In favour of a fourth line that includes Mason Raymond


I thought that the best game the Toronto Maple Leafs played last season was the fourth game of the playoffs against Boston. It ended poorly, unfortunately, on an overtime goal by David Krejci, the Leafs played some inspired hockey after Mark Fraser took a puck in the face and after the fourth line got benched thanks to a terrible penalty taken by Colton Orr that resulted in a goal against.

The Leafs rolled three lines and five defencemen and looked pretty good. As I noted in my post titled “the accidental juggernaut, the Leafs out-chanced Boston 9-4 after Fraser and Orr found themselves out of the game, before that, they had been out-chanced 11-14 by the same Bruins.

What will it take for Randy Carlyle & Co. to be convinced that the Maple Leafs are better built off of skill than toughness. While the Boston Bruins model is tempting to emulate, it overlooks the fact that the Bruins have a tonne of skill in the top six and bottom six of their roster, and are one of the smaller teams in the National Hockey League. When the Leafs let their fourth line alone in the fourth game, it forced them to use their skilled units more effectively. Nazem Kadri played with Phil Kessel, and Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul were put together on a third line with Matt Frattin. It wasn’t a “third line” in the checking sense, just that they got the third most ice-time out of the three units, and still generated chances.

This is the future of the NHL, like it or not. Restrictions on fighting have already begun in the major junior leagues, and the NHL has been rumoured to be thinking about banning helmet-less fights. Simply put, the worst players in the NHL are the fighters, and they’re the ones holding skilled players back in the minor leagues. If your team is better off without your fighting fourth line, why not add some skill to it, as in…

We’re looking for a roster spot for Mason Raymond, who impressed in his first game preseason game with the Leafs and is definitely in the mix for an NHL job. He’s a player worth taking a chance on: low risk if he doesn’t work out, and high reward if he regains the same form he had pre-back injury.

Here is how the projected lines shake up with a “punching” fourth line:

van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson
McClement – Bolland – Kulemin
McLaren – Colborne – Orr

Here’s the rub, though. Colton Orr still hasn’t hit the ice at Leafs camp with a leg bone bruise. Frazer McLaren broke his finger in a Saturday practice and is apparently out for two weeks.

Suppose those injuries stretch into the regular season. How does that change the dynamic?

van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson
McClement – Bolland – Kulemin
Raymond – Colborne – Broll/d’Amigo/Whoever

That fourth line looks legitimately better, I think. Simply changing the wingers from two tough guys changes the dynamic of the overall group, and they become a line you can use in sheltered scoring situations in the early going in the season, the same way you broke Nazem Kadri into the league last season.

I don’t know what makes people think that Orr’s staged fights have a positive impact on the game. I’ve tried to show in the past that other teams that saw large increases in fights didn’t actually always lead to more wins, the teams that actually cut their fights by a significant amount saw their win totals increase! The problem is that when you’re dressing a fighter, you’re dressing a player that occasionally records 29 penalty minutes in just two seconds of ice-time. There’s an opportunity cost by having a skilled player in the press box or in the minors, somebody who may be able to generate meaningful ice-time in limited shifts, or have the ability to play enough to take some of the pressure off of the top players.

No player that played more than 10 games registered a lower average ice-time than McLaren last season at 5:12. Only two players with more than 40 games registered a lower average ice-time than Orr at 6:23. Even the Bruins have a two-time 10-goal scorer centreing their fourth line, and a former 20th overall pick. You don’t need a pair of goons to have a chance, or to be considered a tough team.

Both McLaren and Orr can be put in the minors and they won’t count against the salary cap. This gives you space to sign Raymond and perhaps even Cody Franson with the $1.6-million in salary cap space you save. Even without Raymond, there’s a good collection of wingers down on the farm that can probably provide meaningful minutes in a way Orr and McLaren can’t.

So suppose these injuries stretch into the season… what does your fourth line look like?

  • Badger M

    I don’t know if a checking role suits Raymond’s skills. He struggled in a role outside the top 6 during his time in Vancouver. I like the idea of adding his speed into the lineup, especially after losing MacArthur, Grabovski, and Frattin, but don’t see how he can fit into a bottom 6 role.

  • BayStParade

    I personally don’t mind having two guys on the last line that won’t hesitate to drop the gloves with anyone in the league that messes with the team. Players are afraid of them and the Leafs are more intimidating because of their size. Nobody likes getting pushed around by the Bruins, but I love pummeling the Habs in the same respect. Speed/skill is not our forte and we’ll get crushed trying to copy teams who are actually proficient in that respect.

