First Line Forwards

first line

There are thirty teams in the NHL. Each team has one first line, with three forwards on it; ergo there have been ninety first-line players since the lockout. Defining a first-line player is difficult, but the most obvious requirement is offense. With that in mind, I went and researched the top ninety players by points per game since the lockout at Hockey-Reference.com.

I’ve bolded all players in the Northwest Division:

1.    Sidney Crosby: 1.37 PTS/GM
T2.  Alexander Ovechkin: 1.29 PTS/GM
        Joe Thornton: 1.29 PTS/GM
4.    Evgeni Malkin: 1.26 PTS/GM
T5.  Daniel Alfredsson: 1.17 PTS/GM
         Pavel Datsyuk: 1.17 PTS/GM
         Jason Spezza: 1.17 PTS/GM
8.      Dany Heatley: 1.15 PTS/GM
9.      Marc Savard: 1.12 PTS/GM
10.   Ilya Kovalchuk: 1.11 PTS/GM
T11. Marian Gaborik: 1.10 PTS/GM
          Jarome Iginla: 1.10 PTS/GM

          Henrik Zetterberg: 1.10 PTS/GM
T14. Marian Hossa: 1.07 PTS/GM
          Vincent Lecavalier: 1.07 PTS/GM
          Joe Sakic: 1.07 PTS/GM
17.   Daniel Briere: 1.05 PTS/GM
18.   Teemu Selanne: 1.03 PTS/GM
T19. Martin St. Louis: 1.00 PTS/GM
          Eric Staal: 1.00 PTS/GM
          Mats Sundin: 1.00 PTS/GM

T22. Olli Jokinen: 0.96 PTS/GM
          Henrik Sedin: 0.96 PTS/GM
          Paul Stastny: 0.96 PTS/GM

          Steve Sullivan: 0.96 PTS/GM
T26. Nicklas Backstrom: 0.95 PTS/GM
          Simon Gagne: 0.95 PTS/GM
          Daniel Sedin: 0.95 PTS/GM
          Alexander Semin: 0.95 PTS/GM
T30. Patrik Elias: 0.94 PTS/GM
           Paul Kariya: 0.94 PTS/GM
          Ray Whitney: 0.94 PTS/GM
33.   Martin Havlat: 0.93 PTS/GM
T34. Ales Hemsky: 0.92 PTS/GM
          Brad Richards: 0.92 PTS/GM
          Alex Tanguay: 0.92 PTS/GM
37.   Ryan Getzlaf: 0.91 PTS/GM
T38. Patrick Marleau: 0.90 PTS/GM
          Rick Nash: 0.90 PTS/GM
40.   Andy McDonald: 0.89 PTS/GM
T41. Jason Arnott: 0.88 PTS/GM
          Tim Connolly: 0.88 PTS/GM
          Pavol Demitra: 0.88 PTS/GM
          Patrick Kane: 0.88 PTS/GM
T45. Scott Gomez: 0.87 PTS/GM
          Anze Kopitar: 0.87 PTS/GM
          Alexei Kovalev: 0.87 PTS/GM
T48. Rod Brind’Amour: 0.86 PTS/GM
          Mike Cammalleri: 0.86 PTS/GM
          Michael Nylander: 0.86 PTS/GM
          Derek Roy: 0.86 PTS/GM
T52. Shane Doan: 0.85 PTS/GM
          Mike Ribeiro: 0.85 PTS/GM
          Cory Stillman: 0.85 PTS/GM
           Jonathan Toews: 0.85 PTS/GM
T56. Alexander Frolov: 0.84 PTS/GM
          Brendan Morrow: 0.84 PTS/GM
T58. Saku Koivu: 0.83 PTS/GM
          Ryan Smyth: 0.83 PTS/GM
T60. J.P Dumont: 0.82 PTS/GM
           Slava Kozlov: 0.82 PTS/GM
T62. Patrice Bergeron: 0.81 PTS/GM
          Thomas Vanek: 0.81 PTS/GM
T64. Brian Gionta: 0.80 PTS/GM
          Jason Pominville: 0.80 PTS/GM
          Brendan Shanahan: 0.80 PTS/GM
67.   Daymond Langkow: 0.79 PTS/GM
T68. Andrew Brunette: 0.78 PTS/GM
          Jonathan Cheechoo: 0.78 PTS/GM
         Chris Drury: 0.78 PTS/GM
         Shawn Horcoff: 0.78 PTS/GM
         Kristian Huselius: 0.78 PTS/GM
          Zach Parise: 0.78 PTS/GM
T74. Maxim Afinogenov: 0.77 PTS/GM
         Brad Boyes: 0.77 PTS/GM
         Milan Hejduk: 0.77 PTS/GM
         Vaclav Prospal: 0.77 PTS/GM
         Bobby Ryan: 0.77 PTS/GM
T79. Jason Blake: 0.76 PTS/GM
         Mark Recchi: 0.76 PTS/GM
          Mike Richards: 0.76 PTS/GM
          Brian Rolston: 0.76 PTS/GM
          Justin Williams: 0.76 PTS/GM
T84. Erik Cole: 0.75 PTS/GM
          Mike Modano: 0.75 PTS/GM
86.    Robert Lang: 0.74 PTS/GM
T87. Jamie Langenbrunner: 0.73 PTS/GM
           Markus Naslund: 0.73 PTS/GM
T89. Keith Tkachuk: 0.72 PTS/GM
          Todd Bertuzzi: 0.72 PTS/GM

