way of the ability to get the puck to the net from the point. 20 games does not a season make. But if I were making the descisions I would send eager down to OKC for a conditioning stint. He has shown me nothing to justify his contract. IMO.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    LT,
    Do we not need to take zone start into account we when look at those scoring chances? Is there any way to standardize based on zone start so that we are comparing apples to apples?

    Belanger appears to be a black hole offensively but given where he starts maybe that is to be expected? This would make the numbers that Smyth and Horcoff are putting up even more impressive.

  • oilredemption

    The title of this post is Four….but it could easily have been Three and Four.

    The players who have played primarily in the the Oilers’ bottom 6, Belanger, Petrell, Gagner, Lander, Eager, Paajarvi, Hordichuk and Omark, have a total of 14 points to their collective credit.

    Worth noting that the third line centre for the lowly Winnipeg Jets has 17 points all by himself.

    At some point, players like Smyth, Horcoff and Hopkins are going to come down from their 20% shooting percentages and there is absolutely nothing backing them up.

    Yikes.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      While you are most certainly right that those 20% shooting % are sure to come down…. any resonable man would also conclude that that sub 5% shooting % on the 3rd and 4th lines are sure to go up….

      I guess we know what that makes you.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I’m sure you failed to notice that the Jets 3rd line center is also the teams leading scorer by 3 points, and has a 6 point lead on their 7th leading scorer.

      He also has a 25% shooting % and plays 2:15 on the PP.

      That doesn’t fit into your little troll games though.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Imagine having a third line centre that produces!

        And, he’s 6th among Jets forwards for PPTOI/G.

        I wouldn’t expect he’ll keep rolling along at 25% but he should be good for 40-50 points.

        Not bad production from a third line centre.

        Do you disagree?

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Nothing wrong with that, alot of teams have 6-7 guys with 40+ points though, so it’s not that big of a deal.

          Still irrelavant to the Oilers.

  • Rob...

    How does our 4th line compare to other ‘standard’ 4th lines in the league though for Chances Percentage. It’s one thing to suggest their stats pale in comparison to that of the top two lines, but does any average teams 4th line do better?

    This question isn’t trying to suggest that you’re wrong in your article. I agree that our 4th line needs to be better. But is that point explained by the Chances Percentage, or is the difference just reflecting what you would expect from any 4th line?

  • Lowetide

    You guys want to penalize a bunch of guys who have bought into the defensive system, contributed to the success of the special teams, who are not cheating for offence, and who are easing the load for the top six guys.

    Yep…that is the way to build a cohesive team! -). Play for the team, off to OKC for you.

    The boxcar glitch is temporary for guys like Belanger, Gagner, and Paajarvi. Remember Jones is a bit of an offensive anchor because he is just a finisher. He really doesn’t help move the puck forward., but he has been doing a much better job defensively.

    Belanger is historically a 30-point player, and Gagner a 40-point player. They will get there.

  • Lowetide

    I think it’s hilarious that you would think that the chart above is legit and yet when the mention that the Oilers are now 4-5-1 (I think but lost count recently) with Hemsky in the line up it is considered invalid.

    Who was Hemsky playing with, what was he’s competition, who was on defense.

    Please take you advance stats else were because in the end, they show individual performance and not the overall effect that player has on the actual team. Hemsky scoring chances may be second best on the team but the team does not (and has not for over two years) been better with him in the line up. Trade for a need like top 2 dman, power forward and be done with it. Now there a blog worth reading.

    As far as the forth line I’m not concerned if they don’t score points. I want them to bring energy, muck it up and add a physical element. They haven’t been the bet but the are an upgrade to the past few seasons.

    Please feel free to read Jason Strudwick’s last blog. Explains it well.

    Also don;t be so fricken negative. Year 3 of the rebuild folks and we’re a battle for the playoffs. Maybe so many years of watching crappy hockey has turned people into perma grumps. Get over it, quit complaining about what’s wrong with the team and enjoy it.

    • Lowetide

      Agree totally with your last paragraph. Nitpicking about the production of the fourth line means something amazing is going on, and after the last few years, I’m going to enjoy that instead. And also enjoy the handwringing on FlamesNation as they call for the scalp of Brent Sutter, as if that would turn their sinking ship around. I remember all that a few years back a la Craig MacT. And here we are today. (Smiles quietly to himself)

    • Lowetide

      Clearly the statement I made above was just trolling. As an unregistered individual who can just put in any old name and say stupid stuff, I apologise profusly for saying stupid stuff. I am simply loneley and don’t get enough attention in my life.

      Hemsky is a hell of a player and I am glad we have him!

