Monday, December 17, 2007

The second assist

One gets a first assist by spotting the sniper and getting him the puck. It seems reasonable to conclude that, on balance, there is more value generated in a first assist than in a previous touch of the puck.
Oh those poor woebegone second assists, always the centre of attention.

There was a discussion last week on local sports radio about how the NHL calculates individual points, and what the relative merit of a second assist really is. Is it worth as much as the first assist? As much as a goal?

The answer, from this corner anyway, is no, probably not — and especially not at even strength. On the power play, with the puck moving at a more frenetic pace, I can see the value in a second assist, which could come by way of a bang-bang passing play or as the defenceman's point shot is batted a few times before going in.

Behind The Net has first and second assist data for all situations, but what I first want to present here is a look at the top 20 players in points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play.

It's a fairly elite group (these figures are from before Sunday night's games):


NAME TM GP TOI/60 G/60 A1/60 A2/60 PTS/60
1 MATS SUNDIN TOR 33 13.18 1.66 1.52 0.69 3.86
2 JASON SPEZZA OTT 24 15.61 0.96 2.08 0.80 3.84
3 PAUL STASTNY COL 32 13.79 1.77 0.82 1.09 3.67
4 DANY HEATLEY OTT 30 16.47 1.34 1.34 0.97 3.64
5 D. ALFREDSSON OTT 29 14.91 1.80 0.97 0.83 3.61
6 NIK ANTROPOV TOR 33 12.81 1.14 1.56 0.85 3.55
7 JAROME IGINLA CGY 33 16.12 1.69 1.24 0.56 3.50
8 VINNY LECAVALIER T.B 33 15.53 1.52 1.17 0.59 3.28
9 SHAWN HORCOFF EDM 34 14.06 1.51 1.00 0.75 3.26
10 ILYA KOVALCHUK ATL 31 15.18 2.04 0.76 0.38 3.19
11 JOE THORNTON S.J 31 15.33 1.01 1.64 0.51 3.16
12 MARTIN ERAT NSH 28 13.21 1.14 1.30 0.65 3.08
13 SIDNEY CROSBY PIT 32 14.45 1.43 1.30 0.26 2.98
14 H. ZETTERBERG DET 32 14.54 1.68 0.64 0.64 2.97
15 PAVEL DATSYUK DET 32 13.99 1.07 1.34 0.54 2.95
16 ERIK COLE CAR 26 13.49 0.86 1.88 0.17 2.91
17 MATT CULLEN CAR 34 10.95 0.48 1.29 1.13 2.90
18 DAVID LEGWAND NSH 30 12.45 0.96 0.96 0.96 2.89
19 MIKE RIBEIRO DAL 30 13.86 1.59 0.72 0.58 2.89
20 CORY STILLMAN CAR 31 13.52 1.15 0.86 0.86 2.86

First of all, and it needs to be said somewhere other than on Oilers blogs, Shawn Horcoff is having a terrific season.

Secondly, Martin Erat would be among the league's scoring leaders if he could do anything on the power play.

Anyway, those are both asides. What I really am getting at (as you maybe can tell from the title of this post) is the first and second assists, and how they factor into how much a player produces at even strength.

For the most part, these top producing players have a pretty standard number in the second assists column, somewhere between 0.55 and 0.85 per game. But there are outliers, and I think their presence says something.

Take a look at the second assists figure for Sidney Crosby and Matt Cullen.

Crosby's measly 0.26 per 60 minutes is less than such luminaries as P.J. Axelsson, Jozef Stumpel and Raffi Torres. Cullen, meanwhile, is the second-highest forward in the league in the category, next to only Jason Arnott.

Who, of Crosby and Cullen, is driving their teams' offence the most? Which one is more likely to be either (a) scoring the goals or (b) passing to the player who bats in a goal?

That answer's easy of course. But what do the points per 60 minutes leaders look like if we dump the second assist? Where do Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk and Joe Thornton fit in then?


NAME TM G/60 A1/60 Total
1 MATS SUNDIN TOR 1.66 1.52 3.18
2 JASON SPEZZA OTT 0.96 2.08 3.04
3 JAROME IGINLA CGY 1.69 1.24 2.93
4 ILYA KOVALCHUK ATL 2.04 0.76 2.80
5 DANIEL ALFREDSSON OTT 1.80 0.97 2.77
6 ERIK COLE CAR 0.86 1.88 2.74
7 SIDNEY CROSBY PIT 1.43 1.30 2.73
8 NIKOLAI ANTROPOV TOR 1.14 1.56 2.70
9 VINCENT LECAVALIER T.B 1.52 1.17 2.69
10 DANY HEATLEY OTT 1.34 1.34 2.68
11 JOE THORNTON S.J 1.01 1.64 2.65
12 PAUL STASTNY COL 1.77 0.82 2.59
13 SHAWN HORCOFF EDM 1.51 1.00 2.51
14 MARTIN ERAT NSH 1.14 1.30 2.44
15 PAVEL DATSYUK DET 1.07 1.34 2.41
16 HENRIK ZETTERBERG DET 1.68 0.64 2.32
17 MIKE RIBEIRO DAL 1.59 0.72 2.31
18 MARC SAVARD BOS 0.77 1.54 2.31
19 ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY TOR 1.79 0.49 2.28
20 MARIAN GABORIK MIN 1.14 1.14 2.28

