Mark Gallant The Hockey Writers
Bruins’ Merlot Line In Need of an Overhaul
In recent years, the Boston Bruins have been known for their use of all four forward lines. Head Coach Claude Julien loves his fourth liners, who have primarily been Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, and Craig Cunningham this season. After Shawn Thornton’s departure in the offseason, many expected the “Merlot Line” to have a new look to it. However, these Bruins depth players are helping the team quite minimally and it puts the Bruins in an awkward situation. If this line cannot produce, Julien needs to bite his tongue and limit their playing time.
We can all conclude that Campbell is the most valuable player on the line. “Soupy”, as they call him, is the 31-year-old center who came over from Florida along with Nathan Horton in summer 2010. Campbell has always shown grit, toughness, and leadership throughout his four and a half seasons in Boston. One particular moment that comes to mind is when he broke his fibula in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals against the Penguins and stayed on the ice for an entire minute to help kill the penalty.
Campbell is also willing to drop the gloves to protect his teammates whenever he needs to, so it should come as no surprise that he is a fan favorite. The problem is that he and his line mates aren’t playing up to expectations. Campbell, Paille, and Cunningham have a total of 16 points in 108 games and have a combined +/- of -10. From an analytical standpoint, they represent the three worst even strength Corsi percentages on the Bruins with 41.8%, 45.9%, and 46.1%, respectively. The team as a whole is currently 6th in the league at 52.6%, putting the fourth line well below the team average.
Now, I’m not expecting them all to score 50 points, but Campbell and Paille are both on pace for their worst seasons in Boston. Paille, who isn’t even on pace for two goals, has scored nine goals in two different seasons and even scored 10 in the strike-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Campbell, who had 13 goals and 29 points in his first season in Boston, is only on pace for 12 this season. While Cunningham has only logged 21 games on the season, he doesn’t appear to be a long-term fit for the role. The 2010 4th round pick has a well-rounded game, but doesn’t particularly excel in any area.
The one thing working in their favor is that they all kill penalties, but that isn’t a rarity on the Bruins. The only forwards who don’t kill penalties are Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg, and the young David Pastrnak.
Campbell is a bit of a face-off specialist, oftentimes being thrown out there with David Krejci or Bergeron on a defensive draw in case one of the top two centers is tossed out. Campbell ranks third on the team behind those two centers with a 53.4% winning percentage, while Chris Kelly and Soderberg are slightly below the 50% mark. Surprisingly, Cunningham is at 52.4% in 82 draws, which may be why he remains in the NHL over the other AHL candidates for the job.
Campbell and Paille are both in the last year of their contracts and their time may be up in Boston. Making $1.6 and $1.3 million, respectively, the Bruins will probably opt to spend their money elsewhere. Or at least they should. With a handful of important restricted free agents to sign, most notably Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins would be wise to hand over the reigns to Ryan Spooner or Alex Khokhlachev. Not to mention, Kelly still has one year left on his (highly overpaid) contract and could take over a Campbell-like role.
In game 7 against the Canadiens in last season’s conference semi-finals, the “Merlot Line” was tossed out there with two minutes left and a two goal deficit. Sometimes, it feels like Coach Julien is hoping he can win games zero to zero, as 98.5 The Sports Hub personality Mike Felger says. However, considering this fourth line is getting out-scored and out-shot, a transition to a new-look fourth line may be beneficial to the B’s.
Sports League ManagementStart using it today