Imagine for a second the prospect of not having glorified AHLers on our team. Yes, that means no B.J. Crombeen, Brad Winchester, Cam Janssen, Ryan Reeves, or Tyson Strachan out there wandering around largely aimlessly. Now imagine your roster is largely full of, well, this is the St. Louis Blues.. I guess we'll go with Andy MacDonald, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, and Erik Johnson as our stars.
Could we do that? Yes.
The New Jersey Devils were recently defeated 3-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins. While that doesn't sound particularly noteworthy, the Devils did so using only 15 skaters. Yes, that's right: they effectively took off the entire fourth line, shortening the bench, and still competently competed against one of the top NHL teams. In fact, looking into the game stats, we can see it really wasn't that much of a disadvantage after all.
Let's look at a few key points:
- While the Penguins had five players with over 20 minutes played, the Devils had seven. That said, the Penguins had four players whose average shift was over a minute, while the Devils didn't have any. The Devils had two players with over 30 shifts; the Penguins had one.
- Shots were even for the game.
- The Devils had more hits.
- Both teams had the same number of take-aways.
- The Devils had a better faceoff percentage.
- And let's not forget the 3-1 score. This was even better than the Devils' previous game, in which they had a full roster, and lost to the Washington Capitals 7-2.
I can hear you already. "Boy, they must have been tired in the third period!" Nope. Far from it. In fact, Devils head coach John MccLean called the period, "probably our best period."
No one ran out of gas. No one made horribly rookie-like mistakes. It was just a normal game out there, but with one bench shorted by a line. And they played admirably. Admirably normal.
That said, while many argue that the watering-down of the NHL has come from over expansion (with which I tend to agree), perhaps a more practical option is to shorten the game rosters. The fourth line, with many players -- particularly fighters -- getting a few minutes a game, is becoming even more irrelevant by the day. Heck, who needs George Parros when you have Ryan Getzlaf... er... Corey Perry out there?
I'd much rather see the Blues, as well as other teams, field rosters full of NHL-capable talent instead of two or three lines of said talent while fielding a fourth line of scrubs, glorified AHLers, or cap-friendly bums. It would make for more competitive, entertaining, and consistently good hockey. The Devils proved it.