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Friday, September 25, 2015

Ranking the NHL's Most Lethal Top 6

So I've been preparing for the 2015-16 NHL season by drinking in all articles about hockey from all news sources, blogs, magazines, and scraps of napkins left over at the bar. Hockey season is upon us and I can't get enough.

One thing I constantly see from other teams' sites (you know, the EVIL ones)  are claims that their "Top 6" is one of the "best in the league" or "so sick". In the time period of posting prospective line-ups and season predictions, its really fun to speculate how your team's top two lines will perform shouldering the heavy responsibility of lighting the lamp. So I decided to figure out who does have a sick Top 6 and who is just dreaming.

I based this purely on scoring points and nothing else. I feel that is the main priority of the Top 6, right? I am well aware that the team's offense is only a small slice of the pie as how it translates to a team's success, but this was just a fun exercise to display a team's fire power on it's top 2 lines.

When doing research I considered:

  • I used RotoWorld to find the most up to date and mostly accurate team depth charts
  • The Coyotes, Sabres, Oilers, Jets, had rookies on their depth charts so I gave Eichel, Domi, and Ehlers (a generous) 60 points and McDavid 70 points projected for this season
  • I used NHL.com for career totals in points and games played
  • I used Hockey Abstract for the TOI totals and Shifts per Game for the 2014-15 season
  • I could have done different metrics for different stats but scoring is what the Top 6 players job is so I based all analysis from how many points a player scored in a season

First I found every team's Top 6 (per RotoWorld):

Ducks Getzlaf Kesler Maroon Silfverberg Perry Stewart
Coyotes Vermette Hanzal Boedker Domi Doan Downie
Bruins Krejci Bergeron Marchand Beleskey Eriksson Pastrnak
Sabres O'Reilly Eichel Kane Moulson Ennis Gionta
Flames Monahan Backlund Gaudreau Raymond Hudler Frolik
Hurricanes Staal Rask Staal Skinner Lindholm Nash
Blackhawks Toews Anisimov Shaw Teravainen Kane Hossa
Jackets Johansen Dubinsky Hartnell Saad Foligno Atkinson
Avalanche Duchene Soderberg Landeskog Tanguay MacKinnon Iginla
Stars Seguin Spezza Benn Sharp Nichushkin Hemsky
Wings Datsyuk Richards Zetterberg Tatar Nyquist Abdelkader
Oilers Nugent-Hopkins McDavid Hall Pouliot Eberle Purcell
Panthers Bjugstad Barkov Huberdeau Jokinen Jagr Smith
Kings Kopitar Carter Lucic Pearson Gaborik Toffoli
Wild Koivu Granlund Parise Zucker Pominville Vanek
Canadiens Plekanec Desharnais Pacioretty DeLa Rose Gallagher Semin
Predators Ribeiro Fisher Wilson Bourque Forsberg Neal
Devils Zajac Elias Henrique Cammalleri Palmieri Gionta
Isles Tavares Nielsen Nelson Lee Okposo Bailey
Rangers Stepan Brassard Nash Kreider Zuccarello Fast
Senators Turris Zibanejad MacArthur Hoffman Ryan Stone
Flyers Giroux Couturier Schenn Read Voracek Simmonds
Penguins Crosby Malkin Kunitz Perron Kessel Hornqvist
Sharks Thornton Couture Marleau Hertl Wingels Ward
Blues Backes Stastny Steen Schwartz Tarasenko Brouwer
Lighting Stamkos Johnson Palat Killorn Kucherov Callahan
Leafs Kadri Bozak vanRiemsdyk Lupul Parenteau Arcobello
Canucks Sedin Sutter Sedin Burrows Vrbata Hansen
Capitals Backstrom Kuznetsov Ovechkin Johansson Oshie Williams
Jets Little Scheifele Ladd Ehlers Wheeler Stafford

Then I simply added their points from of the Top 6 players on each team 2014-15 season together and ranked them.

Winner: Lightning

There was little surprise in these results with the Lightning going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. The Chicago Blackhawks are a bit of a surprise with a huge dip but they did lose Sharp, Saad, Richards, and Versteeg.

Simple enough, right? Nah. What about players like Jordan Staal, David Krejci, Alex Semin, and Evgeni Malkin who lost a chunk of their season to injuries? Should the 2014-15 projections should be weighted down so heavily because of someone in their "Top 6" was injured last year? Nah ...

I took each player's PPG (points per game) output and projected it throughout an entire 82 game season then added them together.

Winner: Penguins

"If only the Penguins were healthy" was the fans mantra from 2015 and well ... 2014 ... 2013 ... 2012 ... 2011 etc. Having a healthy line-up and having Kessel there was little doubt the Pens would top the list once projecting last year's full season totals together. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets, without a doubt, could have benefited from a healthy line-up.

Then I figured well ... what if the player just had a terrible year? Scoring league-wide was way down last season and some players we are used to scoring a ton ended up with career lows. So I took career PPG (points per game) and averaged their point production per season.

Winner: Penguins

The Pens don't surprise me at all with this result. The top 2 points per game leaders of active NHL players are Crosby with 1.36 and Malkin with 1.19 over their careers. With adding Kessel (.77), and having Perron (.59), Hornqvist (.625), and Kunitz (.69) career points per game that is truly an insane Top 6.

Then I combined all three methods to balance out the dumb variables and for curiosity's sake.

Winner: Penguins

With all 3 techniques being applied the Penguins come out on top. It takes a lot more than a lethal top 6 to be successful in the NHL but the rankings, in most cases, correlate with the standings last year. There are too many variables not included in these charts, defense, goal tending, team systems, and injuries but it was fun to just quantify things on pure scoring and nothing else. Take this anyway you want but the results are hard to argue.

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