This was a recent comment on this blog:
a 4th line isn’t going to make or break any team – Colin McDonald is a perfectly good 4th line RW – Reasoner could be okay at C for now as well
And it's a sentiment I see frequently on hockey blogs and boards - including this one, so I'm not meaning to single anyone out here. That said, it's a very very wrong sentiment that needs to be addressed.
Everyone here thinks the Isles have a perfectly capable top 6. Yet people tend to lop all of the remaining Islander problems, and the reason why these top 6 aren't enough, on the Defense and Goaltending. And yeah, those things are bad. But they're not the only problem.
I took a look at the top 6 forwards by GVT of every team last year, minimum 30 games.* This gives you a rough list of how productive each team's top 6 forwards are. Obviously I'm going to have a few 3rd line guys on this list who were more productive than 2nd line players, but it's a quick estimation that should prove my point.**
*GVT is Hockey Prospectus' all-around statistic that gives a value as to each player's performance in both offense and defense. It has flaws, but it works for a simple demonstration such as this
**I'm also excluding anyone who was traded for sample size purposes.
For the Islanders, the top 6 forwards were in order: Tavares, Moulson, Nielsen, Parenteau, Okposo & Grabner, with Josh Bailey JUST missing the cut. Pretty good summary of our top 6 last year.
How does it stack up to other teams' top 6s? Pretty good actually:
1. PIT- 111.3 GVT
2. NJD- 93.6 GVT
3. BOS- 93.3 GVT
4. PHI - 93.3 GVT
5. CHI - 82.4 GVT
6. DET: 77.5 GVT
7. VAN: 74.5 GVT
8. SJS: 73.8 GVT
9. TBL: 71.3 GVT
10. ISLANDERS: 68.9 GVT
11. NYR: 68.8 GVT
12. OTT: 65.8 GVT
13. TOR: 64.9 GVT
etc. The Islanders are 10th in the league - 6th in the East. Fourth in their division, just ahead of the Rangers, but well the Atlantic is ridiculous. Oh and our top 6 is being paid a fraction of any of these other teams' top 6.
So our top 6 forwards are indeed good enough to compete in this league. But how about our bottom 6?
Bottom 6 Forwards' GVT by Team:
1. Boston 29.9 GVT
2. Philly 27.9 GVT
3. Pittsburgh 23.7 GVT
4. Detroit 23 GVT
5. Nashville 17.6 GVT
6. Chicago 17 GVT
7. Washington 16.6 GVT
8. Rangers 15.5 GVT
9. St. Louis 14.1 GVT
10. Phoenix 13.4 GVT.
30. New York Islanders - Negative 4.6 GVT
So yeah, the Islanders' bottom 6 forwards were the least productive bottom 6 in the league. Note how the top ten bottom sixes belong to all Playoffs teams. The Islanders' bottom 6 actually were worse than random AHLers they could've called up, costing them near a win by themselves.
*The Rangers' Bottom 6 is a product of Tort's tricky strategy: He plays his fourth line by far the least of anyone in the league, so to minimize his worst players.
Now I've cheated here - the Islanders' bottom 6 includes third liners of course. Perhaps the problem is there rather than the fourth line? Ummm no:
Isles' 4th line: NEGATIVE 10.7 GVT: Nino -5.8 GVT, Reasoner -2.9 GVT, Pandolfo -2 GVT
Isles' 3rd line: +6.1 - (Bailey, Martin, 3rd partner who didn't meet 30 game requirement or traded).
Yes, the reason why the Islanders' bottom 6 were so bad is ENTIRELY BECAUSE THEIR FOURTH LINE WAS AWFUL.
So despite having the #10 best top 6 in the league, we had the 18th best group of forwards in the league. So even if we had an average D, our forwards overall wouldn't have been good enough to get into the playoffs. PRETTY MUCH ENTIRELY BECAUSE WE PUT OUT A FOURTH LINE THAT WAS TERRIBLE.
So the next time you think to yourself, "well that person will only be a fourth liner, so it won't matter," remember this: A fourth liner is still playing near 10 minutes a game - a sixth of a hockey game. Would you really want a crappy player playing 10 minutes a game? It adds up and it HURTS.