If you don’t think the Winnipeg Jets trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler is a bonifide top line chances are you're a stupid baby

Tom Szczerbowski

While Ladd, Little and Wheeler are not generational talents or even All-stars, they come together to form a very solid top line.

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has locked up his team’s core and he has received a fair bit of flack for it – at least from media members outside of Winnipeg. In the minds of many, these core players – especially the top line players, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler - are not good enough and really shouldn’t be a top line. Perhaps there is something to that, and there is no doubt that the team would be better if there was more top end talent, but the fact remains that Ladd, Little and Wheeler are not the problem in Winnipeg.

There are first lines that are better offensively. There are first lines that have more star power, but guess what? Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler are better than some of them and manage to beat them head to head.

Today we are going to break down some numbers (both boxcars and possession stats) to see how the trio of Ladd, Little and Wheeler have compared to other top lines over the last couple seasons. We will also look at some head-to-head results for a little more in depth fun. I would also like to extend a big thank you to stats.hockeyanalysis.com for making this possible.

Counting Stats

Lets take a look at how LLW compare to other 1st lines from across the former Easter Conference:
Team Left Wing LW PTs Centre C PTs Right Wing RW PTs Total
Tampa Purcell 36 Stamkos 60 St. Louis 57 153
Pittsburgh Kunitz 52 Crosby 56 Dupuis 38 146
Carolina Semin 44 E Staal 53 Tlusty 38 135
Washington Ovechkin 56 Backstrom 48 Johansson 31 135
NY Islander Moulson 44 Tavres 47 Boyes 35 126
Winnipeg Ladd 46 Little 32 Wheeler 41 119
NY Rangers Nash 42 Stepan 44 Callahan 31 117
Toronto JVR 32 Bozak 28 Kessel 53 113
Philadelphia Hartnell 17 Giroux 48 Voracek 46 111
Buffalo Vanek 41 Hodgson 34 Pominville 34 109
Montreal Pacioretty 39 Desharnais 28 Gallagher 28 95
Boston Lucic 27 Krejci 33 Horton 22 82
Florida Fleischmann 35 Goc 27 Kopecky 19 81
New Jersey Elias 36 Zajac 20 Clarkson 24 80
Ottawa Silfverberg 19 Turris 29 Alfredsson 26 74

Notes:

  • I doctored the numbers a little bit (added points to Johansson and Hartnell) to lessen the impact of injuries on the numbers.
  • Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler clearly weren't the NHLs top scoring line this past season, but they were far from the worst.
  • Five teams that had less productive first lines than Winnipeg made the playoffs.
  • A couple of the teams with lower scoring 1st lines (Boston and Montreal) had very good second lines.
  • Three of the teams with lower scoring 1st lines received phenomenal goaltending this year (Lundqvist, Anderson, Rask).
  • Much fuss is made about Bryan Little's contributions (or lack there of) to the line's scoring, but it isn't uncommon for a line to have one player that scores less than his line mates. That said, you probably don't want the weak link to play centre.

Of course that is only one season's numbers, so lets look at lets take a look at where this trio ranked individually over the last 2 years

Numbers courtesy Hockey Reference:

Player League East
Ladd 15th 8th
Wheeler 5th 3rd
Little 29th 16th

Notes:

  • Hockey reference still has Evander Kane, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand listed as centres (ahead of Little).
  • Removing them would slide Little up to 26th overall, 13th in the East. This is better, but still well below Ladd and Wheeler.
  • Wheeler has been a very productive player. I am not sure what more could be asked of him; he has out-produced a number of highly touted right wings over the last two seasons.

It is pretty apparent that the counting stats aren't what separates Ladd, Little and Wheeler from other top lines. What else could be in play here? Could it be their defensive contributions that leave people weary? Perhaps. Let's take a look at their two-way ability.

