Fixing the Fourth Line: The Right Wing

Jeff Angus
June 06 2013 08:51AM

 
Dale Weise and Max Lapierre - Wikicommons Media

On Tuesday, we looked at Vancouver's search for a left winger to play on the fourth line. My suggestion was to sign UFA winger Blake Comeau, or to find a player in the AHL (much like the Canucks did a few years ago with Tanner Glass). 

The Canucks have absolutely zero organizational depth in terms of checking line left wingers. However, that isn't the case on the right side. Dale Weise and Zack Kassian are both solid fourth line options. Kassian, ideally, will play a bigger role with the club in 2013-14. Is Weise the best possible option for the fourth line?

Let's take a look, shall we?

The past

All line combinations have been pulled from DobberHockey’s Frozen Pool Fantasy Tools. Let’s start with 2008-09, shall we? The first season of the Mike Gillis tenure saw a fourth line of tough guys Darcy Hordichuk and Rick Rypien centered by shot blocker Ryan Johnson (although the trio was put together late in the season). Jannik Hansen also spent time on the fourth line that season, and he has developed into a very effective top-nine winger in the past few years.

Like many young players, Rypien transitioned over from center to wing once he made it to the NHL level. He played in only 12 games that season (and another 10 in the playoffs). Hansen played in 55 games, but over half of his time on ice was spent on a line with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.

Johnson saw a revolving door of wingers - Taylor Pyatt and Mason Raymond also spent time on the fourth line right wing.

Frequency Strength Line Combination
7.54% EV 36 HANSEN,JANNIK - 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN
7.29% EV 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 37 RYPIEN,RICK
7.22% EV 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 21 RAYMOND,MASON
6.42% EV 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 9 PYATT,TAYLOR

Rypien became the primary fourth line right winger in 2009-10, playing in 69 of the 82 regular season games. Because Johnson couldn't stay healthy (that tends to happen when you willingly throw yourself in front of every shot), Rypien played with a variety of linemates:

Frequency Strength Line Combination
17.41% EV 15 GLASS,TANNER - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 37 RYPIEN,RICK
15.91% EV 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 10 JOHNSON,RYAN - 37 RYPIEN,RICK
9.46% EV 15 GLASS,TANNER - 37 RYPIEN,RICK - 42 WELLWOOD,KYLE
6.49% EV 49 BOLDUC,ALEXANDRE - 24 HORDICHUK,DARCY - 37 RYPIEN,RICK

30 players played at least one game for the Canucks in 2009-10, and Rypien faced the 30th toughest competition among them. Vancouver's fourth line wasn't expected to do much more than fight, create a bit of energy, and give the other nine forwards a break. Even with the easy competition, the fourth line was awful from a puck possession standpoint. 

This isn't meant to criticize Rypien. He was a fan favourite, a favourite among his teammates, a hell of a fighter, and a guy with a proven track record as a productive player in the WHL. With better linemates, I have no doubts that he would have been a much more effective two-way player.

2010-11 - the revolving door of fourth line right wingers continued. Glass was the only mainstay on the fourth line that season - look at how many different line combinations he was a part of:

Frequency Strength Line Combination
6.62% EV 49 BOLDUC,ALEXANDRE - 15 GLASS,TANNER - 54 VOLPATTI,AARON
5.91% EV 49 BOLDUC,ALEXANDRE - 15 GLASS,TANNER - 36 HANSEN,JANNIK
4.41% EV 15 GLASS,TANNER - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 10 TAMBELLINI,JEFF
4.2% EV 34 DESBIENS,GUILLAUME - 15 GLASS,TANNER - 18 SCHAEFER,PETER
3.42% EV 15 GLASS,TANNER - 36 HANSEN,JANNIK - 27 MALHOTRA,MANNY
3.1% EV 15 GLASS,TANNER - 38 ORESKOVICH,VICTOR - 10 TAMBELLINI,JEFF
2.88% EV 15 GLASS,TANNER - 39 HODGSON,CODY - 10 TAMBELLINI,JEFF

Glass did slide over to the right wing at times (whith Schaefer, Malhotra, and a few other guys), but he is a left winger by trade. Oreskovich came to town with a lot of hype, and he didn't accomplish much of anything (a lot like other failed fourth line auditions from Steve Pinizzotto and Mike Duco). Tambellini was a good player, but he wasn't what Alain Vigneault wanted out of a fourth liner (size, toughness, and the like).