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        Brilliantly exposed!!! someone’s effing around that’s for sure!

        I’m going to assume the first comment is genuine and the second is parody.

        Doesn’t matter… the first Putz goes on the list of making one of the most self-undermining statements ever at ON:

        Hemsky scoring chances may be second best on the team but the team does not (and has not for over two years) been better with him in the line up.

        Equally amazing is the ability of Hater Putz here to stew in hate juices and then excoriate LT and others for being negative!

        How someone could coherently hold these incongruent positions is beyond me.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I’m adding your Hemsky comment to this amazing list compiled by Beer Drinker #33 from the other night (actual ON quotes!), feel special:

        Seriously though, what’s with all the haters lately? It’s either there are way more of them lately or I’m getting crankier as I get older.

        Can someone please come up with a Letterman top 10 list for dumb ass comments haters make. I’ve seen some good ones lately.

        “Horcoff is not an NHLer but he should center our 3rd or 4th line”

        “What does Hemsky bring to the team?”

        “Hemsky scoring chances may be second best on the team but the team does not (and has not for over two years) been better with him in the line up.”

        “Jones is an awful hockey player because he’s an opportunistic scorer” How do you even describe the same player with the words “awful” and “scorer” in the same breath.

        amazing to see them all arrayed like that isn’t it… I can’t wait for the next entry!

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          Well bud here’s you chance. Prove it wrong. Nobody else has been able to so maybe you can. The win-lose record with Hemsky on it has been worst for 2 seasons now. Not much last year and getting better this year but it is still worst. The powerPlay has been the same.

          Look it up and then I’ll be more then happy to except your apology.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Are you for real… do you read this site… I’ve done this about 5 times now… but I’ll cut/paste my answer to your fellow travellers

            Short answer: the guy is a play maker, he brings offence, RE: scores points

            Long answer: I sense you don’t believe me… you don’t see the goals go in, or the plays being made. A simple “open your eyes” won’t do it.

            Ok…

            This year: The guy has played 8 full games and is 9th on the team in scoring after coming off injury, missing TC, most of the exhibition games and reinjury. In half the games he has outscored Gags, Belanger, MP, Lander, Eager, Petrell. He is under his career average of being shy of a point per game player, but the sample is small and he is producing.

            Career: Last season he had 42 points in 47 games! he finished 4th on the team in scoring playing only half the games!!!

            09-10: 22 points in 22 games!!

            08-09: 66 points in 72 games. best on the team by 13; 46th in the league

            07-08: 71 points in 74 games. best on the team by 21. 37th in the league

            06-07: 53 points in 64 games. tied for best on team. 111th in the league

            05-06: 77 points in 81 games. best on team. 34th in the league

            so… you were saying… that the guy who has been our best player for over half a decade is… ???

            I don’t get the beef people have with him. Scoring points in the NHL is near impossible, it’s an incredibly rare and special thing… Hemsky does it.

            There is no way the team is better when he is off the ice. NO WAY!! WRONG!

            You’ve added another argument that I don’t address here but have before… Apparently you think Hemsky’s return to the team and the team losing equals causality… if that is where you critical thinking leads you I implore you to employ this reasoning in other areas of your life and see how that works out for you. Your neighbor says hi, but your car won’t start… sue him!

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            And as I answered before no I don’t think his return to the team is a direct result of the list but it does make one have to wonder how it effects the chemistry of the team? In my opinion, and as proven by the win-lost the past 2 seasons the Oilers are more successful when he’s been injured.yself I would blame that in the organisation because of the way they developed him. He has always had to be the man and has never had to be a team player. Individuals will win some games but they can’t do it all them selfs.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            So now your saying the team is not better with him… not because he is unproductive – you’ve conceded that I assume in so far as you’ve backed off that position – but because he is bad for chemistry and is not a team player… and maybe that is the Oilers’ fault for not developing him right?

            is that it? have I got it?

            ok… these aren’t much in the way of arguments, but let’s take them on anyway.

            Show me one report, even an unsourced one, that shows Hemsky is bad for chemisty, causes problems in the lockerroom, disrespects his teammates, etc. emanating from his teammates, coaches, trainers, etc. (ie. not from a fans’ perspective guessing about team relations absent evidence). I haven’t read those reports. These things tend to leak pretty easily – see Phaneuf.

            Moreover, he’s been an A for some time now… that shows he earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.

            And… how many of those points are assists… isn’t the standard hater line against Hemsky that he’s always trying to pass and not shooting enough… now it’s that he shoots too much and is selfish? which is it?

            The clearest indication I can think of for “chemistry” is production. The man produces. ON A TEAM! He makes passes that make his teammates better, he makes his team better.