No more Cullen, who falls to 63rd. Legwand is at 47th and Stillman 40th. On the flip side, Savard jumps from 33rd up into the top 20.

On the whole, however, not a huge difference when it comes to the leaders, who for the most part make up the majority of their points from goals and first assists anyway. Notable players who have a high percentage of their assists from first assists: Crosby (83%), Cole (92%), Savard (86%), Daymond Langkow (85%), Martin Rucinsky (83%), Ryan Smyth (91%), Thomas Vanek (90%) and J.P. Dumont (89%).

Who gets the most second assists? Mainly defencemen, which is why this goals + first assists measure really only works for forwards. The highest ranked defender in the category would be Pavel Kubina, who's 183rd.

Nick Lidstrom, for instance, doesn't have a single first assist at even strength this season, but is first overall in second assists.

Any talk of taking them out of point totals, or somehow limiting their weight, would hurt defenders more than anything. A lot of great breakout passes, like those Lidstrom fires up the ice every game for the Red Wings, are reflected in the assist department.

If you're a playmaking centre, getting that first assist is definitely a bigger deal than piling up second ones, but as a defenceman, the majority of the best plays you'll make are second assists (or uncredited passes, come to think of it). That's part of the reason why I find the on ice/off ice statistics Behind The Net offers so useful: Just because you don't end up with a lot of points doesn't mean you're not assisting your team's offensive production.

Just look at San Jose's Doug Murray, who has only four assists in 25 games this season, but who, when he's on the ice, sees his team's production go from 1.95 goals per 60 minutes to 4.30, which is 10th best in the NHL.

Maybe the question's not: 'Why don't we do away with second assists?' but 'Who's getting the third and fourth ones?'

Just a thought.

20 Comments:

At 7:28 AM, December 17, 2007, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Its not fair to assume the individual getting the second assist was either lucky or had little to do with the scoring play.
2) Many times that player is the primary architect of the offensive chance that resulted in the goal. Such as if the goal comes after a rebound, etc.

 
At 9:40 AM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Speaking from my experience on ice, not players in the NHL, the first assist is that perfect setup for the goal, but the second assist takes just as much vision to hit an open man who you think has a good chance of hitting someone else with that pass, or making a good breakout pass to throw your team into a 2 on 1.

 
At 10:35 AM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous jack said...

and then there are the 2nd assists that you see and think "That guy was even out there?"

 
At 11:25 AM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

There are first assists and goals like that too, what's your point?

 
At 12:14 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous theoil said...

Maybe the question's not: 'Why don't we do away with second assists?' but 'Who's getting the third and fourth ones?'

And maybe an even better question is "Why isn't the goal differential/60 minutes on ice a stat that the NHL promotes?"

It just seems to me that the NHL does a seriously bad job of promoting itself through concentrating on 'stats for stupid people' while ignoring important info. The one that drives me the craziest is the PP where a 5 second PP counts the same as a 5 minute one in their simplistic '1 goal on 7 attempts' reporting rather than '1 goal in 7 minutes 23seconds of PP time'.

Just my little rant.

 
At 1:02 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous Gerald said...

Interestingly, I have heard commentators in the NBA touting the need for a second assist in basketball, for the reasons articulated above..

 
At 1:27 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous jack said...

"There are first assists and goals like that too, what's your point?"
Yes, but goals only go to the people who score them, there's no guesswork. My point is that second assists are awarded based on someone's opinion as to if a player had a larger influence on a goal being scored than the other players on the ice. It's wide open for judgment issues.
For any serious number-crunching, I would look at second assists with a very skeptical eye.

 
At 2:20 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Itlan said...

I'd like to see goals by deflections off the body given to the shooter. If you can't kick or bat the puck into the net, then really what part in scoring that goal did you have? Right place at right time? Penner's goal off his chin is a classic example.

 
At 2:55 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

My point is that second assists are awarded based on someone's opinion as to if a player had a larger influence on a goal being scored than the other players on the ice. It's wide open for judgment issues.

