I missed Damien Cox’s December 1 blog posting about the state of the Leafs, but after having it pointed out to me last night I couldn’t resist making comment on it, simply because he makes some interesting statements.

He suggests that it’s impossible to think any more that Jason Blake is just in a slump; did anyone seriously expect him to score 40 goals again? In three years before Blake hit the 40-goal mark and cashed in as a free agent, he’d scored 25, 22 and 28 goals. Last year he scored 25. It was patently obvious that’s what he was when he was signed, and it’s patently obvious now. If on the other hand Cox means this season, where Blake has just two goals in 26 games, he’s dead wrong. Here are Blake’s shooting percentages by season, since the lockout:

  • 2006-06: 9.2%
  • 2006-07: 13.1%
  • 2007-08: 4.5%
  • 2008-09: 8.3%
  • 2009-10: 2.5%
  • Career: 8.0%

Blake’s 2007-08 mark represents the low point of his career to date. That 13.1% mark, miles above anything else he’d ever done in his career, came during his 40-goal year; unfortunately for the Leafs, they were the suckers who thought it might be sustainable. In any case, at some point Blake should go back to doing what he normally does, what he did last season: scoring at about an 8.0% clip, or just over three times as often as he has to date this season.

But the most interesting comment Cox makes is about Alexei Ponikarovsky, a chronically underappreciated winger who, just one game before Cox tossed him under the bus, recorded four points and a plus-3 rating in a game against Florida. Ponikarovsky’s currently on pace for 28 goals and 47 points, but here’s what Cox had to say about him:

No one would seriously suggest that Alexei Ponikarovsky [is a] bona fide top-six forward in the NHL.

Let’s do some basic number crunching. There are 30 teams in the NHL. They each have six top-six forwards. That means there are 180 top-six forwards in the NHL. Let’s pretend for a moment that points are the best way to measure top-six forwards, and see how Ponikarovsky does versus his peers in the NHL.

  • Since the lockout: 194 points, tied for 99th in the NHL
  • Since 2006-07: 156 points, tied for 96th in the NHL
  • Since 2007-08: 111 points, tied for 93rd in the NHL
  • Since last season: 76 points, tied for 62nd in the NHL
  • Just last season: 61 points, tied for 54th in the NHL
  • Just this season: 15 points, tied for 108th in the NHL

Since 180th is the dropoff point for top-six forwards, by any post-lockout time period one chooses to measure, Ponikarovsky is a top-six forward. He’s actually a rather good top-six forward too; since 1-90 are first line forwards and 91-180 are second line forwards, he’s consistently been among the very best second-line forwards in the NHL, by points production.

Of course, there are other things to hate about him. His small stature (6’4″, 229lbs) means that he’s undersized… or not. No, he’s a big-bodied top-six forward. Perhaps his poor defensive play might be cited; except for the fact that in a nine-year, 442-game NHL career spent entirely with the Leafs, Ponikarovsky has only once (minus-1 in his rookie year) had a negative plus/minus. For his career, he’s a plus-56. In short, Alexei Ponikarovsky is the very model of a modern top-six forward.

So perhaps Cox wouldn’t suggest that Ponikarovsky’s a bona fide top-six forward. But that doesn’t reflect poorly on Ponikarovsky; no, it only shows that Damien Cox doesn’t know what a top-six forward is.

Comments (22)

  1. more stuff on the leafs! yes JW!

  2. Nice article. Use facts to prove your case unlike the Star.

  3. JW: thanks for showing the man for what he is.

    Can you do Simmons next.

  4. Poni is just a very good 3rd liner. The reason he’s not considered a top 6 forward by most people is because he is 6’4 220 and hardly crashes the net. He doesn’t hit people often and is a very soft player.

    If he wanted, he could be a legit top 6 forward but he needs to be more physical and crash the net more often. Point wise, he might be considered top 6 but then again… his point production total has gone ever since Leafs have had a crap team and he gets tons of minutes, even on PP.

    He’s a good 2-way forward but doesn’t know how to use his body. But honestly, that’s pretty much all the european players. Pretty much all of them play a soft game, I guess that’s why they like Soccer so much.

  5. Zain:

    How many third-liners do you know who score 60 points?

    Look at the numbers man; he’s always in the top-100 in the NHL in scoring – that’s easily second line territory. Nobody complains that Kristian Huselius isn’t a top-six guy because he’s too soft, or that Brian Gionta isn’t.

    Ponikarovsky’s a top-six forward. All the evidence suggests it.

  6. Zain:

    Or, for a different way of looking at it: name 180 NHL forwards better than Ponikarovsky. If you can’t do it, he’s a top-six forward.

  7. No way, do Bob McCown next!

  8. He’s only put up 60 points up once. And if he really is a top 6 forward, wouldn’t teams be willing to give up a late 1st rounder for him. Leafs couldn’t even get that for Antropov and he puts up better numbers than Poni.

