Fourth Line Regulars...No Longer Passengers
We hear all the time how much the game has changed. Most will point to rule changes as the biggest reason why in terms of the game evolving. How about the players being just better? The NHL game in my opinion is as good as it’s ever been.
St. Louis Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock told me this morning he believes the game is as fast as he’s ever seen it.
Much of this should be attributed to less veterans hanging on to their careers and younger players claiming those spots. This is especially the case on the majority of NHL third and fourth lines which in the past were typically reserved for veteran players. The salary cap could have something to do with this as teams are forced to be creative with how they spend money. NHL clubs are no longer afforded the luxury of paying veteran money to a guy just so he can hang around. There’s obviously some advantages to having experienced players but not at the price most of these guys want to be paid. A lot of players would rather call it quits opposed to accepting close to the minimum just to extend their careers.
The result has younger, less expensive players in the lineup which contributes to the lightning quick tempo we’re seeing across the board in the NHL.
One of the more drastic changes in today’s game is the third and fourth line player. For the most part, gone are the players who can only give you three or four minutes a night. In the past these players were typically tough guys who served little purpose besides fighting and intimidating the opposition.
Some of these players still exist such as John Scott in Buffalo, George Parros in Montreal, and Paul Bissonnette who each average less than 5:00 per game. Brian McGrattan sees just over 5:00 a night in Calgary. It wasn’t too long ago where every NHL team had at least one of these guys in their lineup every night.
Today fourth line players are regular players. They actually skate, pass, and shoot at the level you’d expect in the NHL not to mention they contribute on special teams. Look at players like Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille in Boston as well as Vladimir Sobotka in St. Louis. Both Campbell and Sobotka see power play time in addition to their role on the PK. Sobotka, who has started every game on the fourth line, is averaging more than 14:00 minutes per game.
Many of these guys find ways to get extra ice time. Whether it be on special teams or even as faceoff specialists as we see with Maxim Lapierre with the Blues and Paul Gaustad in Nashville.
It’s interesting studying how the ice time breaks down on every NHL roster.
For example every forward on the Anaheim Ducks averages more than 10:00 a night. Same can be said for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the NY Rangers. The Nashville Predators have 13 forwards averaging 12:20 or more. 12 Columbus Blue Jackets forwards average at least 10:58 per game, while 12 Minnesota Wild forwards average at least 10:28 per game. Teams like San Jose and St. Louis see every forward but one averaging at least 10:00 a game.
There are countless examples with the Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, LA Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, and Chicago Blackhawks among others, who roll four lines consistently.
There’s no question the pool of players are deeper. Just go watch a Midget AAA game or any major junior game and you might be surprised at the skill level each of these kids bring to the ice. It’s refreshing to see the standard required to play in the NHL being dialed up a notch or two.
In other words if you want to play in the NHL you better be versatile and bring more than just your fists to training camp.
I’ll be the first to tell you I love a good scrap. I’m nowhere close to the anti-fighting radicals you might read or hear about. There’s nothing wrong with an old fashioned heavyweight bout but then again so is a fight featuring two guys who actually carry the skills necessary to play in the top league in the world. Suddenly the space on the bench for a player who doesn’t see the ice in the third period is getting a little cramped.
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock would like to get Chris Stewart and Derek Roy some extra ice but when the Blues take penalties these guys suffer. Stewart saw less than 12:00 minutes on Saturday against the Rangers, Roy just over 12:00. Much of this had to do with the Blues taking minor penalties.
For the record, the officiating against the NYR took me back to the standard we saw during the 2005-2006 pre-season.
The score of the game will dictate how much ice the Blues D-men see. If the Blues are chasing the score you’ll see Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, and Shattnekirk’s minutes go up. The Blues are the only team who has yet to trail in a game thus far this season.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McClellan served as an assistant coach with Canada’s World Junior team back in the late 1990’s when Barret Jackman participated.
Here’s a link to a story I wrote on Blues goaltender Jaro Halak on www.foxsportsmidwest.com http://www.foxsportsmidwest.com/nhl/st-louis-blues/story/Refocused-Halak-is-off-to-best-start-of-?blockID=950685&feedID=3794
Bob Plager will join me on Blues Buzz this Wednesday live from Johnny Mac’s on Watson rd. The show starts at 6:00 and can be heard on CBS Sports radio 920.
“Hockey Sense” with Jamal Mayers and I broadcasts from OB Clark’s Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 on CBS Sports radio 920.
Blues goalie Brian Elliott should get a start on the upcoming two-game trip. He took a shot up high near the neck area during today’s morning skate but appears ok.
The St. Louis Blues sled hockey team will be hosting the USA National Sled Hockey team at Lindenwood University Ice Arena in Wentzville November 7-9. Team USA captured Gold at the Vancouver games in 2010. The USA roster features two St. Louis players in goaltender Steve Cash and D-man Josh Pauls.
Kevin Shattenkirk says hiring a nutritionist and eating a gluten-free diet in the summer has him feeling fresh. Shattenkirk is one of several players to follow Alex Steen’s lead in doing more cardio workouts after games/practices along with off days.
T.J. Oshie acknowledges the Blues are better when David Backes is scoring goals and isn’t feeling the burden of having to be the first guy back on defense.
Young players should pay attention to how much the Backes, Oshie, Steen line talk on the ice. I could hear Backes calling for an Oshie shot/pass on his second goal against the Rangers all the way upstairs.
More to come,
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