All playoffs long, we saw what a difference a strong fourth line makes. While they went above and beyond their limits in the playoffs, expecting them to replicate that success over 82 games is extremely unlikely. Almost as unlikely to go without scoring for 81 games, exactly what the Devils fourth line did in the regular season last year.
When Stephen Gionta was called up in game No. 82 last season, the fourth line as a collective unit had failed to score a goal all year. Playing the likes of Cam Janssen (48 games, -8, 1 assist) and Eric Boulton (51 games, -12, 0 points) the fourth line was completely ineffective dressing two anchors weighing down the team.
After Gionta scored in the regular season finale, head coach Peter DeBoer stuck with Gionta rather than revert to Janssen or Boulton. Joining Gionta were Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. What a decision it turned out to be.
24 games and 10 goals later, the Devils capped off their post season winning the Prince of Wales trophy and falling just two games short of winning the Stanley Cup. Each member of the fourth line contributed seven points in the run, with Ryan Carter leading the way with five goals.
Even better, they finished a combined +11, surviving after getting pinned following icing calls and such in their own end against opponents top lines.
When Zach Parise left, DeBoer was quoted saying replacing Parise is not something you do with one person, that it is going to take an extra 10% from everyone else. DeBoer could help his own cause greatly if he decides to continuing dressing a fourth line that wants to play hockey rather than goon it up. If say, Cater, Gionta and Bernier each score a reachable five goals over 82 regular season games, that replaces half of Parise's goal scoring from within. That doesn't even considered a healthy Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson or a whole season of Marek Zidlicky, but that is another story for another day.
Being able to ice a self sufficient fourth line will have benefits for the rest of the team as well. If the fourth line can produce, the days of double shifting Ilya Kovalchuk on the fourth line is probably over, thankfully. The very last thing the Devils can afford is an injury to Kovalchuk. Not only that, it was rather unsuccessful.
Too many times last season we saw the Devils become a three line team. Being one of the oldest teams in the league, it would be best to try and limit miles of some of the older players on the team. For Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus and pending Petr Sykora being re-signed, it would be best to find balance between the lines rather than become a three line team. It will help maximize Elias's shelf life as well as hopefully leave Sykora with something left in the tank, unlike what we saw in these past playoffs.