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The problem with the fourth line

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The Winnipeg Jets fourth line continues to be an area of concern, which makes recent moves more puzzling.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Maurice claims the Winnipeg Jets are suffering from fatigue and that is impeding their ability to win games, specifically the game against the Detroit Red Wings. This goes against what Maurice has previously said about the team’s fitness level and how he feels that they are in great shape. Player usage may play a big role in fatigue and it is interesting that Maurice may causing this fatigue by dressing an inferior line-up to what he has at his disposal.

TJ Galiardi is a decent NHL player and a serviceable fourth line player. He is good on the penalty kill and can play a respectable even-strength game. Even though he does not score often, he has enough positive skills that he can help the Winnipeg Jets win hockey games. Instead of being an everyday player, Galiardi has been a healthy scratch frequently so that the inferior Chris Thorburn can play roughly 2 minutes a game. If a player is being paid $1.2 million, they should be capable of playing about 10 minutes of decent hockey a game.

The reasoning behind the scratching of Galiardi is what is most puzzling. The reasoning presented is that Michael Frolik needs penalty kill time and Galiardi is taking that away from him. This may be true, but it is hardly a reason to scratch a player. Penalty killing is a taxing endeavour and if a team can space out who gets those minutes, the team will be able to keep most players fresher. This is especially true when the Jets penalty kill features skilled players Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, and sometimes Mark Scheifele. If another player is added to the mix, the minutes will simply be more spread out.

This is not to say that if Galiardi plays he should be on the penalty kill automatically. He is a very effective penalty killer though and the Jets penalty kill is one of the best in the league. Galiardi is part of that effectiveness. Michael Frolik is no slouch on the penalty kill and it may be prudent to have all forwards who can play the penalty kill available in game in case an injury occurs .

5v5, the player usage is even more troubling. While the penalty kill minutes are spread out amongst a wide array of forwards, the fourth line barely plays at all. With most of the game being played 5v5, this is a bigger issue. Even if playing TJ Galiardi means the Jets fourth line plays 8 minutes, which is still a full 6 minutes more than they currently do. That means that other players get some relief in playing time, keeping them fresher as the game goes on

The puzzling part of the usage of the fourth line when Chris Thorburn plays is not the lack of ice time they receive, but the usage of Thorburn when an injury occurs. If an injury occurs to a top 9 forward, Thorburn is usually the one moved into the injured players spot. This is not a temporary move either; Thorburn has played stretches of games in the top 9 when an injury has happened. This occurs even though the Winnipeg Jets have reasonably skilled players in St. John’s.

The insistence that Chris Thorburn is both too bad to play more than 3 minutes a night and that he is good enough to spotlight as a top 9 forward is befuddling to say the least. It leads to questioning as to what the organization thinks of him. Is Thorburn a player who cannot be trusted to play minimal minutes or is he one with the talent to move up in the line-up when needed. This paradox should not exist. Players can be good fourth line players and still not be capable of playing elsewhere in the line-up, but it seems rare that a bad fourth line player would be seen as capable on other lines.

After writing most of this, Galiardi got waived. This was partially based on an injury to Tobias Enstrom and the need for a roster spot to recall a defenseman on short notice. The problem is, two days after Enstrom was hurt, there has been no recall and Mathieu Perreault also picked up an injury. In short, the Winnipeg Jets are currently playing a fourth line of a heavyweight, a wannabe fighter, and an often-injured fourth liner.