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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#1 Godzilla
August 13 2009, 06:36AM
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Where does Penner stand in all of that?

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#2 humantorch
August 13 2009, 06:55AM
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Godzilla wrote:

Where does Penner stand in all of that?

Well, his 3 full NHL seasons (in reverse chronological order) have been 37, 47, and 45 points, so he's been below the cutoff JW has given every year he's been pro.

Enough ink has been spilled on why that may be. I'm interested to see how his numbers are affected by playing for a competent coach. If his numbers go up, you can attribute it to the changed coaching philosophy or DPs improvement as a player (either physically or mentally) - or both. If his numbers stagnate (or, God forbid, drop), then we're paying a lot of money for a 3rd liner.

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#3 Boundz
August 13 2009, 06:56AM
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Very interesting read JW. I hope this takes some heat off Horcoff from the fanbase. Yes, the contract is high, but yes he does fit in that range (although the bottom end last year - following an injury) and he does play a solid defensive game.

B

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#4 roadrunner
August 13 2009, 07:23AM
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Boundz wrote:

Very interesting read JW. I hope this takes some heat off Horcoff from the fanbase. Yes, the contract is high, but yes he does fit in that range (although the bottom end last year - following an injury) and he does play a solid defensive game. B

Agreed. Horcoff has done nothing but do what he's been asked to do, so to come down on a guy who's point totals have dropped off because of taking on various responsibilites is absurd.

I've been thinking about the Tanguay scenerio and am admittedly comfortable with that. Tanguay has shown he's consistant having had 4 25+ goal seasons and averages almost a point/game. He'd be in the top 3rd of point averages according to JW's scale. Just a thought...

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#5 The Towel Boy
August 13 2009, 07:38AM
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JW...the level of research and math stuff you bring to the table in your articles is absolutely astounding.

Good work.

But it was a long way around to say you like Dany Heatley. :)

*remembers the day he thought Dany Heatley would be an Oiler and gets happy... and then remembers the month of Dany Heatley not becoming and Oiler and gets sad...real sad*

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#6 The Menace
August 13 2009, 08:12AM
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Technically there are 30 first lines in the league, but it would be interesting to see if those Midpoint/Cutoff numbers are significantly different for just the 16 playoff teams.

JW: I was very much pro-Heatley for the same reasons. This is the kind of talent that doesn't come along often. We would have been silly not to make every effort (which I'm satisfied we did).

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#7 The Menace
August 13 2009, 08:14AM
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By we of course I mean Steve Tambellini and I. ;)

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#8 Jodan
August 13 2009, 08:23AM
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I find it really interesting that the number of ppg players has decreased every year. wonder why?

I'll admit I flip flop alot on my opinion of Horcoff as a first liner. Right now I feel like he is a decent first line center, tomorrow I might think he is a glorified 2nd liner. Who knows. What I do know is I really really want him to be a ppg first line center, and I have a sliver of hope that with the new coaches he just might be.

Good work as usual with the slow summer posts JW.

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#9 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 08:26AM
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The Menace wrote:

Technically there are 30 first lines in the league, but it would be interesting to see if those Midpoint/Cutoff numbers are significantly different for just the 16 playoff teams.

I'll probably try putting the numbers up for that at some point; it's a solid suggestion.

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#10 DangerMan
August 13 2009, 08:26AM
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My belief is either 25 goals and/or 80 pts justifies a first line player.

Just like 20 goals and/or 60 pts justifies a second line player.

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#11 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 08:27AM
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Jodan wrote:

I find it really interesting that the number of ppg players has decreased every year. wonder why?

I think it just reflects the scoring drop-off since the lockout. I don't know this, but I'd guess the number of powerplay opportunities has dropped off.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 08:27AM
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@ DangerMan:

So in your mind there are only 15 first-line players in the NHL?

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#13 DangerMan
August 13 2009, 08:32AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I'm pretty sure there were more than 15 players who scored more then 25 goals. 25 goals is the benchmark for the first line, but at least one player is going to have clear 80 pts for the whole line to be effective.

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#14 bingofuel
August 13 2009, 08:34AM
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@ Jodan: Welcome to the fold, Jodan. Comment often! Just don't piss Brownlee off. I can ill afford to keep pumping him full of Valium when one of you kids sends him into a Nation-related rage.

