First Line Forwards On Good/Bad Teams

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:

image0011

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.

  • Hippy

    Wyseguy wrote:

    @ Oilersordeath:
    even though his value is getting closer and closer to a bag of pucks, I have a hard time believing Murray would take that. Nobody wants Schremp or Nillson.

    And Penner is the key to that whole deal going through. We have to have salary going the other way.

  • Hippy

    Well Tambo is looking in b-town and there is slim pickings right now..he wont do much till marchbbop wrote:

    Salary cap aside of the remaining free agents
    at forward whom do you think the Oilers are
    most interested in

    @ typol99:

  • Hippy

    % penner is sooooo over paid.. i hate him the most outta every oiler….in history.. I saw him in a bar in Brandon Man.. tried talking to him he is such a stuck up prick…Im gonna fight him next time he comes back to town…

  • Hippy

    Wyseguy wrote:

    even though his value is getting closer and closer to a bag of pucks, I have a hard time believing Murray would take that. Nobody wants Schremp or Nillson.

    Oilersordeath wrote:

    I agree but I think the longer this drags out Tambo hold on Murrays balls tightens each day.

    Why on Earth would you think that? Do you think for one second that Murray ever really wanted Heatley gone? He went through the motions and made sure that everyone knew he had made all reasonable attempts to pacify his petulent star, but at the end of the day Murray will be pretty happy if Heater is lighting the lamp for the Sens and not someone else.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    @ typol99:
    I’d talk to Landon Wilson before fighting Penner, if I were you.

    Shhhh… Let him do it, then we probably won't have to hear from him for a month while he's laid up in a hospital.

  • Hippy

    typol99 wrote:

    % penner is sooooo over paid.. i hate him the most outta every oiler….in history.. I saw him in a bar in Brandon Man.. tried talking to him he is such a stuck up prick…Im gonna fight him next time he comes back to town…

    You're going to fight Penner, tough guy? I'm guessing you're five-foot-10 and 165 pounds, but you'd be in the NHL just like Penner if it hadn't been for that knee injury (bruise) and the coach who screwed you over in Peewee House League, right? Your whole talk-like-a-gangsta act is lame.
    Imbecile.

  • Hippy

    I can't help but like Penner. I like the way he stared down Scott Oake on national TV after being questioned about being scratched. I like the way he stands in front of Souray slapshots. I like the fact that he is the current Oiler iron-man… In fact, the only thing I don't like about Penner is his contract… and I don't see how That is Penners fault.

    Sure I wish Penner had used his three week layoff after winning a Stanley Cup to get into all-world shape. Sure I wish he could just become a first line player (out of the blue) depite never being drafted, never playing on a first line, and never expressing a desire to be the go-to-guy. If Tambellini gave Reddox four million dollars and the spot beside Hemsky… who would you hate?