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I Wanna Be the Guy: Leading Scorers Throughout the League

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Early next week Joe Sakic will become eligible for the National Hockey League’s Hall of Fame, it’s a milestone that closes the book on Sakic’s NHL career, but as we mark our fourth season since Joe's retirement it's hard to say that the Avs have really moved on without him. Since Sakic’s final season, the Colorado Avalanche have had a gaping hole in their roster, they have no superstar forward. Sakic was the last Avs player to lead the team in points two years in a row (2004-2007) and as he prepares to take one last step away from the ice, its time for someone new to step up. One can make a case that Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny could play the role of superstar, both appearing in the NHL All Star game just two years ago, but when push comes to shove, the Avalanche do not have a true star forward to carry their team in hard times. Lets take a look around the league at the Avalanche and how their star power stacks up.

Here is a list of the Avalanche’s leading scorer’s over the last 5 years:

Year Leading Scorer Points
2012 Ryan O`Reilly 55
2011 Matt Duchene 67
2010 Paul Stasnty 79
2009 Ryan Smyth/Milan Hejduk 59
2008 Paul Stastny 71

In the last 5 years, the Colorado Avalanche have had 5 different leading scorers, the only team in the NHL to do so, and have only one player (Paul Stastny) leading the team multiple seasons. If you ignore the tie between Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk in 2009, the Avalanche are one of only 6 teams in the NHL with 4 different leading scorers in the last 5 years. The Bruins, Blackhawks, Avalanche, Predators, Rangers and Jets/Thrashers have all spent the last 5 years scoring by committee. Now, that’s not bad company to keep, Boston and Chicago both won the cup in that time and Nashville and New York have made deep playoff runs, but lets look at the average output of each teams top scorer.

Chicago Blackhawks 78 Points
Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers 73.6 Points
Boston Bruins 69.4 Points
New York Rangers 69 Points
Colorado Avalanche 66.4 Points
Nashville Predators 59.2 Points

Chicago and Atlanta sit on top with point per game performances from superstars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk. In the next tier, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers have found success riding performances not from superstar forwards, but from goalies Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvuist. Next come the Avalanche, and last the Nashville Predators, a traditionally defense first team. The Avalanche are billed as a young, fast skating, run and gun team, but their scoring is really more comparable to some of the defense first squads. In fact, in the last 5 years, the Avs have had some of the lowest scoring leaders in the league:

Team Leading Scorer Average Points Playoff Appearances
Boston Bruins 69.4 5
Buffalo Sabres 73.2 2
Carolina Hurricanes 75 1
Florida Panthers 60.4 1
Montreal Canadiens 68.2 4
New Jersey Devils 77.2 4
New York Islanders 61 0
New York Rangers 69 4
Ottawa Senators 75.6 3
Philadelphia Flyers 78 5
Pittsburgh Penguins 100.6 5
Tampa Bay Lightning 92.6 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 68.4 0
Washington Capitals 96.2 5
Winnipeg Jets/Thrashers 73.6 0
Team Leading Scorer Average Points Playoff Appearances
Anaheim Ducks 82.6 2
Calgary Flames 81.8 2
Chicago Blackhawks 78 4
Colorado Avalanche 66.2 2
Columbus Blue Jackets 68 1
Dallas Stars 80 1
Detroit Red Wings 82.6 5
Edmonton Oilers 63.8 0
Los Angeles Kings 74.6 3
Minnesota Wild 67.2 1
Nashville Predators 59.2 4
Phoenix Coyotes 68.6 3
San Jose Sharks 84.2 5
St. Louis Blues 62 2
Vancouver Canucks 91 4

League wide, only the Edmonton Oilers (63.8), St. Louis Blues (62), New York Islanders (61.4), Florida Panthers (60.4) and Nashville Predators (59.2) have demonstrated less offensive starpower over the last 5 years. If we remove defensive anomaly Nashville from that list, the remaining 4 teams have only 3 playoff appearances in that span. Of course scoring by committee can be successful (Nashville), but good production from a single star player can make a big difference at the end of the regular season:

Playoff Appearances in 5 Years Avg Top Scorer
5 85.166 Points
4 73.766 Points
3 72.933 Points
2 73.16 Points
1 73.866 Points
0 66.8 Points

Now, if you remove outliers: Tampa Bay (92.6 Points Per Season - 1 Playoff Appearance) and Nashville (59.2 Points Per Season - 4 Playoff Appearances):

Playoff Appearances Avg Top Scorer
5 85.166 Points
4 76.68 Points
3 72.933 Points
2 73.16 Points
1 70.119 Points
0 66.8 Points

In total:

Playoff Teams Since 2008 - 79.63 Points Non-Playoff Teams Since 2008 - 69.63 Points

Of course this is a very one dimensional way of looking at success in the NHL, but there is an average 10 point gap between playoff contenders and the rest of the field when it comes to production from star players and that's nothing to scoff at. More often than not, it seems, if your #1 forward scores 75-80 or more in a year, you're going to make the playoffs. Look no further than our own Colorado Avalanche. In the last 5 years Paul Stastny reached the 70 point plateau twice, they were also the only seasons in which the Avalanche made the playoffs.

Now, this isnt to suggest that all it takes is one superstar to pull a team together and carry it to the playoffs. The most successful teams (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Jose) have a 1, 2 punch of first liners who can score at a PPG pace and who's numbers are inflated by playing with talented line mates. Players like Malkin and Crosby or the Sedin twins often trade team scoring titles for the strongest teams. In fact, in this 5 year span only 4 teams have had the same leading scorer every year: Calgary (Jerome Iginla), Columbus (Rick Nash), Los Angeles (Anze Kopitar) and Washington (Alex Ovechkin). These teams have leaned heavily on individuals with varying success, but they do average 80.15 points per season as a group (far better than the Avs 66.2). Frankly, all these teams have something the Avs lack, a pure all star scorer who is capable of scoring 70-80 points, even when the rest of the team is slumping. On paper, its a part of what separates the Avalanche, Islanders, Oilers, and Panthers from the always competitive Capitals, Penguins, Sharks, and Canucks.

Of course, there are other ways to be successful in this league, Nashville, Phoenix, and Boston have all built contending franchises around lower scoring stars, strong defense, and goaltending. To this point, however, the Avs are built to play fast, offensive minded hockey, and they need a sniper to pull it all together. If this season was an indication of one thing, its that Greg Sherman and the Avalanche have built an excellent cast of supporting players, but theres no single guaranteed offensive presence every night. If the Avs want to remain competitive in a tough Western Conference, then they need a point per game player sooner rather than later.

Check back tomorrow morning for a look at which current Avalanche players could fill the scoring hole and where help may come from outside.