What was once “the best fourth line in hockey” (as declared by former NHL coach and current Canadian television personality Don Cherry) now has a new nickname.
It usually appears when folks around the NHL take a cursory glance at the Islanders’ salary cap numbers. That’s when the Nikolay Kulemin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck line gets the “most expensive fourth line in hockey” name.
To Doug Weight, however, that fourth line means peace of mind. The combined $11.04-million cap hit is pricey but the way the Islanders see it, hardly anyone else has the reliability that this team does with a line that can be a gamble elsewhere.
“Even going back to when Matty Martin was here and now with Kulie in that spot, you just know what you’re getting from those guys,” Weight said. “You can put them out after a goal, when you need a little boost and all three are huge for our penalty kill. It’s a real benefit for us.”
It was the Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck trio that Cherry anointed “TB4LIH,” as the internet kids called it, back in 2014-15. The Islanders were a force that season and the fourth line chipped in timely goals and timely hits — Martin and Clutterbuck were 1-2 in hits that season, though that statistic is recorded very differently from arena to arena.
The same was true in 2015-16, when the line produced 33 goals, 15 from Clutterbuck, and another mess of hits. Martin departed for Toronto two summers ago and Kulemin slotted in. Much like the rest of the team’s season, the fourth line was hit and miss — Cizikas lost 23 games to a broken finger that required surgery, Clutterbuck missed 16 games with a recurring groin problem and the line just wasn’t the same, even as Jack Capuano used them the same as he did the Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck line the previous two seasons.
That didn’t keep Weight from putting the line together from day one of training camp two weeks ago.
“Every year, we know what we have to do to be successful as a line, and we take pride in that,” Cizikas said. “We have to bring that energy every shift, do the things we do best. There isn’t much that changes.”
The line won’t be together Friday night in Buffalo. Cizikas will center Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang while Kulemin and Clutterbuck flank Stephen Gionta, but that is just for some preseason looks at different players.
Barring injury, the fourth line will be together on opening night in Columbus a week from now.
They will certainly be part of the Isles’ penalty kill as Cizikas (2:09 of PK time per game), Clutterbuck (2:04) and Kulemin (1:51) are the three most-used penalty kill forwards from last season. Weight said Cizikas-Clutterbuck and Kulemin-John Tavares will once again be his first two PK forward pairs.
“For the power play guys I’m sure it’s been fun this preseason, but I’ve liked it too,” Cizikas said. “We’ve seen a lot of different looks so far and it’s been good.”
So make fun of the hefty contracts for relatively small point totals. The Isles can live with the payouts as long as the fourth line brings what it can.