Malhotra Is a 4th Line Center


(November 5, 2010 – Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images North America)

As I drove home from the Canucks game last night, Blake Price and Joey Kenward were fielding questions and concerns about the lack of production from the third line. Specifically, >concerns were raised about the Canucks off-season acquisitions, Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres and their lack of production on the third line. They made an interesting point – they are perfect for the fourth line.

So… Why don’t the Canucks move Malhotra and Torres to the fourth line?

As a caller mentioned last night, the Blackhawks had a jewel on the fourth line in last year’s Stanley Cup run in John Madden. He was the quintessential 4th line center – took faceoffs, killed penalties, and every so often chipped in with a point or two. Sound familiar? Yep. It sounds to me that Manny Malhotra would make the perfect 4th line center. He’s not going to be depended upon to score, but he’s a miracle in the faceoff circle and is dynamite on the PK.

Equally true is the fact that Raffi Torres has dried up offensively, but continues to smash and bang and generally be a nuisance for the other team. Great. Sounds like a 4th line winger, doesn’t it? Yep.

So if you have resigned yourself to the fact that Malhotra and Torres aren’t going to score, and shouldn’t be relied upon to do so, it is certainly worth considering moving them to a line more befitting their contributions.

My proposal… Make the third and fourth lines like so:

Third Line
Tambellini … Hodgson … Hansen

Fourth Line
Glass … Malhotra … Torres

The benefits are that now you have a truly physical fourth line, and you have a third line that has more of a tendency to score. At least they have more pure scoring ability, especially in Tambellini and Hodgson. Hansen has also progressed more this year and is starting to chip in points with a little more consistency, something you want on your third line. Hodgson has earned some additional playing time since being called up. He’s been tenacious in his forecheck, he’s been willing to go straight to the net and take abuse to generate offensive opportunities. You’ve got tremendous work ethic in both Hansen and Hodgson. You’ve got great speed in Tambellini, as he has shown that he can go on a tear and snipe some terrific goals. I know that Tambellini has been as dried up as the Gobi desert in August, but he may benefit from a change in scenery.

Hodgson could use some help in the faceoff circle, though, especially in the defensive zone. So if the third line has a defensive zone faceoff, I would put Hodgson and Hansen out with Malhotra, with Manny taking the draws or acting as insurance. Canucks win the faceoff, move up ice, Manny comes off in favour of Tambellini to continue the press forward. This way, you are giving Malhotra key faceoffs to win and not putting that burden on Hodgson. Yet, Hodgson can still watch and learn from Manny in game situations.

If the Canucks don’t feel that this third line is adequate for the push for the Cup, the other option is that a third line winger becomes an acquisition target for Mike Gillis as the league approaches its trade deadline. They could send Tambellini down to Manitoba and make a trade for a depth winger.

It may just be renaming lines for the sake of renaming lines. Maybe the other option is to just give the current fourth line a few more minutes. So you have a have 1st line and 2nd line and then two bottom lines. I believe it would still make sense to move Glass to that the Malhotra line and create a proper grit line.

(As an aside, you could also call that fourth line the Double Letter Score line… TaNNer … MaNNy … RaFFi … Glass’s love of Scrabble…)

If you need more offense, to lessen the burden a little off the top two lines, then you have to give more ice-time to a bottom line that has the ability to score. A line of Tambellini/Hodgson/Hansen has more ability to score and so you would want to give them more ice time than the fourth line is getting now. As I said, a better balance in minutes between the third and fourth lines would be ideal.

Maybe this is a case of "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it". But the Canucks need some offensive help on the bottom 6, because they just aren’t contributing enough. And when the playoffs start, and teams start focusing exclusively on the Sedin and Kesler lines, the bottom 6 forwards need to be able to add points. So, using the assets you have already, an adjustment to the way the lines are managed and a small lineup change could solve the problem. And hopefully it gives the Canucks what they really need – scoring from someone outside the top 6 forwards.

  • Yankee Canuck

    Not sure I want Malhotra with less minutes (especially if the defensive strategy overall is going to take a hit with Ballard/Edler gone), but Torres definitely belongs back there. He’s looking like Bernier out there, not good.

    Maybe adjust them slowly. Get Hodgson used to the wing and push him up at Torres’ expense?

  • Yankee Canuck

    This entire anti-Malhotra sentiment is predicated on points, and based on a snapshot of his last 20-or-so games.

    You need to consider what the role of the third line is – it is the top shutdown line, the “checking line.” Sure you’d like them to generate offense from time to time, but that’s not their job. Plenty of that on the top 2 lines.

    You want them to play with the puck in the other team’s end, to create chances and to have strong shifts. If you watched the Ottawa game, you can’t deny that they certainly did. In fact, their line probably had the most chances, with Hansen looking like Henrik Sedin with a few of the plays he made.

    The finish certainly hasn’t been there, but sometimes the bounces don’t go a line’s way.

    Mark my words, though, come playoff time, Malhotra will be one of the Canucks most important players. Best to keep him playing solid minutes leading up to that.

    • @HTTN

      I absolutely agree with you that, come playoff time, Malhotra will be a very valuable asset.

      The point of my post was to suggest that, if the Canucks are not happy with the offensive production of Malhotra and the third line, but they want to get more offense to give the top 2 lines some help, then they’ll need to shake things up a bit.

      The whole label of 3rd or 4th line could be kind of irrelevant.
      My preferred suggestion here is simply to give the fourth line more ice time, to give them more of a chance to score. It would be a good idea to move Glass to the Malhotra line, to create a actual real GRIT line. I know that Hansen leads the team in hits, but Glass has more nastiness in him. Then I would simply give that line less even-strength ice-time and let the other bottom-line group (Tamby/Hodgson/Hansen) a few more minutes per game at even-strength.

  • I’m not intending to be “anti-Manny”. Not at all.

    I do, however, completely disagree with the sentiment that the third line has to be your “checking line”.

    What I am saying is that you have to recognize that the Malhotra and Torres cannot be relied upon to score. But your third line should add more offense to take some burden off of the top 2 lines.

    A line of Tamby/CoHo/Hansen has more of a chance of scoring on any given night that any line with Manny and Torres. Sure, Torres and Malhotra could get hot and score a bunch. But so could Tamby and Hansen.

    It’s not an indictment against Malhotra. Just a recognition of where his strengths and weaknesses are.

    Also, I said that you should really balance the ice time of both of the bottom two lines. So really, the Canucks have (in terms of ice time) a 1st line, a 2nd line, and two bottom lines. I would foresee minutes like 18 minutes per line on both the top 2 lines and 12 minutes per line for the bottom two lines.

    And if you need a true shut-down line, then I would use Glass-Manny-Torres for that.

  • Yankee Canuck

    I agree that Malhotra can do the things he does well from the 4th, but I’m not comfortable with reducing his minutes in favour of your proposed third line. Hodgson, Tambellini, Hansen is a bit small and inexperienced for my liking, and probably Vigneault’s too. They’d probably still wind up with the least amount of minutes, which would basically render them the 4th line again, and that seems like a waste of Hansen.

  • Yankee Canuck

    I’ve never understood why, when I comment on WordPress blogs, it makes my avatar the logo from a company I worked for five years ago. What the Hell?