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.
|Team||Left Wing||LW PTs||Centre||C PTs||Right Wing||RW PTs||Total|
- 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:
- 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.
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin are all top notch hockey players and LLW beats them.
- This is the second offensive powerhouse that LLW has outplayed and outscored.
- Head to head - Ladd, Little and Wheeler get the win in this one.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.