1st and 2nd Forward Lines 2011 vs 2010 Production

Ed note: The work CNS did here merited some serious recognition on the front page, so it's with pride that I bump this up to the forefront on this the most superest of Sundays. It beats looking at the Western Conference standings. --McClure


I noticed a lot of conversation lately about the production of the Hawks' top lines as compared to the bottom lines this season. So I decided to take a closer look at the forward corps. If this generates any interest I'll put together something similar for the defensivemen.

I charted the 1st and 2nd line production from this season compared to last year's based on Plus/Minus and Scoring. Last year had A LOT of line juggling. Instead of going through and figuring out who played on what line during each game of the season, it was much, much easier to use stats from the players who I remember spending the most time on each line during the regular season. I believe the results still paint a fairly accurate picture. 

Second, I also wanted to look deeper into the relationship between a player's stats and the performance of his linemates and to compare each player's individual performance with his performance from last year.

The data for each player from 2011 has been adjusted to equal the number of games that player (or the player in that position, in the case of Ladd and Kopecky) played in 2010. That way it is easier to determine the difference from last year's pace for each player.

Also, the reason Ladd 2010 was used in comparison to Kopecky 2011 is not only because he played a decent chunk of time on the 2nd line, but also because if I took on average of the other players who I recall spent some time on the 2nd line, the resulting average would be almost identical to Ladd's actual season figures. Therefore I felt he was the best measuring stick, my "everyman" so to speak.

GP-Games Played, G-Goals, A-Assists, Pts-Points
TOI/GP - Avg Time-On-Ice per Game Played
TOI/Pt - Minutes Played per Point Scored
GP/Pt- Games Played per Goal Scored
GP/Pt 5 - Games Played per Goal at Full Strength

BLUE  - IMPROVEMENT (double digit)
GREEN - IMPROVEMENT (single digit)
ORANGE  - DECLINE (single digit
RED - DECLINE (double digit)



 click on image for a larger view

OBSERVATIONS - 1st and 2nd Lines

You asked for your top lines to step up the scoring this year, and they have. They're on pace to score 14 more goals than last season. But I assume this increase is mostly due to the Hawks' PP being #1 in the league, and all of these players get PP time. I also assume that much of this advantage has been given away on the dismal PK. That leaves 5vs5, where most of the game is played and where the lines are intact, so I'm going to look at that in more detail.

All you need to do is notice the amount of red boxes in the 5vs5 categories to see that something has changed significantly since last year, and definitely for the worse. Prior to this season, it was apparent that the top lines would have to increase their production to have a season anywhere near as successful as last year's. Therefore any decline is substantial.

Projected Goals for the 1st and 2nd lines are down 7 from last year. Not a significant variance from a statistical standpoint, but again we were looking for an increase. From the breakdown, the 1st line is actually on pace to match last year's production. The decline in goals has come completely from the 2nd line.

Assists are down 29 from last year. That's a substantial variation from last year's figure, but not just because it's a double-digit decline. What is curious about the variance is that NHL forwards typically average about 1.40 A/G (assists per goal) 5vs5. Based on that, I would have expected the decrease in assists to be somewhere around -10 (-7G x 1.40G/A). Instead the ratio between the decline in goals and assists is 4.14 A/G (-29A/-7G). Last season's A/G ratio for the top 2 lines was right in line with the league average at 1.41 5vs5. This season it has dropped to 1.21 5vs5.

So where have those assists gone? Is it due to an increase in unassisted goals or a reduction in secondary assists? I doubt it. Therefore they must be going to the defensemen. The fact that Seabrook and Keith are #1 and #2 on the team this year in assists may support this theory. If that's the case, then it would probably be safe to assume that:

     a) the offense is taking more shots this year from out near the blue line,
     b) the defensivemen are pinching more often, and/or
     c) the defense is making more stretch passes in an attempt to spring odd man rushes.

Whether it is one, two, or all of the above, this leads to more scoring chances and odd man rushes for the opposition via blocked shots (um, Keith), the defensivemen being caught down low, or intercepted stretch passes. Could this be part of the reason the defense has suffered this year? Are the Hawks playing a higher risk offense in order to sustain scoring? I reviewed stats back to the lockout and this is by far the lowest G/A ratio, so something has to be causing this deviation from the norm.

I initially thought I further confirmed my theory based on the general assumption that the Hawks are trying to play the same style of hockey as last season with lesser personnel. But aside from Kopecky for Ladd these are the same players from last season, so I dunno if that's truly the case.

The chart below shows the overall team's performance on special teams. This year the Hawks are on pace to net 68G on the PP (PP Net=PPG-SHGA) and 48GA on the PK (PK Net=PPGA-SHG) for special teams net of +20G. Last season the Hawks were at +48 and -26, for a net of +22. The goal differential is only -2 since last season. The PP and PK are neither helping nor hurting the Hawks this year as compared to last.

One note though. I keep hearing "Good thing the Hawks are among the least penalized teams in the league. Therefore the PK doesn't hurt us as much." Yes, they are the 3rd least penalized team in the league, but they are also 3rd from last in PP opportunities. So by that rationale the PP doesn't help as much either. The Hawks have the fewest special teams opportunities (PP + PK) in the league. Therefore 5vs5 performance plays a larger part in determining the Hawks' fate than any other team in the NHL.

Well let's get the good news immediately out of the way. The difference in plus/minus from last year for the top two lines is only -125. (You may now release your sarcasm detector buttons) I knew the numbers were worse, but a -125 difference was unexpected.

I'll try to lessen the blow of that number if possible. Since all three skaters get a plus or minus whenever a goal is scored, the actual Goals For-Against Differential (GFA Diff) is generally only going to be 1/3 of that number. Here's how each line compares to last season:

At first, one might assume that because the plus/minus and GFA Differential of the 2nd line is almost double that of the 1st line, that the 2nd line must be giving up twice as many GA. That's actually not true.

