Prior to their last pre-season game against Edmonton on the weekend, Winnipeg Jets associate coach Scott Arniel spoke about the importance of being a four-line hockey team.
He opined that the ability to play all 12 forwards — instead of just nine or 10 — allows a team to run at a higher pace, be quicker overall, and is less taxing on the star players — and that playoff history shows successful teams use everyone on their bench.
Now, let’s be clear, Arniel’s take wasn’t a stunning revelation in hockey — particularly the NHL — as the New York Islanders have been doing it with notable success for the last many years, thanks to the trio of Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Czikas.
What was compelling about the four-line conversation was the obvious change in philosophy from the Jets’ coaching staff, now believing it’s a necessity to success, which wasn’t always a popular strategy the last many years.
When you review usage between the Jets and Islanders, Winnipeg’s fourth line last season averaged just over nine minutes per game, while the New Yorkers ran their fourth line 13.
Now, four minutes might not seem like a lot, but in a 60-minute game, it’s at least four or five more shifts, meaning the pace of play, shift length, and overall performance is expected to improve as the ice time is spread more equitably.
And while the Jets didn’t make a big splash into free agency this past off-season, they did acquire Sam Gagner, a 13-goal scorer last season and a prototypical fourth-line player at 33 years old. With Gagner’s experience, coupled with his ability to skate and play responsibly, Winnipeg’s fourth line might become more important to the team than ever before.
If so, then the Jets will have strength in numbers this season — all 12 of them, in fact — up front.