This of course, is a strictly offensive metric; certain players with defensive shortcomings should be knocked down the list while players with a stronger game are correspondingly elevated. Still, everyone will have their own opinion on these guys, but one thing is for sure: since the lockout, these 90 players have been the ones most effective at putting up points.

Calgary Flames
11. Jarome Iginla: 1.10 PTS/GM
22. Olli Jokinen: 0.96 PTS/GM
48. Michael Cammalleri: 0.86 PTS/GM
67. Daymond Langkow: 0.79 PTS/GM
89. Todd Bertuzzi: 0.72 PTS/GM

Edmonton Oilers
34. Ales Hemsky: 0.92 PTS/GM
68. Shawn Horcoff: 0.78 PTS/GM

Vancouver Canucks
19. Mats Sundin: 1.00 PTS/GM
22. Henrik Sedin: 0.96 PTS/GM
26. Daniel Sedin: 0.95 PTS/GM
41. Pavol Demitra: 0.88 PTS/GM

A couple of points of interest jump out here. Starting in Calgary, the Flames are obviously very well represented with offensive firepower; they actually have two players in the top-thirty, and five players who would qualify as first-liners (based solely on offensive production).

The Oilers are a little short; their younger players haven’t shown an ability to jump up to the top line yet. Hemsky’s right on the cusp of being a top-thirty forward offensively, but the real surprise here is how Shawn Horcoff ranks. Often ridiculed as a third-line forward with little offense, his offensive production alone puts him on a first-line pace since the lockout. The clear missing piece is a scoring left winger to play with the two of them.

Vancouver looks the strongest by this measure; they have fewer players in the top-90 than Calgary, but they have three in the top-thirty. The Sedin twins are perpetually underrated, even by Canucks fans, and if Mats Sundin can recapture his form from the past few seasons they’ll be in excellent shape for a deep playoff run.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    For example, I know the Redden contract is awful, but I don’t call him an 8-million dollar player (though that was his salary this season).
    He’s a 6.5 million dollar player. Cap hit is the only thing that really matters.

    Agreed Willis. Why can't people get that through their thick skulls. When The Hockey News puts out their annual payroll issue, they always have the cap hit. That's all that matters in the "new" NHL. If the Oil (or any other team for that matter) wants to buy a player out after year 4 of a 6 year deal, then it is optimal to pay that player less actual $'s in those last couple years to lessen the buyout dollars. I don't understand why everyone calls Horcoff a "$7 Million player". He's a $5.5 Million player. Is that still too much? Perhaps. But if you're gonna argue that he's overpaid, then at least consider all of the facts, and say "at 5.5, he is overpaid" and not "he's not worth 7".

    As for 1st line players, I think it may be fair to state that in actuality, there are not 90 1st line players in the league (by typical definition of a 1st liner). Everyone has already argued how expansion watered the league down, and that would prove my above statement to be accurate. But, the fact of the matter is, there are 90 guys (at least) that play on the 1st line. And by that definition, it is hard to argue that Horcoff isn't a 1st liner (regardless of what Oil fan thinks). Is he the typical 1st liner – no. But this league is not typical anymore.

    If Shawn Horcoff were playing in between Hemsky and Kovalchuk, I'd argue that he's a really good fit as the 1st line center, as he could be the defensive/responsible presence of the line.

    His contract is what it is. Move on. Find a 1st line LW.

    P.S. Horcoff does see too much time on the 1st PP unit.

  • Hippy

    Oh ya. I forgot to say –

    On a championship calibre team, obviously Horcoff isn't a 1st line center. Ideally he would be a 2nd line center. (like Brad Richards was to Vinny Lecavalier was when they won the Cup).

  • Hippy

    Dan wrote:

    Jonathan Willis wrote:
    Dan wrote:
    If the Oilers decide that want Kotalik back then its Horcoff we will need to improve on the first line.
    Did you see Kotalik on that list? He’s never been a first line LW except in a few people’s minds.
    Kotalik is a very realistic option to come back whether you like it or not.

    If the Oil get duped into resigning Kotalik, then get ready for more of the same next year. Point. Blank. Period.

  • Hippy

    @ RossCreek:

    Although Richards won the Conn Smythe that year 😉

    But yes, for the Oilers to be a championship team, they need a scorer who can take advantage of Horcoff handling the tough minutes.

