30 Thoughts: Nothing wrong with starting fourth line in NHL | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Nothing wrong with starting fourth line in NHL

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 | 12:11 PM

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Brian McGrattan (16) of the Flames and Tom Sestito of the Canucks trade blows this past Saturday. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/Reuters) Brian McGrattan (16) of the Flames and Tom Sestito of the Canucks trade blows this past Saturday. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/Reuters)

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Now that justice is served in the case of Hartley versus Tortorella, the biggest complaint seems to be "Why CAN'T Bob Hartley start his fourth line?"

Now that justice is served in the case of Hartley versus Tortorella, the biggest complaint seems to be "Why can't Bob Hartley start his fourth line?"

The Vancouver Canucks accepted the penalty to John Tortorella - 15 days, six games - knowing he had no business in the hallway outside the Calgary Flames dressing room and that the suspension could have been worse. Plus, the last time a Canucks coach suffered such harsh punishment, Roger Neilson took them to the Stanley Cup final.

No pressure, Glen Gulutzan and Mike Sullivan.

Flames executive Brian Burke was not as thrilled with Hartley's $25,000 fine, releasing a statement through the team indicating he was "perplexed," stood "behind Bob Hartley completely" and "confident that he acted properly in every aspect of this game."

Post-game, Hartley told The Calgary Herald's Scott Cruickshank: "I will respect their decision."

It should be noted that Kevin Westgarth and Brian McGrattan combined (with Kris Russell) for the 2-2 goal in Calgary's 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday, undoubtedly satisfying for both players considering the last 48 hours.

There's nothing wrong with using the fourth line to start a game. Prior to this season, Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien did it with his "Merlot Line" (named for the colour of the practice jerseys) of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, which had an unusually long, successful run compared to most such trios. They weren't there to fight in that situation, just set a physical tone. Julien hasn't done it in 2013-14 as the group's been hit with injuries and suspension.

Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins used this strategy in the AHL, during a hot streak two years ago. His Toronto Marlies unit, which featured current Philadelphia Flyer Jay Rosehill, had a good run of starts on the road, with Eakins asking them to stay away from fights off faceoffs.

Eakins did try it in the Oilers' ninth game this season, starting Will Acton, Mike Brown and Luke Gazdic in Ottawa. Edmonton won 3-1, but it was a rough shift as Senators head coach Paul MacLean countered with Cory Conacher, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza. The Oilers gave up a couple of chances and were caught on an icing. There were no fights. Next game, Eakins went back to Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

Monday was Calgary's 26th road game of the season. Here is the number of times each Flames forward was a starter on those nights: Matt Stajan (15); Lee Stempniak (14); Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross (9); Mikael Backlund (7); David Jones (6); Jiri Hudler (5); Lance Bouma, Paul Byron and TJ Galiardi (2); Sven Baertschi, Joe Colborne, Blair Jones, McGrattan, Sean Monahan, Ben Street and Kevin Westgarth (1).

So Saturday night was the first (and only) time this season Hartley used any of those players in this situation. Yes, Jones was hurt and Westgarth is a recent acquisition, but the Flames had shown little inclination towards starting their fourth line. And Westgarth's faceoff attempt was just his third all year. That, I think, was a big factor.

Like Julien and Eakins, there's nothing wrong with trying something new or different. If the puck is dropped and we get actual play before something happens, Hartley and the Flames escape punishment.


1. Before we get back to the big story of the weekend, an important interlude. Yale's women's hockey team will hold its annual "White Out for Mandi" in honour of the late Mandi Schwartz on Friday against Brown. Brother Jaden will skate at the same rink hours earlier, when the Blues hold a special practice there. More information here.

2. Fines for coaches work a little differently than fines for players when games are lost. First-time offenders lose one day's pay for every game banished. Repeat offenders lose one game's pay for every one missed, which is a larger number since there are more days during the season than games. Tortorella is paid like you and I, so he loses 15 days of 365 - or four per cent of his yearly amount. Tortorella's salary's been reported at $2 million. If that is accurate, his fine is slightly more than $82,000.

3. I don't see the Flames a ton, so their morning skate was really interesting to me. In 2003, when I covered baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays said they never saw a team work harder in batting practice than the Detroit Tigers when Alan Trammell managed them. Detroit was rebuilding and I asked Trammell about it. He said no opportunity was too small to teach a young team to play properly. That's Calgary right now. Hartley runs the most detailed morning skates I've seen. Saturday, there were 3-on-3 down-low drills and pretty specific zone coverage work.

