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08-24-2011, 12:37 AM
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overpass
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The Triple Crown Line

The Triple Crown line is one of the more famous lines in hockey history. Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, and Charlie Simmer played together for five and a half years between 1979 and 1984. During that time they made history as the first line in which each member scored 100 points.

I thought it would be interesting to look at how the members of this line performed while playing together as opposed to over the rest of their careers. I'm primarily interested in their even-strength play here.

First, when and how often did they play together? Here I'll look at the percentage of even-strength goals that each member of the line participated in with the others. Numbers from a dataset compiled by matnor from Hockey Summary Project data.

Linemates don't participate in every goal together, of course, so 50-70% should be regarded as playing full-time together. Injuries also complicate things a bit.

Marcel Dionne
Year Taylor Simmer
1978 33% 0%
1979 59% 22%
1980 55% 52%
1981 47% 47%
1982 52% 29%
1983 34% 31%
1984 70% 43%
1985 54% 1%
1986 48% 0%
1987 4% 0%

Dave Taylor
Year Dionne Simmer
1978 47% 0%
1979 74% 22%
1980 78% 63%
1981 58% 53%
1982 61% 18%
1983 70% 55%
1984 49% 59%
1985 70% 2%
1986 63% 0%
1987 6% 0%

Charlie Simmer
Year Dionne Taylor
1979 64% 50%
1980 75% 63%
1981 65% 60%
1982 72% 38%
1983 41% 35%
1984 61% 45%
1985 2% 2%

Based on the above data, I'll consider that the line played together from 1979-80 to 1983-84 for Taylor and Dionne. Simmer played with Dionne and Taylor for most of the games he was healthy in 1978-79, so I'll include that year for Simmer as a Triple Crown year.

How much did each player benefit by playing on the line?
(Glossary of statistical terms at the end).

Player Years Linemates Seasons $ESP/G ESGF/G ESGA/G R-ON R-OFF XEV+/- EV+/- AEV+/- /Season
Marcel Dionne 72-77 No Taylor or Simmer 5.9 0.78 0.92 0.94 0.97 0.83 -53 -12 41 7
Marcel Dionne 87-89 No Taylor or Simmer 2.3 0.43 0.57 0.66 0.86 0.95 -4 -18 -14 -6
Marcel Dionne 78-86 With Taylor 8.7 0.82 1.02 0.82 1.24 0.76 -114 140 254 29
Marcel Dionne 78,79,85,86 Taylor (no Simmer) 3.9 0.77 0.93 0.86 1.09 0.81 -39 24 63 16
Marcel Dionne 80-84 Taylor and Simmer 4.8 0.86 1.09 0.79 1.37 0.73 -74 116 191 40

Dionne was the best player on the line, and had the most success outside of the Triple Crown years. Dionne was an established NHL scoring star before he ever played with Dave Taylor, having scored over 120 points in two separate seasons. However, his plus-minus numbers were ordinary. Nick Libett, Danny Grant, Mike Murphy, Gene Carr, and his other linemates weren't providing what he needed to have a dominant two-way line.

With Dave Taylor, Dionne's even-strength scoring remained at the same level. But his goals against dropped, and his plus-minus improved quite a bit.

When Charlie Simmer was added, Dionne's even-strength scoring rose, and his goals for rose even more. His plus-minus results were superb while playing with the Triple Crown line, especially when compared to the rest of the team.

In 1986-87, Simmer had been gone for two seasons, and Dionne was finally separated from his longtime linemate Dave Taylor. Dionne centred Luc Robitaille and Bryan Erickson, while Taylor patrolled Jimmy Carson's right side. Late in the season Dionne was traded to the New York Rangers. Dionne had little success after being separated from Taylor, and was clearly in decline at this point.

