Detroit Red Wings: Time To Fix The Fourth Line


The Detroit Red Wings have the worst fourth line in the NHL, hosting miserable possession stats. How can this issue be fixed, and why should it be done?

The Detroit Red Wings are on the verge of becoming a top-tier team this NHL season, but they need to finish putting the pieces together.

The Wings just had a 13-game point streak snapped by the Buffalo Sabres, and the impressive run helped Detroit squeeze into second place in the Atlantic Division. Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Justin Abdelkader have evenly split 43 goals, providing reassuring offensive depth. With Kyle Quincey set to return soon, Jeff Blashill will have 8 competent defencemen to cycle in front of Petr Mrazek (.925 SV%, 2.37 GAA) and Jimmy Howard (.921 SV%, 2.29 GAA).

Detroit looks fairly solid across the board, but the team is a few key improvements away from entering the Stanley Cup contention conversation. One of the items the Red Wings need to fix is their fourth line.

When healthy, the Wings have several players allocated to the 4th-line and/or regular scratches. Drew Miller, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco and Joakim Andersson can all be seen making regular appearances on Detroit’s bottom line.

Jeff Blashill, in fangirl fashion, has bandwaggoned Mike Babcock’s usage of Glendening and Miller as a perennial “shut down” fourth-line, often iced against opposing teams’ top lines. From there, now with Landon Ferraro in Boston, the remaining wing has been left to the spoils of Jurco, Andersson, and sometimes even Darren Helm or Teemu Pulkkinen.

If you haven’t heard by now, Miller and Glendening are in the doghouse of the Wings fan base for puck possession suicide, but are unfortunately resurrected by outdated and/or fallacious narratives that fool Blashill and Ken Holland (“Someone needs to block shots”, “They’re grinders, not scorers”, and so on).

In today’s NHL, it’s unarguable that maintaining possession and generating shots are the most crucial elements to winning (I won’t go into detail about this, but for a telling account in regards to this topic, check out this Deadspin article later). With a somewhat new-found emphasis on skill, speed, and possession, prototypical “grinders” are on their way out the door as their talents are becoming obsolete, but the eyes of the hockey world haven’t seem to catch up to the actual effects of these players.

Out of all NHL forwards who have played at least 100 minutes this year, Luke Glendening has the tenth-worst 5v5 CorsiFor of 39.6% (for an explanation of Corsi/advanced stats, you can read this). Miller comes in at seventh-worst with 39%, securing Detroit the absolute-worst fourth line in the NHL.

These two players are an anchor to Detroit’s possession game. Outside of their stats, neither player brings much of anything valuable to the game. Both lack any offensive skill or awareness, and neither have any real ability to break out or maintain offensive possession in order to reduce pressure against. Those who claim that they have strong defensive games can really only attest to their abilities to block shots (which is their only talent, and, as Corsi shows, it isn’t a talent to brag about.

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In short, if you block a lot of shots, it means many are taken against you, and you stiiiink or “muck it up”. Any player can block shots or “muck it up”. The ones who don’t are often the ones who are spending most of their time in the offensive zone. And almost anyone can be good on the penalty kill. I’d much rather have two PK shifts for Datsyuk and Zetterberg each per game than Glendening or Miller within 100 yards of the rink, ever.

What it boils down to is that Miller and Glendening are rotten players, but the aforementioned narratives are keeping chief Blashill from tossing them.

It is generally understood that the salary cap makes it difficult for teams to run four deep offense-oriented lines consistently. Depth charts have implied depth ranking for a reason. However, when you have the cap space and players readily available to deploy a fourth line that can possess the puck and generate offense, why not do it? It’s foolish not to. Remember, anyone can block shots when necessary (although most of the time, consistent shot-blocking is indicative of poor play), anyone can play defense, and almost anyone can kill penalties.

Who should be on Detroit’s fourth line, then? We have a few options.

Tomas Jurco is someone who needs ice time and is an immediate improvement. His offensive game, although not fantastic at the moment, is still leaps and bounds ahead of both Glendening and Miller, and in terms of defense, it’s not like either player is out there winning Selke Trophies, so he would be more than competent.

Adreas Athanasiou is ripe for NHL picking after continuing to tear up the AHL, and his speed alone is a commodity worth more than anything any of our current fourth line will ever amount to. Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek are worthy enough of at least getting temporary call-ups to display their skill-sets. Joakim Andersson would be an improvement, too.

We’ve identified the problem, but how do we fix it?

Glendening has a cap hit of $628,333, while that of Miller is $1,350,000 ( Ken Holland should first test the trade market, as I’m sure there’s a GM somewhere dumb enough to take either of them (hey, Rob Scuderi and Zac Rinaldo have both been traded this year, so anything can happen). Miller is a UFA this summer, so benching him for the remainder of the season is justifiable.

Both players can be waived due to their very small cap hits, and Glendening might even get snagged while on waivers, which would save the team some extra cash for next season. It’s as simple as that.

Next: Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Countdown: Cup #2

Any armchair GM could make the Red Wings better in a heartbeat. All it will take is for the Detroit brass to recognize the gushing wound that sits right before them.

What do you think about disposing of Miller and Glendening? Let me know in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter (@OT_JackMullen) for everything Detroit Red Wings!