Throughout the offseason Leaf fans were assured numerous times that 3 line hockey was a thing of the past for Randy Carlyle’s Maple Leafs. For many of us, it was music to our ears after watching last season’s squad run out of gas late in the season as a result of Carlyle’s top-heavy minute distribution. Last year’s 4th line was used less than any other 4th line in the league, with players like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren averaging less than 5:30 of ice time per game and Carter Ashton just above that at 6:12. The Leafs top line, however, averaged over 20:00 per game, with Kessel, Bozak and Van Riemsdyk each in the top 12 for ice time league-wide among forwards.
On many occasions in 2013/2014, Carlyle opted to dress 7 defensemen and 11 forwards, double-shifting his top 6 wingers when the 4th got a shift. Clearly there was a balance issue, one that bit the Leafs late in the season, contributing to the infamous collapse that saw the Leafs on the outside looking in once the postseason arrived.
Unfortunately, 7 games in, it appears that Randy Carlyle is having some difficulty trusting the 4th line with minutes again. Combine that with the fact that the Leafs have 7 NHL-capable defensemen on the roster, and on Tuesday night we found ourselves back to dressing 11 forwards and 7 defensemen, and wondering if Carlyle might just continue to roll with that set up for the time being.
Here’s how the ice time has looked for the 4th line so far this season:
Game 1 – Canadiens vs Maple Leafs
Peter Holland: 11:01
Daniel Winnik: 10:39
Matt Frattin: 9:24
Game 2 – Penguins vs Maple Leafs
Brandon Kozun: 12:05
Peter Holland: 10:01
Richard Panik: 8:17
Game 3 – Maple Leafs vs Rangers
Brandon Kozun: 7:43
Peter Holland: 5:52
Richard Panik: 5:26
Game 4 – Avalanche vs Maple Leafs
Brandon Kozun: 5:50
Richard Panik: 4:44
Peter Holland: 4:31
Game 5 – Red Wings vs Maple Leafs
Brandon Kozun: 5:32 (injured during the game)
Richard Panik: 9:46
Peter Holland: 11:48
Game 6 – Maple Leafs vs Red Wings
Matt Frattin: 2:54
Richard Panik: 3:10
Peter Holland: 6:52
Game 7 – Maple Leafs vs Islanders (11 F, 7 D)
Richard Panik: 7:20
Peter Holland: 11:42
While there are some positive signs there, specifically Peter Holland getting over 10 minutes on 4 occasions, it’s obvious that throughout the course of the 7 games Carlyle began losing trust in the contribution of his depth forwards. You can see that he attempts to spread the minutes around more in the first game of a back to back (games 2 and 5), but all things being equal he appears to prefer to limit the minutes of the 11th and 12th forwards.
It seems like unless we see a change in player personnel, we’re left with something of a lesser of two evils situation. Either Carlyle dresses 7 D and rolls 3 lines, or he dresses 6 D, and gives the 4th line very limited minutes.
Since this will be a question leading up to the game tomorrow in Boston (and likely beyond), we wanted to know what you all think is the right move, both tomorrow night and moving forward. Let us know what you think Carlyle should do in the short term by answering the poll below, and then in the comment thread let us know what you think the long term solution is.