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#15 Jodan
August 13 2009, 08:40AM
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If this were the standard for naming the top line, ours would be Hemsky, Horcoff, Souray! Just based off points from last year. Scary.

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#16 sittingatmydesk
August 13 2009, 08:41AM
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Intersting....so basically if Horcoff gets 70 pts, that will be more than average for a first line center... interseting

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#17 Jodan
August 13 2009, 08:42AM
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Yeah thanks for the heads up bingo, Brownlee seems cranky maybe even cantankerous.

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#18 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 08:46AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Jodan wrote: I find it really interesting that the number of ppg players has decreased every year. wonder why? I think it just reflects the scoring drop-off since the lockout. I don’t know this, but I’d guess the number of powerplay opportunities has dropped off.

Goals per game went down sharply since the lockout, they stabalized last year though.

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#19 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 08:46AM
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@ DangerMan:

So you view 45-point scorers like Ryan Malone, RJ Umberger and Owen Nolan as first-liners?

25 goals seems arbitrary.

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#20 roadrunner
August 13 2009, 08:47AM
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DangerMan wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: I’m pretty sure there were more than 15 players who scored more then 25 goals. 25 goals is the benchmark for the first line, but at least one player is going to have clear 80 pts for the whole line to be effective.

I can somewhat agree with Dangermans POV but in the Oils 06 cup run, not one player on the top line had 80 points. Smyths 31 goals obviously stands out as the key to the line production.

Trying to find that unique balance in points/goals is obviously critical to any top line success.

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#21 daveeed
August 13 2009, 08:52AM
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I think Horcoff is a decent 1st line center, he is a solid two way player, and his defensive skills take the heat off Hemsky's wandering all over the ice.

I think his point totals should jump into the mid 70s this year, I really got the impression watching the games last year that he was struggling a bit with his timing and power on his shots from the shoulder surgery the year before. And I'm hoping by the start of the season he has that back.

I can't see Gagner taking his spot this year, or next year either, and really, his offence should benefit from being on the 2nd line while he (hopefully) picks up some more of the nuances of playing center.

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#22 Mike Krushelnyski
August 13 2009, 08:52AM
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I think it would be interesting to run this with PPG and see what you get. Isn't it very possible that some of those 50-60 point guys are PPG guys who have missed 20 games with injuries?

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#23 Jodan
August 13 2009, 08:54AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Jonathan Willis wrote: Jodan wrote: I find it really interesting that the number of ppg players has decreased every year. wonder why? I think it just reflects the scoring drop-off since the lockout. I don’t know this, but I’d guess the number of powerplay opportunities has dropped off. Goals per game went down sharply since the lockout, they stabalized last year though.

Oh right, the whole increase scoring/increase scoring chances thing. I remember. Reminds me of an amicus brief I read in defence of PDP on the top line. Basically said that PenHorSky would have 82 goals as a line if left together. Really interesting.

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#24 bingofuel
August 13 2009, 08:54AM
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@ Jodan:

Shhhhh! *whispers* he can hear us

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#25 ronaldo
August 13 2009, 09:08AM
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Interesting stuff JW. Just goes to show how difficult it is to be a PPG player- something that we often demand of both Hemsky and Horcoff. In today's cap world, a better indicator of value may be PP$ for top 6 players.

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#26 Ogden Brother
August 13 2009, 09:13AM
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ronaldo wrote:

Interesting stuff JW. Just goes to show how difficult it is to be a PPG player- something that we often demand of both Hemsky and Horcoff. In today’s cap world, a better indicator of value may be PP$ for top 6 players.

It would be interesting but I don't know how much it would tell us. To many varialbes, ie

Rookie contract vs 2nd year contract vs UFA contract

and

Contract signed when cap was 39 million vs contract signed when cap was 56 milliion and everything was rosie vs contract wigned when cap was 56 million and everyone figures the world is coming to an end.

Also, all the new mega front end load deals will skew the results.

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#27 rickithebear
August 13 2009, 09:15AM
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DangerMan wrote:

My belief is either 25 goals and/or 80 pts justifies a first line player. Just like 20 goals and/or 60 pts justifies a second line player.

My belief is that there is only one first line player in the league. But I am drunk right now.

