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

    nope afraid not..ill stick to my signed hemmer thanks.. heater is pure shitOvenChicken8 wrote:

    @ typol99:
    You say that now, but I bet you’d have his jersey on 5 minutes after you found out he signed :p

  • Hippy

    OvenChicken8 wrote:

    Wyseguy wrote:
    Not sure if his no trade also includes a no movement, but if so, they can’t even hide him in the minors.
    It is a NMC. Hopefully they can find some angle to suspend him so he has to sit out this year. Meaning he’ll miss the olympics and beg Tambs to allow him to come to the winter wonderland known as Edmonton.

    I like the sounds of that, next step is to convince Tambo to plant a hidden camera so we can all see the begging take place

  • Hippy

    Wyseguy wrote:

    Not sure if his no trade also includes a no movement, but if so, they can’t even hide him in the minors.

    It is a NMC. Hopefully they can find some angle to suspend him so he has to sit out this year. Meaning he'll miss the olympics and beg Tambs to allow him to come to the winter wonderland known as Edmonton.

  • Hippy

    @ Ender the Dragon:
    I was always a strong supporter of keeping up the effort to get Heatley, but it's been a really long time now. He wants options? A month goes by and no options.

    I think the only way he comes is if Murray and Heatley call up Tambellini and offer him for less than the original deal. I know when July 1st went by, Murray wanted more, but clearly he's not going to get it, at least before the season starts.

    If he grovels back to Ottawa, they've got some cap space they need to clear for him. Not sure if his no trade also includes a no movement, but if so, they can't even hide him in the minors.

    At the end of the day, he would be huge for the first line, but I won't be anywhere near as enthusiastic if he does end up here.

    I know the saying is nice guys finish last, but somehow I'd like to see the prick finish last. Or at least take a chunk out of his ego and realize how fortunate he is. How do guys like Gretz, Iggy, Mess, Stevie Y and Burnaby Joe get it, yet guys like Heatley still exist and their selfishness still pays off handsomly.

    At least the NHL doesn't have nearly as many of these guys as the NBA and NFL.

    Is it worth trying to make a lesser trade to get Gagne out of Philly? I'm sure he has a no trade too, but he's a LW that can snipe and Philly's tight with the cap (sadly not much closer than we are).

  • Hippy

    Librarian Mike wrote:

    Well, that’s what they say. I can’t wait until game 12 or something, when someone lays Heatley out with an elbow or something and the Sens don’t do anything about it.
    This guy has painted himself into a corner, I think

    I wish this would happen but I really doubt it. 4th line players have to earn their keep and they will stick up for Heater because they are wearing the same jersey.

  • Hippy

    toprightcorner wrote:

    Not sure if this was mentioned earlier, but are the numbers you used actual point totals or points per 82 games. With injuries and such, I believe you would get a much better idea if everyone was based on points for a full season. This may not make a huge difference, but I am sure it would be noticable.

    I used actual points. I thought this was a better contrast because the teams are only benefitting form their stars when they're in the lineup.

  • Hippy

    Ender the Dragon wrote:

    Clearly he’s not uber-excited about either one, but he knows Ottawa and his management, coach, and teammates have all said they’ll welcome him at camp with no hard feelings.

    Well, that's what they say. I can't wait until game 12 or something, when someone lays Heatley out with an elbow or something and the Sens don't do anything about it.

    This guy has painted himself into a corner, I think.

  • Hippy

    Any talk of Dany at this point is just so much wind. The odds of him landing in San Jose go down by the day, so it really just comes down to playing in Edmonton or playing in Ottawa for Dany. Clearly he's not uber-excited about either one, but he knows Ottawa and his management, coach, and teammates have all said they'll welcome him at camp with no hard feelings. At that point, why put yourself into a wildcard environment like Edmonton? Better the evil that you know, right?

    He'll sigh a big sigh and wish that things had gone differently, but in the end he'll dress in red, black, and white this season.

  • Hippy

    Not sure if this was mentioned earlier, but are the numbers you used actual point totals or points per 82 games. With injuries and such, I believe you would get a much better idea if everyone was based on points for a full season. This may not make a huge difference, but I am sure it would be noticable.

  • Hippy

    @ humantorch:

    I kinda get that feeling too. I still think that Tambo had a set deadline but the offer is never off the table, if Heatley eventually decides he would come here theres no way we say no. Tambo stating that we have given up on him was just to eleviate the pressure on our players involved in the trade IMO.

  • Hippy

    99thoilerfan wrote:

    I agree. Dany would have been a great addition.
    I wish he would have agreed to play for the Oil.
    Tambo gave it a shot, I do not blame him at all.
    Come on Dany! Come play, you double dumb ass!

    Wouldn't at all surprise me to see it still happen come training camp.

  • Hippy

    I agree. Dany would have been a great addition.
    I wish he would have agreed to play for the Oil.
    Tambo gave it a shot, I do not blame him at all.

    Come on Dany! Come play, you double dumb ass!