First off, it’s important to state right off of the bat that this analysis is focused on the 4th line. At the time of this writing, the 4th line is the only line generating even the smallest amount of concern, and that’s a great problem to have. Having said that, the 4th line generates a good deal of discussion with regards to the players. When you consider the fact that fan favorites like Michael Latta, Andre Burakovsky and Brooks Laich are involved, it’s easy to see why the debate draws so much attention.
On wednesday night, Coach Trotz said this of 4th line: “Maybe two decent shifts, and then, they’ve got to be better for us. That’s not good enough.” Trotz said to expect lineup changes. So what are the options for the 4th line, and where do we go from here?
Chandler Stephenson is becoming an interesting, unexpected piece of the Capitals offensive puzzle. In part as a direct result of his speed and level of play, but just as important, he is leading the Caps in faceoff win percentage. And for a team now ranked 20th in the league and falling, that’s becoming a bigger deal.
Over the summer, all of the talk surrounding Andre Burakovsky centered on whether he should be placed at the 3C or a wing position. For now, on this date, it’s apparent there is really no room for him above. Trotz is unlikely to change the top three lines for now, considering the 3rd line cohesiveness, and Burakovsky’s relatively slow start to the season and weak faceoff stats to date. Should the 3rd line begin to falter, one could see a Chimera-Burakovsky position swap.
Michael Latta, the root source for this article, is where things get a bit muddled. It’s tough seeing him essentially rotting on the sidelines. But what to do? Latta has a one way contract which doesn’t help things. In addition, he is in the final year of the contract. Latta is decent at the dot, so it’s a tough call as to how the Capitals manage his playing time.
Can we scratch the $4.5 million dollar man? Of course we can. But is that the best move at this point? That’s up for debate. Laich is a polarizing figure amongst Caps fans, so whatever is done with Laich will meet both cheers and jeers. Any trade of Laich would be highly unlikely, as it’s tough to see another team will taking on his contract. For those wondering about sending Laich to Hershey, the salary cap relief on his contract (if he was sent to the AHL) is equal to the minimum salary ($575K) + $375K, so $950K. More than $3.5 million would still apply to the Capitals salary cap.
So where are we at?
My guess, at this extremely early stage of the season, barring any catastrophic injury, we will continue to see the current 4th line configuration for some time (barring minor tweaks to get players some occasional playing time). In addition, Michael Latta is likely at the top of our trade list for later down the line this season.
By Jon Sorensen