NHL GMs: ‘I’ve Got a Tip on the Fourth Line’

David Pollak had a piece discussing how much competition the Sharks have for their third- and fourth-line slots.

This seems to be the new GM move: spending an excruciating amount of time, and to a certain extent, money, on guys who will play 10 to 15 minutes a night.

At least San Jose GM Doug Wilson has the excuse that he’s trying to rebuild his checking line. But then again, the Sharks are a team that scored 10 goals in six playoff games. Is checking really the priority here?

The Sharks aren’t alone in this. The New York Rangers signed Marian Gaborik in the off-season, but other than that, GM Glen Sather has spent most of the past two years tweaking the third and fourth line nearly constantly, even as scoring and offense all but evaporated from his team.

And if you look at much of Toronto’s off-season moves, you see a lot of third- and fourth-line work and not much top six help. Obviously, Phil Kessel will change that, but until that happens, Toronto GM Brian Burke has been acting mostly like he’s trying to fill an NBA backcourt or an NFL offensive line.

Part of the reasons GMs spend so much time on their bottom six forwards is that the cost is better. Top six forwards are expensive, either in terms of cap space or trade demands. So logistically, it’s just easier to land third-/fourth-line players.

But these players are also low-risk for GMs in terms of job security. It lets them make trades and obtain players without expectations. It’s roster movement for the sake of movement. If a trade results in an important player, it’s great. But if it doesn’t, which it usually doesn’t, no one was expecting much.

The best example of the throwaway third-liner-to-gold trade move is when Sather first brought in Sean Avery. Avery was supposed to be a third- or fourth-line energy guy, but for whatever reason, he thrived with the Rangers, making Sather look like a genius, and also making you forget the 20 other comparable moves Sather made that did nothing to improve the team.

And that’s another reason GMs might like these kinds of moves: It’s a form of gambling, or at least investing. They’re all hoping to find that cheap player that puts their team on a path to greatness; that diamond in the rough that no one else in the NHL recognized or knew how to use properly.

Of course, when you look at a team like the Devils, who seem to lack a true second-line center right now, you have to think it might be nice if GMs spent their time filling actual holes rather than conducting the NHL equivalent of daytrading.