Dave Taylor
Player Years Linemates Seasons $ESP/G ESGF/G ESGA/G R-ON R-OFF XEV+/- EV+/- AEV+/- /Season
Dave Taylor 87-94 No Dionne or Simmer 6.1 0.50 0.76 0.61 1.25 0.97 -8 77 84 14
Dave Taylor 78-86 With Dionne 7.7 0.70 0.97 0.73 1.34 0.77 -91 158 249 32
Dave Taylor 78,79,85,86 Dionne (no Simmer) 3.7 0.62 0.87 0.69 1.26 0.77 -40 54 94 25
Dave Taylor 80-84 Dionne and Simmer 4.0 0.78 1.07 0.75 1.42 0.77 -51 103 154 39

Dave Taylor entered a very favourable situation in Los Angeles, as he was placed on Marcel Dionne's right wing as a rookie and would remain there for almost a decade. Taylor wasn't merely lucky, however, as he earned that spot.

Taylor's even strength scoring dropped in the latter part of his career playing without Dionne and Simmer. His plus-minus numbers were respectable playing without Dionne, but were much better when together with Dionne, and were excellent with the full Triple Crown Line.

Charlie Simmer
Player Years Linemates Seasons $ESP/G ESGF/G ESGA/G R-ON R-OFF XEV+/- EV+/- AEV+/- /Season
Charlie Simmer 75-78,85-88 No Dionne or Taylor 4.2 0.42 0.64 0.53 1.21 0.92 -11 38 49 12
Charlie Simmer 79-84 Dionne and Taylor 4.7 0.68 0.98 0.69 1.41 0.78 -53 110 163 35

Simmer struggled with injuries and had relatively little success outside of the Triple Crown years. Even within those years he had trouble staying in the lineup, but when he was playing, he and his linemates dominated.

Finally, here are the numbers for the three members of their line during their peak (1979-80 to 1981-82).

Years Linemates Seasons $ESP/G ESGF/G ESGA/G R-ON R-OFF XEV+/- EV+/- AEV+/- /Season
Marcel Dionne 80-82 3.0 0.92 1.17 0.82 1.42 0.76 -43 85 128 43
Dave Taylor 80-82 2.6 0.84 1.15 0.73 1.58 0.78 -33 91 124 47
Charlie Simmer 80-82 2.2 0.76 1.08 0.65 1.66 0.81 -22 79 101 45

They were #1, #3, and #5 in adjusted plus-minus during these three seasons.

Conclusion

I think the Triple Crown Line is a very good example of the effect of linemates on each other's stats. Taylor and Simmer both scored at a much higher rate while on the Triple Crown Line than they did at other times. Marcel Dionne, as the offensive leader for the line, saw his scoring increase by a more modest amount.

The biggest statistical effect by far was in their plus-minus, especially when adjusted for team. Dionne, Taylor and Simmer all had decent to good plus-minus numbers when apart. Dionne and Taylor together had excellent plus-minus numbers. And the full Triple Crown line together was absolutely dominant from a plus-minus perspective.

The line had very little team success, except for an upset of the Edmonton Oilers in 1982. The off-ice numbers suggest that their depth beyond the line was very poor. LA seems to have thought their best chance to win was to play their three best forwards together. Maybe it was, but the team gave away too much when they were off the ice to be competitive.

Glossary of terms
Seasons: Number of seasons worth of games played in the time period.
$ESP/G: Even strength points per game, normalized to a 200 ESG per team-season scoring environment.
$ESGF/G: Even-strength goals for per game, normalized to a 200 ESG scoring environment.
$ESGA/G: Even-strength goals against per game, normalized to a 200 ESG scoring environment.
R-ON: Even strength GF/GA ratio when the player is on the ice.
R-OFF: Even-strength GF/GA ratio when the player is off the ice.
XEV+/-: Expected even-strength plus-minus, which is an estimate of the plus-minus that an average player would post given the R-OFF environment.
EV+/-: Even–strength plus-minus, adjusted for scoring level. $ESGF - $ESGA
AEV+/-: Adjusted even-strength plus-minus, which is even-strength plus-minus minus expected even-strength plus-minus.

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