"There's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.William James was a keen observer of human behaviour. He could have been an observer of Habs fans.
In the summer, when nothing actually happens with our team, the only thing we can turn to in order to get a fix is commentary and speculation. While the foremost commentators go out of their way to substantiate what they say, much of what we hear and read by the end of the four month hiatus is mere repetition.
As you know, we're dissidents here at LIW. The onus of proof is something we strive for and hold others to. We don't like to hear again and again about important goalscoring, intangibles and supreme potential if it can't be borne out by examples and facts.
And so I com to the topic of our top 6 forwards. For a few years now, it's been a common gripe with Canadiens fans that the team needs just a few more pieces to really push it over the hump. The piece(s) that never fails to get mention is that of a top-6 forward who can score.
This summer, the griping continues as Pierre Gauthier went on a relative holiday from draft until September. Having done little to change the team as a whole, he has only made the tweak of Lars Eller to change the fate of Montreal top-6 scoring. While most can admit that near-30-goalscorers Gionta and Cammalleri are top tier guns and that Plekanec and Gomez can handle the mantle, the complaints usually fall to Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot as the figures who round out the group.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that an upgrade on either or both of the the wingers wouldn't be nice. I'd love to slot Parise and Bobby Ryan in there. Hoowever, I always come back to earth to remind myself that 28 other teams would fight with us tooth and nail were that feasible. By taking the broader NHL-wide view, the reality of a top 6 forward, and what the term really means in this league, is revealed.
What do a #5 and #6 forward look like?
For my research, I did a simple search for the forwards who scored the 5th to 7th most points on their teams. Compiling the list of about 90 (because there were a few extra 8th best scorers in the mix) I looked at games played, goals, assists, points, goals per game and points per game. To decide which 60 forwards made up the 5/6 forwards for this purpose, i chose the best 2 forwards on each team based on points per game. What I found was interesting.
According tho this analysis, the average 5/6 forward in 2009-10 scored 17 goals and added 21 assists in 68 games. That made for 0.25 G/G and 0.56 Pts/G.
The top 10 5/6 forwards across the league (Selanne, Hejduk, Knuble, Pavelski, Langenbrunner, Fleischmann, Bozak, Samuelsson, Latendresse, Cullen) scored 22-24-46 for 0.36 G/G and 0.75 Pts/G.
The bottom 10 5/6 forwards across the league (Kelly, Drury, Dvorak, Little, Avery, Lang, Brassard, Tanguay, Wheeler, Horcoff) scored 12-21-33 for 0.16 G/G and 0.44 Pts/G.
How do AK46 and BP57 stack up?
Benoit Pouliot: 39 GP, 15-9-24, 0.38 G/G, 0.62 Pts/G
Andrei Kostitsyn: 59 GP, 15-18-33, 0.25 G/G, 0.56 Pts/G
Benoit Pouliot is above average in both G/G and Pts/G, while Andrei Kostitsyn is dead-on average. Here's where they rank:
Pts/G: BP (19th), AK (31st)
G/G: BP (7th), AK (26th)
Pts: AK (46th), BP (59th)
Goals: AK, BP (T33rd)
Assists: AK (45th), BP (59th)
Based on raw numbers, it's definitely true that Pouliot and Kostitsyn lag behind. But considering the lengthy injury layoffs they both had, that seems predictable. When their numbers are averaged to take account of games played,they easily outrun the Chris Drurys and Chris Kellys of the league.
How do the Habs compare to other teams?
As we've shown, on G/G and Pts/G, the Habs have an above average combo, while in absolute numbers they fell short. But in dreaming of improving on this in the salary cap world, it's useful to consider the teams that do better and worse than the Canadiens.
There were 14 teams that had one forward better than the Habs #5 (Pouliot) based on Pts/G.
There were 7 teams that had two forwards ranked ahead of the Habs #6 (Kostitsyn) based on Pts/G: Washington, Carolina, Vancouver, Anaheim, Toronto (pre-trade), Minnesota (pre-trade) and St. Louis.
There were only 3 teams that had two forwards better than the Habs #5 (Pouliot) based on Pts/G: Washington had Knuble and Fleischmann, Carolina had Cullen and Ruutu, and Vancouver had Samuelsson and Raymond.
The flip side is of course that Montreal had a better 5th forward than 14 teams (one was tied), a better 5th than the 6th for 26 teams and a better 6th forward than 21 teams (one was tied).
So all in all, Kostitsyn and Pouliot offered a credible combo at 5/6 for the Habs, one that could have been above average given less injuries.
A note on Lars Eller to end with. Should either Pouliot or Kostitsyn be found slipping in training camp or early in the season, there is some built in relief. While Eller's numbers don't scream superstar, it's worth noting that the AHL rookie scored similar numbers of goals and points as both Pouliot and Kostitsyn at the same age in the AHL.
So you see, it's not as bad for the Habs in the light of day. Maybe the next time the line is trotted out about the Habs dire need for a 5th and 6th forward who can score at an elite level, we should spare a thought for the GMs of teams dressing Curtis Glencross and Nigel Dawes and remember that the fact that it sounds so believable does not necessarily make it true.