Point Totals

Jonathan Willis
July 17 2011 12:51AM

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.

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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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#51 Bautin
July 17 2011, 06:48PM
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Omark was on pace for 43 had 9 points in the last 12 games lined up with omarra reddox then mps Gags with less toi then the other producers. Put him and Mps with a legit c and 2-line duty and he transform to a 60+ player!

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#52 Derzie
July 17 2011, 07:53PM
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Stats can be a never ending pit. PPG is a nice rough measure for forwards but I would include injury games in the total. The idea is to assess the contribution of a forward. If a player scores 2 a game when he plays but is injured most of the time (like Paul Kariya for example) his PPG next to his peers is much less than 2. Don't extrapolate. Count the bench time. All forwards have the same requirement to stay healthy.

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#53 manuel
July 17 2011, 10:01PM
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oh boy. how come in the 80s there were more goals score.its hard too get 100 points now.if you get 50 points you are a star now.then all the 80s nhl players are stars. are the goal tenders beter today then they were say 15 years ago...

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#54 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
July 17 2011, 10:05PM
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@ DSF obviously it would be dependent on other factors like age and contract as well, but ya all else equal that would be roughly fair value IMO. I've floated a few times that I wouldn't mind a Hemsky for Brassard trade (or Voracek before he was delt to the Flyers).)

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#55 SmellOfVictory
July 17 2011, 10:24PM
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manuel wrote:

oh boy. how come in the 80s there were more goals score.its hard too get 100 points now.if you get 50 points you are a star now.then all the 80s nhl players are stars. are the goal tenders beter today then they were say 15 years ago...

There are a number of factors regarding the lack of scoring now compared to the 80s. Development of the butterfly goaltending style may be one reason, as is the general development of more advanced defensive strategies; additionally, the 80s was an era wherein there were a number of godawful teams playing with a number of insanely good teams, which likely jacked up the point totals of players on the good teams.

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#56 RKD
July 17 2011, 10:38PM
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Grabovski totally looks like Shane Doan in that photo. Maybe he's his European clone and the others are all hiding away in the KHL.

Point totals can be somewhat misleading. When Stevie Y was having over 100 point seasons, Detroit wasn't winning Cups. As soon as Stevie Y became a two way player, his points dipped but Detroit started winning Cups. When guys like Thornton were putting up 120 point seasons and players like Iggy and Kovy were scoring 50 goals a season fans expect that. Fans expect if you are paid top money you should be scoring 40-50 goals or put up 60-70 assists. It's all subjective. I bet GMs would prefer a more balanced attacked as opposed to having just one fifty goal guy. The Flames have a balanced offence, they scored a lot of goals last year from lots of different sources. Consistency, is the key.

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#57 j
July 18 2011, 08:49AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Let's try and keep clear of the traditional firing lines here, if we can. At some point the sniping becomes reflexive and we don't even know why we're taking shots at each other.

Personally, I don't really suggest using raw point totals or points per game - each is a superficial measure that misses too much. FWIW, I prefer PPG to straight points, myself.

That said, lots of people rely on points when discussing players, and if they're going to they ought to be realistic about the production level they expect. That was the point of this piece.

This is a good article. I agree that most fans/media have much higher expectations that the stats bear out (at least in this era). Shawn Horcoff averaged 56 points from 2005-09. Seems like a reasonable number based upon this math. Would have been nice to have an 80 point winger mind you...

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#58 casual reader
July 18 2011, 08:53AM
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overall point totals don't take into account the potential for ppg players who went down due to injury. i have to admit i would like to see some comparison between how many players scored 80+ points last season with how many players scored at a ppg rate (with, say, a player having played a minimum number of 41 games-half a season should be enough sample size).

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#59 FastOil
July 18 2011, 01:00PM
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Thanks for the article, very interesting.

I have always been more interested in players that play well when it counts more than points totals. The play of Bergeron and Marchand in the final games this year highlighted it for me.

I like how MacG has changed the type of player we look for, more aggressive/competetive (not violent) personalities. I have confidence (in time) seeing Hall and Eberle going out when the chips are down. We definitely need some defence that also have it.

Here's hoping RNH and the other new/newer prospects have that same drive to dominate and win.

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