Point Totals

People have crazy ideas about the number of points forwards should be recording.

How many points should a first-line forward put up? A top-30 forward in the game? Ask those questions and the odds are that you’ll hear ‘point-per-game’ from a lot of fans. It simply isn’t true.

Last season, there were nine 80+ point forwards in the entire NHL, meaning that just one team in three possessed a healthy, point-per-game forward. Now, before someone trots out the ‘yeah, but if you want to win you need a game-breaking offensive talent’ line, it’s also worthwhile to note that neither the Boston Bruins nor the San Jose Sharks possessed one of those players.

Fifty points was enough to get a player into the top-90 in scoring by NHL forwards – in other words, if a player recorded 50 points, he is definitively a first-line forward offensively. Fully half of those players scored between 50-60 points, so while a 50 point player is a below-average first-line scorer, he’s really only ten points back from being an average first-line scorer.

Thirty-four points was the cut-off for the top-180 in scoring for NHL forwards in 2010-11. Again, the meaning here is that the offensive range for a typical second-line player in the NHL is between 34 and 49 points.

Typically, even good teams don’t deviate from having six guys in top-six scoring range. Let’s look at the four conference finalists to illustrate this point:

  • Boston: Four first-liners (Lucic, Krejci, Bergeron, Horton), three second-liners (Recchi, Marchand, Ryder)
  • Vancouver: Three first-liners (Sedin, Sedin, Kesler), three second-liners (Samuelsson, Burrows, Raymond)
  • Tampa Bay: Four first-liners (St. Louis, Stamkos, Lecavalier, Purcell), two second-liners (Gagne, Malone)
  • San Jose: Six first-liners (Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Heatley, Clowe, Couture), one second-liner (Setoguchi)

What’s the point here? Simply that a guy who can score 40 points (assuming he’d score it anywhere) is going to be a top-six forward almost anywhere in the league.

This is an important thing to know, for a lot of reasons. Fans and columnists alike tend to overestimate the amount of high-end offensive players a team needs to win, and consequently undersell the players they have. For Flames fans, that might mean not selling Alex Tanguay short – those 69 points he recorded are a superb first-line number; he would have led the Stanley cup champions in scoring. For Oilers fans, this means snorting derisively when some columnist in Toronto refers to Ales Hemsky as a “second line winger.” For Leafs fans, it means giving players like Grabovski and Kulemin the credit they deserve.

A 60-point player is a first-liner almost anywhere in the NHL. A 35-point player is a second-liner almost anywhere in the NHL. Obviously there’s more to it than that – offense isn’t the only measuring stick around – but all else being equal, those are the plateaus. It’s been that way for years now.

  • I bet cogs breaks 40 points this season. I really think he needed a fresh start.(Not from him but some one willing to use him in new ways.) The attention payed to his D game was just starting to pay off. I still think he is a winger but given time who knows.

  • John Chambers

    Interesting write-up. Good perspective, Willis.

    The Oil are certainly building themselves into an offensive powerhouse up front. It would be interesting to see what the mean is for points from the blueline for NHL teams, where the tops teams stack up, and how much of a deficit do the Oilers rank in comparison.

  • Using only points is oversimplifying the analysis of players. A good first line player brings more than just points to the ice. Defensive abilities and physical play are also important, particularly for teams like Boston who are defense-first and who succeeded in the playoffs by physically wearing down their opponents.

    Gagner has no defensive abilities. Gagner doesn’t play a physical game. Gagner’s faceoff skills are almost as bad as Cogliano’s. In other words, Gagner didn’t contribute anything more than his 42 points and his -17 +/- last season. We was also a big part of a PP that ranked 27th.

    This team finished last place for a reason. We need to upgrade key positions on this team, and that means developing, signing or trading for a 2C that can match up against the top players in the league. When this team is ready to contend, Gagner will be trade bait to someone else looking to finish last place in the NHL.

  • O.C.