Possession Numbers

For the sake of simplicity I will primarily use Andrew Ladd's possession numbers in this section. The reason for this is two-fold; 1) Little and Wheeler are occasionally used away from the 1st line (Little is used as a faceoff specialist while Wheeler gets double shifted) 2) The WOWYs for Ladd suggest his numbers are fairly representative of the line.

Let's start with the basics - Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler have spent the last two season facing tough opposition and on the whole they have have beaten them. No, this doesn't mean that they have beaten every opposing top line, but they have beat enough of them to finish both season's with positive possession numbers.

For the uninitiated, by possession I mean Corsi and by Corsi I mean that Ladd, Little and Wheeler direct more pucks at the opposition's net than they allow at their own net at even strength. That's all. This isn't an advanced stat, just a +/- of shot attempts. Today I will be expressing it at a percentage - anything over .500 is positive (i.e. more than 50% of shots were directed at the opposition's net, they outshot the opposition).

Over the last two seasons Andrew Ladd's Corsi percentage has been 54.7% (2011-12) and 51.7% (2012-13). What changed between year one and year two? In year two, Jets Coach Claude Noel relied even more on Ladd, Little and Wheeler to take on the best the opposition had to offer. They also started a good chunk more shifts outside of the offensive zone. Still, they came out ahead.

Head to head (thank you stats.hockeyanalysis.com):

Tampa Bay Lightning

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
ST._LOUIS, MARTIN 2012 35:00 1.71 1.14 60.0 25.71 22.86 52.9
ST._LOUIS, MARTIN 2013 30:45 3.25 1.30 71.4 18.86 15.61 54.7
STAMKOS, STEVEN 2012 33:47 1.78 1.18 60.0 23.68 20.13 54.1
STAMKOS, STEVEN 2013 27:01 2.96 1.48 66.7 19.99 20.73 49.1
PURCELL, TEDDY 2012 24:46 1.62 1.62 50.0 21.00 18.57 53.1
PURCELL, TEDDY 2013 19:21 2.07 2.07 50.0 21.71 21.71 50.0

Notes:

  • For two straight years LLW has out-shot and outscored one of the most dynamic offensive lines in the NHL.
  • Outshooting and outscoring Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos is a big win for LLW.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
STAAL, JORDAN 2012 29:42 1.35 1.35 50.0 19.53 16.16 54.7
MALKIN, EVGENI 2013 20:11 0.99 0.00 100 19.82 28.74 40.8
SULLIVAN, STEVE 2012 20:24 0.00 1.96 0.0 23.53 17.65 57.1
NEAL, JAMES 2013 18:52 1.06 0.00 100 22.26 28.62 43.8
DUPUIS, PASCAL 2012 24:02 1.66 0.83 66.7 24.13 15.81 60.4
DUPUIS, PASCAL 2013 18:14 0.00 0.00 0.0 16.45 20.84 44.1

Notes:

  • I grabbed a cross-section of players here. Injuries mess with sample sizes a little bit.
  • LLW did well vs Staal and Co last year, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both killed them this year.
  • The GF% vs the Penguins show you how small sample sizes come into play. Malkin was great, but netted zero goals.
  • Even though things were pretty even on the scoreboard, LLW takes an L here. That shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone.

Carolina Hurricanes

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
STAAL, ERIC 2012 25:04 0.80 1.60 33.3 22.34 24.73 47.5
STAAL, ERIC 2013 31:27 0.00 1.91 0.0 28.62 18.44 60.8
TLUSTY, JIRI 2012 14:30 0.00 1.38 0.0 20.69 19.31 51.7
TLUSTY, JIRI 2013 29:51 0.00 1.34 0.0 31.49 17.42 64.4
RUUTU, TUOMO 2012 15:38 1.28 0.00 100. 17.91 14.07 56.0
SEMIN, ALEXANDER 2013 31:40 0.63 1.89 25.0 31.58 20.84 60.2

Notes:

  • LLW have played well against the Staal line, thoroughly controlling play, but the goals simply haven't come.
  • The GF% looks nasty, but one has to think this would even out over time.
  • Jordan isn't better (although he handled LLW well this year). This isn't a big loss, but it is a loss.

