As time goes by, throwaway assists and empty net goals are forgotten and all points sort of blur together. Yet, it’s important to note that not all assists (or points in general) are created equal.
The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell leans on the varied value of assists (particularly a “first” assist versus a “second” assist) when he states that Henrik Sedin is not his choice for the Hart Trophy winner.
The problem with assists is you can look at the totals and never really know how much that player had to do with goals actually being scored. With goals, whether it’s an empty-netter, tip-in or a spectacular deke on a breakaway, there is tangible evidence the player in question was pivotal to the play.
Take Henrik Sedin for example. He has an impressive 75 assists this season, but more than half (39) of them are second assists. How many of those were plays in which he played a pivotal role and on how many did he simply dish the puck off to a teammate who made the primary pass to the goal-scorer?
Without going back and looking at the tape of each of his assists, there’s no way of telling.
Now, I will say that the Sedins might have more “valuable” second assists than most. Considering their puck possession-heavy cycling style, I imagine a big chunk of the goals they produce require multiple crucial passes. Still, I generally agree that it would be nice to have more context with assist numbers. Heck, I wouldn’t mind if someone kept track of everyone who touched the puck before a goal.
After the jump, I’ll provide some interesting contextual assist numbers (although I’m still on a crusade to find a source for a simple list of “first” assist leaders.) Check some interesting tidbits out after the jump.
First, I’ll start simply, with the league’s top 5 in pure assists.
- Henrik Sedin – 75
- Joe Thornton – 66
- Brad Richards – 63
- Nicklas Backstrom – 62
- Martin St. Louis – 61
One assist category that Sedin can pound his chest about is even strength assists. He dominates that category, which – to me – speaks to his excellent play. Here’s the top five in even strength helpers.
- Henrik Sedin – 54
- Paul Stastny – 40
- Daniel Sedin – 40 (in only 58 games)
- Joe Thornton – 39
- Nicklas Backstrom – 38
Here’s the top 5 in powerplay assists.
- Martin St. Louis – 27
- Brad Richards – 26
- Joe Thornton tied with Mike Green – 25
- Nicklas Backstrom tied with Daniel Alfredsson – 24
Now, for a few fun nuggets.
* – Henrik Sedin also leads the league in both home and away assists.
* – Joe Thornton leads the league in “assists against ones own division” with 22 against Pacific foes. That’s pretty impressive considering how tough the Pacific has been.
* – Although Alex Ovechkin isn’t among the leaders in assist totals, he’s clearly not just a goal scorer. The Russian phenomenon has a .83 assist per game average, slightly more than his teammate Backstrom (.82).