FanPost

Top Nine Forwards

Editor's Note: JP would not stand for Scott Reynolds ignoring the Maple Leafs in his study of the breakdown of Leafs' forwards. Turns out "Top Six/Bottoms Six" might be a misnomer.

As everyone is already now well aware, Scott Reynolds put together an interesting post over at Copper & Blue yesterday about top-six forwards that is some good reading. I started chipping away on this post before The '67 Sound also posted some work on this, and I hope that all this material hasn't been covered in the 300+ comments already on the article.

It seems that Brian Burke, one of the GM's that put the most (public) emphasis on the top-six, bottom-six philosophy didn't even finish the season with enough forwards to qualify for Reynolds' study. Let's relax the parameters of said study a little to see how the ice time numbers break down in Toronto.

So we'll reduce the minimum number of games from 40 to 30, and we'll also take a look at the forwards that we traded away before the end of the season: Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Lee Stempniak, and Jason Blake. Then, we'll take a look at our new team's ice time from last season.

 

So the 12 forwards that played 30 games in a Leaf uniform that remained on the team at the end of the season are split into Reynolds' categories as follows:

Top 3

4 - 6

7 - 9

10 - 12

Kessel

Kulemin

Lundmark

Sjostrom

Grabovski

Mitchell

Hanson

Primeau

Bozak

Stalberg

Wallin

Orr

13.98

12.52

10.95

8.47

Note that it's the average 5-on-5 ice time per 60 minutes for each set of players on the bottom of each column.

What strikes me right off the bat is that Reynolds' theory (that ‘top-nine' forwards are a more useful distinction than ‘top-six' forwards) fits in perfectly here. Between first and second liners, there is only an average difference of 1.46 minutes per game, and between second and third liners, that difference is only slightly more at 1.57. The real drop off comes between the third and fourth-liners, with a discrepancy of 2.48 minutes per game.

Just for the record, The Leafs rank 19th in average 1st line ice time, 26th in average 2nd line ice time, 28th in average 3rd line ice time, and 22nd in average 4th line ice time. I think these numbers suggest the obvious: the Leafs' terribleness was very well distributed, and aside from Phil Kessel, hardly anyone on this team was getting the normal amount of minutes at on any given line. So let's take all this data with a grain of salt, and hope that first, second, third, and fourth-line roles become more apparent this coming season (as has been explained in The '67 Sound's post).

Oh, and those ex-Leaf forwards?

Traded players

Stajan

Hagman

Mayers

Stempniak

Blake

12.34

 

Since, as was noted in Reynolds' article, teams' personnel is a fluid thing, and it might pay to look at what kind of effect the old guard's departure may have had on these numbers. Naturally, the amount of playing time per 60 minutes changes a little when a player is traded, but perhaps not so much that we shouldn't look at what the Leafs' forward breakdown would look like if we included the castaways' year-end numbers from other teams. The average ice time per game for the traded players is actually below that of the third line at 12.34 minutes per game, but if Mayers' time of 8.25 is removed, these players played for 13.36 mpg. Let's include all of them:

Top 3

4 - 6

7 - 9

10 - 16

Kessel

Bozak

Stempniak

Lundmark

Stajan

Blake

Mitchell

Hanson

Grabovski

Hagman

Stalberg

Wallin

Sjostrom

Primeau

Mayers

Orr

14.3

13.19

12.43

9.5

 

So here the difference between the first and second lines is 1.11, the difference between the second and third line is 0.76, and the difference between the third and fourth lines is 2.93. This is still bearing out Reynolds' theory.

How about our current players? As of right now, there are only 11 forwards who have any kind of job security at all, and this is if we knock the 30-game minimum to 20. Versteeg, Armstrong, Caputi, and Brown are the only forwards to add to the mix - let's forget about the one game that Kadri played where he had 15+ minutes of ice time.

Top 3

4 - 6

7 - 9

10 - 11

Kessel

Kulemin

Armstrong

Brown

Grabovski

Mitchell

Caputi

Orr

Bozak

Versteeg

Sjostrom

13.98

12.61

11.03

7.04

 

There isn't any big shift in ice time distribution. Between the first and second line is 1.37, between the second and third is 1.58, and between the third and fourth is 3.99. Heck, even if we throw Christian Hanson in there (he would qualify as top-nine time based on his numbers from last year) we only wind up with a difference of 3.68 between the third and fourth lines. This makes me wonder how often Orr and Brown are going to be in the lineup together, since they fill roughly the same role.

To conclude, it seems to matter very little whether a player like Colby Armstrong spends most of his time on the second or third line, so long as we have someone capable of putting up points to switch him in and out with. Burke's top six/bottom six model doesn't appear to apply to ice time; whether or not it's Wilson's doing is another matter. 

PensionPlanPuppets.com is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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