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.



  • ~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!

  • Dan the Man

    Just going to throw this out there…

    If a player has averaged .697 Points/Game over the last 6 years which equates to slightly over 57 pts in an 82 game schedule and for arguments sake we’ll say this player is a center who is defensively responsible and also good on the dot, does this make him a legit 1st line center?

    Based on Willis’ excellent article above he would be a slightly below average 1st line center.

    Now what if this players name rhymed with scorecoff?

    *Pokes hornet’s nest and runs*

    • CanaDave

      If we use Horcoff’s rolling 5 year average, which flatters him tremendously…here’s how NHL centres last season stack up.

      # of centres who exceeded .697 PPG: 34

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • On shot quality:

    Absolutely it exists. Whether there’s enough of a gap between NHL teams for it to matter much is another story; in some extreme cases (read: Lemaire) I think there’s an argument to be made but for the most part it’s wildly overstated.

    In the CHL, that doesn’t hold true – shot quality gaps do exist, and they can be quite wide, at least based on the goaltending looks I’ve taken.

    Final point – spacial maps, like the one linked above by ~S~K~ are useful tools, but have to be taken with a grain of salt. I used them a bunch last year but then started comparing the recorded shot location against video… and what I found was that the shot recorders do a pretty bad job of actually noting down where goals come from, and a worse job of noting where shots come from. I don’t trust the data anymore.

  • 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.

  • CanaDave

    You’re cooking the books JW.

    For example:

    Vancouver had 4 first line forwards even using the blunt instrument of total points scored.

    If you use PPG, where .609 (50 points in 82 games),
    as your “first line” cutoff:

    D. Sedin 1.27, H Sedin 1.14, .890, Samuelsson .667, Burrows .667,

    So, Vancouver had 5 players who qualify as “first line” players and another, Mason Raymond, who would have qualified the season before but was injured last season.

    Similarly, using .609 as the bar, Tampa Bay had six first line forwards and, as you mentioned, so did San Jose.

    Then you come to the conclusion that: “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.”

    Well, no, a guy who can score 40 will not be a top 6 forward almost anywhere.

    Certainly not among the top teams where Boston had 9 forwards who eclipsed 40 points (pro rated), not Tampa Bay who had 6, San Jose who had 7 and Vancouver who had 6.

    On those teams, 40 points won’t get you a sniff in the top 6 unless you bring something else significant to the party.

    While it may be true that there are many second line players in the 40 point range, that average is being dragged down by players employed by average and horrible teams.

    Now, if you use 60 points (.73 PPG) as the bar you might get a little closer to defining a first line player.

    I get approximately 75 players who scored .73PPG which seems about right when you consider some teams don’t have three players who could be considered “first line”.

    You’ve stated above that “if a player recorded 50 points he is definitely a first line forward offensively” but the numbers show that is nowhere close to being true.

    How many forwards in the league exceeded .61 PPG last season?

    I’m too lazy to do all the math but the number is somewhere around 100 so your 50 point line in the sand means you’re setting the bar too low.

    • Dude, you’re talking about cooking the books, and then you bring up PPG for defining how much a player contributes to his team over the course of a season? PPG doesn’t help a lick when you’re on IR.

      By your logic, Martin Gerber would be starting in the NHL next year because he’ll go 70-0.

      • Dan the Man

        There really is no other way to define value except PPG since injury is serendipitous.

        If you want to throw it out the window, and use a three year average of raw point totals as JW suggested, then you would have to admit that Hemsky is a 43 point player since that is what he has averaged over the last three seasons.

        Do you really believe that is Hemsky’s true value?

        If so, he is a marginal second line player.