  • Hippy

    Well I think PaperDesigner said it best.
    PaperDesigner wrote:

    A good first line should include two high end players who are capable of putting up a lot of points, and a third player who shores up the weaknesses of those other two players (usually defence) and has enough skill to play with them.
    In Horcoff and Hemsky, the Oilers have two out of three of those pieces. The question remains where they are going to get the third.
    And I don’t think the solution is simply Gagner succeeding Horcoff on the top line; who would play the role of babysitter on the top line then?

  • Hippy

    Rick wrote:

    RossCreek wrote:
    Well I think PaperDesigner said it best.
    Is there a successful example in the league where the two scorers were both wingers though?

    Hemmer/Horc/Smyth were fairly successful.

  • Hippy

    David S wrote:

    SkinnyD wrote:
    Horcoff + Hemsky – off years on a poorly coached team with a lot of fellow under-achievers. Horcoff was also leaned on too much in many other situations, which didn’t serve him well to finish off Hemmer’s feeds.
    I think we kinda hit the Perfect Storm for under-achieving this year (ie – everyone but Rolli). I say even if we stand pat with players this team could make the playoffs next year with a different system.
    I don’t doubt that Horcoff was overworked, but that wasn’t a coaching deficiency as much as compensating for a player deficiency (thanks to Lowe). Still, I think the thing we all have to accept is that the whole team just wasn’t that good this year. Staples seems to think we need a superstar. I tend to agree, along with a bunch of guys playing way better than they did this year. Is that possible?

    Also, I believe Horcoff's shoulder injury is the type that takes a full year to recover. But yes, agreed – the team as a whole just wasn't that good, although I do believe they'll be better next year. It's up to the conductor to make all the different parts of a symphony perform well together – same goes for the coach. Our coach has issues with the violin section… 🙂

  • Hippy

    SkinnyD wrote:

    David S wrote:
    SkinnyD wrote:
    Horcoff + Hemsky – off years on a poorly coached team with a lot of fellow under-achievers. Horcoff was also leaned on too much in many other situations, which didn’t serve him well to finish off Hemmer’s feeds.
    I think we kinda hit the Perfect Storm for under-achieving this year (ie – everyone but Rolli). I say even if we stand pat with players this team could make the playoffs next year with a different system.
    I don’t doubt that Horcoff was overworked, but that wasn’t a coaching deficiency as much as compensating for a player deficiency (thanks to Lowe). Still, I think the thing we all have to accept is that the whole team just wasn’t that good this year. Staples seems to think we need a superstar. I tend to agree, along with a bunch of guys playing way better than they did this year. Is that possible?
    Also, I believe Horcoff’s shoulder injury is the type that takes a full year to recover. But yes, agreed – the team as a whole just wasn’t that good, although I do believe they’ll be better next year. It’s up to the conductor to make all the different parts of a symphony perform well together – same goes for the coach. Our coach has issues with the violin section…

    Vinny had a similar reduction in proction after having the same shoulder surgery.

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    Hemmer/Horc/Smyth were fairly successful.

    I don't know if I would say that. It was still an 8th place team and even the most ardent Oiler fan would have to see the cup run as lightning in a bottle more than anything else.

    I am talking in terms of a wire to wire strong team. After all these years of scraping by or falling short I don't know why anyone would want to settle for anything less.

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    Vinny had a similar reduction in proction after having the same shoulder surgery.

    Getting over the injury may have had something to do with Horcoff's year but Vinny is a poor comparison because he was also fighting a serious wrist injury for most of the season which ended up in requiring surgery.

  • Hippy

    Rick wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    Hemmer/Horc/Smyth were fairly successful.
    I don’t know if I would say that. It was still an 8th place team and even the most ardent Oiler fan would have to see the cup run as lightning in a bottle more than anything else.
    I am talking in terms of a wire to wire strong team. After all these years of scraping by or falling short I don’t know why anyone would want to settle for anything less.

    Iggy and Cammy were both wingers on what was one of the best lines in the league for 60ish games.

  • Hippy

    @ Jonathan

    This is perhaps the most simplistic way of trying to justify the unjustifiable.

    If one of your "best" offensive producers ranks 68th out of 90 but the teams you're competing against for a playoff spot have 2 or 3 or 4 players outproducing one of your offensive aces, it's no wonder the team can't make the playoffs.

    You are also omitting the context that many of the players that rank above Horcoff, (Statsny, Getzlaf, Kane, Kopitar, Toews, Parise, Ryan,) were either not in the league or raw rookies post lockout and have improved considerably while Horcoff has regressed.

    It would be more illuminating if you gave a numerical value to each player (90=1, 89=2) and then totaled what each teams first line brings to the party.

    You also need to consider that much of Horcoff's production has been by default because he was given prime first line and PP minutes even though there is little in his career stats that would indicate it's a suitable role for him except on a mediocre team.

    The argument that he's a first line player because he is a first line player is beyond weak.