Blue Jackets' fourth line finds long overdue success

But will it carry over to next season?

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch wrote yesterday:

Center Mark Letestu remains in the middle of the fourth line, but for the first time this season he has a burner on both sides of him.

"I've played with that speed before," Letestu said, smiling. "Derek MacKenzie on the flank worked well last year; Blake Comeau was a good complement on the right side.

"But I think you have that offensive upside with Calvy, and Mo has a reputation for being a shooter. There is offense there. It's going to come. It's just too bad there are only (three) games left to work with it."

While a mind-boggling string of injuries derailed any plans Todd Richards may have had heading into the season, this much should be obvious: Having a fourth line of fast, skilled players is so much more valuable than lumbering, gritty grinders. It's not only providing a scoring punch, but it's also taking pressure - and minutes - off the top 3 lines. In turn, it allows the team to attack the opposition with fresher legs and more balance.

What's concerning is that Portzline also reports that no major talks have begun between Blue Jackets management and Mark Letestu for a new contract. Then you have the fact that Jared Boll, David Clarkson, Rene Bourque, and Corey Tropp are all signed through at least next season; the reality is that Todd Richards isn't likely going to have a chance to ice a fourth line like this next year.

That's not to say Clarkson or Bourque can't find some success there, but those are two big reclamation projects of sorts. And we've all seen the puzzling decisions when #40 finds his number on the lineup card over another, more promising player. I personally don't see any scenario where Boll playing 6 minutes a night is more beneficial to the entire team than Marko Dano playing 12-14 minutes (and putting up points), do you?

But that might be where we're headed, again.

We can debate the merits of letting Derek MacKenzie and Blake Comeau walk after last season, and while it wouldn't have stopped the bleeding - it very well could have made a difference in a playoff hunt. How often does a timely goal from the third or fourth line put a team over the top in the midst of a tough battle for the playoffs? Isn't that where this team expects to be next year?

If so, all I can say is that I truly hope management loads up four complete, and complementary, lines to give the coach and his players the greatest chance of success. Letting Letestu walk - and that's not even mentioning the fact that Calvert also needs re-signed - would be a big mistake in my mind.

It's going to be tempting to open up some opportunities for players like William Karlsson and Josh Anderson, but their time will come. The reward of slightly increased roster flexibility is not worth the risk of an entire line that cannot contribute. Keeping and/or playing guys purely based on bad contracts handed out by management is a problem.

This is all a lot of speculation right now. The off-season is long, and Jarmo may package one or two or three of those guys for an upgrade on defense. Or, fingers crossed, to move up the draft board. Both of those would be welcomed moves. Still, I'm concerned that the fourth line play we're seeing that's having a positive impact isn't something we can count on for next year, and any rash of injuries could quickly expose a lack of production from the team's depth players.

What do you think?

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