Monday, February 07, 2011

The Purpose of the Canucks' Fourth Line? Prospect Development

For much of the season, the Canucks' 4th line has been a target for criticism. It's been a patchwork unit all year long, with little in the way of consistency (save the presence of Tanner Glass). Worse, the players the Canucks have placed on it have had such varying skillsets and playing styles that we once speculated that the team had no idea what we they wanted from the 4th line.

Guys like Guillaume Desbiens and Aaron Volpatti indicated a desire for toughness; guys like Peter Schaefer and Mario Bliznak indicated a desire for a checking line; guys like Joel Perrault and Cody Hodgson indicated a sudden hope of tertiary scoring. The personnel and personality of the 4th changed so drastically from night to night, it often seemed as though the Canucks were simply hoping to trip over the answer.

On Thursday, Mike Gillis was on the Team 1040 morning show with Scotty Rintoul and Ray Ferraro, and while querying him on the somewhat puzzling timing of the Cody Hodgson callup, Scotty finally asked him directly about the seeming inconsistency of the 4th line. Gillis's response was more than a little interesting:

The 4th line--there's been a lot made of it--but we've intentionally brought players in and out to give them experience, and to get them familiar with what goes on here and play in games here. We've used it as a little bit of a development tool, because we want to get these young players into game experience in the NHL. And, even if they're not ready to be as consistent as we'd like, you still want them to get familiar with everything that goes on: game days, how it works, getting on the plane, familiar with the training staff, familiar with their teammates. So we've used that as a little bit of an experiment the whole year, and now we feel pretty confident that we have young players [for whom] it won't be a big surprise if we have to use them down the stretch or in the playoffs. [...] Even though we might have wanted more consistency out of that line, we have used it for different purposes at different times, so it's a little unfair to say we've been searching for something.

In short: the Canucks aren't searching for something. They're prospecting.

Gillis admits here that the line has lacked consistency to the naked eye--that it's appeared, at times, the Canucks were on a bit of a mapless treasure hunt--but he also gives a solid explanation. The primary purpose of the Canucks' 4th line under Gillis and Vigneault isn't to provide checking, grit, or additional scoring--it's to provide development and experience to the players in the Canucks' prospect system. As for what the Canucks expect of these young players, it's simply this: to play their game, and to gain the experience necessary to improve it.

Friend of Tanner Glass and exceptionally cool tweep @RayDerge recently pointed out that The Scrabble Champ has been on the ice for the first NHL goal of four separate guys this season, as Mario Bliznak, Alex Bolduc, Aaron Volpatti, and Cody Hodgson all lit the lamp on his line (begging the question of whether Glass is being intentionally utilized as a mentor, especially considering his leadership history). Bearing in mind what Gillis has told us about the purpose of the 4th line, this has to be a win for the Canucks. In fact, through this new lens, the Canucks' 4th line appears to be doing exactly what it's supposed to: giving invaluable experience to a long list of young'uns.


  1. Interesting take on the 4th line, I like it better than goons killing minutes.
    Paul Biz would say (4L)^2

  2. @TBCF Definitely. The 4th line is often somewhat useless (see: lack of minutes in playoffs), but I think the Canucks are doing a good job reinventing its purpose.

  3. The purpose of the fourth line is to flip out and kill people. Oh wait, that's ninjas. Nevermind!

  4. I'm surprised this 'revelation' is a surprise to some. (But I don't go on other boards and I don't read the frantic local media all that often, hence my ignorance of this 4th line 'issue'...) I just thought the reason for the rotation was obvious, given our lucky streak so far (knock on wood) for surprisingly few injuries. They'll surely come (knock knock knock), but I had always assumed this seemingly helter-skelter 4th line changing was preparatory. In previous years, the Canucks had inexperienced sudden call-ups to disastrous effect. This is just further proof they've been paying attention to all their errors: Trust in Gillis has been my mantra this season. I see I can continue to chant this right into the playoffs...

  5. You briefly mentioned Tanner Glass' leadership history: "begging the question of whether Glass is being intentionally utilized as a mentor, especially considering his leadership history."
    I'm totally unfamiliar with this history, is it good, or bad? Or is it ironically non-existent?

  6. He once spelled "leadership" in Scrabble by adding "leaders" onto the already spelled "hip" on the board for a Bingo and a triple word score. In retrospect, it was a bit of an amateur move by Aaron Rome.

  7. @anonymous Daniel's hilarious joke aside, he's been in leadership roles through his career, and served as the captain of his Dartmouth team during his senior year there.

  8. I liked the article. Thanks for this.

    But this kind of seems like Gillis is sort of using bogus hindsight in saying "yeah...we were giving new kids a look this whole time...didnt you know?" to make it seem purposeful when in fact, during the process, he was just throwing anything together to see if anything stuck. why wouldnt he just have said so from the beginning if this was the case? put it up on his twitter, perhaps?

    also, I don't know if you can call "prospecting" meaningful when AV was consistently and regularly throwing the 4th line out there for 3-5 minutes a game. what is 3-5 minutes a game (with none of it in crunch time or anything resembling crunch time) going to show you about what a young, untried player has? furhter that puts more stain on lines 1-3. my comment has no real point, i'm just saying i think gillis is full of hot air on this one. this isnt nhl 11 GM mode...this is the NHL.

  9. sorry i meant strain. although i guess stain could also work, too.

  10. Looks like Maxim Lapierre is going to be tested as the fourth line center going into the playoffs.


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