Steve MacIntyre put the fear of God in every hockey player he ever faced with this stance. Holy hell, the man can punch. However, the first question an NHL team has to ask is "can he play the game at an NHL level?" In the time after Craig MacTavish stepped away from the Oilers and his return, how many fourth line players could do that?
Between 2000 and 2009, Craig MacTavish used varied talent on his 4th line. Shawn Horcoff played on the 4th line in MacT’s first season as coach, but so did Georges Laraque and Daniel Cleary at times. His Stanley run team had Laraque, Todd Harvey and a bunch of kids like Brodziak and Pouliot trying to find their way. His final team–2008-09–had MacIntyre for 22 games, but also Liam Reddox, Pouliot and Brodziak at times.
Bottom line: save for the 22 MacIntrye games at the end of his coaching time in Edmonton, MacT always tried to have a veteran NHL presence, at least two guys who could make and take a pass and he clearly valued a man like Georges Laraque who could bring the physical while also doing things that helped the 4line keep opponents at bay (BG’s legendary 40-second keep away antics deep in the opposition end was like a timeout in live action for the rest of the team).
Perhaps the poster player for the MacT 4line era: Marty Reasoner. Speed, smarts, veteran savvy.
Marty Reasoner was a first round pick back in the day and by the time he became a useful NHL player thoughts of being on the top line with PP time were long gone. However, Reasoner was solid to excellent during his time (both times) in Edmonton, and mentored a generation of Oiler youngsters, some of whom made it and others who did not make it.
In fairness to the Oilers, since Reasoner left the club has tried to add that kind of player (Colin Fraser, Belanger) but for the most part it’s been a mixed bag with little continuity (especially since MacT exited stage left).
- Opening night 2005: Reasoner-Harvey-Laraque (MacT)
- Opening night 2006: Reasoner-Thoresen-Winchester (MacT)
- Opening night 2007: Cogliano-Jacques-Gagner (MacT)
- Opening night 2008: Brodziak-Pouliot-Stortini (MacT)
- Opening night 2009: Gagner-Moreau-Stortini (Quinn)
- Opening night 2010: Fraser-Jones-MacIntyre (Renney)
- Opening night 2011: Lander-Hordichuk-Jones (Renney)
- Opening night 2012: Belanger-Petrell-Eager (Krueger)
The only exception to the "veteran rule" for opening night was the "Kid Line" in 2007 and a pretty interesting 4line to start the following season. Quinn tried to slip truculence onto every line and apparently didn’t know Gagner’s name for a time, but I think Renney had 2/3’s of a solid 4line in 2010 and 2011.
This season’s 4line should have been better based on the veteran content.
Jim Dowd played 70 games for the Oilers in 1999-00, scoring 5 goals. Picked him up in a deal that sent Greg DeVries away and lost him in the expansion draft in 2000 (Minnesota). Dowd played on a line with Boyd Devereaux and Georges Laraque and that 4line could rattle and hum. He killed penalties and he contributed a little on offense and he could win a faceoff and move up the depth chart and not look foolish. Jim Dowd was an extremely useful player, settled that 4line down for a season I’ll never forget.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
If we take MacT’s coaching style and apply it to the 4line (as we did at the top saying "MacT always tried to have a veteran NHL presence, at least two guys who could make and take a pass and he clearly valued a man like Georges Laraque") then we should expect:
- a strong, veteran option at center (Dowd, Reasoner) who has enough skill to make plays and can move up the depth chart as needed
- a veteran presence on the wing who can PK and move up the depth chart as needed
- a physical winger who can play at pace, not turn over the puck in bad places and take and make a pass
Do the Oilers have that? Well, if they can invest Horcoff and Smyth on the 4line run Mike Brown out there as needed (depending on opponent) they can ice a line of some quality. However, it shouldn’t cost that much money to ice a solid 4line. Among the jobs Craig MacTavish has to tackle this summer, that 4line has been bleeding chances pretty much since he left, and the available roster solutions are mostly overpriced for the role they’re going to play.
It isn’t job one, but it’s an issue.