Numbers Game: Which Line Is Best in the NHL?

Scott Cullen
11/6/2008 12:49:24 PM
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During the quiz portion of Wednesday night's NHL on TSN broadcast, the panel of Bob McKenzie, Keith Jones and John Tortorella debated the number one line in the NHL.
The guys were admittedly limited by time contraints to break down the contenders, so Numbers Game is going to dig a little deeper to find the best line in the NHL.

The contenders:

Detroit: Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom.
Goals: 15
Assists: 22
Points: 37
Even-Strength Points: 20
Plus-Minus: Plus-17 Rating: 247.04
Comment: There are obvious benefits to having the depth of the Red Wings, both in terms of the defence that supports the line as well as the difficulty for opposing teams to match up solely against Datsyuk's line when Henrik Zetterberg's unit with Johan Franzen (when healthy) and Mikael Samuelsson is also very productive.

San Jose: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi.
Goals: 14
Assists: 22
Points: 36
Even-Strength Points: 31
Plus-Minus: Plus-12 Rating: 240.02
Comment: Thornton's off to a relatively slow start, with 11 points in 13 games, which makes the production of Marleau and Setoguchi all the more remarkable.  Like the Red Wings line, this trio also dominates in the shots on goal for and against category, indicating their dominance all over the ice.

Ottawa: Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson.
Goals: 16
Assists: 22
Points: 38
Even-Strength Points: 16
Plus-Minus: Minus-4 Rating: 248.37
Comment: Though the Senators keep trying to split up their number one unit, and Spezza and Heatley do have Antoine Vermette on their line currently, it seems that whenever the offence sputters the Sens can't help but go back to their tried and true trio.  The line's value as an even-strength unit is strong, and the numbers could be even stronger with better team defence or goaltending, but when power play contributions are included, they still deserve to be included among the elite.

Anaheim: Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry.
Goals: 11
Assists: 34
Points: 45
Even-Strength Points: 33
Plus-Minus: Plus-10 Rating: 240.92
Comment: A slow start to the season, but now the hottest line in the league as Getzlaf and Perry are dominating.  Kunitz is a decent, though replaceable, complementary piece of the puzzle and if he had more than one goal in 15 games, this line could very well be the league's best.

If I'm going to include an honourable mention, I'll go with a line in Montreal, though not the one that was so dominant for them last season.

Montreal: Guillaume Latendresse, Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay.
Goals: 11
Assists: 18
Points: 29
Even-Strength Points: 21
Plus-Minus: Plus-19 Rating: 236.76
Comment: The Habs have only played 10 games, compared to 12 or 13 among the other leading contenders, so their production is understandably a bit behind that of the other top lines under consideration.  Like the Getzlaf line in Anaheim, the Canadiens could at some point consider replacing Latendresse -- perhaps with Christopher Higgins.

With these lines under consideration, the numbers say that the Red Wings' line of Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Tomas Holmstrom is the league's best at this point of the season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at

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