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Separating the stars from the grinders

MC79Hockey has an interesting look at the split between the Top Six and Bottom Six forwards on various NHL teams this season, in order to get a sense of what kind of production should really be expected out of these two groups.

A Top Six forward, for the purposes of this study, was defined as "one who finished in the top six on his team in ES ice time in at least 60% of the games at which he played." His list of Top Six forwards for the Nashville Predators turned out to include Jason Arnott, David Legwand, Martin Erat, J.P. Dumont, Steve Sullivan, Radek Bonk, and Joel Ward. One might quibble a bit with the inclusion of Bonk as a Top Six guy (I'll wager he picked up lots of extra ice time when Legwand & Arnott were hurt), but it's a reasonable set of criteria and worth running with.

Across the league as a whole, Top Six forwards had a Goals For/Against ratio of 1.14 at even strength, while Bottom Six forwards ran at 0.84. Each team's group of forwards was compared against those measurements to determine their relative standing.

What comes out of the analysis is that for the Predators, the Top Six forwards performed about average compared to the rest of the NHL's Top Six, but it was the Bottom Six that really underperformed. The Preds Bottom Six were the 2nd worst in the league, ahead of only the New York Rangers.

This runs counter to the typical assessment that Nashville management provides, which is that the organization is deep in 3rd- and 4th-line players, but lacks a bit at the top end. When you see only 35 goals scored (at even strength) by those Bottom Six forwards, however, it does beg the question of just how effective those grinders are. I don't care how good they are defensively, without some level of offense it's a losing equation.

Heralding one-dimensional defensive players is a bit of a habit here in Nashville, one which I plan on countering as I get to my individual player profiles (which I promise will begin soon, starting with prospective free agents). There's a problem in getting excited about the defensive counting stats like Blocked Shots, for example; they're often an indication that a given player is spending too much time in his own end of the ice.

I've said previously that rather than a goal-scoring winger, the single biggest boost that I could see to the Predators' forward ranks would be to add a playmaking center, in order to add some punch to the 3rd line (whether centered by such a new player, or by Legwand). For the last two seasons, Nashville opponents have really only had to worry about the Arnott & Legwand lines. Defensive talent being what it is these days, most teams can field two defensive pairings and enough checking forwards to keep such a lineup from doing too much damage.

So when you consider the state of the Predators forwards, where do you think they need help? Top Six, or Bottom Six?