Washington Capitals

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
OVECHKIN, ALEX 2012 16:12 2.47 1.24 66.7 28.40 12.35 69.7
OVECHKIN, ALEX 2013 35:41 1.12 1.12 50.0 17.94 16.81 51.6
JOHANSSON, MARCUS 2012 22:05 0.91 0.91 50.0 22.64 10.87 67.6
BACKSTROM, NICKLAS 2013 30:11 1.99 0.66 75.0 21.20 14.58 59.3
SEMIN, ALEXANDER 2012 14:32 1.38 2.75 33.3 15.14 13.76 52.4
JOHANSSON, MARCUS 2013 27:32 1.45 0.73 66.7 19.61 13.08 60.0

Notes:

New York Islanders

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
TAVARES, JOHN 2012 20:58 2.86 2.86 50.0 24.80 21.94 53.1
TAVARES, JOHN 2013 21:34 0.93 1.86 33.3 24.11 29.68 44.8
MOULSON, MATT 2012 20:07 0.99 1.99 33.3 23.86 18.89 55.8
MOULSON, MATT 2013 20:29 0.98 1.95 33.3 27.34 29.29 48.3
PARENTEAU, PIERRE 2012 17:03 2.35 2.35 50.0 28.15 19.94 58.5
BOYES, BRAD 2013 18:12 1.10 1.10 50.0 27.47 20.88 56.8

Notes:

  • There is an obvious discrepancy between years one and two, but it doesn't appear to have been about Brad Boyes
  • Matt Moulson and John Tavares are scary good. Perhaps they took a step forward or perhaps it is random variance.
  • LLW won this battle in 2011-2012, but lost out in 2012-2013. Given the sample size lets call this a wash.

New York Rangers

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
STEPAN, DEREK 2012 19:36 0.00 0.00 0 18.37 11.22 62.1
STEPAN, DEREK 2013 15:17 0.00 1.31 0 31.41 14.39 68.6
RICHARDS, BRAD 2012 24:44 0.00 0.00 0 22.64 14.56 60.9
CALLAHAN, RYAN 2013 15:20 0.00 1.30 0 30.00 15.65 65.7
GABORIK, MARIAN 2012 22:32 0.00 0.00 0 19.53 15.98 55.0
NASH, RICK 2013 17:33 0.00 0.00 0 29.63 11.40 72.2

Notes:

  • This is a weird chart!! Nobody scored!! Well the Rangers got one, but that's it.
  • LLW didn't score, but they destroyed the Rags in terms of possession.
  • The Corsi Against per 20 minutes numbers are shocking. LLW did a great job of limiting any type of offence from the Rangers top line.
  • On the score sheet, we are looking at a one goal loss, but overall LLW dominated. Win!

Toronto Maple Leafs

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
KESSEL, PHIL 2012 14:16 0.00 0.00 0.0 21.03 18.22 53.6
KESSEL, PHIL 2013 13:00 1.54 3.08 33.3 23.08 21.54 51.7
LUPUL, JOFFREY 2012 12:53 0.00 0.00 0.0 27.94 17.08 62.1
VAN_RIEMSDYK, JAMES 2013 14:12 2.82 2.82 50.0 26.76 18.31 59.4
GRABOVSKI, MIKHAIL 2012 17:17 0.00 0.00 0.0 12.73 25.46 33.3
BOZAK, TYLER 2013 12:57 3.09 3.09 50.0 24.71 23.17 51.6

Notes:

  • This is another weird chart. LLW played the Maple Leafs' top line to a stalemate in year one and pretty even in year two (minus one goal).
  • LLW won the possession battle versus Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk, but lost to Mikhail Grabovski (they got him back this year though.)
  • While Kessel was on the ice for one goal apart from his linemates (Little or Wheeler may have done this too - I haven't looked into it), this is not a W for the Leafs. It is at minimum a wash and there is a case for giving the Jets another W here.