When I sober up I will realize there are 90 first line forwards and points do not mean squat if you give up more than you get.

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#28 Bob Cob
August 13 2009, 09:18AM
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JW, that chart you created, how does is show that "the guys at the upper end of that scale (the top twenty, say) are a lot harder to find than the next group down" All I am getting is that more points equal higher ranking, nothing about high end vs. low end player movement, and as I see it your argument is void because of it. If I am missing something, or comprehended it wrong please explain.

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#29 rickithebear
August 13 2009, 09:22AM
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ronaldo wrote:

Interesting stuff JW. Just goes to show how difficult it is to be a PPG player- something that we often demand of both Hemsky and Horcoff. In today’s cap world, a better indicator of value may be PP$ for top 6 players.

if you bring up the:

Goals/$ Points/$ Outscoring/$

you get some measure of a players value. But most people are not capable of thinking in these terms.

what ever you do don't show that sid the kid delivers less/$ than some other typically refered to 2nd line player. People willl freak. embarrassing really. In a cap world it is about results/$.

When looking at line play if you get 7.5 goals/million that is flying.

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#30 Homie
August 13 2009, 09:22AM
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Interesting article, but I'm surprised that its so simplified - especially coming from you, Jonathon. For some players, points are not a great barometer of whether or not they should be on the first line. Maybe a look at what to expect from a first line across a range of stats, like goals, assists, PIMS, +/-, PPG, etc. would be a better way of looking at it.

Personally, I have no expectation of what a first line player should put up for stats, but their must be some value that can be attributed to the first line as whole.

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#31 ronaldo
August 13 2009, 09:27AM
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@ Homie: I think that becomes too complex. Ideally we would look at a PPG or differential for a full first line on each team, but that would require the first line to stay intact and not be Macblendered.

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#32 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 09:28AM
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Bob Cob wrote:

JW, that chart you created, how does is show that “the guys at the upper end of that scale (the top twenty, say) are a lot harder to find than the next group down” All I am getting is that more points equal higher ranking, nothing about high end vs. low end player movement, and as I see it your argument is void because of it. If I am missing something, or comprehended it wrong please explain.

The curve isn't a straight line - in other words, the difference between the player ranked #5 and the player ranked #25 is much, much greater than the difference between the #25 and the #45 player.

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#33 roadrunner
August 13 2009, 09:28AM
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Bob Cob wrote:

JW, that chart you created, how does is show that “the guys at the upper end of that scale (the top twenty, say) are a lot harder to find than the next group down” All I am getting is that more points equal higher ranking, nothing about high end vs. low end player movement, and as I see it your argument is void because of it. If I am missing something, or comprehended it wrong please explain.

Basically Bob Cob, JW is saying more often than not, the top 20 players are PPG PLUS players according to the scale. On average, those players are typically first liners. Players not achieving the PPG criteria are therefore, according to his article and graph, are considered to be second liners.

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#34 roadrunner
August 13 2009, 09:29AM
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Dohh!! too late... I tried to shed some light...damn refresh button..

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#35 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 09:31AM
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Homie wrote:

Interesting article, but I’m surprised that its so simplified - especially coming from you, Jonathon. For some players, points are not a great barometer of whether or not they should be on the first line. Maybe a look at what to expect from a first line across a range of stats, like goals, assists, PIMS, +/-, PPG, etc. would be a better way of looking at it. Personally, I have no expectation of what a first line player should put up for stats, but their must be some value that can be attributed to the first line as whole.

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.

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#36 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 09:34AM
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roadrunner wrote:

Players not achieving the PPG criteria are therefore, according to his article and graph, are considered to be second liners.

Not quite; my article actually contradicted my opening assumption (which happens, every so often). As it stands, a player with 50+ points is putting up first-line offense.

A player with 65-ish points is putting up league-average first line offense.

The difference between a top-20 player (say, 80+ points) and a 40-ish player (65-80 points) is much greater than the difference between that 40-ish player and the 60-ish playr (57-65 points).

