Every once and a while, I try to introduce new stats ideas (or perhaps stats that I just didn’t know existed) to the hockey blogosphere and fans alike. One example is the incredibly simple Special Teams Plus/Minus stats I discussed during the 09-10 season. This could be a long-running series or a summer diversion, but either way, let’s have a little fun with this experiment.
When Alex Ovechkin scored an empty-net goal to take a brief lead in the three horse race for the Maurice Richard goal-scoring title (eventually won by Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos), a minor Twitter debate ensued regarding the value of the empty-netter. Eventually, I engaged Marty Vance in a small debate about the value of empty netters vs. second assists.
That discussion rolled around in my head for a bit and today I realized something. I’d love if someone – whether it be an official stat keeper or an intrepid team blogger – kept track of every person who touched the puck on its way to the net. Now, keep in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean every player who was on the ice during the goal. In fact, most goals probably only have one to three players who pass the puck to each other without the other team touching it first. So most goals probably adhere to the one goal scorer + two assists maximum anyway.
But my question is: why not give everyone credit? I’m not saying that a third assist or beyond should count toward a player’s point totals, but rather that it would simply be interesting to find out who was involved in each goal.
To give a little more seasoning to this argument, I will discuss a few ways third/fourth assists could benefit our knowledge of the game after the jump.
Rewarding a defenseman who makes brilliant outlet passes
Now, again, I’m not saying there would be a huge amount of third assists. One instance when these might happen, though, is if a defenseman makes a great breakout pass to a player, taking advantage of a prone opposition. Most of the time this will result in an assist for that defenseman – or a non-goal – but if it begins a series of nice passes, that defenseman’s contribution will only live on in the memory of observers who have short memories. Why not reward that subtle, but vital play in whatever way possible?
Spotlighting great passing goalies
This is the cousin of a great outlet pass from a defenseman. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see if Martin Brodeur or Marty Turco was involved in more goals than you’d think? Again, the numbers might be very small, but goalie assists are rare enough. Let’s say Brodeur makes a great pass to a defenseman, who sends the puck to a forward and then a goal is scored. Is it unreasonable to say that Brodeur helped make that goal happen?
Seriously, any time you can reward this kind of skill, you should*:
Subtle powerplay wizardry
Perhaps the most common time more than three passers are involved in a goal comes when a team scores on the man advantage. Tic-tac-toe passing is far more plausible when teams are given more space and highly skilled players receive that added incentive to make plays. This could be especially effective in identifying great first-pass powerplay point men such as Sergei Gonchar, Nicklas Lidstrom or Andrei Markov. Let’s not forget that an invisible third assist maker won’t even get the typical plus/minus boost during a PP goal, either.
So, again, this would be a fairly minor stat. It might not even happen every game. That being said, hockey is a sport that could use more simple, easy-to-understand numbers. That’s why I think it would be great if people kept track of a third – or dare I say it, fourth – assists.
* – I know that pass would qualify as a primary assist, but still …
Have a stat you’d like to see? Know of a blog or Web site that already keeps track of this stat or something similar? Feel free to mention that in the comments or message me on Twitter.