How Many Points Should A First Line Forward Record?

Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009 06:00AM

The answer that my initial instinct suggests on the question above is 82. If a player isn’t putting up a point-per-game, he’s probably not a first line forward. Fortunately, we have better resources at our disposal than my gut instinct.

Here is the total number of players from the four seasons since the lockout to put up 82 points or better:

  • 2008-09: 15
  • 2007-08: 17
  • 2006-07: 24
  • 2005-06: 23

Simple math tells us that there are 90 first-line forwards in the NHL (30 X 3). Let’s consider two numbers from each of the past four seasons – the midpoint of those ninety (the points total of the 45th ranked player) and the cutoff point (the points total of the 90th ranked player):

  • 2008-09: Midpoint – 66, Cutoff - 51
  • 2007-08: Midpoint – 65, Cutoff - 51
  • 2006-07: Midpoint – 69, Cutoff - 55
  • 2005-06: Midpoint – 71, Cutoff - 56

Basically, what we can see, looking at that list, is that a 51-point scorer is a first-line player, and the median first-liner scores about 65-70 points. Still, there’s another point worth making, a point illustrated nicely by this chart:

image001

The line isn’t straight; in other words, the guys at the upper end of that scale (the top twenty, say) are a lot harder to find than the next group down (say 20-40) and the difference in performance is quite a bit. In short: it pays to add a marquee player every once in a while, because he’ll do a lot more with the ice-time than a middle of the pack first-liner. The difference is quite a bit more pronounced than the difference between a middle of the pack guy and an end of the pack guy.

And that’s one of the big reasons I’ve supported the attempts to bring in Dany Heatley: he’s a high-end guy, a “difference maker”. These guys aren’t easy to find, and whatever their warts they’re generally worth having.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 12:17PM
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@ Traktor:

See comment #6 and comment #9.

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#52 BK
August 13 2009, 12:21PM
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OK, so I'm no JW, but based on this year's salary and last years point totals. Price per point! Obviously, the loewer the number, the less you paid per point!

I know, defense shouldn't count but heck, none of it should, so this is just for the Nation to get stupid about!

$29,824 Cogliano $39,634 Gagner $41,250 Pouliot $62,161 Hemsky $63,636 Sotrtini $68,023 O'Sullivan $68,965 Nillson $76,923 Moreau $77,000 Strudwick(D) $80,769 Grebeshkov (D) $88,888 Gilbert (D) $101,886 Souray (D) $103,773 Horcoff $114,864 Penner $166,666 Pisani $192,857 Staios (D) $180,645 Visnovsky (D)

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#53 BK
August 13 2009, 12:25PM
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By the way, Heatley would be $104,166 - falling right in between Horcoff and Penner! :-)

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#54 MattL
August 13 2009, 12:32PM
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@ BK:

Kind of what you'd expect. Rookies, then 4th liners, then offensive defensemen, the defensive forwards, then Penner and Staios.

@ Jonathan Willis:

Nice work, I think a lot of people had the same first-line misconception. We don't hear a lot about the 30th place team's 2nd and 3rd best forwards, but we do hear a lot about the top 10 forwards in the game. As someone else mentioned, it would be interesting to compare top lines from each team, but that's a lot of work.

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#55 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 12:47PM
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Incidentally, while I don't think points should be the sole measure of a first-line forward, several teams got along just fine with a 50-point first liner. Calgary is one example.

Another nice comparison is Montreal and Ottawa.

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#56 BK
August 13 2009, 01:13PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

several teams got along just fine with a 50-point first liner. Calgary is one example. Another nice comparison is Montreal and Ottawa.

Don't you think this might point to a better coaching strategy? If so is there not hope for a much better position in the standings this year based on that being our biggest off season move? (really the biggest coaching change in the league this year).

Just curious.

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#57 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 01:28PM
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BK wrote:

(really the biggest coaching change in the league this year)

Actually, I'd say the biggest was Pittsburgh moving from Therrien to Bylsma. Not just in terms of impact, but also in terms of competence.

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#58 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 01:31PM
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BK wrote:

Don’t you think this might point to a better coaching strategy?

The difference between Edmonton and Calgary is that when Langkow goes out, he had Iginla and Cammalleri. When Horcoff went out, he had Hemsky and Penner/Cole/Nilsson/Moreau/O'Sullivan/Kotalik.

The other difference is that Calgary's other lines are much, much better, meaning that when Langkow went out, he was more likely to step into the offensive zone than Horcoff.

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#59 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 02:07PM
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BK wrote:

OK, so I’m no JW, but based on this year’s salary and last years point totals. Price per point! Obviously, the loewer the number, the less you paid per point! I know, defense shouldn’t count but heck, none of it should, so this is just for the Nation to get stupid about! $29,824 Cogliano $39,634 Gagner $41,250 Pouliot $62,161 Hemsky $63,636 Sotrtini $68,023 O’Sullivan $68,965 Nillson $76,923 Moreau $77,000 Strudwick(D) $80,769 Grebeshkov (D) $88,888 Gilbert (D) $101,886 Souray (D) $103,773 Horcoff $114,864 Penner $166,666 Pisani $192,857 Staios (D) $180,645 Visnovsky (D)

Horc made 3.6 last year, also makes Pouliout look alot better then everyone wants to thinks.

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#60 jeff
August 13 2009, 02:08PM
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Anyone have a link to somewhere that has all the number one lines and point production in the NHL from last year?

I don't mind having a guy like Horcoff or Penner on the first line, the problem I have is having them both on line one. On paper both are 2nd line players and Penner maybe even third.

The other problem is Hemsky isn't even getting 80 points a year.

