Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice talked to the media multiple times over the start of camp. In the ten minutes and two seconds he spoke, he said quite a few interesting things that caught my attention. I'm not one that tries to take too much out of player, management, or coach quotes. There is a lot of politicking and nonsense that goes on those words. However, sometimes these quotes can be useful as a springboard for discussion.
Maurice spoke about what he wanted from the fourth line. He stressed the importance of playing with energy, playing more in the other team's zone, and winning defensive zone draws.
Maurice placed energy on the fourth line as "priority number one". Not everyone defines energy the same way though.
The 2011-12 Jets carried an more traditional checking / energy line with GST. Tanner Glass, Jim Slater, and Chris Thorburn skated together for 500+ minutes together. During those minutes the Jets played just under 60% of the time in their own end, essentially the maximum amount experienced in the NHL. The average fourth line forward only gets pinned about 51.9% of the time, while the average pressbox player posts about 53.2%. The opposition out shot-attempted GST about 550 to 375 that year; they also out scored GST around 30 goals to 15. They sure collected a lot of hits for their stat line though.
That does not define what Maurice conveys when he speaks of energy. Dallas Eakins might dismantle the traditional energy line role over at Edmonton, but that does not mean he wants his fourth line to play without energy or effort.
Maurice also wants defensive zone responsibility. He mentioned this in terms of playing more in the other team's zone. GST was terrible at that. He does have some options to play with for the fourth line. Some of those skaters are more qualified than others with playing more in the other team's zone. Looking at this list, playing in the other team's zone doesn't seem to be synonymous with "energy".
Often television and radio personalities mention that puck possession starts with winning face offs. This is true to an extent, but usually over exaggerated by media. A team that wins a defensive zone face off is less likely to get pinned in their own zone; however, when you win the face off you still have to get the puck out. The best players do both.
The Chicago Blackhawks have designed a fourth line like this. They have built around 6'0, 183 lbs Marcus Kruger. Over the past three seasons Kruger has started nearly half (44.2%) of his shifts in the defensive zone, but has posted 56.5% Corsi (adjusted for zone starts and in score-close situations). As Maurice alluded, having a player that can be responsible in the defensive zone allows for other guys -like Bryan Little and Mark Schiefele- to take less defensive zone assignments and benefit.
Now some of Kruger's exceptional results come from the overall strength of the Chicago Blackhawks as a team. It's unlikely that Kruger would post that 56.5% Corsi on the Jets. He would still likely be superior to most of the Jets options. Michael Frolik was a 55.1% Corsi player on the Blackhawks, and posted a 52.5% on the Jets.
The difference between a Kruger and Slater, Halischuk, Thorburn, or Peluso is skill. Not energy. Not grit.
Maurice also alluded to wanting more skill on the fourth line. He mentioned that he wants "a guy who can move into the top nine". The Jets only really have one player who has proven that with Galiardi. Halischuk can score, but is a possession blackhole and tends to be severely out shot. Tangradi pushes the play well, but has only put up top nine scoring rates when with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. There are players from the farm, but mostly unknown.
Injuries happen. A team needs players they can trust to move up the ranks without harming the team much. A fourth line player who can marginalize the bleeding; harm you the least.
Interestingly and oddly enough, Maurice cites Chris Thorburn as an example. Thorburn did move up into the top nine for the Jets with injuries, which is no slant on him. Thorburn does not choose where he plays and it is commendable that he always gives his best without complaint regardless of which line he is on.
He did not fair too well though. Most of the time Thorburn played in the top nine was with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi. The trio were severely out shot-attempted and outscored even in terms of fourth lines.
Maurice even gave an example of Thorburn playing well with the Jets game against Carolina Hurricaines on February 4th. After all, Thorburn scored the game winner.
Watching that game though seems to paint another picture. Chris Thorburn played with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. As a line, the trio were out shot 14-3. They were out attempted 21-8. They were trapped in their own zone for multiple attempts against five times, and only sustained pressure once. The game winning goal came almost solely from the work of Jacob Trouba.
Maurice's interview shows how any line of thinking can be supported by coaching quotes. Someone could highlight the elements like wanting skill, someone who can move up the line, optimal zone deployment, and play in their opponents zone more. Someone could alternatively highlight statements about energy, face offs, and Chris Thorburn competently playing in the top nine.
Whatever Maurice's true thoughts are and what is merely just hockey talk and putting out quotes remains to be seen.
Action speaks louder than words.