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

    I don't want to sound like DeepOil but, does anyone else find it odd that shortly after Katz took over- big contracts were offered to players who spend quality time with Katz personally? (For example: Horcoff and Laraque) Seems to me that it's unliklely that Lowe was solely reponsible for offering Georges a four year deal; specially condidering that Lowe didn't even offer Georges the league minimum after the 06 cup run… Do we really want Laraque's gymn buddy intervening in player contract negotiations or player procurement decisions? Does Katz possess a finer hockey mind than most of the fans who post here? If Tambellini is a puppet: Are we really sure who is pulling the strings?

  • 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”

    That's not an unreasonable expectation for 7 >MILLION< dollars.

  • RCN

    David S wrote:

    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”
    That’s not an unreasonable expectation for 7 >MILLION< dollars.

    @ David S:

    That's true, now if only his actual paycheck was relavant for the fans sake.

    Why don't people get that front loading is good for the orginization? It would have been better if it was 11 for the first couple of years and 1 for the last couple of years.

  • RCN

    @ David S:
    I don't hate Horcoff for taking the money… I'm angry at Lowe for offering it. Horcoff: 5.5 cap hit Staios: 2.7 etc… Why don't OUR guys ever give a hometown discount?

  • RCN

    I had a problem with the money, but now Ive moved and accepted it. But if your trying to tell me that,

    73 pts – 79 gms
    51 pts – 80 gms
    50 pts – 53 gms
    53 pts – 80 gms

    is first line production and its accepted, thats a bit much for me to take.

  • RCN

    @ Dan:

    It is, at least on the NHL level. This list measures offensive production only – and Horcoff's easily in the top 90.

    Whetehr I did this list by points per game, total points, goals per game or total goals, Shawn Horcoff is in the top-ninety regardless.

    He's a first-line player, based strictly on offensive production.

  • RCN

    For example, I know the Redden contract is awful, but I don't call him an 8-million dollar player (though that was his salary this season).

    He's a 6.5 million dollar player. Cap hit is the only thing that really matters.

  • RCN

    @ Chris:

    Considering the player Horc is 5.5 is not unreasonable at all. He was overworked bigtime this year and he even said so himself. He'll make the contract look good next year. It doesnt make sense how people keep throwing out the 7 million mark…. its going to be played up by the media but it is 5.5 over the term….

  • RCN

    @ jdrevenge:

    I'm not 100% convinced that Horcoff can cover the 5.5-million over the length of his contract, but it's nowhere near as unreasonable as some people make it out to be.

  • RCN

    @ jdrevenge:
    I said I don't blame Horcoff for taking the money… but he didn't exactly give the team a big discount. As for Lowe's culpability in the matter, I take issue with the 6 year term. The cap fluxuates and Horcoffs abilities will decline over the years… Who wants to spend what could be 10% (or more) of their total cap dollars on a 36 year old non-superstar player?

  • RCN

    Jonathan.

    Your efforts her to cast Horcoff as a first line player seem a little strained.
    Of course, he's a first line player for the obvious reason that's the role the Oilers have cast him in and given him the minutes that go with the position including a ton of PP time where he should be piling up points.

    The real question is can the Oilers be successful when their top 2 offensive players rank 34th and 68th out of 90?

    I think that can be answered by looking at the Oilers record while Horcoff has been playing that role.

  • RCN

    I sure hope he can, remember last year, prior to injury, how he would slide into the soft spot and nail the one timer. He just never seemed to find his rythm. Also, I don't think he should be used as a shut down guy as much as he has been. WE need help at center.

  • RCN

    I cant question the numbers you've provided, they do not lie. My only problem with the numbers is that I think a comparison of point production by centres only and point production per salary would be more helpful for Oiler fans to judge just where horc stands. Plus, now that Horc has had shoulder surgery I think it's fair to question if he can even get back to his "good" seasons. His ppg this season would have put him right out of the top 90 players.