4. Four defensive ejections on "Fight Night" meant some pretty hefty ice time for others, including five of the top 15 so far this season: Dennis Wideman (38:05, first); Dan Hamhuis (36:12, third); TJ Brodie (35:42, fifth); Mark Giordano (33:32, 10th); and Chris Tanev (33:02, 15th). There hasn't been one other game this year in which three players played 30 minutes, never mind five.

5. Here are the really wild numbers. Giordano had eight penalty minutes, serving a combined 6:04 as Yannick Weber scored four seconds into his third minor. Over 60 minutes, Giordano was on pace to play 39:36. Wideman's total appears to be the highest in a regular-season game since Adrian Aucoin played 38:21 for the New York Islanders against Philadelphia on Oct. 17, 2002.

6. Giordano said Saturday morning that the Flames were guilty of "cheating" defensively because they were so pre-occupied by the lack of scoring. "Guys start to leave too soon because they want to create offence," he said. They were better against Vancouver and San Jose, allowing a respectable 55 shots in regulation in those two games, but grabbed just one point. Frustrating.

7. Here's where it looks like it stands with reluctant Flames general managerial candidate Joe Nieuwendyk. He's coaching his kids in hockey this year and apparently enjoying it (who wouldn't?). People who know him far better than I do believe his competitive nature will make him want to try running a team again because his last run ended in an unsatisfying manner. Burke really respects him and so do the Flames.

8. Two questions that seem to be out there are "Does his family want to go to Calgary?" and "How much control will he have?" The latter is important because the Dallas Stars went through several changes of direction while he led them, which will drive any GM crazy. If Nieuwendyk does step back into the business, he'll want a better set-up. Money is not the issue in southern Alberta, but how will the organizational flow chart look?

9. The same questions surrounded Tim Murray when he took over in Buffalo on Jan. 9. Asked about the power structure, Murray said: "I am responsible for the hockey decisions, but there is a respect factor, too. You have to let the people above you know what you are thinking."

10. The Pittsburgh connections in Buffalo's front office made it interesting that Craig Patrick was sought out to help Murray and Pat LaFontaine. Patrick, who put together critical parts in all three of the Penguins' Stanley Cup champions, left the team after bitter budget battles in 2006. Time heals all wounds, evidently.

11. Finally on Calgary, I'm beginning to think one rule of TWwitter is for every fan to hate everything the GM does. Matt Stajan takes a slight cut to his average annual value to stay in Calgary. He's their best faceoff man. Only Mikael Backlund takes more and his future in Calgary is uncertain. You need guys like Stajan to shield the young centremen, like Sean Monahan and whoever else is coming, from being thrown entirely to the Western Conference wolves while you rebuild.

12. I feel the same about Matt Hendricks. I saw him a lot in Washington and he always found a way to make an impact. When free agency began, the New York Rangers were interested, but couldn't fit him under the cap. Same with Philadelphia, which tried to get him to wait, but that wasn't going to happen. Maybe the Nashville Predators weren't the right fit, but that doesn't mean Edmonton can't be.

13. Lots of rumours about Cam Ward last week. When the Carolina Hurricanes went through Edmonton, a couple of sources said they heard there were some talks. Both teams denied it and the reason I believed it was neither team seemed at all enthusiastic about such a move.

14. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was critical of Alex Semin in an interview with the local ABC-TV affiliate, telling reporter Mark Armstrong: "He's a guy who is paid to score goals and put up points and he hasn't done that." That reminded me of a story I heard about Harry Sinden and Cam Neely. The Hall of Fame forward was struggling and Sinden was impatient. Neely told him he was getting chances. Sinden said, "I don't pay you to get chances. I pay you to score."

15. On to Ryan O'Reilly. The sense is teams would be pretty shocked if the Colorado Avalanche traded him during the season. Colorado's got a good thing going and O'Reilly is head coach Patrick Roy's kind of player and personality. He's also one of the forwards - along with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Paul Stastny - Roy's usage indicates he trusts most in the defensive zone against the best competition.

16. For that reason, the logical move is to see how things go in the playoffs and at the bargaining table. The Avalanche must qualify O'Reilly at $6.5 million, but there's time to let that play out. I did check in with one team that asked about him last year. The GM's response? "They wanted too much then and, the way he's playing, it's not getting any cheaper now."

17. The best thing about the Flames-Canucks fight (for some people, at least) was that it totally overshadowed what happened in Detroit, where the Red Wings benefitted from a goal that should not have counted in beating the Los Angeles Kings. There is no excuse any more for this, but the reason there is no expanded video review is because the GMs can never get on the same page about what should be eligible and how the process should work.

