This season, the Florida Panthers have struggled to find production from their fourth line. What can they do to make their bottom line better?
Over the past few years, the Panthers have struggled to put together a solid 4th line. The numerous amounts of players that the Cats have tried to plug into the 4th line has been tiresome as the line can never produce.
While Derek MacKenzie (the Panthers captain), has centered the line ever since he came to Florida, his wingers have been constantly changing from year to year. If the Panthers don’t find some continuity on the last line, they will continue to find themselves with little to no production at all.
Before readers get the wrong idea, I am not suggesting that the Panthers’ 4th line needs to be as productive as the top 9 forwards, but for the line to have the ability to pinch in and help would be nice for a team that already struggles with scoring.
Currently, the Panthers normally put out a line consisting of Micheal Haley, Derek MacKenzie, and Colton Sceviour/Connor Brickley (depending on if Sceviour gets a spot on the 3rd line). Both Sceviour and Brickley are not bad options for the 4th line, but the other two need some improvement.
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To start off, Micheal Haley simply is not worthy of starting in all 82 regular season games. While he has managed to somehow notch 7 points in 33 games this year, he is a liability every time he steps out onto the ice. To credit Haley, he does bring a physical force to the team that the Panthers lacked a bit last year, but other than that, he doesn’t bring much else to the ice.
The Panthers would be much better off if they brought in a gritty/somewhat skilled guy from the AHL like Jayce Hawryluk to fill in for Haley. Not only would Hawryluk bring physicality to the ice, but he could possibly provide in the scoring area.
Haley could then easily slip into a similar role that Shawn Thornton had when he played with the Panthers. By bringing in Hawryluk to play on the 4th line, it could give the line even more energy and jump when it hits the ice.
Derek MacKenzie is also on the trend downwards. When MacKenzie first joined the Panthers in the 2014-15 season, he brought a feisty yet aggressive game style that really helped the Cats. However, MacKenzie is now 36, and while he still tries to bring his high energy style of play to the game, it’s not working as well as it used to.
As the season has moved along, it’s becoming more clear that his time with the Panthers will soon come to an end at the end of the season.
The Panthers could easily fill this position with another young prospect, but since MacKenzie will not be leaving until after the 2018-19 season (hits UFA market), it would be wise for the Panthers to either sign somebody like MacKenzie who is a little bit younger, or to immediately give the spot to a prospect in our AHL system.
As for this season, it remains unlikely that the coaching staff will even think about changing the fourth line as it is. But, for next season, if the Panthers want to continue progressing as a team, they should think about improving the talent on last line.