First Line Forwards

Jonathan Willis
April 12 2009 01:46AM

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.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#101 Rick
April 13 2009, 01:13PM
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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.

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#102 Ogden Brother
April 13 2009, 01:13PM
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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.

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#103 Taylor
April 22 2009, 07:05PM
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@ 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.

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