Backchecking: Ranking the best lines in the NHL

Scott Cullen
2/13/2009 4:43:24 PM
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Early in the season, we took a look at which line deserved to be called the best in the NHL.  Now that the NHL season is well into the second half, it's a good time to take a deeper look at which lines have been best.

Given that some lines have played together much more than others, I've set a minimum number of 400 even-strength shifts to qualify a line for this list.

While the most value of a line comes from even-strength production, that doesn't mean that other production is irrelevant in determining the value of an individual player, so overall production (including power play and shorthanded) counts towards an individual player's rating.

(The Player Rating is a weighted formula that takes the following statistics into account: goals per game, assists per game, plus-minus, power play goals, shorthanded goals, game-winning goals, shots on goal, blocked shots, hits, giveaways, takeaways, faceoff won-loss and penalty differential (drawn - taken).)

That's enough preamble.  Here are the best lines in the NHL this season (minimum 400 shifts together, thanks to for the shift stats)

Washington: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin.
Goals: 70
Assists: 102
Points: 172
Even-Strength Points: 85
Plus-Minus: Plus-45 Rating: 276.40
Comment: This line hasn't played together all that often, due in part to Semin's injury woes, but when they are together, there may not be a more dynamic offensive line.

Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom.
Goals: 69
Assists: 87
Points: 156
Even-Strength Points: 98
Plus-Minus: Plus-63 Rating: 265.55
Comment: Injuries have sidelined Holmstrom, but this was the top line in the league early in the season, when the skilled combination of Hossa and Datsyuk meshed well with a mucker like Holmstrom.

San Jose:
Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi.
Goals: 62
Assists: 99
Points: 161
Even-Strength Points: 112
Plus-Minus: Plus-57 Rating: 264.93
Comment: A consistently productive line on the league's best team, led by Marleau's resurgence and the breakthrough campaign for Setoguchi.

New Jersey:
Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner.
Goals: 67
Assists: 94
Points: 161
Even-Strength Points: 112
Plus-Minus: Plus-72 Rating: 264.47
Comment: Possibly the most underrated unit in the league as Parise has made the leap to stardom, Zajac enjoys a breakout season and Langenbrunner is having the best year of his career at 33 years of age.

Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom.
Goals: 60
Assists: 72
Points: 132
Even-Strength Points: 83
Plus-Minus: Plus-57 Rating: 255.70
Comment: The second Red Wings entry hasn't played together as much as the first entry, but it's clear that the Datsyuk, Holmstrom pairing deserves recognition for being so productive.

: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov.
Goals: 61
Assists: 96
Points: 157
Even-Strength Points: 73
Plus-Minus: Plus-19 Rating: 255.08
Comment: Obviously, the Ovechkin and Backstrom duo makes for a top line no matter who joins them on the wing and, while Semin is clearly a better option, the veteran Kozlov doesn't hurt the unit.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis.
Goals: 54
Assists: 114
Points: 168
Even-Strength Points: 112
Plus-Minus: Plus-20 Rating: 251.31
Comment: Like some of the other top lines, this line is comprised of a leading duo and another guy to fill out the line.  Crosby and Malkin are two game-breakers that have been forced to play more together this season because the Penguins don't have enough consistent scoring wingers.

Milan Lucic, Marc Savard, Phil Kessel.
Goals: 58
Assists: 80
Points: 138
Even-Strength Points: 98
Plus-Minus: Plus-55 Rating: 251.30
Comment:  Veteran playmaker Savard is paired with two exciting young talents with decidedly different skill sets.  Lucic is a bruising power forward, still scratching the surface of his offensive potential, while Kessel is a shifty scorer, who was taking off until his recent bout with mono.

Blake Wheeler, David Krejci, Michael Ryder.
Goals: 53
Assists: 72
Points: 125
Even-Strength Points: 90
Plus-Minus: Plus-85 Rating: 247.50
Comment: Call them the best second line in the league.  Youngsters Krejci and Wheeler have exceeded expectations by every possible measure and Ryder has found a comfort zone playing for Claude Julien once again.

Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Mike Knuble.
Goals: 58
Assists: 75
Points: 133
Even-Strength Points: 68
Plus-Minus: Plus-39 Rating: 245.30
Comment: A fine mix with Richards as one of the premier two-way pivots in the game between the speedy sniper Gagne and the veteran power forward Knuble, who has proven time and again that he works well with skilled linemates.

Honourable Mentions:
Pittsburgh (Ruslan Fedotenko, Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora)
Anaheim (Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry)
Tampa Bay (Ryan Malone, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis)
San Jose (Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe)
Vancouver (Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Pavol Demitra)
Philadelphia (Scott Hartnell, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul)
Tampa Bay (Vaclav Prospal, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis)
Buffalo (Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford)
New Jersey (Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Brian Gionta)
Calgary (Mike Cammalleri, Matthew Lombardi, Jarome Iginla)

- The New York Post has the Philadelphia Flyers prepared to move wingers Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul in order to create cap space to acquire a defenceman like Jay Bouwmeester or Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer.  The Post says that the Devils are interested in bringing Niedermayer back, but won't send Paul Martin to Anaheim as part of the package.

