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Revamping the fourth line

April 22, 2019, 1:11 PM ET [104 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
One thing every team needs to do every off season is evaluate the entire roster. An easy spot to improve is usually the fourth line. Options should be relatively cheap and we have a lot of information available to try and highlight cheaper options with higher upside. Sometimes these players even evolve and get promoted to bigger roles. It is likelier when you focus on players who are offensive minded and are able to skate and handle the puck. Don’t fall into a trap and fall in love with limited players who are supposedly penalty killing specialists. The majority of the game is played at 5v5 and that is where the focus should be. When injuries hit your PK specialist isn’t going to help moving up the lineup if they are terrible at 5v5. The player who is good at even strength is very likely to be acceptable killing penalties. If this is the focus you can usually deploy a cost effective and efficient fourth line.

The Penguins had a bad fourth line this year. Matt Cullen’s age has finally caught up to him. Garrett Wilson doesn’t do anything particularly well. Derek Grant is like Garrett Wilson with more games played.

The Penguins have a player who fits the bill to center their fourth line next year and it is Teddy Blueger. He fits the description of the kind of player you want to have on a fourth line in 2019. If somebody goes down he has an offensive pulse to jump up in a pinch. It is one less spot the Penguins have to search for on the fourth line next year so that’s nice.

Zach Aston-Reese is another potential option for the fourth line. Not everybody is in love with this player, but in a fourth line role it could be fine. He had a 1.84 points per 60 at 5v5 this past season and was a 48.1 CF% and 52.71 xGF% player. Totally acceptable numbers for a fourth line player. I don’t like the idea of him playing in the top six on a regular basis, but if it is December and you are missing a winger for a few games he is the kind of fourth line player that can be a placeholder. He’s also dirt cheap.

You can always go dumpster diving in unrestricted free agency for somebody on your fourth line. Tyler Ennis is a good example from this past year

He played on Toronto’s fourth line and considering Mike Babcock is still infatuated with having a “big” fourth line him getting regular playing time is notable. He’s smallish, but he’s a good skater and has good hands. He has a 1.87 points per 60 at 5v5 and I think if you played him with other likeminded players his possession stats would probably improve as well. Again, Mike Babcock is a dinosaur with what he wants from his fourth line.

Jason Pominville is a player to think about. I’m not sure what his market value will be coming off his 5.6M AAV. If he makes it through the initial waive of unrestricted free agency he’s the type of 1-1.5M player that could help with depth. He still has enough in the tank to be a good depth player. He filled in on the Eichel line for extended periods of time last year. He had a 2.01 points per 60 at 5v5. He had a CF% of 51.26 and xGF% of 52.37. Not bad considering he was on the Sabres. Again, somebody might see him as a third line player and I wouldn’t be bidding for him in that range. He’s the type of player you look to slip through the cracks.

It’s tough to predict what RFA players will not be qualified so there will be another pool of players to choose from. Players like Anthony Duclair come to mind. You can also easily trade for players in this price range.

We will have a better picture of what the landscape will look like as we move closer towards free agency. What we don’t have to wait for is coming to the decision that Matt Cullen and Garrett Wilson are not good enough and can be easily replaced. All the pieces matter. There’s no reason to settle for players who can’t do anything for your team when there are cheap options who provide you with at least something tangible.

Thanks for reading!
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