The Canucks didn't address the need for a fourth line winger that summer (even after their fourth line was overmatched in the Cup Final), but they did scoop up Dale Weise off of waivers from the Rangers in early October. Weise isn't a guy that all Canuck fans are on board with, but he was a great find considering the cost of acquiring him (nothing).

Weise had/has a 28-goal AHL season to his name, and he brought some stability (68 games played) to Vancouver's fourth line right wing spot in 2011-12. And for the first time in a long time, the Canucks had a (somewhat) set trio of players on that unit:

Frequency Strength Line Combination
27.8% EV 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 27 MALHOTRA,MANNY - 32 WEISE,DALE
23.63% EV 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 54 VOLPATTI,AARON - 32 WEISE,DALE
4.73% EV 9 KASSIAN,ZACK - 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 32 WEISE,DALE

Manny Malhotra slid over to the left side, and that unit was given a unique role. They didn't face tough compeition (Weise saw the third "easiest" minutes in terms of quality of competition), but they were buried in the defensive zone. Weise started only 20% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Unsurprisngly, their possession numbers weren't very good. Corsi is a useful stat with context, and Weise's -20.1 Relative Corsi that year can be explained, at least in part, by his ridiculous zone starts. Hard to drive play in the offensive zone when you are never there.

The present

Weise played 40 games in 2013, and continued on in his primary role as Vancouver's fourth line right winger. Kassian also spent time on the line, but he shifted over to the left side. Kassian was ineffective on the left side, especially in the defensive zone, where he struggled to make any outlet plays on his backhand. 

Weise did get a promotion to the third line for a few games, too:

Frequency Strength Line Combination
13.38% EV 21 RAYMOND,MASON - 45 SCHROEDER,JORDAN - 32 WEISE,DALE
10.28% EV 40 LAPIERRE,MAXIM - 13 PINIZZOTTO,STEVEN - 32 WEISE,DALE
8.9% EV 45 SCHROEDER,JORDAN - 29 SESTITO,TOMMY - 32 WEISE,DALE

Weise is an RFA this summer, and I'd expect him back on a cap-friendly one or two-year deal. He's a solid enough option, and uses his speed well to draw penalties. Also, unlike Sestito, he can play a regular shift without hurting his team.

Kassian has one year left on his entry level deal, and the Canucks have to be hoping for him to report to camp ready to earn a top-six (or at least a top-nine) spot. Kassian is too talented offensively, and still too raw defenisvely, to be relied upon in a fourth line role. But this also depends on how the new coach will utilize his lines. Will Vigneault's radical zone start strategy, which ensures that the fourth line is buried in the defensive zone, be used? Or will the new coach opt for a more balanced approach?

The future

Internal options

Weise and Kassian are both right wingers. Neither player is particularly effective on the left side. If Weise is re-signed, he's the likely fourth line right winger option. Kassian needs to take the next step forward, and that won't happen if he is playing 8-10 minutes a night on the fourth line. As I said above, he's way too talented offensively, and the team needs him to be a more consistent contributor (both offenisvely and physically) in 2013-14. 

Weise is a good fourth line player as long as he isn't the best player on the line. If Vancouver rolls out a Sestito-Kellan Lain-Weise fourth line, they should expect another season of subpar play from the fourth unit. But if Weise plays with a new left winger and center, he should show himself to be a solid two-way forward with decent offensive abilities and a good head for the game.

External Options 

Looking at the available UFAs this summer, and a few names immediately jump out. Chad LaRose, Brad Richardson, Brandon Yip, and Chuck Kobasew. Yip has the hometown factor going for him. Richardson may want a regular spot in an NHL lineup after struggling to remain in LA's over the past few years. LaRose has seen time on the top line in Carolina and will probably price himself out of a fourth line role, but he's an effective and versatile winger.

Kobasew has bounced around the Northwest Division after experiencing some early-career success in Boston (back-to-back 20+ goal seasons from 2007 to 2009). Even though he is on the wrong side of 30, Kobasew can still skate. And 2013 was his best season since 2008-09. Oh, and he's from Vancouver.

My suggestion -  Bring Weise back, assuming you are going to upgrade the LW and C positions as well. If not, take a look at Kobasew in free agency. 

