First Line Forwards

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.



  • RCN

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    So despite the fact that judging by cap hit is more reasonable, it’s OK to judge by salary because people are feeling bad due to the recession?

    If I've learnt anything it's that people are NOT reasonable. Being a Fan by definition suggests being reasonable is not an option. I wasnt saying it's OK, I'm just saying that's how it is.

    If Horc had NEVER been offered the contract we wouldnt be talking about this at all. The club gambled on Horc being much closer to a point per game player as he was last season and it didnt pay off. Not surprising given he had significant shoulder surgery and had never been a point per game before.

  • RCN

    @ Jonathan

    To compensate for the relatively low production of the Oilers first line, the second line would have to virtually outperform the first line.

    You've pulled out the numbers for Vancouver and Calgary and each team has 4 players with better scoring rates than Horcoff. Pretty hard to come up with a second line that can make that up.

    Dustin Penner was only considered a first line forward by one Kevin Lowe and I'm sure I don't need to tell you he didn't spend much time on the first line or PP this season,

  • RCN

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    If I’ve learnt anything it’s that people are NOT reasonable. Being a Fan by definition suggests being reasonable is not an option. I wasnt saying it’s OK, I’m just saying that’s how it is.

    I know – I didn't mean to pick on you. But when I write here, I (and I don't succeed all the time) need to be reasonable, because that's part of writing about and analyzing hockey. So when people are being demonstrably unreasonable, I don't place much stock in what they're saying.

  • RCN

    Taylor wrote:

    You’ve pulled out the numbers for Vancouver and Calgary and each team has 4 players with better scoring rates than Horcoff. Pretty hard to come up with a second line that can make that up.

    And the Canucks have three guys with better scoring rates than Hemsky. Pretty tough to make that up too.

    Still, it would be much, much easier to make up for where Horcoff and Hemsky slot in on this list if the team had a first-line LW, wouldn't it?

  • RCN

    George L. was a #1 kind of guy. He was great for the team and the community. I witnessed with my own eyes how he was at Rona to buy supplies and he stopped and signed every request. I just happen to be in the same place on another day when Ryan Smyth was at a store. He would NOT take the time to sign autographs for kids. This made me sick.

    Bob Stauffer was right, there is lots that folks like us don't know about Ryan Smyth. He is very selfish

  • RCN

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    Theirs a strange hate on for Horcoff… skewed expectations I guess, everyting thinks you need 30 goals/80 points to be a “first liner”

    Uh…for $7 MIL next year, yes you do.

  • RCN

    SkinnyD wrote:

    David S wrote:
    SkinnyD wrote:
    Horcoff + Hemsky – off years on a poorly coached team with a lot of fellow under-achievers. Horcoff was also leaned on too much in many other situations, which didn’t serve him well to finish off Hemmer’s feeds.
    I think we kinda hit the Perfect Storm for under-achieving this year (ie – everyone but Rolli). I say even if we stand pat with players this team could make the playoffs next year with a different system.
    I don’t doubt that Horcoff was overworked, but that wasn’t a coaching deficiency as much as compensating for a player deficiency (thanks to Lowe). Still, I think the thing we all have to accept is that the whole team just wasn’t that good this year. Staples seems to think we need a superstar. I tend to agree, along with a bunch of guys playing way better than they did this year. Is that possible?
    Also, I believe Horcoff’s shoulder injury is the type that takes a full year to recover. But yes, agreed – the team as a whole just wasn’t that good, although I do believe they’ll be better next year. It’s up to the conductor to make all the different parts of a symphony perform well together – same goes for the coach. Our coach has issues with the violin section…

    Vinny had a similar reduction in proction after having the same shoulder surgery.

  • RCN

    albundy wrote:

    George L. was a #1 kind of guy. He was great for the team and the community. I witnessed with my own eyes how he was at Rona to buy supplies and he stopped and signed every request. I just happen to be in the same place on another day when Ryan Smyth was at a store. He would NOT take the time to sign autographs for kids. This made me sick.
    Bob Stauffer was right, there is lots that folks like us don’t know about Ryan Smyth. He is very selfish

    And there you are folks. If you have a career in the NHL, you too can have your entire life evaluated by one time that "albundy" saw you at RONA.

  • RCN

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Taylor wrote:
    You’ve pulled out the numbers for Vancouver and Calgary and each team has 4 players with better scoring rates than Horcoff. Pretty hard to come up with a second line that can make that up.
    And the Canucks have three guys with better scoring rates than Hemsky. Pretty tough to make that up too.
    Still, it would be much, much easier to make up for where Horcoff and Hemsky slot in on this list if the team had a first-line LW, wouldn’t it?