- According to the Ottawa Sun, the Panthers have talked to the Flyers about a Bouwmeester deal that would involve wingers Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk.  The paper reports that Hartnell probably wouldn't waive his no-trade clause, but that van Riemsdyk may be available.  Furthermore, the Sun has the Senators, Oilers, Canucks, Blue Jackets and Kings all expressing interest in Bouwmeester.

- In a separate matter, the Philadelphia Daily News says that the Flyers could consider moving Martin Biron if it would net them a physical defenceman or productive forward.

- The Boston Globe suggests, if the Ducks do make Chris Pronger available, that the Bruins could solidify their Stanley Cup aspirations by going after him.

- TSN's Bob McKenzie has the Montreal Canadiens interested in a couple of Coyotes veterans -- Olli Jokinen and Derek Morris.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that Colby Armstrong has been mentioned in trade rumours, but seems to discount them because Armstrong hasn't been told by GM Don Waddell that he's been shopped.  For the record, this would not be the first time a player has been traded without being notified of the possibility weeks ahead of time.

- The Buffalo News suggests that Daniel Alfredsson may be the only untouchable Senator leading up to the deadline and that enforcer Chris Neil may be one of the more attractive Senators on the trade market.  The Ottawa Sun adds that the Sharks may have interest in Neil.

- The New York Post says that the Panthers are willing to move Nathan Horton in an effort to improve down the middle, but are keeping David Booth out of trade talks.

- Blues veteran Keith Tkachuk is prominently mentioned in trade rumours, as the Edmonton Journal notes that the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks may be the top two suitors, while listing the Penguins, Blue Jackets, Wild and Oilers as teams that might also appreciate the veteran power forward's skills.

- According to the Globe and Mail, Predators C Radek Bonk could be an attractive commodity, particularly for a team needing face-off help.  Bonk has a stellar 61.4% face-off winning percentage this season.  The Tennessean has other Predators, headed for free agency, that could end up on the block if they fall out of the playoff picture, including Greg de Vries, Vernon Fiddler, Scott Nichol, Steve Sullivan and Greg Zanon.

- The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Wild are willing to move a defenceman in order to address their lack of scoring depth, noting that D Kim Johnsson may fetch the most in trade.

- The Boston Globe reports that the Bruins would like Swedish prospect Carl Soderberg to finish the season with Providence of the AHL.

- The Boston Globe suggests that the Minnesota Wild may be a good fit for Devils veteran checking winger Jay Pandolfo, who has consistently been a healthy scratch.  The Bergen Record chimes in wondering whether Pandolfo is ready to move on from New Jersey.

- According to the Ottawa Sun, the Montreal Canadiens are getting fed up with Alex Kovalev's disappearing acts and could move him soon.

- The Toronto Sun notes that Maple Leafs defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina would both consider waiving their no-trade clauses by providing GM Brian Burke a list of team to which each might accept a trade.

- According to the New York Post, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has informed other general managers that the only Maple Leafs considered unavailable in trade are Luke Schenn, Mikhail Grabovski and John MitchellJohn Mitchell, really?

- The Denver Post reports that four Boston scouts took in a recent Colorado Avalanche game.  Which pending free agent might make a good rental for the championship-conending B's?  How about Ian Laperriere?

Niklas Hagman, LW, Toronto (4-3-7, plus-2 in last 5 GP)
Patrick O'Sullivan, LW, Los Angeles (4-4-8, plus-5 in last 9 GP)
Antti Miettinen, RW, Minnesota (2-3-5-, plus-2 in last 5 GP)
Cam Barker, D, Chicago (1-5-6, even in last 5 GP)
Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit (0-16-16, plus-2 in last 15 GP)
Brian Elliott, G, Ottawa (3-1, 2.36 GAA, .924 SVPCT in last 6 GP)

Rick Nash, RW, Columbus (1-1-2, minus-5 in last 6 GP)
Joe Thornton, C, San Jose (1-1-2, minus-4 in last 6 GP)
Olli Jokinen, C, Phoenix (0-1-1, minus-3 in last 6 GP)
Dan Girardi, D, N.Y. Rangers (0-0-0, minus-6 in last 6 GP)
Tom Poti, D, Washington (0-0-0, minus-3 in last 6 GP)
Carey Price, G, Montreal (2-4, 3.67 GAA, .870 SVPCT in last 6 GP)

"He has, by far, the most difficult job in hockey, other than being the star who is expected to carry the team.  He's got to face bodily harm every night. He has to sacrifice body and well-being against very big, tough guys. I wouldn't do it. Who would do it? Only a special person." - Sharks RW Jeremy Roenick, on teammate Jody Shelley.

Tonight, everything I touched early on, something happened. You build off that and you get confident and you get arrogant in your play." - Lightning RW Martin St. Louis.

"We're not in the business of looking good with no results." - Stars G Marty Turco.

"This year I'm playing a little more confident, sometimes taking that extra second and that makes a big difference.  I just feel good on the ice right now. Travis is having a great season and so is Jamie. We are all kind of feeding off each other." - Devils LW Zach Parise.

"We played a 40-minute game, that's the bottom line." - Bruins C Marc Savard, following a 5-2 defeat against San Jose.

For the fantasy puckheads out there, the Fantasy Hockey Report is on Facebook and the fanclub just keeps growing.  You'd hate to miss out on this when all the cool kids are doing it.

Scott Cullen can be reached at

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