Which forward pairings in the NHL are most effective this year?

Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

A bit of fun for this article here (depending on your definition of fun, of course…), as I decided to take a look at the various forward pairings around the league.  Generally speaking, people tend to think of NHL forward groupings as lines made up of three players, for the most part it seems to be particular pairs of players find themselves becoming particularly linked together.  Gretzky and Kurri, Hull and Mikita, Hull and Oates, Lemieux and Jagr, Trottier and Bossy, Sedin & Sedin, Getzlaf and Perry, Kane and Toews, Selanne and Kariya.  Whether they played on the same line in reality or not doesn’t seem to devolve the myths surrounding such legendary pairings.

I went through each of the NHL’s thirty teams, and selected a forward pairing for each team, in order to examine their scoring effectiveness as a duo, and how it relates to their team as a whole.

The decision for each pair was mostly a subjective decision, with notoriety as a pair (based on my own observations of NHL fans and media) having weight to the argument, but actual playing time together, gathered from the brilliant extraskater.com, playing an important part too, i.e. I would only utilise the pair for this exercise if they both appeared in each other’s top three pairings by time on ice.

Make sense?

The table below shows each team and the pair that I selected, sorted by the highest scoring pair at 5v5, followed by their average Time On Ice (TOI) percentage together, e.g. Benn and Seguin spend 86.3% of their total TOI together.

This is then followed by each players’ 5v5 statistics when playing at the same time as the other member of the pair.  For example, Jamie Benn has scored 6 goals and 19 points when on the ice at the same time as Tyler Seguin.

The “Total” column displays the total goals and points scored by that pairing during even strength play.  Even strength was selected, as opposed to “all situations” as displayed in the “AVG TOI %” column, due to it being the most important discipline in a hockey game, and the one that makes up the most time.  An even strength scoring star tends to carry far more weight around the league than a powerplay specialist.

forward pairs scoring by top scorers

What notable information is provided by this table?

  • Those pairings in Dallas, Anaheim and St Louis are absolutely killing it.  The difference is, Perry and Getzlaf have been doing it for years.  I particularly like that their statistics are so similar, both pulling their weight evenly.
  • Benn and Seguin are having a breakout campaign fueled in part by a high shooting percentage from Seguin, but both are highly rated young players and appear to be a great match.  If this continues, it would be a great thing for the Stars.
  • Steen, as noted in a piece I did for The Farm Club, is enjoying a massive amount of luck this season, with a hugely inflated shooting percentage that is likely to come crashing back down at some point.  He’s a very good NHLer, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a 100 point, 60 goal guy.  Backes is also enjoying a very high SH%.  Expect both of these guys to come back to where they belong, but that is not to say they’re not a highly effective forward pairing – like Getzlaf and Perry, they’ve played together for years with a decent amount of success.
  • Okposo’s breakout year is no doubt in part to do with the chemistry he’s found with superstar Tavares.  There was never any doubting Okposo’s talent, but injuries and poor form have affected his numbers over the years.  We’ll see if this is for real, but these two are certainly making hay at the moment.
  • I could equally have picked Dupuis for Crosby’s pair, but Kunitz has been the better scorer over his career and thus I would deem the more successful pairing.  Crosby would have a massive effect on anyone he played with, but Kunitz’ numbers with Crosby are unbelievable.  Whilst many would like a genuine top level winger for Sid (think Hall, Daniel Sedin, St Louis, Benn, etc.), Kunitz and Crosby make a fine pairing as it is.
  • Andrew Ladd and Brian Little make a surprise appearance in the top 10, forming a very effective duo scoring at a around a point-per-game pace at even strength alone.  Winnipeg may be a flawed team, and Little’s run may involve a certain amount of luck (high SH%), but the first line is not a problem for them.
  • Hanzal and Vrbata are a very nice tandem.  Vrbata has been quietly scoring goals for years now, but this would be the young Hanzal’s first significant scoring campaign.  A 6’6″, 230lb forward, playing at a point-per-game, on pace for over 250 hits, wins over 50% of his faceoffs and plays significant minutes in all situations?  Sounds like the dream player of every team and fan.  Except for Don Cherry, who would still call him a soft Euro pansy.
  • Baertschi and Monahan aren’t doing great for Calgary.  That’s what you get for pairing up a rookie and a sophomore with barely a season’s worth of NHL time between them on a bad team.  It looks to me like they need to be sheltered, but it is worth remembering that scoring at 5v5 in the NHL is the hardest thing to do, particularly for a young player, so we can cut them some slack.
  • Hall and Eberle.  Yikes.  I love both of these guys, and Hall in particular is usually a beast at even strength, but those numbers aren’t going to help get a team to the playoffs anytime soon.  Things have been improving in Edmonton, and it’s worth remembering that Hall’s numbers are lower than they might be due to time missed with injury, but the Oilers can’t make it on special teams alone.
  • LA continues to be the most boring team in the NHL, with stars like Brown and Kopitar barely registering on the Richter scale here.  Kopitar is doing OK himself, but it looks like Brown is really struggling to keep up.
  • You get to see Giroux’s season in about as bad a light as any here.  Not a single even strength goal with Hartnell, the guy he spends two-thirds of his 5v5 time with, and only 2 assists.  His reputation will likely earn him an Olympic spot, but evidence like this wouldn’t earn him a spot in the NHL if they went by numbers alone (thankfully they don’t).

Let’s take a quick look at how these 5v5 paired totals look when matched up to their teams’ 5v5 records, and what percentage of 5v5 scoring they are contributing.

forward pairs scoring by % of goals for

  • Even worse for Brown and Kopitar, you can’t actually blame their lack of production on the team being low-scoring; they simply aren’t contributing to the offense at all at this discipline.
  • Ryan Johansen is having a very nice campaign after a couple of years of struggling to find his way.  However, he’s going to need to increase his contributions at even strength massively to be considered a true number 1 center in the NHL.
  • Jagr and Zubrus didn’t look like much in the previous table, but this one takes into account the team and displays them in a far more positive light.  Jagr may be old, but man, he’s still got it.
  • Hall and Eberle move up the list slightly thanks to team effects, but still don’t look fantastic.
  • Hossa and Toews are surprisingly low on this list, but that might well be due to the fact that Chicago is simply loaded, scoring the most 5v5 goals in the league so far this year.  Other teams on this list might be said to score by committee, hence the low contribution percentages, but with Chicago at least, it’s just because the team is that stacked.
  • Datsyuk and Zetterberg once again prove just how valuable they are to the Red Wings, completely carrying that team.  With the Wings not being as talented as they were in previous years, they rely on the “aging” duo to do pretty much everything, and that’s exactly what they do.
  • Losing Stamkos is a massive blow for Tampa Bay, even with St Louis still in action.  Helping to contribute to nearly 30% of their 5v5 scoring, the duo is one of the most popular in the league for a reason.

Follow Chris on Twitter, or even better, follow Ice Nation UK!

Stats obtained gratefully from NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

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