Heading into this season, the Hurricanes had the making of being a team that could roll all four lines effectively. Even after they traded for enforcer Kevin Westgarth, they could have probably gotten away with rolling four lines because the forwards before him each have a defined role and aren't liabilities at even strength. You had the top-six handle most of the scoring and take on tough minutes in addition to that while the bottom-six would be relied on to play soft assignments and pitch in with some secondary scoring. On paper, this seems like a good plan but it hasn't exactly worked out so far as the third line has struggled out of the gate. That issue has been covered already, but something that isn't getting talked about is what the fourth line has done, or hasn't done in this case.
Last season, the Hurricanes fourth liners provided them with a combined 24 goals, which was great but not likely to continue because of how often they were getting hemmed into their own zone. The Hurricanes must have realized this over the off-season because they opted to trade Anthony Stewart and buyout Derek Joslin, making the fourth line a completely new unit heading into this season. Between Kevin Westgarth, Tim Wallace, Andreas Nodl, Tim Brent, Jeremy Welsh, Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and many others, the Hurricanes had plenty of options as to who they can use on their fourth line and what kind of role they want to play.
On opening night, the fourth line was used in more of an offensive role with Drayson Bowman, Tim Brent and Patrick Dwyer. Bowman and Dwyer have been promoted to top-nine roles since then and the fourth line wing spots have been jumbled around for the most part. Even with Welsh in Charlotte and Boychuk waived, the Hurricanes fourth line can still be useful if they were to use Nodl, Brent and Wallace either in a defensive role or soft-minute situations. Nodl and Brent are good enough to play 8-10 minutes a game while Wallace has proven himself as a capable fourth liner with other teams and can establish a physical presence.
This hasn't been the route the Canes have gone the last few games, though as Westgarth has been in the lineup more times than not and Nodl has found himself in the press box for all but two games since being called up. Westgarth obviously has a defined role and he hasn't been bad so far, as the Hurricanes are not leaking shots and chances against whenever he is on the ice. The problem is that Muller is rarely using Westgarth. He has played only a little over 20 minutes in seven games and plays maybe 4-5 shifts per game on top of that.
Again, I know Westgarth has a role but if Muller isn't going to use him then what is the point of even having him in the lineup? The Hurricanes are essentially forced to play with 11 forwards whenever Westgarth is in the lineup and they are even more strained if another player has to leave the game early like Wallace did on Saturday. Considering that the Hurricanes top forwards are already being forced to play 20+ minutes a night and their third line has produced only two goals, one has to think that they would be better served with someone useful like Nodl in the lineup who the coach actually trusts to play more than four shifts a game.
Carolina's scoring depth hasn't showing up this year, so getting the most out of this forward corps is going to be very important. Dressing Westgarth and playing him for three minutes a game isn't doing that and it's a double whammy when you have guys in the press box and in the minors who can play a more effective role. Westgarth has a place on this team, but if Muller is going to keep using him in an incredibly limited role it's probably better that he sits in the press box.