Not really. The second assist, like the first, is based on who touched the puck beforehand. The only "guesswork" is if the referee has a bad short-term memory or can't see a player's number.

 
At 3:12 PM, December 17, 2007, Anonymous jack said...

"Not really. The second assist, like the first, is based on who touched the puck beforehand. The only "guesswork" is if the referee has a bad short-term memory or can't see a player's number."

hm, if that is indeed true, then i like it even less. I always thought that the second assist went to a player who contributed to the goal, but wasn't in the first assist position, but i honestly never checked up on that.

What about a three star point system for each goal (not in place of the goal/assist/assist, but in addition to) because sometimes the guy with the first assist deserves more than the guy who was there for the slam dunk on the far post (see most of sidney crosby's assists). of course, that opens up the whole judgment issue even more so i won't go on about that.

 
At 4:11 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger Stan the Caddy said...

Hey James, thanks for putting this together. I've been hearing this "get rid of the second assist" rhetoric for a while now and it's really starting to agrivate me. There are plenty of times when the second assist is really what started the play to begin with.

Believe me, I've scored plenty of goals myself cleaning up other peoples garbage after they worked hard to make the play happen. Are there people out there that think a goal that bounces off your ass should count for more than points than the guy who set up the shooter?

I'm glad these numbers show that the scoring race is not inflated by the second assist as some members of the media have been saying over the last few weeks.

Quite frankly, the league has bigger fish to fry than to try to fix a point system that ain't broke.

 
At 9:30 PM, December 17, 2007, Blogger MB said...

'Who's getting the third and fourth ones?'

The guys with double digit plus in the +/- column

 
At 12:33 AM, December 18, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

hm, if that is indeed true, then i like it even less.

Ha. Well first things first...

 
At 7:17 AM, December 18, 2007, Blogger Brandon said...

It's not true, so don't worry.

Second assist is determined exactly as the first assist is -- the first assist is the person that touched the puck directly before the goal scorer, and the second assist is the person that touched the puck directly before the first assist.

Very cut and dry. Which is why there are many occasions you'll see goals scored without a second assist (or without even a first assist).

And there's no guesswork involved -- if the referee gives the wrong credit on the ice, it will be reviewed and correctly awarded later.

 
At 9:35 AM, December 18, 2007, Blogger PPP said...

Instead of talking about first/second/third/eighth assists let's focus on:

a. How amazing Mats Sundin has been this season and;

b. Nik Antropov's emergence as a star.

 
At 9:50 AM, December 18, 2007, Blogger Brett said...

Very interesting read. I think I am with you on the subject.

 
At 10:51 AM, December 18, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

hm, if that is indeed true, then i like it even less.

The beauty of the internet is such that even if you don't watch, play, or understand the rules of hockey you can still argue about them anonymously.

 
At 4:24 PM, December 18, 2007, Blogger Patty (in Dallas) said...

1) Its not fair to assume the individual getting the second assist was either lucky or had little to do with the scoring play.

I've often felt for the forward that spends his whole shift struggling with the defenders to get the puck out of the corner, then doesn't get any point from it because 3 more players touched it.

You have to draw the line somewhere--you can't give assists to everybody on the ice--but I think the line is fine where it is.

 
At 5:02 PM, December 18, 2007, Anonymous stephen said...

There was a play for Ottawa this year when Spezza skated around the other net twice with the puck eventually banking it off Eaves stick who was standing in front of the net with his stick on the ice. In that case, the assist should be worth more than the goal.

Also, there seems many times I can remember when Chris Neil was standing in front of the other net, taking a beating and screening the goalie, helping a goal go in that he got no assist for. I’d like a measurement of that.

Or when Mike Fisher comes barrelling in on the forecheck forcing their defenseman to rush a pass, which is promptly picked off by Alfie who walks in and scores an unassisted goal. I’d like a measurement for Fisher there too.

I thought when I was a kid they didn’t even give assists if there was a rebound?

I think assists really need to be looked at. I’d like to see a new line. Or just a new stat.

 
At 7:20 PM, December 18, 2007, Anonymous pensgirl said...

Second assists can be every bit as key even strength as on the PP. Take the breakout pass for a 2-on-1. That doesn't happen, there's no play to lead to a goal. I've seen secondaries that should have been worth three points.

Brandon, miscredited goals and assists aren't always fixed. Crosby got a primary in Philly that was credited as secondary and to my knowledge it hasn't been changed. Doesn't matter for Sid's point total, but what I still need to check is whether it was a simple switch or if they got the wrong "other" guy completely. They do a good job but not a perfect one.

 

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