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 orcasfan
June 06 2013, 02:07PM
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I'll repeat what I pointed out in your previous article - it's not true that we have no left wing prospects. Both Blomstrand and Mallet are left-wingers. Are they ready for the NHL? Very possibly Blomstrand is, but Mallet, probably not yet. Will they be given a chance? You bet!

And Archibald will probably get a look too at training camp. Lain, obviously, but I doubt he's ready. As far as Weiss is concerned...don't forget that he's only 23, and may still develop into a stronger roster player.

I think the new coach may have a very different approach to the role of the 4th line. AV was, in some ways, forced to use his 4th line in a very D-centered role after the injury to Manny. The 3rd line was no longer the defensive juggernaut (to say the least!), and AV was not able to use it the same way. Some teams have used their 4th lines in very different ways. It is not essential that the 4th line be filled with "grit". Look at Detroit, for instance.

It may be that once AV instigated his zone-starts approach to line usage, one of the impacts of that system was to "strain" the effectiveness of the bottom six. Without just the right players filling those niches, you may have actually created "weaker" lines, especially when they were deployed in the D zone so much of the time. A coach has to work with the tools he's given. Perhaps, after the Manny injury, and assessing the players he had, AV might have been better to employ a different system.

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#3 van
June 06 2013, 06:25PM
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Bringing Wiese back should be an easy decision. Cap hit should be very reasonable and we have plenty of other holes that need filling. What about playing a centre on the LW? Maybe bring Lapierre back rather than push forward with this idea of improving our reputation. We have Kesler and Burrows and no matter what they do, people aren't going to change their perceptions of them and by extension, the team. Letting Lapierre go is just giving ourselves more work to do.

A skilled 4th line would be nice to see. It's the only way I see Schroeder playing for now and would also allow Jensen an easier introduction. Somewhere to stash Kassian on an off night as well.

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#4 Reuben
June 06 2013, 06:53PM
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I think you draft Kerby Rychel and throw him in on the fourth line. He brings size and toughness and if he shines you give him a couple shifts with Kesler.

I'm not sure if the CBA allows this, but if he's in way over his head, you send him back down to junior or maybe to the ECHL (I'm assuming he's too young for the AHL) for the rest of the season and bring up Mallet, Sestito or a waiver pickup

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#5 orcasfan
June 06 2013, 07:50PM
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@Jeff Angus

I don't know if Blomstrand is NHL ready or not. But, surely Gillis & Co need to start at least trying out these guys. Even if he only comes for a few weeks, it would be great experience for Blomstrand. Obviously, it all depends on how they do at camp and pre-season. I am ready for a different approach to configuring the 4th line! This merry-go-round of "tough guys" has not worked. Hopefully, the new coach will put it all together in a new and interesting way!

Jeff, thanks for these articles, by the way. It's helpful to have an in-depth look at the bottom six.

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#6 Lemming
June 06 2013, 08:44PM
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Yip and Kobasew both stand out to me in that list, not because they're hometown boys (I couldn't give a rats ass where they're from frankly), but because they've shown they can play in the NHL in a depth role. If it came to it, either of them could temporarily move up to a 3rd line role.

One other player I wondered about lately (even though he's probably higher than a 4th liner) is Marcel Goc. Is he still in Florida? I'd love to see him come in as a 3rd line center, and if Lapierre wants to come back for a reasonable cap hit, I like Henrik/Kesler/Goc/Lappy down the middle.

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#7 blackfiSh
June 06 2013, 10:32PM
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If the Canucks start the season with anybody named Yip or Kobasew or even named Richardson or Larose on the 4th line im gonna puke.

Canuck fans know its time to inject some youth into this roster and redefine this teams style of game.

Compliment the core with young players now, b4 its too late and everyone retires and they start from scratch again.

If its Kellan Lain or Blomstrand or Archibald or whoever, go with it.

And yes to Weise. 23 years old with plenty of room to trend up.

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#8 BMo
June 07 2013, 06:44PM
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Y'all got Weise's age wrong. He will actually be 25 when the season starts.

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#9 Get me
June 09 2013, 11:22PM
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Get me Klinkhammer and Chipchura. Both great udnerlying #'s, both can be had for cheap. Throw in Boyd Gordon and we got ourselves the best 4th line in the league. Please and Thanks.

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