Philadelphia Flyers

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
GIROUX, CLAUDE 2012 11:06 1.80 0.00 100 19.82 30.63 39.3
GIROUX, CLAUDE 2013 21:13 0.94 0.00 100 17.91 33.94 34.5
VORACEK, JAKUB 2012 17:39 1.13 1.13 50.0 15.86 21.53 42.4
VORACEK, JAKUB 2013 12:41 0.00 0.00 0.0 20.50 37.84 35.1
HARTNELL, SCOTT 2012 11:22 1.76 0.00 100 22.87 24.63 48.1
HARTNELL, SCOTT 2013 9:08 2.19 0.00 100 26.28 32.85 44.4

Notes:

  • This is another funny looking chart. LLW has bee hemmed in their own zone a lot, but also have all the goals.
  • Jets goalies were fed a lot of pucks by Claude Giroux and his linemates. The 30+ Corsi Against per 20 are ugly.
  • This was a win on the score board, but it hardly looks like a win on the possession side. Let's call this a loss.

Buffalo Sabres

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
LEINO, VILLE 2012 17:56 0.00 0.00 0.0 18.96 17.84 51.5
HODGSON, CODY 2013 21:37 0.93 0.93 50.0 21.28 16.65 56.1
VANEK, THOMAS 2012 13:27 2.97 0.00 100 31.23 17.84 63.6
VANEK, THOMAS 2013 17:49 1.12 0.00 100 31.43 15.72 66.7
POMINVILLE, JASON 2012 14:26 2.77 0.00 100 33.26 20.79 61.5
POMINVILLE, JASON 2013 9:14 2.17 2.17 50.0 34.66 15.16 69.6

Notes:

  • Jason Pominville, Cody Hodgson and Tomas Vanek are another trio of highly touted forwards that Ladd, Little and Wheeler flat out beat.
  • Not much else to say but win win win!

Montreal Canadiens

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
DESHARNAIS, DAVID 2012 11:18 1.77 0.00 100 24.78 21.24 53.8
DESHARNAIS, DAVID 2013 18:30 0.00 1.08 0.0 23.78 22.70 51.2
PACIORETTY, MAX 2012 12:48 1.56 0.00 100 17.19 20.31 45.8
PACIORETTY, MAX 2013 13:25 0.00 1.49 0.0 23.85 25.34 48.5
PLEKANEC, TOMAS 2012 20:13 0.00 0.99 0.0 21.76 15.83 57.9
GALLAGHER, BRENDAN 2013 11:53 0.00 0.00 0.0 21.88 26.93 44.8

Notes:

  • Max Pacioretty is pretty good. He has more than held his own versus our top line.
  • The Jets have been destroyed by the Habs on multiple occasions, but it doesn't look like Ladd, Little, and Wheeler deserve that much blame.
  • This battle wasn't as lopsided as some of the others, but it is still a just loss for LLW.

Boston Bruins


Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
LUCIC, MILAN 2012 16:21 3.67 1.22 75.0 20.8 14.68 58.6
MARCHAND, BRAD 2013 22:39 0.00 2.65 0.0 17.66 30.02 37
KREJCI, DAVID 2012 17:51 3.36 1.12 75.0 20.17 13.45 60
BERGERON, PATRICE 2013 21:27 0.00 2.80 0.0 16.78 29.84 36
KELLY, CHRIS 2012 14:35 1.37 0.00 100 24.69 19.2 56.2
SEGUIN, TYLER 2013 23:13 0.00 2.58 0.0 16.37 28.43 36.5

Notes:

  • I grabbed a bit of a mix for the Bruins as they have two nutty good lines in their top six.
  • The story was similar both years, LLW did well versus David Krejci, but got killed by Patrice Bergeron.
  • It is interesting to see the discrepancy between how they fared vs the two lines.
  • Despite the win over Krejci's line, we will call this one a loss. Bergy is a bastard.

