We all know that the Penguins don't have the best wingers in the world. One can only dream of the number of goals and points Crosby and Malkin would rack up if they were flanked by two world-class snipers. Yet since we don't have those players on our team (and the salary cap makes getting them nearly impossible), we'll probably spend at least the next couple of years continuing to dream. What we can do now, however, is compare the line mates that Sid and Geno skated with at even strength this year and try to figure out if one of them actually had a sizable advantage in quality over the other.
Let's jump...Using the line combination data that I found at this phenomenal site, I recorded the line mates that Sid and Geno saw most often. While there were dozens of combinations in which Bylsma used them both over the year, it would be better to focus on those pairings with which Crosby and Malkin spent the most time. For Crosby, his top three line combos accounted for 37.38% of his total even strength time on ice, while Malkin's top five line combos accounted for 35.21% of his total even strength time on ice. For this analysis, I wanted to get each players % of total even strength time on ice as close as possible, and 37.38 and 35.21 were as close as I could get given the data. I also did not want to use any lines that a player spent less than 4% of even strength time on ice with because that is negligible in the long-run.Here are the line combos by percentage:
|Crosby ES TOI%|
|Guerin and Kunitz||22.59|
|Dupuis and Guerin||8.41|
|Dupuis and Kunitz||6.38|
|Malkin ES TOI%|
|Fedetenko and Dupuis||15.89|
|Crosby and Fedetenko||5.63|
|Fedetenko and Ponikarovsky||5.21|
|Crosby and Guerin||4.44|
|Fedetenko and Talbot||4.04|
Now that we know how much time Malkin and Crosby spent with their respective line mates in question, I'm going to use GVT as a quick and dirty indicator of overall quality (for those who'd like to know more about GVT, check out Tom Awad's part I, II, and III). I added the GVT of each player to get a line GVT, and then I multiplied that number by the fraction it constituted of the entire ES TOI to get an adjusted line GVT. For example, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz have GVT's of 2.8 and 6.2 respectively, and added together, you get a 9.0 line GVT. Then you multiply by the fraction of their percent relative to the total percentage (.6043, which is 22.59 divided by 37.38), which gives you an adjusted line GVT of 5.4387 (9 x .6043).
Repeating those steps for each line in question and adding up all the adjusted line GVT's gives us this:
|Total Line Adjusted GVT||10.57||13.08|
The final difference is pretty significant: Malkin's total line adjusted GVT is 24% higher than Crosby's. However, this should also be weighed against the other trend the data indicates, namely that Malkin did not have as predictable a pattern of line mates as Crosby. Because Crosby's top two line combos are 31% of his even strength TOI while Malkin's are only 22%, it's clear that Malkin was being shifted around by the coaches much more. This hampers the development of chemistry among line mates and might also have other negative impacts that aren't being recorded.
Yet even with these considerations in mind, I'm not sure that they would entirely make up for the difference in total adjusted line GVT. It seems that, at the very least, Malkin and Crosby were on the ice at even strength with equal line mates, and Malkin might have even had the better of the deal. The argument that Malkin had a down year in part due to his line mates might not hold as much water as previously thought.