    The only problem with that is the first line LW that we'd need is Kovalchuk to make up all those points we are losing out on. If the Oilers decide that want Kotalik back then its Horcoff we will need to improve on the first line.

  • RCN

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    No Problem, I dont consider these back and forths "picking on me". I understand your plight. Being reasonable in an unreasonable land is a difficult task. I took my logic class, Ive had to do some advanced thinkery before, thats why I like your perspective.

  • RCN

    Hey dude, why not you share your stories with us little people. At least I'm not afraid to call it the way it is. Please ask Bob Stauffer about Ryan Smyth, bet ya he will tell you same sort of info. @ Jonathan Willis:

  • RCN

    Dan wrote:

    If the Oilers decide that want Kotalik back then its Horcoff we will need to improve on the first line.

    Did you see Kotalik on that list? He's never been a first line LW except in a few people's minds.

  • RCN

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Dan wrote:
    If the Oilers decide that want Kotalik back then its Horcoff we will need to improve on the first line.
    Did you see Kotalik on that list? He’s never been a first line LW except in a few people’s minds.

    Kotalik is a very realistic option to come back whether you like it or not.

  • RCN

    albundy wrote:

    Hey dude, why not you share your stories with us little people. At least I’m not afraid to call it the way it is.

    I didn't say don't share your stories (although they aren't exactly on topic and you tend to bring up the same sort of muck-raking every time you post, no matter what the discussion's about), but do you see the humour in summing up a person's life from one encounter at RONA?

  • RCN

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    And the Canucks have three guys with better scoring rates than Hemsky. Pretty tough to make that up too.

    That's the rub though, isn't it?

    I don't think there are many fans that don't see that Horcoff is a good hockey player. That is not the issue.

    The argument is if he is a good 1st line center.

    He may slot into the rankings, in this case for PPG, as a 1st line center league wide but having the worst first line center in the NW is just that…the worst.

    Where the argument becomes even more frustrating is that his contract pretty much demands he is going to be in that role for the forseeable future. That's why there is so much angst over the contract. It's less about what it means to Horcoff specifically and more about how it will handcuff the team going forward, particularily with the cap uncertainty.

    It makes it difficult to see how the Oilers can get marketably better in the next few years when they are willing to settle for a middle of the pack top line player as opposed to moving heaven and earth to find a truly top center. First line center is the most important position in your group of forwards. Settling for a middle of the road player at that position is setting your team up as a middle of the road performer.

    If Horcoff is your 2nd line center then your team is likely very very good. But he isn't at their not.

    And it isn't all on his shoulders, he is just such an obvious example of why this organization has ended up in the weeds.

  • RCN

    Dan wrote:

    Kotalik is a very realistic option to come back whether you like it or not.

    He's a realistic option to come back, sure. But he's also unlikely to be the answer at LW on the first line whether you like it or not.

  • RCN

    Rick wrote:

    He may slot into the rankings, in this case for PPG, as a 1st line center league wide but having the worst first line center in the NW is just that…the worst.

    2nd worst – Minnesota doesn't have a better one on this list (although Koivu may eventually show up).

    You'll get no argument from me that this would be a better team with more scoring; for example, if Sam Gagner got to the point where he could score a bunch. I do find it amusing that seeing two names in the the top-90 scorers in the NHL, Oilers fans chose to attack the second name rather than wonder why there isn't a third.

  • RCN

    Or, to borrow from my favourite sitcom, this is how Sheldon would say it:

    [Ales Kotalik]'s inability to successfully [be a first-line player] long predates his acquisition of [Shawn Horcoff as his centre]. No, that failure clearly stands on its own.

  • RCN

    It's all about players fitting. All they gave him was his PP shot from the point and that was about it. Right now, unless we are getting Kovalchuk, Kotalik is as good an option as any. It gives Hemsky an off wing shooter, big body and some versatility as well. Now all that line would need is a net crasher, someone who skates from goal to goal, and I'm not sure Horcoff is the right guy for that since he does play a ton, and that role would require a ton of skating. Cogliano this year would have done well in a pinch but ultimately I'd be hoping we could get someone bigger, say a Nathan Horton type.

  • RCN

    Dan wrote:

    Right now, unless we are getting Kovalchuk, Kotalik is as good an option as any. It gives Hemsky an off wing shooter, big body and some versatility as well.

    It gives Hemsky a guy who has a) never played tough opposition and b) has topped 45 points once since the lockout.

    Unless you assume that Lindy Ruff is an idiot, it seems pretty clear that Ales Kotalik can't generate enough offense to hang on to a first-line centre spot. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Penner and Kotalik got virtually the same even-strength ice-time, and Penner was miles better. Their point production at even-strength, relative to ice-time, isn't even close.