THe Bottom Line on the 4th Line

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.

  • NewfoundlandOil

    I couldn’t disagree more. Any coach will tell you 8-16% of the game matters and it matters a lot, especially if you are icing less capable men and they are getting throttled by the opposition. The fourth line matters, otherwise why not just play 9 forwards, or how about 6? You need the huys out there to share the ice time. The better the fourth line, the more minutes they play. If they can score great, the top guys get a breather and can be deployed more effectively.

    Can Charron has an interesting article up at Leafs Nation that argues for better forward depth on the Leafs and I agree with his take.

    http://theleafsnation.com/2013/12/2/fixing-offensive-woes

  • OilClog

    Acton doesn’t finish checks or put fear into anyone. Gazdic chases like a dog without ball, and doesn’t hit much either. Joenssu plays better with talent, but isn’t scaring anyone himself. When these guys are grouped together, it’s ugly. It’s not what you’re describing Struds, unless were talking about a fourth line with Arco and Jones. Otherwise, the Oilers 4th line is a handicap everytime they hit the ice.

  • S cottV

    100% agree. The reason we are in 28th place has almost nothing to do with the 4th line.
    Ownership, Executive Leadership, and Coaching are far bigger factors.
    As for on ice – our top 6 forwards and top 4 d men vs same for most other teams in our division, just dont match up. Not even close for Pacific rivals San Jose, Aneheim, LA or Vancouver. We get eaten where it counts the most – in the top two lines and d pairings.

  • S cottV

    100% agree. The reason we are in 28th place has almost nothing to do with the 4th line.
    Ownership, Executive Leadership, and Coaching are far bigger factors.
    As for on ice – our top 6 forwards and top 4 d men vs same for most other teams in our division, just dont match up. Not even close for Pacific rivals San Jose, Aneheim, LA or Vancouver. We get eaten where it counts the most – in the top two lines and d pairings.

  • S cottV

    100% agree. The reason we are in 28th place has almost nothing to do with the 4th line.
    Ownership, Executive Leadership, and Coaching are far bigger factors.
    As for on ice – our top 6 forwards and top 4 d men vs same for most other teams in our division, just dont match up. Not even close for Pacific rivals San Jose, Aneheim, LA or Vancouver. We get eaten where it counts the most – in the top two lines and d pairings.

  • Every AHL pretend-to-be NHL’er in our lineup means there’s one less actual NHL’er.

    Of course you’re right. The fourth line SHOULDN’T be a concern. On a normal team they’d have bonafide rolls and play around 10 minutes a game. On the Oilers they play half that, forcing the producing lines to compensate. The result is what you see – high value players getting overplayed and fatigue setting in.

    I contend fourth lines are VERY valuable to a team that can use them correctly. They wear the other team down and act as sub-ins to keep top line minutes reasonable. At the very least they should be break-even lines, not the defensive sink holes we’ve become used to.

  • vetinari

    I agree that the 4th line shouldn’t be the focus, but part of that is due to MacT’s comments last year saying that at best, our previous 4th liners were “non-factors” and at worst, “ineffective”.

    Also, we all know that our biggest problems are getting a 1/2 defenceman, a consistent starting goaltender, and a couple of big, “heavy” forwards that can play in the top 6, but if there are no trades out there to be had, then everyone’s focus shifts to the one area of the team that won’t cost an arm-and-a-leg to change– the 4th line. And it’s also the one area where MacT has actually had the means to do something about (hello, waiver wire– meet MacIntyre and Gazdic). When MacT actually fixes one of the main problems, I am sure that no one will give more than 8% to 16% of their attention to the 4th liners…

  • Puck_In_Throat

    Struds is bang-on in his pre-amble.

    Eakins tried to go 1st line vs 1st line at the start of the year; we got shredded. The home loss to Toronto was the most obvious example.

    Top teams (Chicago, St.Louis, Detroit) send their top players out in the last minute if they are up one or down one.

    Would you want Hall, Nuge and Eberle out there defending a lead (the answer is NO). Would you want Petry and Ference out there? And that’s just to defend the lead. When was the last time the Oil scored with the goalie pulled to tie it up?

    Eakins had the right approach at the start of the season; the problem is just that our top line is not ready to play with the big boys. Until that changes, expect a lot more Ls to pile up.

    • PutzStew

      I read some funny stuff the other day about Taylor Hall been top 10 LW in the League. I had a good laugh about that after looking at the left wingers points and what not on tsn.ca.

