Vanek-Adam-Pominville: An Elite First Line?

MANNHEIM, GERMANY - OCTOBER 04: Thomas Vanek of Buffalo celebrates with Christian Ehrhoff and other team mates after scoring a goal during the NHL Pre-Season match between Buffalo Sabres and Adler Mannheim at SAP Arena on October 4, 2011 in Mannheim, Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)

With no players in the All Star game last year and a coach who likes to shuffle lines, the Sabres weren't expected to have a first line capable of carrying the team. A common opinion among hockey fans outside of Western New York is that Vanek is the only clear-cut top line player. NHL.com exemplified this opinion, with its 64-Unranked-162 rankings of Vanek-Adam-Pominville in its fantasy hockey preview. The Sabres and their new first line are off to a fast start, but just how good has the top line been?

Although seven games is too small of a sample size to make meaningful comparisons, it is interesting to see how Vanek-Adam-Pominville's stats so far stack up against other top lines. I've compared their stats with two of the top first lines that played together fairly consistently last season: Vancouver's Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, and Chicago's Sharp-Toews-Kane, as well as the French Connection in 1974-75. All stats are extrapolated to represent the line's production over 82 games (if a player was injured, his stats were multiplied by 82/games played).

The table, after the jump.

Top Line Season Production

LW

C

RW

Team

Season

Goals

Assists

Even Strength Goals

Shots

Vanek

Adam

Pominville

Sabres

2011-12

128.86

164.00

93.71

738.00

Martin

Perreault

Robert

Sabres

1974-75

154.06

187.07

98.75

950.95

Sedin

Sedin

Burrows

Canucks

2010-11

89.61

163.06

61.33

596.11

Sharp

Toews

Kane

Blackhawks

2010-11

100.80

137.77

68.40

778.43

Through seven games, Vanek-Adam-Pominville is playing like a top line. The French Connection is the best line in Sabres' history for a reason, and even with how well Vandamville (if they stick together, they'll need a better line name) has played so far, they are below the pace of the French Connection in every category.  However, the game has changed significantly since 1974-75. More meaningful is to compare the new top line with elite lines that have played in the same era.

Vandamville compares favorably with the Canucks' and Blackhawks' top lines from last year. The most encouraging stat in the table is that Vanek-Adam-Pominville is getting more shots per game than Sedin-Sedin-Burrows and is only .5 shots/game behind Sharp-Toews-Kane, supporting that they are producing enough opportunities to continue to score are their current rate.  As a benchmark, it appears that 100 goals in a season for a line would place it in elite status in today's NHL; it's possible that Vanek could score 50, Pominville could score 30, and Adam could chip in 20. They've been an elite line through seven games; if they can do it for 75 more, no team will want to play the Sabres in the first round of the playoffs.

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