The Fourth Line

One thing many Carolina fans, myself included, have been frustrated with is Paul Maurice’s lack of use of the team’s fourth line. It depends on the team, but most NHL coaches usually give their fourth lines 5-9 minutes a game and that number changes depending on what the score is and what type of players make up those lines. If you have a fourth line like the Devils that consists of players like Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton, you can expect them to hover around 5-6 minutes a game because they are generally liabilities on the ice outside of their physical presence. However, a fourth line like Boston’s which consists of solid defensive players like Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille will likely play closer to 9-10 minutes a game because they bring more to the table and can help protect leads in close games.

The Hurricanes fourth line this year has regularly consisted of Tim Brent, Anthony Stewart and one of Brett Sutter, Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk. We have a defensive center, a somewhat one-dimensional player and two rookies who are known for their offensive potential. The fact that the last two have been receiving fourth line minutes is probably what’s been frustrating fans the most because Maurice has not made much use for the fourth line this year. He has given the them an average of approximately six minutes per game and uses them in extremely sheltered situations.

Here’s a graph showing how much ice time the fourth line has received this year compared to others.

The fourth line has received roughly 15% of Carolina’s even strength ice time this season, which is very low compared to how much it’s been spread out among the other forwards. Also take note of how the third line is getting slightly more minutes than the second line. Sutter’s line was used a lot more in games where the Canes were leading for a long stretch of time (@Boston, vs Chicago). The game where the fourth line received the most ice time was the 5-1 beatdown against Philadelphia. They had an average of about nine minutes that game and I’m guessing Maurice decided to give them more ice time because the team was trailing by so much.

What I want to know is how other teams deploy their fourth lines, so I’m going to be paying special attention to that this season and will have a post on it once I compile on the data. Going back to Carolina’s issue, I think the bigger problem is the personnel Maurice chooses for the fourth line. I’m guessing six minutes per game is the average for most team’s fourth lines, but why are two players with loads of offensive potential like Dalpe and Boychuk being used there? I’ve heard from a couple sources that it’s to “strengthen their defensive games” but they would be in Charlotte now if that were the case and wouldn’t be starting over 50% of their shifts in the opponent’s zone. Brent fits the role fine, Stewart does to an extent but Dalpe and Boychuk really should be getting more minutes, especially with the team having scoring issues and the wings on the first line being a revolving door.