The 4th line is always an interesting place in the lineup. Most of the time it's full of younger players who haven't yet proven themselves worthy of more ice time, "grit" guys that see five shifts a night, or aging veterans that are picked up for leadership. At times, it can be used to send a message to top players who are underperforming, as we have seen in the past during a few of Modano's later games, or more recently with Ales Hemsky.
Ice time is the most valuable commodity, and when aging players see it start to slip away, it's difficult to come to terms with it. They know there is very little chance that it will ever return once it starts to diminish. Sergei Gonchar went through this before Montreal grabbed him and doled out more minutes to #55 (so far), and of course Ray Whitney had a tough time with his reduced role last year as well. You may remember Whitney's parting thoughts for Dallas being something along the lines of, "I didn't play better my last year with Dallas because I didn't have enough ice time to get going." Of course, he needed to earn the ice time by playing better, right? When in Rome, as they say.
Former Stars captain Brenden Morrow went through this last year with St. Louis, and it wasn't easy for him either. But Tampa has been different, even with a healthy scratch here and there:
Morrow found himself on the fourth line with the St. Louis Blues in 2013-14, something he described as a shock and the most difficult adjustment of his career. He said when he signed with coach Ken Hitchcock's club, the team said he should expect a third-line role with occasional power-play time; when there was none of that, Morrow, a player who routinely received 18 or 19 minutes a night for 12 seasons, had a difficult time handling that.
"When I went to St. Louis it was, 'You’ll get some power-play time,'" Morrow said. "Then I got there and it was fourth line and no power-play time. This year, I knew coming in, leadership, good in the locker room, good young group. Nothing was given to me. Nothing was guaranteed. I was more prepared for it.
"Last year was a lot harder. Coop communicates so well."
Morrow appears to be way more accepting of his role with the Lightning, and some of that is an acceptance with where he is in his career—he's a mentor and experienced voice in a locker room filled with mostly newbies. He said that it was easier to get himself prepared mentally for the season with the Lightning because his role as the fourth-line mentor was clearly explained to him in the summer.
And Morrow is well aware that he's on a Lightning team with virtually no holes in the top-nine forward group.
"It’s tough, mentally," Morrow said. "You go through a stage where you’re frustrated and feel like you’ve been in those positions before and you can get the job done still. But then you see how well these kids are playing and they’re getting the job done. So really, I’m fighting a battle against no one. [Bleacher Report]
The battle against time is only ever going to end one way for athletes, but the trick seems to be in finding your new role as the one you got used to during your peak years becomes less relevant. Shawn Horcoff has been a good example of this with the Stars, as the also-former captain has been accepting fourth-line minutes with a smile by all accounts. Vern Fiddler could certainly fall in that camp as well. While "the room" probably knows best, it's always reassuring for us--and especially for the young superstars who don't even want to think about their careers ending--to see how elite talent can age gracefully and accept a career's end with a smile before greeting retirement like an old friend.
There is life after hockey, and what better way to prepare for it than by setting an example for the kids? It's not surprising that Morrow hated getting less ice time last year, fierce competitor that the former Portland Winter Hawk has always been. It's much more surprising that it took him this long to use his different-but-the-same leadership for a team that needed it. Because what made Morrow Morrow was something that age will never change.
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Wednesday Links are below, as usual. Why wouldn't they be?
Here is a recap of the game last night. Was this the most "are you seriously doing this" game of the season? It felt like that to me. [Stars]
Well, the Stars are making progress, but it's towards the honor of Worst Defensive Team in the NHL, so maybe progress is the wrong word. [DMN]
Who is Jamie Benn's competition for hottest, I'm sorry, "most eligible" bachelor in Dallas? These people is the competition. Yes, I said is. Because Benn will crush them all. [D Magazine]
Mike Heika also chatted with anyone and everyone yesterday, so that was fun. [DMN]
This was an interesting look at who is really helping their team through drawn/committed penalties this year. What Dallas Star has been earning far more power plays than he's been giving to the other team? I doubt you will guess it, I really do. [CBS Sports]
The Kings let Slava Voynov join in the reindeer games, and it cost them a cool hundred grand. Voynov is supposed to wait until the team finishes practice before he skates, but the Kings pulled a Boofus. [Sporting News]
Elliotte Friedman agrees that the Oilers have been having some rough luck this year, but he'd just like to know when the regression is going to happen in this week's 30 Thoughts. [SportsNet]
Vinny Lecavalier is also experiencing what it's like to be scratched when healthy. Only 3.7 more years to go on that deal, Philadelphia! I think the Stars probably did better by getting Seguin. [Puck Daddy]
Leading current all-star vote-getters is Everyone's Favorite Latvian! [NHL]
Beloved Montreal Candiens legend and ten-year captain Jean Beliveau has passed away at the age of 83. [TSN]
Check out Sean McIndoe's recipe analogy for Stanley Cup contenders. It's kind of hilarious. [Grantland]
And finally, speaking of how elite talent ages, here is Jaromir Jagr getting lined up by Roberto Bertuzzo last night. One suspects there might be a fine from the NHL both because the hit was a bit too preconceived and because it's Jagr: