The Flyers could have one of the best 4th lines in hockey
Oh hey look, no more Jori Lehtera!
As our own Maddie Campbell explored earlier, the Kevin Hayes trade and (potential) signing could have an interesting ripple effect. The addition of a legitimate 2nd line center relieves pressure off of the young Nolan Patrick, allowing him to step into the 3C role. In turn, this also cements Scott Laughton’s role as the 4th line center. Having stability and confidence in the corp of centers is undoubtedly great for the Flyers, and no longer means that forwards will have to regularly play against competition above their ideal level (of course barring injury).
Now of course, the roster is not finalized. There is still another forward spot at RW to be filled. Whether this is taken by a prospect or by a player yet to be named in a trade is unknown, though it can be assumed that this spot will be for 3RW. With Laughton pretty much confirmed to be a mainstay on the 4th line (if Hayes is indeed the 2C), the Flyers will have a depth of skill plus-side bottom six players. Many have been forecasting the 4th line to consist of Raffl-Laughton-Hartman, which very well could happen. The Flyers could subvert expectations and place a prospect call-up on wing. A smaller center like Morgan Frost could fit the bill for this. However, in the past, the Flyers have been reluctant to put a top-tier prospect in the NHL at a 4th line level, so it appears more likely that Frost would slide in with Patrick at his center on the 3rd line if he is placed straight in the NHL.
So, what are we looking at with a Raffl-Laughton-Hartman 4th line? Well, to put it frankly, it’s one of the best 4th lines in hockey, a top five for sure. Pension Plan Puppets’ measurements of how much a forward should score puts a low end 3rd line scoring at the following pace: 31 C pts, 14 LW pts, 16 RW pts. Scott Laughton hit 32 points last season for a career high, and this fits in with the model fairly well for how we would describe Laughton. I wouldn’t say Laughton is a great 3rd liner, he more so is an average-okay 3rd liner and an excellent 4th liner. Michael Raffl put up 18 points last season, and 22 the season before. He grades out as a better than average but not excellent 3rd liner. Ryan Hartman, between both Nashville and Philadelphia, scored 26 points, which betters the minimum 3rd line standard by ten, not quite a 2nd line level, but very good for a third liner. Considering these standards are for 3rd line players, the Flyers should crush most competition when the on ice matchup is 4th line vs 4th line, or even against an opponent’s 3rd line.
In terms of possession metrics, there is a bit more to be desired:
4th Line 5v5 Possession Metrics, 2018-19
|Player||Corsi-For% 5v5||Corsi Rel % 5v5||PDO 5v5|
Naturally, no 4th line forward is expected to be Corsi-Rel positive compared to 1st line players. Though, it is not ideal that the only member of this potential line with a plus-50 Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5 is Ryan Hartman. You’d like to see both Raffl and Laughton improve at keeping positive possession against the likely competition they’ll be seeing, and I do think that they can improve. Raffl has driven play nearly every other year in his NHL career, and Laughton performed significantly better in this aspect the prior season (51.75% Corsi-For % at 5-on-5).
The new 4th line looks to compare fairly well with other “good” 4th lines. The New York Islanders’ 4th line of Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Martin is considered to be one of the best in the league. Cizikas, the center, managed 33 points, Clutterbuck scored 23 and Martin totaled 14. While the Flyers’ 4th line maybe isn’t quite as good as the Islanders’ (at least with Cizikas and Clutterbuck), they are certainly not too far behind. At the very least they’ll negate opponents’ good bottom lines, and at best, they will dominate against comparative opposition in their limited minutes. While the top lines get the most minutes, and of course are the priority, having more areas of strength where match-ups can be won is a definite positive.
The Flyers will hopefully have a fully optimized forward core for the first time in a while. There are no longer any Dale Weises or Jori Lehteras to take 4th line spots. Even Corban Knight is now gone. The team is set to take advantage of being able to roll four skill-plus lines, and this is something to be excited about. They’ll now essentially have two 3rd lines, and they’ll be be able to roll either of those bottom six lines out at any given point. Not many other teams can say that.