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#37 Jodan
August 13 2009, 09:37AM
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roadrunner wrote:

Bob Cob wrote: JW, that chart you created, how does is show that “the guys at the upper end of that scale (the top twenty, say) are a lot harder to find than the next group down” All I am getting is that more points equal higher ranking, nothing about high end vs. low end player movement, and as I see it your argument is void because of it. If I am missing something, or comprehended it wrong please explain. Basically Bob Cob, JW is saying more often than not, the top 20 players are PPG PLUS players according to the scale. On average, those players are typically first liners. Players not achieving the PPG criteria are therefore, according to his article and graph, are considered to be second liners.

Actually, I think JW is trying to say that the average first liner is not necessarily a PPG player, rather there are MARQUEE first liners and regular first liners, and since the marquee guys are few and far between, one should do everything in their power to acquire one should they become available.

Or maybe I'm way off.

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#38 Jodan
August 13 2009, 09:38AM
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shoot! I need to type faster!

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#39 roadrunner
August 13 2009, 09:42AM
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No I think I'm way off Jordan....need more coffee... *or maybe a reading and comprehension exam....***

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#40 Wyseguy
August 13 2009, 09:59AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: I thought you were trying to teach us that the more important measure is goals against. Just isn't sexy enough I guess.

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#41 The Menace
August 13 2009, 10:07AM
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Jodan hasn't mentioned it to anyone yet, but to me there doesn't look like there's an "r" when he types his name, but there's been an "r" there anytime anyone else has typed it. is that weird? :)

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#42 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 10:14AM
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@ Wyseguy:

I don't think points is the best measure, but it's easy to use and universal. This is an attempt at boiling things down to th simplest possible format.

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#43 The Menace
August 13 2009, 10:16AM
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The Menace wrote:

Jodan hasn’t mentioned it to anyone yet, but to me there doesn’t look like there’s an “r” when he types his name, but there’s been an “r” there anytime anyone else has typed it. is that weird?

lloks like it has been corrected! ;)

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#44 bingofuel
August 13 2009, 10:18AM
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@ The Menace:

Yeah, the "r" in Jodan was my bad. I made sure to fix it right away so I didn't seem like an inattentive a-hole.

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#45 The Menace
August 13 2009, 10:23AM
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haha. I knew I wasn't seeing things!

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#46 Bob Cob
August 13 2009, 10:34AM
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I didn't question the PPG vs. top line player argument, or the fact that the line isn't straight meaning the difference in point total between #5 and #25 is greater than between #25 and # 40, that wasnt the question. My question was concerning the chart and what is concluded from it, that being "the guys at the upper end of that scale (the top twenty, say) are a lot harder to find than the next group down" and that has not been answered. To use the term "find" suggests some type of player movement, drafting or trades some sort of player acquisition and ,according to the CHART, JW has not given proof that the above conclusion is true or not. That was my point, and it is null and void to say something without proof.

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#47 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 10:47AM
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@ Bob Cob:

I thought it was fairly self-evident that it's more difficult to acquire the Crosbys, Ovechkins, and Malkins of the world than it is the Sedins and Hemskys.

Therefore, I didn't bother to clutter the page with proof that it's harder to trade for Alex Ovechkin than it is for Ales Hemsky.

Do you require such proof?

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#48 Jonathan Willis
August 13 2009, 10:50AM
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@ Bob Cob:

The otheru nspoken assumption was variance. A player who puts up 100 points this year might put up 90 or 110 points next year. Regardless, he'll still be a top-20 player.

On the other side of the scale, a 65 point player may put up 75 or 55 points.

There fore, the number of players capable of attainint 100 points <<< the number of players capable of attaining, say, 65 points. Therefore, since the supply is lower they are more difficult to find.

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#49 Death Metal Nightmare
August 13 2009, 10:55AM
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Hi, if Dustin Penner had half the balls Tim Kerr had as a power forward we wouldnt be having this discussion. anyone who is still hellbent on the "coaching philosophy" blocking PDP's actual balls/fire to play the game is a cargo cultist hoping for Magic to fix a problem that began in his childhood as a soft, comical big guy. everyone knows one. theyre just too big to be mean. shame PDP... shame.

wake me up in 2 years when half of these bozos contracts are up.

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#50 Traktor
August 13 2009, 11:52AM
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Jonathan is becoming way to predictable. Just looking for ways to justify mediocrity.

Here's an idea: Why don't you look at the 1st line production of teams who actually have success.

A 51 point first line player is a recipe for a top 10 draft pick.

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