There has been a lot of talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins "Bottom 6" forwards, mostly focused on the seeming lack of depth scoring. But how bad are they? Are they worse than other team's depth players?
It is difficult to pinpoint who exactly counts as "Bottom 6" at this point, what with the Penguins seeing 23 different Forwards plus a D turned winger at various points during this season. The Top 6 was seemingly set going into the season, but a string of injuries has seen half of them missing time. Only 5 forwards have appeared in all 54 Games so far this season, and 3 of them come from the Top 6: Kunitz, Crosby, and Jokinen. Malkin missed 11 games while Neal missed 21, but they both came back and have been a consistent 2nd line since early January. But a season ending injury to Dupuis left a hole in the Top 6.
That hole on the 1st line RW thanks to the injury to Dupuis, as well as the 32 games without Malkin and/or Neal, have made it incredibly difficult to separate the "Bottom 6" scoring from that of the Top 6. Bylsma already likes to change lines up enough during the games, so many of the "Bottom 6" have taken shifts with the Top 6 from time to time, but the injuries required them to move up and spend even more time that they normally would. So does a traditional Bottom 6 winger counts as depth scoring when he gets Points playing with the Top 6? The general consensus seems to suggest not, which is one reason people complain about the lack of depth scoring, since when they do score it is often skating alongside somebody better. However, I feel they should be rewarded for their efforts no matter who they are skating with, so let's take a look to see how they match up.
5-on-5 Close Goals as of Tuesday January 28
The main thing people complain about when they are worried about depth scoring is Goals, they aren't impressed when the player is able to set up a play or make space in front of the net, they want to see them light the lamp from their own stick. Our traditional 1st line includes Crosby 10G, Kunitz 8G, and Dupuis 6G for a total of 24G. However, with Dupuis injured we currently have Brian Gibbons 2G, dropping the 1st line to a total of 20 Goals. The 2nd line then includes Jokinen 7G, Malkin 4G, and Neal 3G for a total of 14 Goals. That is the top heavy scoring we are using as the benchmark to compare our depth scoring.
Our current 3rd line then includes Brandon Sutter 3G with Tanner Glass and Jayson Megna 1G each, for a total of 5 Goals. The current 4th line includes Deryk Engelland 4G with Craig Adams and Taylor Pyatt 1G each, for a total of 6 Goals. That does seem like some depth scoring issues, they put in less than half of what the 2nd line did. But they do have some additional players that aren't currently in the lineup. Chuck Kobasew has been scratched and it likely on his way out the door, but he brings 2G to the party. Then we have injured players, including Chris Conner 3G as well as Joe Vitale and Beau Bennett 1G.
Of course just because the numbers sound low compared to the Penguins Top 6 doesn't mean they are actually struggling compared to the rest of the league. How do they stack up there? Out of 463 Forwards with 50+ 5-on-5 Close minutes, Engelland falls in at #135, tied with Malkin as well as 49 other players that include Top 6 forwards as well as Bottom 6. Sutter and Conner fall in at #185, tied with Neal and 65 other players that includes a number of Middle 6 forwards. Gibbons and Kobasew fall in at #243, tied with 69 other plays that are mostly Bottom 6 depth, and finally Adams, Bennett, Glass, Megna, Pyatt, and Vitale fall in at #314, tied with 72 other players that are mostly limited TOI 4th line depth.
So as much as we complain about the scoring depth, just looking at Goals the Pens "Bottom 6" is pretty comparable to the league at large. Its only when trying to compare them to our own All-Star level Top 6 that they look out of place. But considering the lack of consistency this season, its amazing they performed as well as they did.
5-on-5 Close Points as of Tuesday January 28
Personally I am more concerned about Points than I am about raw Goal totals. Some players are better suited at getting the puck to their teammates and letting them scoring, and that doesn't make them any less useful of an asset. So why don't we judge them based on their overall contributions? Of course this makes the Pens even more lopsided. Our traditional 1st line includes Crosby 23P, Kunitz 21P, and Dupuis 16P for a total of 60 Points, while our current use of Gibbons 5P drops us down to 49 Points. The 2nd line then includes Malkin 14P, Jokinen 11P, and Neal 10P for a total of 35 Points. That is quite an impressive amount of scoring there, and it certainly does suggest that the team is incredibly lopsided, but lets see how our "Bottom 6" stacks up.
Our current 3rd line includes Sutter 9P, Glass 7P, and Megna 3P for a total of 19 Points. Our current 4th line includes Engelland 6P, Adams 3P, and Pyatt 2P for a total of 11 Points. That lineup can be augmented by the other possibilities as well, since we have Kobasew 2P scratched in addition to the injured Vitale 8P as well as Conner and Bennett 3P. Based on that it would appear that just getting Vitale back into the lineup will be a big boost to the depth scoring, and parting with Kobasew and Pyatt could be addition by subtraction. There does appear to be a fairly lopsided scoring, with 34% of the Points coming from the top line, 24% from the 2nd, 13% from the 3rd, and 8% from the 4th. The return of Vitale should even that 4th line up a bit, but in the end our Bottom 6 combined put up about as many Points as the 2nd line. But is that a bad thing?
Again out of 463 Forward with 50+ 5-on-5 Close minutes, we have Sutter coming in at #156, tied with 38 players that includes some Middle 6 forwards. Then Vitale comes in at #195, tied with 27 other skaters that once again includes some Middle 6 scoring. Glass falls in at #222, tied with 30 other skaters that appear to be mostly 3rd liners. Engelland then comes in at #253, tied with 23 other skaters that appear to be a mix of Middle 6 scoring. Gibbons falls in at #278, tied with 34 other skaters that look like they are mostly 3rd liners. Conner, Adams, Megna, and Bennett are down a bit further at #338, tied with 25 other skaters that looks to be mostly 4th liners. And lastly Pyatt and Kobasew come in at #367, tied with 42 other players that are mostly limited TOI 4th line depth.
Again, when looking at the Bottom 6 and trying to compare them to our own Top 6, of course they look like they aren't pitching in. But they mostly appear to be right in line with what Bottom 6 depth looks like on the majority of NHL teams. In fact if we look at the list as tiers, we can assume that the top 90-100 should mostly be 1st liners, then up to 180-200 mostly 2nd liners, the next group ending at 270-300 should be mostly 3rd liners, the final tier going through 360-400 would be 4th liners, and any leftover stragglers are fringe call-ups. Looks like we are actually doing fairly decently as far as depth scoring goes.