The “Fourth Line” Misnomer

There seems to be a growing trend in Rangerland that whenever the fourth line is mentioned, it is used as  derogatory term. It is a trend that is a bit baffling, because the fourth line is far from an “unnecessary line” or a “line that shouldn’t play” (both are terms I’ve heard). Sure, the Rangers current fourth line is a bit of a hodgepodge, with a spare part, a good locker room grinder, and a bit of an unknown. But on competing teams, the fourth line is critical to the overall success of the team.

Currently, the Rangers don’t have the NHL depth to really dress a fourth line that can rival the fourth line of the Vancouver Canucks, or the Washington Capitals, or any of the other elite teams in the NHL. So, the coaching staff puts the spare part(s) on the fourth line and limits their minutes. That may not be the most popular approach, but it is the way the Rangers are constructed as a team for this season. Players like Erik Christensen and potentially Wojtek Wolski are spare parts, and just roster fillers until some of the prospects in the AHL are ready.

Line structure in the NHL has altered a little bit from the mid-90’s.  The top two lines are still your primary scoring lines. The third line should be a hybrid of a defensively responsible line coupled with a legitimate offensive threat. Generally speaking, the Rangers have used the third line as a staging line for their rookies, and it has worked. The third line is no longer relied upon to be the shutdown line for the opposition’s top offensive threats, like in the past. The fourth line is a lot like the third line: it is a line that is good defensively, has a physical edge, and can be an offensive threat. These are your primary penalty killing forwards.

The Rangers already have a line that would be a great fourth line on contending teams: Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle, and Brandon Prust. They fit that description, and may be one of the best fourth lines in the game. The problem is that they are currently the Rangers third line, as their fourth line is a melting pot of everything else on the roster. It is something we have been saying here for a while: when the Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust line is a fourth line, and still getting 12 minutes a game, the Rangers will be legitimate contenders.

Depth is the name of the game, and the Rangers do not have that third line to really put them over the top yet. They have the necessary pieces in the system, assuming they all pan out. Between Chris Kreider, Ryan BourqueCarl Hagelin, and Christian Thomas, there are enough pieces to fill in that third line. That’s not to say that these guys will be on the third line, but between them, pieces can be moved around to fill out the third line.

The fourth line on any competing team is an integral part of the organization. With the Rangers over the past few years, fans have become a bit disgruntled over the fourth line because there were still a few missing pieces required to fill out the roster. That is not to say that the fourth line is useless as an entity, but it may be “useless” from a Rangers standpoint, as spare parts generally are not given roster spots. The Rangers will be competitors when Fedotenko (or a comparable player)-Boyle-Prust is their fourth line, and that is not a slight against any of them. The fact that they may be the best fourth line in hockey is a compliment, not an insult.

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  1. Excellent post my friend. Personally I like the approach of using the third line as way to get the rookies feet wet, kind of like what the Canucks did with the Sedin twins back in the day and what the Red Wings continue to do on a regular basis.

    As far as the “4th line” goes, we should call it something else since “4th line” doesn’t resonate well among the pacifier crowd.

    How about the Spartacus line?

    1. The 4th line has always been role players who were either PK’ers or fighters of the team. That even in today’s soft NHL is still applicable. So in your scenario where does the fighter play? I am not one for taking the fighting and hitting out of the game. I loved this game because it was hard, tough in addition to all of it’s other elements so I want to continue loving this game for what drew me to it back in the very early 70’s. Where would Rupp play or are you saying there is no need for his services?

      1. Depends what else a particular fighter brings to the table. Not all fighters are one dimensional.

        Prust can fight but he can also play hockey, so he’s good where he is on the 3rd line due to the rest of his skill set. However, as Dave mentioned in his post, he would probably play on the 4th line on a contending team.

        A guy like Lucic who can fight and has scored 30 goals in the past can obviously play a top 6 role.

        Rupp right now isn’t as good a player as Lucic or even Prust, but he can throw down if need be, so he’s good where he is on the 4th line. aka the Spartacus line.

        1. I like that, The Spartacus line…good one, I think Newbury being added to the line makes the Spartacus line a very viable option once Wolski is inserted in, Newbury has plenty enough skill to set up Wolski for goals and Rupp being the low slot guy screening and possibly even picking up the garbage goals here and there. Rupp then can also execute his role and fight, Newbury adding his face Off and PK duties and Wolski on the 2nd PP unit and shoot out attempts giving that line a true reason and purpose to exist.

          1. Great point. I think Newb, Rupp, and WoWo on a line really touches on everything you want from a modern day 4th, I mean Spartacus line 🙂

      2. Fighters aren’t necessarily needed if they are strictly fighters. More and more we see the “goon” disappearing and the “guy that can play and fight” appearing. Guys like Prust and Rupp are the norm now, while guys like Goddard are on their way out.

        1. Not so sure of your statement, look at the Filthadelphia team, they have their fair share of goons, Shelly, this new kid Zac Rinaldo (?) spelling, just to name two.

  2. I really would have liked Konopka centering our fourth line.Good face-off defensive player.Sticks up for his teamates.Not a bad fighter.Everytime I saw him play,he played with grit and effort.

    1. I liked him to, but I think they are looking for a little more offense from the Spartacus line. Rupp can put up 20 points in a season. Konopka really can’t.

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