August 14 2009 06:00AM
Yesterday, I posted an article on the point production of first-line forwards. In it, I showed that an NHL-average first liner put up 66 points last season, while a player with 51 points was still producing at a first line rate.
However, a couple of commenters raised the question: don’t good teams generally get more points out of their first-line players?
First, from The Menace:
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.
Second, from Traktor:
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.
Traktor’s point is, I’m fairly sure, incorrect. Certainly, a team with two or three first-liners down in the fifty point range will struggle, but I think pretty much any team can afford one guy in that range; especially if they have an average player (65 points) and a top-20 player (85 points) along-side (for an average of 67 points).
I decided to calculate the average point total for each team’s top-three forwards and compare it to how many points each team put up. Here’s what that chart looks like:
Some notes on the chart:
- Obviously, teams with better point production from their first line – all other things being equal – will perform better, and I think we see that here, particularly in the Western Conference.
- All alone in the bottom left-hand corner are the New York Islanders, a team that only had one forward crack 40 points: Bill Guerin, who was traded to Pittsburgh to finish off the year.
- All alone in the bottom right-hand corner are the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that boasted a first line of Kovalchuk, Kozlov and White (240 total points, 80 on average) but still couldn’t climb the standings. They’re unusual, but not extremely so – the Ottawa Senators were a similar team, while both Atlanta and the Tampa Bay Lightning have been demonstrating for years that a potent top-three isn’t enough to have team success.
The 90-point line is pretty close to the playoff cut-off point; we see a few teams with anemic first lines (St. Louis, Columbus, Florida, the Rangers) had some success. Not a ton, but then we are looking at teams whose average first line player was putting up around 55 points.
As for Traktor’s contention, successful teams with a 50-point first-liner included Calgary, Pittsburgh and Carolina. It isn’t common, but it’s certainly possible.
And just to re-emphasize: I think Steve Tambellini was absolutely right to chase Dany Heatley. A line of Heatley, Horcoff and Hemsky would have been tremendous. In an off-year, Heatley still managed to record more than 70 points and would have nicely offset Horcoff’s offensive deficiencies (in the same manner that Horcoff would nicely offset Heatley’s defensive deficiencies).
Still, there may be another way for the Oilers to boost their top-line production. Sam Gagner, at some point, is going to supplant Horcoff as the team's number one centre. He may even surpass Horcoff's point totals this season.