Notice any players missing in the playoffs? Don’t sweat it if you don’t, because no one else has either. They disappear around this time every year, and few fans seem to care because they’re too busy watching the real season when only the real players are left playing.
Heck, even the barbarian blowhards have hardly made a headline about the absence of the sledgehammered, stone-handed, slower-than-sludge fighters that (regrettably) make their appearance in the regular season, only to disappear (thankfully) in the playoffs.
Yes, the goons are gone once again, and what fans are left with is plain old, unadulterated, skilled, slick, quick, fast-paced NHL hockey. In their place are fourth-liners with actual speed and skill, players who can actually play – and even sometimes score – in the post-season.
Fourth lines play an indispensable role in the playoffs, because coaches can ill-afford to shorten their benches for long at this time of the year. The NHL is now a league of puck possession and depth – stars take care of the former, while reliable fourth lines address the latter, particularly in the playoffs.
Coaches need their fourth-liners to play sound defensively, kill penalties and spell the other three lines regularly during what is the most exhausting part of the season. They need them to be able to score more than every century or so – guys like Trevor Lewis and Dale Weise, who chip in key goals in crucial situations. And they need to be comfortable playing them more than a few minutes a game.
Of the eight teams left in Round 2, no player is averaging under 6:00 per game. Only two players are averaging under 7:00, five under 8:00 and just eight under 9:00. Four teams – Anaheim, Montreal, New York and Pittsburgh – don’t have a single player under 9:00.
Here is the list of players in Round 2 averaging under 10:00:
Kyle Palmieri, 9:42
Jordan Caron, 7:54
Shawn Thornton, 7:43
Brandon Bollig, 6:09
Joakim Nordstrom, 8:46
Jeremy Morin, 6:25
Kyle Clifford, 9:40
Jordan Nolan, 8:09
Cody McCormick, 8:18
Stephane Veillieux, 7:17
Keith Ballard, 9:18
Nathan Beaulieau, 9:36
Jesper Fast, 9:39
Derek Dorsett, 9:05
Joe Vitale, 9:26
Jayson Megna, 9:10
With the exception of Shawn Thornton (whose reputation is now about as stainless as an hourly hotel room after his Brooks Orpik and P.K. Subban episodes this season) and perhaps Cody McCormick and Derek Dorsett, none of those players is known primarily for his punching skills. They all can play.
And isn’t that the point of hockey? Icing players who are skilled in the legal parts of the game instead of meatheads who have made a living on the illegal portions?
Check out the NHLers under 8:00 of ice time per game during the regular season. Not one is left on the ice in the playoffs. Among that list you’ll find such skill-less knuckle-chuckers as John Scott, Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth, Tom Sestito, Eric Boulton, Mike Rupp, Krys Barch, Luke Gazdic, Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill, Cam Janssen, Paul Bissonnette, George Parros, Matt Kassian and Frazer McLaren.
Teams who give roster spots to goons might as well give up on the Stanley Cup, because they deprive their coaches of depth. And the playoffs prove why: with fighters in their lineups, teams are about as deep as Paris Hilton at a poetry reading.
With every year that goes by, more goons go by the wayside. Once they are gone, the NHL and its fans will be much better for it.
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.
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