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.

  • Very good analysis for the most part. I have a feeling the major stat guys will rip it apart (more than already have started) as far as “there is more to a first line player than points ect ect”.

    It is food for thought about some guys that you think are overpaid for their production.

    • Mark-LW

      There is some truth to the there’s more than stats…etc etc.

      Milan Lucic has played in Boston’s top 6 for a while now and before this year when he broke 60pts with a 30/30 year he was scoring around that 35pt range. Teams seem willing to trade that higher range of offence if the player does bring other elements to his game. Gagner is a decent 2nd line center at this point and if he can take the next step and start to round out his game a bit and break 50pts I’d be happy. Really hope he starts the year with Smyth-Hemsky.

      • I never said that stats weren’t important. I think they are. Kent and Robert at FN have proven that over and over again.

        I realize there is much more to a player than the scoring numbers. P. Bergeron is a good example of this. Datsyuk had a “down year” two years ago and was dominant in virtually every other area of his game.

        So yes there is more than to it than these scoring stats.

  • Horcsky

    Great breakdown Jonathan. This gives me a lot of hope for Horcoff over the next couple years. By this measure, he was still on pace to be roughly a 50 point player had he stayed healthy this season (a lower scoring first liner by Willis reckoning), and one who brings a lot more than points.

    If he can stay healthy, he should be at least an average offensive, and above average defensive, second line centre for a few more years.

  • CanaDave

    I like the message of this article, since between video games and scoring stats from 20 years ago I agree that too many people have unrealistic ideas of how many points players in a certain role should have especially on their own team.

    If Gagner’s progression continues this season and he puts up 55 points playing with other legitimate top 6 forwards while feeling more comfortable in his 3rd different system in his first 5 NHL years and he doesn’t have to take virtually every major faceoff against the best faceoff men in the NHL this year so he approaches 50% on the dot, on paper that seems like a great season for a 22 year old to me.

    I kinda think this article is a little damning for Omark since it’s point, at least to me, is that you don’t need offensive minded players all the way through your lineup. To me Omark seems much more likely to be trade bait to a bottom tier NHL team when the Oilers are ready to contend, assuming of course that Omark still has any value in 2-3 years.

  • CanaDave


    Is Boston really “defence first”, or do they just have an outstanding goalie (and excellent back-up)?

    They actually gave up more shots against than the Oilers last season.

  • Interesting when you think back when in our hockey pools we had to split Gretz & Lemiux into goals & assists. Now you are lucky to get 100 points period from our top superstar players. I thought the new rules, geared for more offense, would create more 100 point players, especially with the extra 5 minute overtimes versus no OT back then. Some things just dont make sense. There is 60 minutes in a game & you pay forwards X amount of money & expect X amount of minutes & X expectation of point production. I guess if anything, it could be a stop check for GM’s to get best value of their valuable cap dollars.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • @ DSF:

    Using points per game assumes health – and injuries happen every year. That’s why the point totals I’m using as plateaus hold up well going back over the last three seasons.

    So, a player might have a 0.75 PPG average (~60 points) but only play 60 games in an average season. Is he a 60-point player or a 45-point player?

    Bob Stauffer was on the radio yesterday and he mentioned Sam Gagner’s potential to be a 55-point centre, which is actually what inspired this. In terms of points-per-game, Gagner already is a 55-point centre, but he’s going to miss time along the way and that bumps the overall point totals down.

    • So, based on that line of thinking, Gagner has averaged 71 games per season over the last three years.

      If he’s a 55 point player as Stauffer says, that is a .67 PPG player based on an 82 game season.

      However his injury history indicates he’ll be a 48 point player at his peak.

      While that would land him in your second line category quite handily, here’s what some other “second line” centres accomplished last season.

      Kesler 73, Richards 66, Skinner 63, Grabovski 58, Statsny 57, Bergeron 57, Ruutu 57, Couture 56, Dubinsky 54, LeCavalier 54, Steen 51, McDonald 50, Laich 48.