    All Im gonna say is..
    Hall-RNH-Eberle
    Paajarvi-Gagner-Hemsky
    Smyth-Horcoff-Omark
    Hartakainen-Belanger-Eager

    Hall-73Pts
    RNH-52pts
    Eberle-55pts

    Paajarvi-41pts
    Gagner-62pts
    Hamsky-67pts

    Smyth-44pts
    Horcoff-35pts
    Omark-48pts

    Hartakainen-14pts
    Belanger-25pts
    Eager-17pts

    Chill…

  • ~WILLIS U ARE SO DUMBE! YOU USES S?TATS N STUFF AND SHUT UP! I SEEN WHA NEEDS TO BE DONE AND YER CRAPPE MATH ISNT GONNA HELP I KNOW SECOND LINE CENTRE SCORE 80 PTS EASY CLOWNs. TRADE EVERYONE FOR GUNDRBANSON AND BOGOSIAN! SHUT UOP MATH GEEKS! FIST!*~

    *Not respresentative of the Fisting Community™

    P.S. SHUDDUP! I REMEMBER THIS WON TIME YOU SAID SOMETHING N U WERE WRONG AHAHHSHAHAHAHAH LOOOSER1

    • John Chambers

      I see you have been To HF Boards!

      Have run the Points list once every two months at HF. cause that is what they don’t know about what they think is the most important.

      I think I ran that here recently.

      Keep beating the anti Mcguire drum.

      when Matt Stajan was traded Pierre he is a 3rd line Center. 55 and 57 points. beauty.

      • I actually stay clear away from HF boards. That ship doesn’t seem to have an anchor and is drifting aimlessly at sea. Also, I’m not a big fan of Pierre Mcguire but Matt Stajan only cleared 50 pts once in his career and by Willis’ reckoning IS a 3rd line center given his performance in Calgary. He was better in T.O. though for sure.

        @speeds
        One indication of a defensive team might be low shots-against totals. Another may be just where those shots are coming from. Surely it is easier to stop 30 shots from the outside than 15 shots from the slot and 2 breakaways. Other factors which would let a team be described as defensive might be the aggression or conservativeness of their breakout from their own zone, as well as their level of forecheck in the opposing zone. Does Boston fit this description? *shrug*

          • Thanks for the links. I read them and now I am experiencing some sort of Cartesian mind-body duality with respect to shot quality.

            As a goalie, I know there is such a thing as shot quality, because I get scored on via breakaways and wide open guys near the blue paint much easier than I do shots from a winger streaking down the side boards or a long shot from the point without traffic.

            However, reading those articles tentatively convinces me that there really doesn’t seem to be anything quantifiable that we could call shot quality at all.

            At this point I am going with my gut, and suspecting that something is getting washed over in the math. I just don’t yet know where.

            EDIT: Here is a guy who believes in shot quality:
            http://www.sloansportsconference.com/research-papers/2011-2/presentation/digr/

            I would recommend scrolling down and reading the paper instead of watching the video.

          • Kodiak

            I don’t think anyone is denying that shot quality exists, not in terms of comparing a one timer in the slot after a great pass on a 2on1 vs. a wrist shot from the point that a goalie sees the whole way. The first is a more high quality shot than the second 99 times out of a hundred.

            But that is different from the “shot quality” referred to when talking about the collective difference in shots one team faces over the course of the season vs. another. That is, the idea that one team might allow 29 shots per game, but they keep their shots to the outside while another team might only allow 27 shots, but they allow more shots from the slot, breakaways, etc. Some argue that effect exists, and is strong, while some think it either doesn’t exist or exists but in a small or negligible way.

            Intuitively, it FEELS like it should/might well exist*, but does it in reality? Anything I’ve read seems to suggest that, at the team level (and even the player level), the ability to control the shot quality is more limited than fans tend to think. If anyone has some more links on the topic though, I’d appreciate them!

  • Sorensenator

    Good insight Johnathan, it’s about time someone broke down the numbers to show people what reality is.

    I think most people generally inflate point totals in relation to a players potential.

    It really is hilarious, if all the Leafs (for example) reached their “fan projection” in point totals then the outcome would be something like 350 team goals.

    The game is far more defensive minded then it used to be, therefore we are seeing less and less goals scored each year with some exceptions.

  • You are not the first to support Baby Gagner with love. Given his 42 pts, 1 shy of the team lead, we cannot give up on him now.

    But doesn’t that mean that Cogs is a (borderline) second liner? He had 35 pts in a more limited role.

    EDIT: Also, I wonder how many of that top 9 played over 80 games.

    Edit#2: 7. The top 6 all played 82 games, ovechkin played 79, and the venerable Selanne played 73.