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:
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.