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Lightning year-end review: Top six forwards

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A numbers-based look at the top six forwards for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2015-2016 NHL season.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the season officially over for the Lightning but the draft and free agency still several weeks in the distance, now seems the appropriate time to reflect on the past eight months and attempt to quantify the performance of each player on the roster. Over the next week or so, we will be posting a series of pieces highlighting some numbers for each Lightning player. This is the first piece in that series and it will focus on the top six forwards on the roster. The top six is based largely on perception and admittedly, is entirely subjective. For the purposes of this article, the top six is considered to be Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in no particular order.

The first graph shows the primary scoring (x-axis) and possession impact (y-axis) of all forwards who played at least 300 minutes this season. The Lightning forwards are represented by the blue dots with their numbers. The basic idea here is that the green areas are well above average, the red areas are well below average and the point where the axes cross is exactly average by both measures. For those who are interested, the dotted lines represent one standard deviation. Players who are far to the right on the x-axis score at a high rate and players high up on the y axis have a positive impact on their teammates possession statistics. This graph shows us that Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Killorn and Kucherov all measure out as expected for top six forwards. And Nikita Kucherov is an elite NHL forward by these measures. At the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Callahan is not.  Including him in the top six might be a bit of a stretch as he did move down to the third line during parts of the season and during the playoffs. But no other forward received consistent top six minutes so he fills out the list by default.

With this graph as a basic overview, we can move on to more detailed views of each player individually. The following graph shows how the top line forwards performed by a series of key statistics. The numbers shown are the percentile ranks among forwards with at least 300 minutes TOI. Just as a refresher, 50th percentile would be average with lower percentiles being worse and higher percentiles being best. As a rough contextual tool, given that teams use four lines, top line forwards are likely to be in the 75th percentile or higher, second line forwards in the 50th percentile or higher, third line forwards in the 25th percentile or higher, and fourth line forwards below that. The definition of each statistic is provided at the bottom of this article.

Once again, Ryan Callahan sticks out as no longer being a top line forward. His role is now on the third line where he played throughout the playoffs. Steven Stamkos is still an elite scorer. He and Killorn both have strong possession numbers overall but did give up a relatively high frequency of scoring chances and high danger scoring chances.  Given that both players are relied upon to push for offense, that isn't too surprising. The most interesting player to me out of this set is Alex Killorn. He has emerged as a bonafide top line winger and no matter who his linemates were, he thrived and made the players around him better. The next graph is the same format but shows the other three forwards in the top six.

To get the obvious out of the way, Nikita Kucherov is an absolute superstar. He's an elite scorer. His defensive numbers are solid. He makes his teammates better. He deserves every bit of praise he receives and signing him long term should be the first priority for the Lightning front office this summer. His fellow triplets are also exciting young players but not quite at his level. Tyler Johnson's primary scoring is impressive and Ondrej Palat isn't far behind him.  As whole, both players are developing well and look like important parts of a team that can be successful going forward. The only real flaw in the numbers for both Palat and Johnson is that they bled scoring chances and high danger scoring chances against. This is likely due to the high speed attacking style of play that this line utilizes creating opportunities for both teams. Even considering that, both players would be well-served by finding ways to limit the dangerous chances going back the other way when possible. But only if they can do it without sacrificing their offensive creativity. If the scoring chances against are a natural byproduct of the high pressure style of play exhibited by the triplets, the Lighting will likely accept that trade.

From a high level, the Lightning are positiioned exceptionally well at forward. If they re-sign Stamkos, they will have at least five players who could play on the first line for other NHL teams. And as we go through this series, that depth will continue to impress. The next piece in this series will focus on the bottom six forwards as well as a bonus look at two young guns, Jonathan Drouin and Jonathan Marchessault.

All data in this article comes from War-On-Ice.com and is 5v5 score adjusted. It includes all games including the playoffs through the conference finals.

P160 -€” Primary points per 60 minutes of TOI.  Primary points include first assists and goals, which are more indicative of talent than second assists.
CF60 -€” Cors for per 60 minutes of TOI.  CF60 measures the total number of shots (including missed and blocked shots) a team generates while the player is on the ice.
CA60 - Cors against per 60 minutes of TOI.  CA60 measures the total number of shots (including missed and blocked shots) a team allows while the player is on the ice.
CF% - Corsi for percentage.  CF% measures the percentage of total shots a team takes while the player is on the ice.
SCF60 -€” Scoring chances for per 60 minutes of TOI.  Scoring chances are shots from the home plate area.
SCA60 -€” Same logic as CA60
SCF% - Same logic as CF%
HDSCF60 -€” High danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of TOI.  High danger scoring chances are based on location and shot type as calculated by War-On-Ice.com.
HDSCA60 -€” same logic as CA60
HDSCF% - same logic as CHDSC%
RelCF%TM -€” Relative cors for percentage teammates.  This is the difference in how a player's teammates perform with him as opposed to without him.  It serves as one way of quantifying a player's impact on his teammates.