18. Part of the problem is that the discussion takes place in the short span of the GM meetings. It can be very difficult to build consensus then, but if Major League Baseball, which is even more historically stubborn than hockey, can find a way to add replay, someone's got to take it upon themselves to work outside the meetings to build consensus.

19. Hockey Night's Glenn Healy reported last week that the NHL would like to invite injured players to the post-Olympic GM meetings, so they can get a sneak peek at potential rule changes. This is an excellent idea. Right now, the process is wasteful because the NHL approves rules at one pace before the NHL Players' Association approves them at another, slower pace. Maybe this can speed up the process, which is far better than what happened with hybrid icing.

20. A lot of the rumours out of Dallas right now involve Ray Whitney, but watch out for Vern Fiddler, too. There was a time earlier in the season when he wanted to go, but changed his mind. Fiddler's similar to a sought-after property from 2013, Boyd Gordon. Gordon was a 57 per cent faceoff man; Fiddler is at 55. Gordon had the lowest percentage of offensive-zone starts on his team, but often finished play up the ice. Fiddler is the exact same (courtesy: behindthenet.ca). Those players are valuable. The Phoenix Coyotes kept Gordon. We'll see what happens here.

21. Last week, there was a note about Tobias Enstrom and his value. Enstrom has the highest salary-cap hit on the Winnipeg Jets and his production is down, but will he be seen differently now that he's paired with Zach Bogosian, not Dustin Byfuglien? While they were an effective pairing in the past, it didn't work this year.

22. Something to watch for as Alex Burrows tries to get going - zero goals in 18 games of an injury-riddled season - is that he switched helmets/visors for the shootout last Saturday. The bigger mask protecting his broken jaw obviously isn't anything he's comfortable with.

23. NHL teams always try to take away at least one major thing from an opponent's power play and Henrik Sedin sees what it is for the Canucks: "They are not letting me create anything from the corner ... They'll give us the shot by [Jason Garrison] at the other side, but teams don't cover the points. They'll give you the top of the zone." Vancouver's power play is 24th overall. It was top six from 2010-12.

24. I don't get a chance to watch enough junior hockey, but there was one prospect I was curious about who didn't get an invitation to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. His name is Michael Bunting and he's come out of nowhere to be ranked 37th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. The Toronto-born forward was a complete unknown before this OHL season because he played just 35 games of triple-A midget hockey for a last-place team.

25. "We found him through luck," said Kyle Dubas, who is general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. "I was frustrated with our inability to find free agents ... Guys under the radar. We needed to find players in unconventional places." The team's director of player development, Wes Clark, alerted him to Bunting. "I was cursing out Wes for having me there ... Our team was in Plymouth and I wanted to watch them," Dubas said. Bunting was participating in the Greater Toronto Hockey League all-star game.

26. Each OHL team has the right to confidentially make five players eligible for the draft since only those listed by the league's scouting department can be taken. The Greyhounds added Bunting and took him in the ninth round. "Wes probably wanted to kill me," Dubas said. "He wanted to take him earlier." The only bad news is Bunting suffered a knee injury last week, but the team doesn't believe it will mean long-term damage.

27. As the Toronto Maple Leafs launched into a five-game winning streak, I read some pretty interesting ice-time notes about two of their young players. Nazem Kadri's last three games saw him play 20:18, 19:54 and 19:11 minutes. That's just the second time all season he's played at least 19 minutes in three straight games. It was also his first 20-minute game in a month.

28. Going in the other direction is Jake Gardiner. For the season, his 21:30 average is third on the Leafs behind Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Yet during this stretch, he's played some of his fewest even-strength minutes of the season and had his first back-to-back games under 20 minutes in two months. Will be interesting to watch.

29. Another thing Toronto wanted to see was Franson shoot the puck. In Nashville, where he had 14 goals and 50 points in 141 games, he totalled 246 shots. In Toronto, he has 12 goals and 73 points in 151 games on 211 shots. He has taken 76 shots so far this season, including four four-shot games and one three-shot game this month. That's the desired pace.

30. When Ron Wilson was fired as Toronto's head coach two years ago, he disappeared without a media conference. That's fine and certainly his prerogative, but it was different. Guys would have one availability, then go do TV to keep in the public eye. Now we're seeing more go the Wilson route. Darcy Regier (Buffalo) went quietly as did Peter Laviolette (Philadelphia) and, more recently, Claude Noel (Winnipeg), although it's only been a week for him. I wonder if teams are saying, "We're paying you, keep quiet," or these guys feel so beaten up by the media they just don't want to bother.
Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC

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