    And did you really just compare Huselius and Gionta to Poni? Poni game is to be a power forward, you think Gionta can do that, he’s like 5’7. Poni is 6’4 and is suppose to be reckless in front of the net with his size. He never initiates any contact and he also lacks consistency. There are tons of night where he is completely invisible.

  9. Zain: JW needs to look at goal scoring that is what wins you games.

    Ponikorovsky is The 30th best LW for goal production since the lockout. He is a 1st line goal scoring LW. You let him go T.O.

  10. I agree with Zain.

    Poni is technically a top 6 forward. On a bottom 6 team.

    Big deal.

    If he was so good,the Leafs would be better. They aren’t because he isn’t.
    How many GWG’s does Poni have? None this year. 3 last year. For his career, I think the total is 11. Awesome.
    If that is the kind of production that you expect from a top 6 then you don’t care about winning.
    How many times has Poni changed a game? I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen him be ‘the factor’.
    Compare him to Kessel, that’s what a top 6 forward looks like. So you score a goal in a 3-1 loss. Big whoop,nobody cares and that is the only reason that Poni scores most of his goals; they don’t matter and neither does he (on the ice).
    Honestly,what is there to appreciate about a team that loses most of it’s games? It’s the winning that matters and Poni has done as much as any other Leaf not named Kessel in that regard. Problem is,he is one of the guys afforded the opportunity to make a difference. And what a difference he has made…how many wins do the Leafs have with Poni as a top 6?
    Having said that, I wouldn’t trade the guy for peanuts (but I would happily take a high 2nd or low 1st).
    The Leafs need as many competent players as they can find and at the least, Poni is a competent space filler (until the day the Leafs actually manage to find 4 guys that do a better job).

  11. Disclosure*
    I do own Poni on my fantasy squad simply because,statistically speaking; he is a top 6 forward playing LW.

  12. Noskillgill: Your GWG argument isn’t that impressive. First, consider how many games the Leafs have won this year. Second, GWGs are not often a great indicator of clutch point-scoring (e.g. scoring 3 consecutive goals only to have the opposition record 2 just happens to leave the 3rd goal scorer as the one with the GWG). A point is a point, no matter how it’s earned (except possibly EN points).

  13. Dennis-your less than impressive rebuttal of my point is a reflection of your lack of thought on the subject.

    1- exactly my point. Now YOU consider how many games the Leafs won without Kessel. Poni did what exactly in all of those non victories?

    2- true. But they are the only available metric with which one can reasonably infer a players clutchiness (team records are also important). Say a team wins 40 games and player X has 10 GWG’s. Do you suppose that the two numbers are not related in some way? Of course they are related…what is the correlation between scoring a GWG and winning a game,where 1 is a perfect correlation? The answer is 1.
    In fact,you will find that the total tally of GWG’s (pre shootout era)for any given team is exactly equal to the number of victories a team has. To suggest otherwise is idiocy.

    3- I disagree. An assist to tie a game up or a go ahead goal is much more valuable (in the context of winning the game) than any point earned in a 5-2 defeat. Statistically,they are equal but anyone with a sense of what good hockey consists of will be able to tell the difference in value between the two. Jason Allison’s non career is proof of this notion.

    The fact is, scoring a goal when you are down by 4 is much easier than scoring a goal when you are down by 1. That should be obvious.

    The Leafs have been a bad team for quite some time now,the suggestion that Poni is not at least partly responsible for the Leafs lack of winning is absurd.
    In light of this,to suggest that he is under appreciated is nonsense. As I stated earlier,what exactly should a Leaf fan be appreciative of?

    To be clear,I do appreciate that Poni is a decent hockey player. He can score the occasional goal and play a safe game overall. What he doesn’t do,is elevate either his performance or that of his teammates and that; is the essential skill set a team should require of it’s top 6. While it is true that Poni hasn’t had a lot of help from his linemates,he himself has yet to show that he is anything more than a competent space filling forward on a bad team. He is Jonas Hoglund 2.0, no big deal and easily replaceable.

  14. Game winning goals are completely and utterly useless.

    Derek Roy, Matt Bradley, Robert Nilsson, and Phil Kessel all scored goals that gave their team big leads (their teams were en-rout to routs at the time) before the other team came back, leaving them with the GWG.

    Their pointless. The NHL should do away with the stat entirely.

  15. //What he doesn’t do,is elevate either his performance or that of his teammates and that; is the essential skill set a team should require of it’s top 6.//

    Noskillgill, do me a favour and name 180 forwards in the NHL who do that better than Ponikarovsky.

    This isn’t about what we think a top-six forward should be, it’s about what a top-six forward is. Ponikarovsky is a top-six forward at the NHL level, no ifs ands or buts about it.

