The Blue Jackets' Fourth Line Is Struggling Mightily, And Changes Might Be In The Offing

By Chris Pennington on November 20, 2018 at 2:30 pm
Lukas Sedlak and Sonny Milano have both been on the bubble between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Cleveland Monsters for a few years now.

Tom Szczerbowski – USA TODAY Sports

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It's been quite some time since the Columbus Blue Jackets had a *solid* fourth line of forwards.

Mark Letestu, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, circa 2013-2014? Ah, those were the days. They took it up a notch in 2016-17 with Lukas Sedlak, Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner.

To be clear, fourth liners don't have to be 30-point scorers. They don't even have to get 25. But if they can hold their own and have a relatively even plus/minus and not get buried in the shot share department, then you should be fine.

But for the Blue Jackets, it's getting to a point where opposing teams know their fourth line is a weakness, and they're attacking without hesitation and taking risks. They just have a look of timidity and disorganization. 

It makes sense that chemistry hasn't been built, as there has been a new bottom-six forward swapped in nearly every game, but it's that lack of exterior confidence of the fourth liners (and just overall lack of talent) that killed the Blue Jackets on Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and will continue to do so if nothing changes.

The fourth line of the Blue Jackets was on the ice for the final two goals against Toronto, and it came down to timing their shifts and lack of awareness. 

The video above will begin at 5:15, which catches the end of a shift by the fourth line of Lukas Sedlak, Riley Nash and Markus Hannakainen. The line has already been on the ice for 10-15 seconds too long, and tried to make one last offensive push.

Nash and Sedlak both crash below the goal line to dig for a loose puck, and both fail to come up with it. Both players are gassed and go for a line change.

Hannakainen wisely stayed higher in the zone and didn't send three forwards deep, but casually skates backwards at the blue line, oblivious to Mitch Marner of the Leafs streaking behind him. He lets a pass get by, and though the defense by Harrington and Werenski was soft, putting yourself in a position where Marner and John Tavares have space to work is never a good thing.

The final goal, beginning at 7:10 in the video, came from a defensive zone face-off that it itself came from an unnecessary icing. Nash loses the face-off, and David Savard and Sedlak both bull-rush Tavares to retrieve it.

Nash gets tied up with Zach Hyman off the draw, and makes little-to-no effort to break free, leaving him belong the hash marks flat-footed. Tavares makes a wide open pass to Morgan Rielly at the point, which springs Nash to leave Hyman alone, who should have covered by a defenseman. 

Nash isn't even close to blocking the shot, so Rielly gets an open pass off, and Hyman is alone down low to make the deflection. Now, mistakes like this will happen, but this has seemed to be somewhat of a consistent problem for the Blue Jackets so far this season. 

What needs to happen? What can change? Here's a few suggestions the club could change with their bottom-six forwards to patch the hole that is their fourth line. 

Bring Back Milano

One of the more polarizing players in Blue Jackets history has spent the past few weeks in the AHL, and bringing him back up with the big boys could be helpful.

Sonny Milano, the Blue Jackets' top pick in the 2014 draft, has been sent up and down between the NHL and AHL more than almost any Jacket in the past few seasons. He's a goal-scorer at heart, and in just 55 games last season had 14 goals in 55 games, with a 50.7 CF%.

This season, he only had one goal in eight games, but had racked up a 60.8 CF%. His inconsistent of playing time surely had some to do with him not being able to get a rhythm on his goal scoring, and that's something that Jackets definitely need from their bottom lines right now. 

Spread The Wealth

While it seems like a sure-fire luxury to have the likes of Anthony Duclair and Alexander Wennberg on your third line, it also means that the fourth line will be very much so lacking skill. 

Duclair's ice time has been cut in the spirit of coach John Tortorella wanting to get him to "check more", so why not send him down to the fourth and spread the talent a bit? Looking to get Wennberg motivated? Drop him in with Sedlak and Bjorkstrand. Let him feel the heat of the AHL breathing down his neck.

The fourth line isn't supposed to be the most talented bunch. But if you don't have even just one player on that line who can be a serious offensive threat, then you're in trouble, and the Jackets are surely in that spot. Spread it out a bit.

Give Them Time

Tortorella is known to scramble his lines a good amount throughout the season, almost to the point where players can struggle with gaining chemistry with line mates because they're constantly changing.

And that's surely been the storyline for the Jackets' fourth line, where every other night it seems like Bjorkstrand, Hannakainen and Sedklak are being rotated like a scrambler ride at a theme park. If Nash, Sedlak and Hannakainen had played a bit more together, would they have made the same mistakes as they did on Monday?

As painful as this could be in the early-going, let the lines stay together for a week and let them gel. Better to work this out now than in April or May.

Trade?!

This is a less practical option but definitely should be considered. The Jackets have five incredibly solid defensemen, and someone like David Savard could be used to get them an upgrade at the forward position.

That's all we'll say on that subject.

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