  • Only a non-hockey person or a complete pansy would want fighting taken out of the NHL. If players can’t settle disagreements with a good tilt then you’re going to see a lot more dirty play to settle the score. And if you think that Orr’s staged fights do nothing for the morale of the team, then you’re completely clueless… just watch how pumped up the boys get next time Colton knocks someone out.

      • Both teams bang their sticks out of respect for their teammeates dropping the gloves, everyone knows that. I assume you’ve not much of a hockey player if you think that the losing team would be pumped up about their guy getting knocked out. There are few things better to get your team going than winning a good scrap, hence why these “staged fights” normally happen when the game is in a close situation.

        It makes me laugh to see that you’re one of those hockey “writers” that completely leans on stats to form an opinion…. Such as the ones who use Corsi to determine the worth of a player. Hockey isn’t baseball, this isn’t Moneyball. While stats are a tool that may be used to evaluate a player they are most definitley not the only thing that should be considered. There are skills such as toughness, heart, soul and drive that can’t be measured on paper but are a very big factor in the game of hockey. The leafs winning percentage when Orr is in the lineup doesn’t mean that they don’t need him anymore. Maybe for a game agaisnt a quick highly skilled team such as Pittsburg a faster, smaller player would be a better fit. But against a big, tough team like Boston I would take a player like Orr any day. Teams where the smaller guys will get knocked around and become useless, until it leaves you praying for a scraper to come defend skilled players like Keseel and Gardiner from the other heavyweights.

        • MaxPower417

          What website do you think this is, exactly?

          And small, skilled teams have taken Boston in the past, many times. Most recently it was Chicago for the Stanley Cup.

        • Okay… you’re the first person to mention “Corsi” at all here. Seems to happen an awful lot with people who disagree. Corsi is not on trial here. Having more good hockey players or fewer good hockey players is what’s on trial.

          Do staged fights happen more often in a close situation? Simply put, no.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Are you suggesting a conceptual change in the role of a fourth line?

    “This is the future of the NHL, like it or not. Restrictions on fighting have already begun in the major junior leagues, and the NHL has been rumoured to be thinking about banning helmet-less fights. Simply put, the worst players in the NHL are the fighters, and they’re the ones holding skilled players back in the minor leagues. If your team is better off without your fighting fourth line, why not add some skill to it, as in…”

    I am inclined to agree with you — but for the 4th line to be used properly, the coaches have to understand what it’s supposed to do. Not sure if this crew would.

    If you are pointing to a shift, what it is? The place to give sheltered minutes to the future stars, and cycle them into the 1-3 lines as they develop?

  • Raymond isn’t suited for the fourth line, he is a guy who deserves 3rd or 2nd line minutes. Someone like McClement or Broll who have less scoring ability should be on the fourth line. But never should have resigned both Mclaren and Orr.

  • I would actually love to see Broll and/or Biggs on the 4th line. They both seem to want to be more productive players in both an offensive and defensive aspect, rather than just ‘tough guys.’

    There is one thing Steve always says about Boston, and when people say you need tough guys to play against them, and it’s that Boston has tough guys that can actually play. There’s a quite a bit of a difference between Orr/McLaren and other ‘tough guys’ like Thornton, Prust, Ott etc.

    • I find it interesting that a lot of Boston bloggers hate having Thornton in the line up, due to his poor possession numbers and his need to be sheltered.

      This was especially so when they lost to the Black Hawks..

      I’ve never actually seen his numbers though.

  • Raymond is perfectly OK as a bottom-6 winger. I’m a Canucks fan. I’ve watched a lot of Raymond. He was never the problem with the bottom-6. It’s just time for him and the Canucks to go in another direction; a fresh start for both teams, as it were.

    He’s fast, can get a shot off, and doesn’t miss his check defensively. The only issue, and it’s been well chronicled, is that Raymond’s possession numbers have dipped a little bit since the Boychuk did a little can opener move and drove him into the boards, severely injuring his back. Frankly, I think he’s done well to come back to even near to where he was before.

    Also, league conspiracy to let the Bruins win, blah blah blah, I’m a Canucks fan.

  • Cam, how can Toronto afford Raymond, keep Colbourne and still sign Franson?

    You have pointed out the (ahem) challenges, the Leafs have had in giving out silly contracts to their current crop of players; starting with including two facepunchers in the mix – Frasor and Orr.

    Yeeesh! I thought Mike Gillis was silly to sign Tom Sestito (and still do)