      Anyways, once I placed him on the outside of my top 10 thinking about why I would put him below someone like Landeskog, Ladd or why Perron ahead of him right now on the Oilers.

      Simple Answer

      He is one Dimensional. Taylor Hall is solely an offensive player. So is Hemsky, RNH, Eberle, Gagner, Yakopov. They can put up points and hat is it. Lindy Ruff found this out at the last world championships and Hall’s ice time was cut.

      Jason is right. The bottom of the roster has little to do with this teams record. In the end the team hasn’t developed their top kids into well rounded NHL players. All Offense and no substance.

      • camdog

        Hall was voted top LW in the league last season only to lose because Ovechkin was incorrectly labelled as a LW when in fact he’s a RW. Hall hasn’t played very well since putting on the knee brace. He definitely needs to improve his D game. LW is quite possibly the least talented position in all of hockey, so being a top 10 LW isn’t all that important. Many have Kunitz as a potential team Canada member…

      • camdog

        Hall was voted top LW in the league last season only to lose because Ovechkin was incorrectly labelled as a LW when in fact he’s a RW. Hall hasn’t played very well since putting on the knee brace. He definitely needs to improve his D game. LW is quite possibly the least talented position in all of hockey, so being a top 10 LW isn’t all that important. Many have Kunitz as a potential team Canada member…

  • Stompinstoms

    I have to agree with Romulus. It’s a relevant topic because we could be better if we used our tools properly.

    I’m happy with the fourth line these days because Eakins is finally dressing the best three forwards for the job – Joensuu, Arco, and Jones. They’re capable of playing the 8-10 minutes, or 16%, as you state in your article.

    Eakins can only justify playing the Acton/Gazdic duo for 5 minutes a night because they’re not NHL hockey players. Never have been, never will be. You can make an argument for Gazdic because he fights and won’t back down from a challenge. But why is Acton there?

    *cough*nepotism*cough*

  • Jason Gregor

    The thing of it is if you had a fourth line like Strudwick described, aggressive, balls out, and constantly cycling the puck down low, they wouldn’t be a fourth line very long. If you spend the majority of your shift in the oppositions end good things will happen. So whatever line isn’t doing this as well as the other groups is going to find themselves sliding down the depth chart to the… Yes fourth line.

    Better players, better team, no matter where they slot into your lineup

    • You would think that whatever line isn’t “doing this as well as the other groups is going to find themselves sliding down the depth chart” to the but that doesn’t really appear to be the case. The whole lip service about accountability is just that, lip service.

      I don’t see any of it. I also don’t see a coach coaching the game, continuing to put out the “big guns” when they are playing horrible instead of managing the bench and using who is rolling. Is there something in those $6 million contracts that say they can’t be benched or ice time limited?

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    “Would the greatest fourth line in history make this group a playoff team?

    Nope. It wouldn’t. Sorry to be the bad guy.”

    This is a straw man, though, right. You realize that. You must.

    No one thinks that if you replace EDM’s 4th line with CHI’s or DET’s or SJS or whatever makes this a playoff team.

    No one.

    “When I look at this team there are other issues that are more pressing.”

    But who saying that the 4th could and should be a lot better is also silent on the question of upgrading D, C, G, the 3rd line, the top lines, everything?!

    No one.

    The difference with the 4th line is there are internal options that provide a dramatic improvement to the team right now.

    Again, not a playoff team. But better. Now. For nothing.

    That is why it is a relevant topic of conversation.

    • S cottV

      He’s not saying that it isn’t a relevant topic of conversation. He’s saying that it should be talked about less (read: 8-16% of the time) and that it would be a much more important topic if we had a team that was a playoff contender.

    • This is about right – I don’t think that the fans issues are around the 4th line being a difference maker or making this team a contender. We all know this team is definitely not a contender. The issue we fans (or at least I do) is why this coaching staff continued playing those AHL border line players when the are players in the system that appear capable of being much better.

      Everyone knows the defenders aren’t the best and the compete level is horrid etc. The issue is, based on what you have, how can you improve SOMETHING. Based on what is in the system, the only thing that could be improved upon really is the 4th line.

  • Jason Gregor

    100% bang on as usual Struds.

    My biggest issue is the lack of effort at any given time. While the Dallas win was nice, all it does is teach them it’s o.k. to “not show up” for 40 mins and still win. Problem is….. it’s not o.k.