Ideally I'd like to see 180-200 points out of our top line this year. That is 60-67 points per player. Is that reachable?

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#61 jeff
August 13 2009, 02:10PM
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@ Ogden Brother: This is probably why he hasn't been moved yet. Add that he plays half decent defesnively and they he should glimpses of faceoff skills, and I think you could see why he hasn't be moved for a jock strap yet.

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#62 MrOiler
August 13 2009, 02:51PM
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Good analysis. My "gut" said a ppg should be the standard too. Wow, 65 pts as the mid-point for first liners. Who would have thought that?

It kind of shuts up the argument of Horcoff not being a first line center.

It's amazing what a little data will do. :-)

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#63 Asciutto
August 13 2009, 03:22PM
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"Anyone have a link to somewhere that has all the number one lines and point production in the NHL from last year?"

http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/200809players/index.php

Hockey Analysis shows how much each player played, with whom and how well they did and didn't

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#64 Traktor
August 13 2009, 03:22PM
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Jonathan: I could be wrong but it seems lately you're going out of your way to make make a certain player look a little more appealing.

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#65 jeff
August 13 2009, 03:28PM
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@ Asciutto: Thanks for the link. I will need some time to look over this one.

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#66 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 04:21PM
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@ Traktor:

Heatley or Horcoff?

If Heatley, than yes. I'm a fan of the trade, and although I don't disagree with Tambellini's decision to distance himself from the player, if in September Heatley says "I'll play in Edmonton" I think they take him.

If Horcoff, not so much. He just happened to be a familiar example of what I'm talking about. If this were a Flames article, I would have used Langkow; if it were a Canucks article Kesler/Burrows, etc.

I've got my opinion on Horcoff, and I know everyone else does too. I think I'm right, and I think many undervalue him, but this particular argument gets played over and over and I don't especially want to repeat it any time soon.

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#67 Soup
August 13 2009, 05:41PM
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@ BK: BK wrote:

$29,824 Cogliano $39,634 Gagner $41,250 Pouliot $62,161 Hemsky $63,636 Sotrtini $68,023 O’Sullivan $68,965 Nillson $76,923 Moreau $77,000 Strudwick(D) $80,769 Grebeshkov (D) $88,888 Gilbert (D) $101,886 Souray (D) $103,773 Horcoff $114,864 Penner $166,666 Pisani $192,857 Staios (D) $180,645 Visnovsky (D)

Compaing the Oil to the Oil, or the best of a bad lot is a bit narrow. Interesting to see how this comparison would look of those top 90.

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#68 Arek Gruszowski
August 13 2009, 06:50PM
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@ Ogden Brother:

This is definately an interesting stat, but I don't think it's completely fair. This doesn't take into account several things namely average time on the ice. You'd expect a player who is on 20 min a game to have more points than a player like Pouliot who on a little over 10 min a game.

Also this doesn't take into account injuries which is why Pisani and Vishnovsky are so far down the list.

To fix this I present calculating the number of pointer per minute of ice time a player plays multiplied by their cost per minute to see how effective they are when they are on the compared to how much their time costs on the ice. The lower the value the more cost effective the points are.

I just did a couple players for last season and I have some surprising stats to present.

Horcoff

Price Per Minute: 7812.5 Points Per Minute: 0.031235266383781235266383781235266 Cost Effectiveness Rating: 250117.92452830188679245283019081

Pouliot

Price Per Minute: 1158.8706278971765697429414243574 Points Per Minute: 0.027605244996549344375431331953071 Cost Effectiveness Rating: 41980.08849557522123893805309744

The surprising thing is Horcoff is not much better than Pouliot at scoring points when he is on the ice as can be seen by his points per min stat above. Another thing to note here is Horcoff had 8 power play goals which actually gives him an advantage in this category. The stat above basically shows it costs the Oilers around 6 times as much money to get a point out of Horcoff as it does to get a point out of Pouliot.

Another stat on this calculation is to remedy Vishnovskys value because I think he is the best defender we have and he is not cheap. Keep in mind this calculation is gonna be compared against Horcoff a first line center. Defense value is not strictly marked on their point totals so this is not exactly fair.

Price Per Minute: 4869.5652173913043478260869565217 Points Per Minute: 0.026956521739130434782608695652174 Cost Effectiveness Rating: 180645.16129032258064516129032372

I thought this would be an interesting way to rate players' value and their production totals.

Cheers!

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#69 DangerMan
August 13 2009, 07:23PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

25 goals is a pretty arbitrary number. But to me if they don't break that number, its time to look for a new replacement.

You bring up names such as Malone, Umberger and Nolan, and they are low end first liners if you play them with Hemsky. But sadly, any one of them would be the best option to be the Oilers first line LW.

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#70 Homie
August 13 2009, 08:27PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I don’t think that points alone are a fair measure, but points is the measure that most people use. They’re certainly the measure used to beat a player like Shawn Horcoff or Daymond Langkow. Basically, I was trying to show what the reasonable expectation for a first-line forward is; roughly 65 points, rather than 82.

Understood. Thanks for the explanation.

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#71 MattL
August 13 2009, 11:48PM
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@ Arek Gruszowski:

I question your understanding of significant digits.

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#72 First Line Forwards On Good/Bad Teams - OilersNation.com
August 14 2009, 06:01AM
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[...] from The Menace: Technically there are 30 first lines in the league, but it would be interesting to see if those [...]

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#73 Logan Stull
August 14 2009, 01:48PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

haha, calgary and montreal and ottawa got along how well?

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#74 Logan Stull
August 14 2009, 01:51PM
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@ MattL:

Well played sir.

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