  16. Love the Poni and I hope we resign him.

  17. noskillgill, I appreciate the rebuttal of my points, but character attacks serve no purpose. As JW has said, the purpose of the post is to illustrate that he is a top 6 forward, warts and all. I would agree with you that he is not a top 3 forward, and should not be counted on as a central piece to an offence. But he has unquestionably proven himself capable of producing points – the most important indicator of a top 6 forward. You may question his overall talent, drive, etc., but I think he’s proven himself to be capable of a 2nd line role, which is filled with players of his ilk (take a look at typical 2nd line forwards around the league). Your arguments are more suited towards an argument that he is not a top line forward – no one here is suggesting that he is.

    I agree that certain goals are “more important” than others – but I don’t think that line has been clearly delineated. The key characteristic of an “important” goal is one that changes the momentum in some way. This may be the first goal, the second goal, the fifth goal or whatever – it entirely depends on the context. This is why I disapprove of the value of a GWG – it is context-independent and thus alone has little utility. In fact, I would repudiate my suggestion that an ENG is necessarily worth “less” – sometimes, getting that extra goal will crush the opponent’s momentum and effectively be the end of the game.

  18. -I agree with the notion that Poni is underrated, and CAN be a top six forward in the NHL.

    -However, somebody has to score on a terrible team. With other “talents” like Jason Blake on the Leafs, quite a few players in the league could put up a lot of points simply because, well, someobdy has to.

    -GWG is the most useless stat ever. 1 GWG=1G=1PT. End of story.

  19. JW,

    Love the article, Ponikarovsky is HUGELY underrated. But your “top six forward” calculation method is a bit off. Everyone knows that there are third and fourth liners that outscore second liners on many NHL teams.

  20. Dennis-sorry man,I didn’t mean to attack your character; that was an attempt at humour. I guess I’m as skilled at making jokes as Poni is at scoring GWG’s. ba-doom…hey!

    JW-while I did agree that Poni is ‘technically’ a top 6 forward,my point was that he isn’t an especially good one.
    I could buy a Lada and enter it in a rally car race,I could then call my Lada a rally car. Is it really a rally car though? Not to me it isn’t.
    Because it is only categorically considered a racecar,it’s actual performance demonstrates that it is actually a Lada. And Lada is to rally car as Poni is to top six forwards.*
    As for naming 180 forwards,how about every guy playing top 3 minutes (87) plus every forward playing on a team with a record better than 0.500? That should do it. As an example,Kris Draper. He is better than Poni. Manny Malhotra…he is better than Poni. Jordan Staal…better. Gionta…better. David Clarkson…better. And so on (because they are more effective in their roles-as evidenced by either production or wins).
    I do agree that GWG’s aren’t the most utile category ever but to suggest they are useless is…convenient. To say it is ‘context independent’ is quite obviously false. It is completely dependent on context -ie. winning the game.
    I think it is reasonable to expect that your top 6 forwards will tend to be important contributors to a team’s success and that would be reflected in their statistical production. As a matter of fact, the all time top 50 GWG leaders is a who’s who of awesome goal scoring winners.
    Poni’s lack of GWG’s, in conjunction with the Leaf’s lack of wins, suggests to me that he doesn’t help them win as a top 6 guy. So, how exactly can he be under-appreciated?

    *I’m talking about winning here,not scoring points in a loss. You want to talk about useless stats? Any individual’s points gained in a loss are by definition,useless (unless were talking fantasy,in which case; Poni is pretty good).

  21. //how about every guy playing top 3 minutes (87) plus every forward playing on a team with a record better than 0.500?//

    Don’t confuse team results with individual results. Mario Lemieux missed the playoffs for his first six (?) seasons in the NHL; a very good player on a bad team isn’t enough to make it not a bad team.

    Ponikarovsky’s nowhere near Lemieux; and it’s not just a case of inflated ice-time either; his point production relative to ice-time is still top-180 in the NHL.

    Lack of team success isn’t necessarily a condemnation of every individual on the team.

  22. JW-Lemieux was( -35 )his rookie year,(-16) in his sophomore year.
    The Penguins were just below .500 for most of his first 6 seasons and far away from .500 the year preceding his draft.
    So,he did little to help them that first year (although they did improve quite a bit from the 84 season because of him) but as he developed; the Penguins improved dramatically.
    But Poni isn’t Lemieux,he is in his 10th season and has 11 career GWG’s and 1 goal in the 23 playoff games. The Leafs have gotten worse as his career has progressed ( in contrast to Lemieux’s).
    You can dismiss the GWG’s for some personal reason just as I dismiss your argument that Poni’s presence in a list of 180 players serves to prove his value.
    The points come with the job,the goal is to find the best player for the job and Poni has shown his limits.
    Top 6 on a losing team with absolutely no indication of improvement for either party (at least he is consistent) is nothing to be appreciative about.
    I wasn’t confusing team performance with individual results,I know what a good hockey player looks like (Poni bears little resemblance),stats or no; they tend to play on good teams (but not Poni), the two are hard to separate and that’s because one generally does not occur without the other.
    I’d take Malhotra,Rolston,Staal and 200 other NHL forwards in Poni’s spot and my team would win more hockey games for it.

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