Jan 12, 2014; New York, NY, USA; The New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers benches react after a fight during the second period at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Fighting – An Antiquated Necessity


In years past, the emotional ups and downs of the playoffs caused fights between both teams tough guys and even sometimes the role players got involved in the fist to cuffs. So far in the playoffs the Rangers have only had one fighting major. It was Brian Boyle and Adam Hall late in-game six of the Philadelphia Flyers series. That’s the only fighting major the New York Rangers had taken in sixteen playoff games . In fact there were only eight-teen five-minute major penalties in the entire playoffs. Sixteen of which were fighting majors. Eight fights in the entire playoffs? In years past that was one game or sometimes a period, depending how far back you may go. The other two majors were for boarding infractions.

NHL fighting - an antiquated necessity?

Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The fact of the matter is that there seems to be a change in the culture in the NHL game. The debate is if it’s pressure on teams from the NHL league officials that want to move away from the games violent label or just the evolution of the professional hockey game. I lean towards the latter of the two. Not every NHL team has a fourth line player or players that are only out there four or five minutes a game to go drop the gloves anymore. It was to protect a player on his team from liberties taken by the opposition. In today’s game if you can’t skate and contribute to the teams concept, you won’t play regularly in the National Hockey league. The Boston Bruins four line depth won them the Cup in 2011 and was the difference in the five games against the NY Rangers during last years playoffs. Which, in my opinion was a shame! That New York Ranger team was better than that but that’s another story for another time. It’s in the past.

The Boston Bruins set the precedent for how teams should be able to use four effective lines to win games in the NHL.

The Boston Bruins set the standard for the way a fourth line is constructed on a contending team. Your fourth line has to contribute puck possession to win hockey games. Especially in the playoffs! Two and three-line teams like the way the two-line Washington Capitals and the “grind it out” Vancouver Canucks are constructed are archaic today. The New York Rangers fourth line was a huge factor in this years run through the playoffs. Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett were all huge reason the New York Rangers went as far as they did. Teams that can’t match the depth don’t stand a chance. The Pittsburgh Penguins had a three games to one lead in their second round series. Before the New York Rangers took it to them with superior depth and speed in all four lines, winning three games in a row by a combined score of ten to three.

The Chicago Blackhawks don’t have a heavy fourth “checking” line. They have three small Yet effective players that fight for the puck instead of the oppositions players . Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith are mainstays. Brandon Bollig and Joakim Nordstrom have rotated on a  game to game basis on the Hawks fourth line. None of them are fighters by trade and all get involved in the puck possession game. The Montreal Canadiens fourth line of Brandon Prust-Daniel Briere-Dale Weise are all under 210 pounds. Only Dale Weise (a 2008 NY Rangers draft pick #111 overall) is the only one of the three over 200 pounds. All three players are looking to control the puck and not beat up the opposition. The Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien uses his fourth line regularly and through the first two rounds they were effective without taking five minute fighting majors. They managed to frustrate and intimidate the big bad Boston Bruins and arguably won the Canadiens that series. The Boston Bruins don’t have the depth they once did. Collectively the Canadiens fourth line had a fifteen percent on ice Corsi for percentage at even strength. In contrast, the New York Rangers Fourth line had a sixty-six percent Corsi for percentage at even strength.

The Antiquated days of beating teams up to win are over in the NHL. Checking line players are expected to play hockey and own the puck or there’s another player that can.

Teams with four lines that can contribute on offense have the advantage. Fourth lines get a lot of the tough defensive zone starts. Often against the oppositions top six forwards. If your fourth line is pinned in its’ zone while the other team is winding up for shots until the puck finally comes out of the zone. This is less effective than the team with a trio that can finish their shift in the offensive zone and even work the puck to the net for a scoring chance. The bottom line that can contribute offensively, possess the puck more than the opposition and isn’t liable to turn the puck over will play more minutes per game and lighten the load on the top six.  You win or lose based on the depth of your team. Two or three scoring lines won’t get you far anymore, neither will a bunch of grinders!

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Tags: Fighting Forth Line New York Rangers NHL NHL Playoffs Penalties

  • @ChrisLeonard22

    Another great piece, BT. I agree with your perception that the evolution of 4th lines has much more to do with the development of the game than pressure from he NHL. Teams want to win, and speed hockey is winning hockey in today’s game. Even if the change is the result of league pressure it’s a change whose time has come. I’ve always enjoyed a good scrum as much as any hockey fan, but after the deaths of Probert and Boogaard, it’s pretty hard to justify two guys pounding on each other’s brains as an essential part of the game.

    In these playoffs, so many thought that Boston was the favorite coming out of the East. But even their 4th line is obsolete. The Thorntons just don’t have the speed to keep up with or even effectively hit the Prusts and the Moores. What we have now from the final four teams is exciting hockey and the increased potential for scoring from every line. I think this evolution in favor of depth will be good for the league and the game overall.