The 1st line is on pace to score exactly the same number of goals they did last season. Therefore they're on pace to give up 16 more GA. The 2nd line is on pace to score 7 less goals 5vs5 than last season. Therefore they're on pace to give up 19 more GA than last season (-26+7=19), which is only 3 more GA than the 1st line. So the 1st and 2nd lines are both having relatively equal defensive lapses.

Last year the Hawks finished with the 2nd best Goal Differential in the league at +62. This year, believe it or not, they are on pace to finish with the 6th best  GDIFF at +34. The GDIFF of the 1st and 2nd lines has decreased by a total of 42G and special teams has decreased by 2G. 62-42-2 = 18 GDIFF. So where are the other 16 (34-18) coming from? The 3rd and 4th lines.  

Last season our 3rd and 4th lines combined for a plus/minus rating of +28. This season they are on pace for a +66 combined rating. This year's minimum wage roster-fillers are not only matching the 5on5 production of last year's names like Byfuglien, Versteeg, Madden, Eager, Fraser, et al; they're more than doubling it. The 3rd and 4th lines are matching the GDIFF of the 1st and 2nd lines with an average of 5 mins less TOI/GP.



click on image for a larger view

OBSERVATIONS - Individual Players

When looking at individual performance, it is important to remember that Plus/Minus and Scoring are not very good metrics for determining how much of an effect that player is having on his linemates, and in turn, how much of his performance is a product of them.

I've heard a lot of chatter that Toews isn't quite Toews this year. Maybe there's something to that, but these stats say otherwise. Nothing but consistency from Captain Serious. An equal mix of green and orange shows no extremes in any category. Toews' Assists and Plus/Minus are down, but Kane's injury and perceived lack of effort this season might have something to do with that. Only a -8 in Plus/Minus Diff from last season when your partner in crime is on pace for a -32 suggests that Toews has in fact been carrying this line.

In a season where EVERYONE'S stats are better on the PP, Kane is the lone player who has had any regression. No green or blue boxes for Kane, only red and orange. Assists are down and Plus/Minus is down substantially. His -32 Plus/Minus Diff is way out of whack from Toews' -8 and Brouwer's -9. Maybe some of this is due to his nagging ankle injuring, but his play left much to be desired prior to that. Also note that Kane's TOI/Pt is down considerably, with little influence from the PP or PK affecting this number.

Another good year from a guy who seems to thrive on the top line. Aside from the sole PK goal last season and the small drop in Plus/Minus, Brouwer has improved slightly in all categories. His TOI/Pt improvement of 5:19 is the best among the top lines. And he's been doing all this with 1:15 less ice time per game. Why Q?

Biggest jump in goal production from any position on the team - but also the largest drop in Plus/Minus of any forward. How can that be? Simply put, he's been going batshit crazy on the PP, but his 5on5 play has dropped off a cliff. With all those goals, he's only on pace for 11 more points this season, even with an increase in ice time of 1:12 per game. One can't deny he's been clutch, but his -45 Plus/Minus Diff compared to Hossa's -14 and Kopecky/Ladd's -18 suggests he's definitely a guilty party.

The PP is keeping him on pace to get near last year's offensive numbers, but his 5on5 play has definitely declined. And 20-25 goals per season is simply not going to cut it for the $7.9 Million Dollar Man.

You are Marian Hossa, and you are not scoring.

I am torn here. Kopecky is such a polarizing player. We all know that Ladd is a better player than Kopecky. We all know that the 2nd line could use someone more talented than Kopecky. But these numbers comparing Kopecky's production to Ladd's suggest he's actually getting the job done - or at least filling in better than expected. It's hard to say that he's been solely the recipient of good linemates when his numbers are in line with Ladd's from last season.

Last season Sharp and Hossa were both +24 for a combined +48. Ladd was only +2. This year Sharp is -21 and Hossa is +10 for a combined -11. Kopecky is -16. Kopecky's Plus/Minus rating is much more in line with his linemates than Ladd's was (69% drop off compared to a 2,400% drop off). But who is influencing whom? Are Sharp and Hossa's numbers down because they're missing a linemate of Ladd's caliber, who is paid twice as much as Kopecky and who has intangibles that led him to be named captain of his current team? (I only mention Ladd's salary because people need to start accepting that Kopecky is playing here solely due to the salary cap) The simple answer is "Yes," but how much of Sharp and Hossa's 5on5 downturn is due to Kopecky and how much is due to themselves?

Ladd didn't play special teams, so it's not fair to directly compare results there. But I often wonder if another less clumsy-looking player played the season in Kopecky's spot and had the same numbers. Would we praise how that player sparked our PP? (I'm not implying he has, but he's done a good job in front of the net) Would we be impartial? Or would we chastise him for his performance? And what came first, the chicken or the egg? (Some of you already know my answer to that one: The rooster came first. Duh.)


I have another FanPost regarding plus/minus and goal production of the TOI leaders in Wins vs Losses and Home vs Away to post, but my laptop power cord died (no need to send flowers or a card, it was hooked up to a monitor for years. Har har) so I don't have access to the graphs until I get my replacement cord in the mail.

 OT, I know many of us hate to play the "prediction game," but I've been working on a program that predicts the outcome of individual games, in hopes that I can come up with a formula that will beat the betting lines by a small percentage. The program suggests that the Hawks will finish with a record around 44-30-6 and 94 points. Don't fret though. Prior to the season most expected that 95 points would be needed to make the playoffs. Due to parity in the Western Conference, it appears 92 points will likely be the threshold.

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