      I guess that would make an average second line centre but you’re getting into the territory where he’d better be very good at some other skill if he’s going to hang on to his job.

      I don’t think you can build a winner when many of your top 6 are average.

  • 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.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Centers score more than wingers, so is it helpful to look at forwards by position? What about PPG?

    Removing players who were in fewer than 10 games, in terms of PPG the 15th Center (may I say “Average 1st liner” even though we know the players are not evenly distributed among teams?) scored .87 PPG (71 Pts/82)
    15th LW: .76 (62)
    15th RW: .80 (66)

    30th C: .72 (59)
    30th LW: .65 (53)
    30th RW: .66 (54)

    “Average Second Liner”:
    45th C: .63 (52)
    45th LW: .56 (46)
    45th RW: .56 (46)

    60th C: .54 (44)
    60th LW: .50 (41)
    60th RW: .46 (38)

    In case you’re interested, here’s the PPG performance of the current Oilers top 9 in 2010-2011 –

    Center: Gagner .62, Horcoff .57, Belanger .49
    LW: Hall .65, Smyth .57, Paajarvi .42
    RW: Hemsky .89, Eberle .62, Omark .53

    Top 15 at position: 1 (Hemsky)
    Top 30: 2 (Hemsky, Hall)
    Top 45: 4 (Hemsky, Hall, Eberle, Smyth)
    Top 60: 7 (Hemsky, Hall, Eberle, Smyth, Gagner, Horcoff, Omark)

    (source: nhl.com)

    In terms of boxcars, it looks to me like a decent top 6 on the wings, decidedly below average at center. Samwise (if not traded) really needs to take a step forward; RNH’s Desjardins NHLE is 11-27-38, so he literally can’t grow up fast enough.

  • Kodiak

    I agree with DSF on almost all points. I think PPG is a more legitimate idea of what a top 6 forward’s production will be. I’m pretty sure Pittsburg isn’t building a team around 66 and 37 pt players in Crosby and Malkin, they are building around 100pt and 75pt players.

    I also don’t thing league average is something to strive for. A team that is “average” doesn’t make the playoffs.

    Looking at the top 10 teams in the league, which is where we should be aiming for at worst, the numbers are a lot different.

    The top 10 teams top line production:
    2 – 100+,
    1 – 90+,
    9 – 80+,
    1 – 75+,
    3 – 70+,
    4 – 65+,
    4 – 60+,
    3 – 55+,
    3 – 50+,
    Average 1st line production is 70+.

    2nd line production:
    4 – 70+,
    4 – 65+,
    1 – 60+,
    5 – 55+,
    4 – 50+,
    7 – 45+,
    2 – 40+,
    1 – 35+.
    Average 2nd line production is 55+

    As I’m sure this discusssion came about because of talk about Gagner’s production as our 2nd line center, here are the numbers for the 2nd line centers:
    Kesler – 73,
    Laich – 48,
    M. Richards – 67,
    Malkin – 70,
    Pavelski – 73,
    Filppula – 45,
    Bergeron – 58,
    Lecavalier – 68,
    Koivu – 49,
    Goc – 39.
    The average is a shade under 60 points, with a couple very defensive teams bringing that number down. On top of that, most of these centers are defensive studs. As David pointed out, being able to contribute away from the puck is a big factor. I would rather have a 45pt 2nd line center that is defensively responsible and can PK than a 55pt center that is one dimensional. Scoring 50 points doesn’t mean much if you are giving up more than you are scoring.

    The average top ten 2nd line center scores 60 points and is defensively responsible. We should be shooting for our 2nd line center to be the same.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Kodiak let’s take off the blinders and call q spade a spade. Outside of a healthy Hemsky we don’t have an upper end 1st liner on the team.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ DSF why pick only 1? they measure two diff things. IMO points are a better measure a players worth while PPG is a better measure of ability or talent level.

  • 24% body fat

    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!

  • Derzie

    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.

  • 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…

  • RKD

    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…

    • SmellOfVictory

      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.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ 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).)

  • RKD

    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.

  • 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).

  • 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.