Florida Panthers


Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
FLEISCHMANN, TOMAS 2012 31:25 1.91 1.27 60.0 21.64 18.46 54.0
FLEISCHMANN, TOMAS 2013 36:19 1.65 1.10 60.0 25.33 11.01 69.7
WEISS, STEPHEN 2012 32:26 1.85 1.23 60.0 22.82 16.03 58.7
GOC, MARCEL 2013 30:11 1.33 1.33 50.0 27.83 13.91 66.7
VERSTEEG, KRIS 2012 28:13 2.13 1.42 60.0 19.85 16.30 54.9
KOPECKY, TOMAS 2013 30:05 0.67 1.33 33.3 23.93 19.94 54.5

Notes:

  • Not much to see here. The Panthers first line has hardly been a powerhouse over the last couple years.
  • That said, LLW handled them as expected. This is another win, but not a big one.

New Jersey Devils

Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
ELIAS, PATRIK 2012 24:20 0.82 2.467 25.0 15.62 18.90 45.2
ELIAS, PATRIK 2013 24:48 0.81 0.81 50.0 8.06 30.65 20.8
CLARKSON, DAVID 2012 14:58 1.34 2.67 33.3 14.70 20.04 42.3
CLARKSON, DAVID 2013 19:40 1.02 1.02 50.0 11.19 25.42 30.6
ZUBRUS, DAINIUS 2012 23:11 0.86 0.86 50.0 12.94 15.53 45.5
ZAJAC, TRAVIS 2013 17:03 1.17 1.17 50.0 7.04 25.81 21.4

Notes:

  • This one is ugly! Top to bottom LLW got worked. No clue why.
  • Patrik Elias has been very good for a very long time.
  • The line of Elias, David Clarkson and Travis Zajac struggled to score, but they were a beastly possession troop.
  • This one goes down as a big loss.

Ottawa Senators


Name Year TOI GF20 GA20 GF% CF20 CA20 CF%
SPEZZA, JASON 2012 23:46 0.84 0.84 50.0 25.25 17.67 58.8
TURRIS, KYLE 2013 15:34 1.29 1.29 50.0 25.70 23.13 52.6
GREENING, COLIN 2012 22:27 0.89 0.00 100 27.62 15.14 64.6
MICHALEK, MILAN 2013 7:52 0.00 2.54 0.0 7.63 27.97 21.4
MICHALEK, MILAN 2012 24:58 0.80 1.60 33.3 32.84 16.02 67.2
SILFVERBERG, JAKOB 2013 18:23 1.09 1.09 50.0 20.67 19.58 51.4

Notes:

  • Apart from one blip that is likely based on a tiny sample size, Ladd, Little and Wheeler did well versus the Sens.
  • The goal totals were relatively even and the Jets had a clear leg up in possession.
  • This one will go down as a win too.

Summary


One has to wonder what it will take for the Jets trio of Ladd, Little and Wheeler to get their due respect nationally. Nobody is claiming that they are comparable to the top lines that you see in Pittsburgh, Boston, LA or Chicago and nobody will tell you that Bryan Little is in the same class as Crosby, Malkin, Bergeron, Kopitar or Toews, but he and his linemates have flat out beaten some superstars.

Ladd, Little and Wheeler present a nice mix of scoring and two-way ability. Not only did the Winnipeg Jets' trio outscore the top lines of many NHL teams, they also beat a good percentage of these same players and lines head to head.

To put it flatly - If the Jets don't have a top line, very few teams do. After all, these guys have managed to beat out star-studded lines that feature the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, David Krejci and Rick Nash head to head. If that isn't the mark of a legit first line I don't know what is. Can this first line take a team to the Stanley Cup? Probably not... Well, not unless the second line is centred by Patrice Bergeron. The Winnipeg Jets roster may have flaws, but Ladd, Little and Wheeler aren't one of them. They are a solid first line. If you disagree, it is likely because you are a big dumb idiot.


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