Rob The Hockey Guy

// A Vancouver Canucks Hockey Blog

The search for an effective fourth line

Please welcome yet another new blogger to the RobTheHockeyGuy crew: J.D. Burke. J.D. has a lot of blogging experience from a number of different blogs and is the self-proclaimed “Pierre LeBrun of Vancouver hockey bloggers”. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDBurkeOV.

Even when things were going well for the Canucks (a certain 2011 Stanley Cup run comes to mind) there was always one area of concern: the fourth line. When it bore some semblance of worth as a hockey line (Glass, Tambellini, Bolduc, etc), they weren’t tough enough; and when they were tough enough, Darcy Hordichuk – need I say more?

There is a new coaching staff this season and an increased emphasis on team toughness, among other things. Out with the generally soft-spoken Alain Vigneault, and his antagonistic system aimed at drawing penalties rather than protecting his stars. In is the abrasive and garrulous John Tortorella, and alongside him a set of coaching standards, including his steadfast belief that you can’t let the opposing team take liberties with your star players. Tasked with protecting the Canucks stars will be the fourth line.

When filling out the two vacancies heading into this season, Tortorella is going to have to find some way to balance team toughness and defensive responsibility. All jokes aside, we need look no further than Dale Weise (yes, Dale Weise) for a flawed, but close example of striking this balance. While Weise’s -17.2 Corsi/60mins (a metric using shot differential to determine possession) leaves something (a lot) to be desired, the even more underlying of the underlying numbers provide some positives in his game. For starters, he is finishing just over 10% more of his shifts in the offensive zone (51.9%) than he is in the defensive (41.5%). That has to say something about his ability to help clear the defensive zone, and is nearly enough for me to consider his horrendous Corsi somewhat of a wash. More astonishingly though, is the fact that he’s drawing nearly twice as many penalties/60mins as he’s taking. Gotta have the puck, generally, to draw a penalty.

Now, I’m not saying that the fourth-line has to be a set of three Weise-like things. Not even close. I’m just pointing out that in creating an effective line that’s defensively responsible, not prone to bad penalties, but still a force to be reckoned with and to a certain degree feared, a balance has to be struck. Sadly for us Canucks fans, Weise provides the best example of that balance currently on the Canucks roster.

Enough praise for Kwazimoto though. This is just weird. Now, his linemates, whoever they may be…

At the onset of training camp, I had mentally penciled in Brad Richardson and Kellan Lain filling in the remaining two spots, with one of the natural centers making the switch to left wing. With Lain having already been sent down to the Utica Comets, so much for that.

Moving forward, were this roster healthy (and less suspended) the obvious choice to replace Lain would have to be Santorelli. He’s played well enough to earn a roster spot, and he’s not Sestito. That being said, the injury to Jordan Schroeder’s foot means the Canucks are going to need a new third line center. I’m not saying Santorelli’s necessarily a better hockey player than Richardson, but certainly more suited to third-line duties.

In Santorelli’s place, I can think of no reason why not to try out one of either Brendan Gaunce or Bo Horvat on the fourth. Get the maximum nine games out of either of the two, I’m more inclined to have Gaunce get the try, and if whichever one it is falters, send them back to Juniors. Back to the drawing board.

As for the final spot, I have to give it up to Richardson. He’s built a solid reputation over his lengthy career as a reliable two-way center, that can fit in nearly anywhere in your bottom six. His talents are best suited as a fourth-line center though, and one can only hope that’s where he lands. He’s not much of a bruiser, but his 22 hits in only 16 games last season have me cautiously optimistic he can hold his own.

With defensive acumen and reliability in the faceoff circle, Richardson should draw in as the fourth-line center. On his flanks, the moderately effective Weise and one of the Canucks effective two-way youngsters. This line presents the Canucks with their best option from the four hole. It’s far from perfect, but it should get the job done.

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