    And the guy's salary does matter to the average fan now. In the old NHL it really didnt matter to the fan aside from giving us something to roll our eyes at. However, now the devoted fan (redundant) looks at the cap and salaries and wonders, "how will we re-sign X player if the Cap goes down?", "who will take on that salary in a trade?" Now more than ever Horc cant pull that BS excuse that he has intagibles which qualify him to be paid like a 40 goal scorer.

    Also. He makes 7 million next season. When he files his taxes he doesnt list his salary as 5.5 million. As a pro athlete in a small market in a cap era he will be judged against whichever number is highest, either his actual paycheck or his Cap hit. Fair or not, it doesnt matter.

  • RCN

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    Also. He makes 7 million next season. When he files his taxes he doesnt list his salary as 5.5 million. As a pro athlete in a small market in a cap era he will be judged against whichever number is highest, either his actual paycheck or his Cap hit. Fair or not, it doesnt matter.

    Which is garbage. His actual salary doesn't matter to Daryl Katz – the Oilers are still going to make money. His cap hit is what does matter; looking at the one year figure is just an excuse for people who want to be as negative as possible, regardless of whether their pessimism is based in reality.

    It shows somebody has an axe to grind, which is fine, but it makes it more difficult to take them seriously because they've got their conclusion and the facts be damned.

  • RCN

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    My only problem with the numbers is that I think a comparison of point production by centres only and point production per salary would be more helpful for Oiler fans to judge just where horc stands.

    As far as point production vs. salary goes, Horcoff's rating actually improves. He was only making about 1MM in 2005-06, and he's made 3.6MM/season in the years since.

    He's been one of the best bargains in the National Hockey League over the past four seasons.

  • RCN

    The issue I have with PPG is not that it is a "strictly offensive metric" – that SHOULD define first line players. No, the issue I have is that the denominator is "games played".

    I think a players points should always be divided by 82. A player that only plays 70 games at .91 PPG is not as valuable as player scoring .89 but for the whole season.

    The oilers struggle not just in enough first line scorers. Neither Hemsky or Horcoff have EVER played an 82 game season. And whats worse, this year our "#2" was outscored by a defense man!

  • RCN

    Taylor wrote:

    Your efforts her to cast Horcoff as a first line player seem a little strained.
    Of course, he’s a first line player for the obvious reason that’s the role the Oilers have cast him in and given him the minutes that go with the position including a ton of PP time where he should be piling up points.
    The real question is can the Oilers be successful when their top 2 offensive players rank 34th and 68th out of 90?
    I think that can be answered by looking at the Oilers record while Horcoff has been playing that role.

    I actually wasn't looking to cast Horcoff as anything; I gloated a little when I saw his name there but this was an effort to figure out what sort of offensive production a first-line forward is supposed to provide in general – it wasn't specific to Horcoff.

    Secondly, if time and opportunity are all it takes, why isn't Dustin Penner on the list?

    Thirdly, I think the real question isn't the one you've asked. The real question is: can the Oilers be successful with only two second-line players?

  • RCN

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    I agree. Based on his previous salary that was true. Only time will tell if his can "live up" to his next salary, but I have VERY strong doubts.

    As far as his Paycheck/Cap hit, well it's just a reality of being a high profile individual with full discloser regarding pay. We're in the midst of a global recession where people cant find jobs or arent getting paid like they used to. Horc signed on the dotted line at the perfect time and now his public image will suffer. I have no doubt that before the end of his Contract he will have been run out of town harsher than Tom Poti.

  • RCN

    Switching to total points rather than points per game, not only does Horcoff move up one spot, but Ales Hemsky moves up 6, to #28 overall.

    I use points-per-game because I think it is a fairer measure, but if you guys would prefer total points, it just reinforces the fact that both Hemsky and Horcoff are first-line players.

  • RCN

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Thirdly, I think the real question isn’t the one you’ve asked. The real question is: can the Oilers be successful with only two second-line players?

    That should be "only two first-line players".