            Far less clear but perhaps material to the case would be something like “likeability” — i.e., does he get along with his teammates, do they respect him, etc. Well he’s an A-Captain so that indicates a great deal of respect and I’ve never heard a single snip against him from his teammates or coaches.

            Just admit it… you don’t like the guy… that’s fine. but don’t pretend it’s for some rational reason, or that there is some objective measure by which you can show that the team is better with him out of the line up… THERE ISN’T!!!

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      No.

      I don’t think it is.

      Generally speaking, 15-16 % is a very good number and I expect he and most every other player will regress to the mean as the season continues.

      Occasionally, a player will catch lightning in a bottle but three on the same team don’t seem likely to.

  • Lowetide

    Well, if the Oilers are serious about making the playoffs then any area of weakness will/should be addressed. So, with that in mind, how on earth can anyone say that the 4line is doing good work at evens?

    As for the 3line, well Paajarvi has some nice things as reflected by JW’s excellent table and Dennis King’s scoring chances, and Gagner has a decent CorsiRel and looks like he’s heading in a good direction.

    I’m not being negative, I’m posting a graph with facts. There’s a difference.

    • Lowetide

      Most young players improve. Lander and Petrell survived their first 20 games getting out chanced, but they did not bleed goals against. You are suggesting a relative success is a failure, and are suggesting that relative success should be punished. Survival without bleeding goals against is relative success.

      If they show no signs of improvement over the next twenty games, well then maybe I might begin to agree with you. But as of now, Lander and Petrell have to be view as successful breaking into the NHL, not failures. But they have to show improvement over each 20 game segment.

      If the 3rd line is Jones, Belanger, and Gagner, Paajarvi will really help Lander and whomever the other forward is turn the chance needle on the 4th line.

      And chances are that Belanger and Gagner return to closer to their historical levels of production.

      The glass is half full, not half empty.

      • Lowetide

        They didn’t get scored against because they were playing in front of unsustainable goaltending. Petrell is late 20s so it isn’t like we’re talking about a prospect, and there’s just no hurry on Lander.

        Sending him down doesn’t mean they’re shooting him between the eyes. It just means he perhaps isn’t ready for 10 minutes a night in the NHL. And I’m not saying Lander is solely responsible, it isn’t like he’s playing with the ’27 Yankees alongside.

        But the Oilers stated at tc that this season was about winning. So, improving the 4th line which is struggling would seem to be important.

        Right?

        • Lowetide

          I expect Lander, Paajarvi, and whomever is going to be a damn good 4th line.

          The first three lines seem pretty set now, unless there is injury.

          I don’t see Renney taking Belanger off the 3rd line, and Gagner will work hard at the 3rd line RW role left to him.

          Right now, I agree with Renney more than you about where Belanger should play to give the Oilers the best chance of winning.

          That, and I don’t think Lander is going to stagnate. His next twenty are going to be better than his first twenty.

  • Lowetide

    Nice article, LL.

    Yet, this is the most fun I have had watching in 5 years. I see your point, but I like this team now. I really don’t think we need more pp power and I doubt harry is better at blocking shots than petrell.

    Harry needs more time to develop. We are in a playoff hunt… Lets let things go and see how we do

      • Lowetide

        Ok, I agree with you here. I see launder and prv both struggling a lot right now. That transition to NHL 4th line sure seems to be a huge shock to players.

        I wonder why Eager has toned down his play so much? He seems to be very uncomfortable out there. Maybe harty or green are the logical call up?

  • Semenko and Troy

    Fourth lines are typically described as ‘energy lines’, once meaning players who were primarily goons intimidating through fighting, then to players who would intimidate through illegal hits and stickwork described as ‘getting under the skin of opponents’.

    However, with the new rules and Shanahan those players are gone or soon to be gone.

    A Lander-MPS tandem, (maybe with a Harski), could now flourish as a new style fourth line intimidating with speed, skill, and still some physicality, like a ‘Mini-Me’ of our first line, but matched up against other teams’ fourths.

    Throw Eager/Petrell over the boards with Belanger and Jones and develop them as a shut down line.

  • LT.. whats the deal with Hamilton. Pretty weak stat line for a big dude with offensive ability. I had him pegged as a long shot and maybe a late bloomer but his stats indicate hes either floundering, lost or misses his mommy.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I guess you can draw any conclusion you like about my thoughts before I’ve expressed them but that says more about you than it does about me.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      It’s pretty straight forward, you love the Canucks, Seguin, Skinner and Wellwood and will twist any stat or fact needed to make them look better and the Oilers look worse.

      not much else too it.