Boston Bruins organization has found their Merlot Line 2.0

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 23: Kids captain stands on the blue line with Matt Grzelcyk
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 23: Kids captain stands on the blue line with Matt Grzelcyk /

The “Merlot Line” will live in Boston Bruins lore for years to come, not something expected for a fourth line.  Is it time to come up with a nickname for the Bruins current fourth line?

Nearly every NHL team, including the Boston Bruins, is set up the same way as has been for years:  four lines of forwards, three defense pairs, two power play units, and two penalty kill units.  A team’s top-six forwards are who they depend on to score the goals and the third line plays a combo role of depth scoring and defense.

But that fourth line?  They’re supposed to be grinders; the players you can throw out to frustrate the top lines of the opponents.  Typically, what they lack in “skill”, they make up for in scrappiness and physicality.  They may play less minutes than your top lines, but they play important minutes.

The Merlot Line is born

In 2010-2011, the Bruins put together a fourth line that will go down in history as one of the best trios of “grinders” ever.  The grouping of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton, or the “Merlot Line” for those in the know, were one of the keys that helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

The Merlot Line got their name because back in the day, each line wore different colored jerseys in practice.  Paille, Campbell, and Thornton, who as the bottom trio wore Merlot-colored jerseys, insisted they weren’t a “fourth” line and didn’t want to be referred to as such.  So, their moniker as the Merlot Line was born out of straight-up confidence and bravado.

Boston Bruins
BOSTON, MA – JANUARY 30: Gregory Campbell /

In their Stanley Cup winning season, the Merlot Line performed their duties as the bottom line grinders in both the regular season and the playoffs, but did so much more.  When the team needed a spark, they always seemed to be up to the task, and somehow, someway, it would be done.

Thornton was a leader in the locker room, on the bench, and on the ice.  The ultimate team guy.  Campbell put his head down and played hard, and was trusted as one of the teams best penalty killers.  He’s tough as nails, too, once finishing a shift after having his leg broken by a slapshot.  Paille may have had issues finishing, but he used his speed as an asset in getting the pucks out of the zone, and putting pressure on opponents defenses while on the ice.

Let’s take a look at their 2010-2011 numbers:

  • Daniel Paille
    • Regular season:  43 GP, 6 G, 7 A, +3, 28 PIM, 11:18 ATOI
    • Playoffs:  25 GP, 3 G, 3 A, +2, 4 PIM, 8:43 ATOI
  • Gregory Campbell
    • Regular season:  80 GP, 13 G, 16 A, +11, 93 PIM, 13:26 ATOI
    • Playoffs:  25 GP, 1 G, 3 G, -2, 4 PIM, 11:00 ATOI
  • Shawn Thornton
    • Regular season:  79 GP, 10 G, 10 A, +8, 122 PIM, 10:05 ATOI
    • Playoffs:  18 GP, 0 G, 1 A, -1, 24 PIM, 6:58 ATOI

Not exactly dominant numbers, but definitely serviceable for a bottom line.  Campbell and Thornton played nearly every game of the season, while Paille missed half of the season due to injuries.  But, that just left him well-rested for the playoffs, where in 8:43 minutes of ice, he netted six points.

The Bruins current “4th line”

The season was supposed to start with the 4th line of Noel AcciariRiley NashTim Schaller.  The Bruins spent the first quarter of the season absolutely ravaged by the injury bug.  Injuries to centers Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Spooner, and David Krejci led to Nash being promoted, and spending most of the season in the top-9 forwards.

Boston Bruins
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: Tim Schaller /

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Nash’s promotion opened up a spot for 25 year-old Dublin, Ohio native, Sean Kuraly to snag a roster spot and join the 4th line.  Boy, did the Bruins organization and head coach Bruce Cassidy hit a home run with that decision.  It has worked out so much so that when the Bruins finally were fully healthy and needed to clear space, veteran forward Matt Beleskey was exposed to waivers in order to keep the line together, even though Kuraly is waivers-exempt.

Let’s take a look at the numbers for the current 4th line after 44 games this season, taking into account that Acciari missed time due to a broken finger from blocking a shot:

  • Noel Acciari
    • 30 GP, 6 G, 1 A, 0 +/-, 0 PIM, 12:53 ATOI
  • Sean Kuraly
    • 44 GP, 3 G, 5, A, -1, 27 PIM, 12:10 ATOI
  • Tim Schaller
    • 44 GP, 5 G, 6 A, -2, 28 PIM, 13:13 ATOI

Schaller is on pace for a 20+ point season, and all three of these guys is averaging more than 12 minutes of ice time per game.  Despite all being 27 years old and younger, they have clearly demonstrated their value and earned the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy.  They never take a shift off, and when they’re on the ice, they’re all effort, all the time.  Plus, the celly game is on point, see the above picture for proof.

But despite being involved offensively, they also do what you expect of typical NHL 4th liners.  They play the hard minutes against other teams top lines, giving the Bruins top forwards more rest between shifts.  Also, this line in particular seems to play more minutes than a lot of 4th lines out there.

Also, on a more physical note, Acciari took a brutal hit to the head from Fredrik Claesson of the Ottawa Senators on December 27, 2017.  Schaller was having none of that, so he channeled his inner-Shawn Thornton, stepped up and beat down Claesson.  Nobody makes Acciari bleed his own blood.

Kualy did something similar the next night after Schaller was leveled by Washington Capitals’ defenseman Brooks Orpik on a clean, hard hit in the neutral zone.  While the hit may have been clean, Kuraly decided he wanted to make Orpik know he didn’t appreciate it.  Unfortunately Kuraly’s fight-strap failed him, or that could have been a doozy of a bout.

It’s time for a nickname

Based upon the level of play while together, I sincerely hope that this line will be together for some time.  None of the players really have top-6 skill sets…yet.  That’s not to say they couldn’t develop them in the future.  Kuraly is in the last year of his entry-level deal and Acciari is signed through 2018-2019. 

However, Schaller is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and will hopefully be a top priority signing for the Bruins, considering it’s team depth that have helped them get to where they are in the standings.

The question becomes…what would their nickname be?  The Bruins no longer wear color-coordinated practice jerseys, so that’s not really an option.  And while “Merlot Line 2.0” pays homage to those who came before them, it doesn’t really give due credit to them and celebrate what makes them unique.

DORCHESTER, MA – NOVEMBER 21: At the Boston Pet Expo at the Bayside Expo Center, which runs through Sunday, a real bald eagle sits on a perch in front of an American Flag. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
DORCHESTER, MA – NOVEMBER 21: At the Boston Pet Expo at the Bayside Expo Center, which runs through Sunday, a real bald eagle sits on a perch in front of an American Flag. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

So, one thing that makes the line interesting is that Acciari (Johnston, RI), Kuraly (Dublin, OH), and Schaller (Merrimack, NH) are all from the US of A.  With that in mind, here are a few options for a nickname for them:

  • Red, White, and Blue Line
  • Freedom Line
  • Line of Liberty
  • The Springsteeners
  • America, F#*k Yeah Line

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I would love to get suggestions from readers as to what you think it should be.  After awhile and getting some submissions, I’ll put a poll up on the Causeway Crowd twitter page to get input.  Then, that’s the name we’ll call the Acciari-Kuraly-Schaller line the rest of their tenure.