Hockey Assists are Participation Trophies

by | Sep 30, 2020 | New York Islanders, NHL, NHL Hockey, NHL Playoffs | 0 comments

We have a matter to clean up here. There is some kind of debate as to what is more important in the NHL- goals or assists. That some people even make this a conversation shows the desperation they have for you to like a player that they like who doesn’t contribute a lot to their hockey team.

To this question, there really is no debate, if you use your head. To see which is more important, Just look at the scoreboard. There’s no assist board when the Islanders play the Rangers. The only thing that determines an outcomes are goals. And when you have more than the other team, you win.

The assist is a relatively limited stat in its application. For example, there is no way to get an assist in the NFL. If an entire sport can exist without an assist? I’m sure they’re not alone. When football was invented they determined that at a touchdown pass is not an assist for a touchdown reception. Why? I don’t know. But it makes sense. If you disagree, you can dig up the father of football – Walter Camp. Be sure to blow him so his zombified body doesn’t immediately eat your brains, Then ask him why there are no assists, and watch him eat you for wasting the time of the undead just to ask them a stupid question.

The three sports where assists are most common are baseball, basketball and hockey. Baseball assists are unique in that they’re about defense, and probably have a bigger impact on a game day in and day out than any other type of assist. They even have two versions of an unassisted play- a strikeout, and a play handled by one fielder by himself. It’s important to note that pitchers do not get assists on groundouts or flyouts.

Regarding assists, in some cases, baseball assists are the most impressive, but basketball is where you see the offensive assists impact a game directly, and it varies greatly from how you get assists in hockey.

In basketball, you get an assist when you directly assist in setting up a player to score. To get an assist you have a period of roughly 2 seconds after you pass the ball for a teammate to score to get an assist. When the rules of the game were originally created, players receiving a pass weren’t even allowed a dribble before scoring before a player could be credited with an assist.

But the assist in hockey? You can pass the puck to someone else, watch that guy skate 100 feet away, watch them pass the puck to someone else, then watch that guy shoot it in and BOOM you’re in the box score! For a whole lot of watching and non-involvement! Passengers, Capuano style.

Now, I get the people defending the mythos of the “hockey playmaker,” the guy that compiles assists on the back of others work. That type of player exists in abundance, and we’re going to discuss the player I call the “Coat Tails” player later on.

Don’t get me wrong, there are genuine playmakers in the NHL. Anze Kopitar comes to mind. Jumbo Joe Thornton. Cindy Crosby. A playmaker is probably in the top 50 in assists in the NHL for current players, especially if they have a decade plus in the league. If not, you have to question if they’re a playmaker.

“Why limit a list to 50 players?” you may ask? Fair question, 50 players would be more than 2 full teams, making up almost 10 percent of the NHL.

A playmaker is not just about assists. What makes a playmaker REALLY effective is if they can also score goals. If it’s a 2 on 1 and you know that the playmaker is always going to pass, you can break up the play way more easily than if the player with the puck is a goal scoring threat.  

In short, I will accept that a playmaker makes assists argument, if and only if the playmaker can make a play for himself as well and light the lamp. If a player has never scored 20 goals, they are not a playmaker. Also, if you have scored 20 goals, it doesn’t mean you’re a playmaker.

Beyond that, lets talk about the way hockey awards an assist. It’s a misleading statistic. Why? Because a goal can be unassisted, but there is no assist without a goal. Meaning? The assist is the participation trophy of hockey. And any unnecessary statistic is unimportant, and as you will see, it is absolutely damaging.

Not convinced? Lets set up a little scenario on the value of statistics.

Team A plays Team B. Team B gets 6 assists. Team A gets two assists. Final Score? 4-3, Team A wins.

“HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?,” assist fans say.

Easy. Every goal scored by Team B had 2 assists. One guy made a pass and then went into the locker room to take a shit. Meanwhile someone skated between 5 defenders, drew a penalty, then passed to the extra attacker who was staring at an IPad before he was pushed onto the ice by the bench coach to score the goal.

Another play had a guy grind a puck from the corner, then pass to a guy that dicked around for ten seconds at the point, then shot it at the goalie. On the way, the shot hit a guy in the ass as he skated in front of the net and went into the goal.

Last scoring play for A? On a 3 on 2, there was a crisp passing play that took all of 2 seconds, resulting in a goal.

For team A? One guy got into a passing lane, stole a pass with a fine defensive play, got a breakaway and scored. The next goal? A successful penalty shot. Next, a player chipped a puck past a defenseman along the boards allowing his teammate to swoop in unopposed to score a goal. And the game winner?  A 2 on 1 break on a coughed up puck at the point- think Lee and Eberle on the overtime ECF game winning goal in game 5.

I’m not saying that as a concept assists are invalid. But assists can invalidate individual efforts, which make them a misleading statistic, which is bad. But we shouldn’t always focus on bad. Here comes some good.

The FIVE Best Assists in all of Sports:

  • Outfielder throws out a guy at home plate. Pumps up the entire team, the fanbase, and Youtube content makers. Outfielder does roughly 90% of the work, maybe more now that the play at the plate is non-contact.
  • The Alley Oop. I think that’s French for “Jump your mother behind a building.” A player throws a ball in the very close vicinity of the basket, where some 6’9” guy puts his arms out and jumps a few inches to throw the ball directly into the basket. All skill goes to the guy making the pass.
  • The one timer. Named after your sex life, but not your girlfriend’s. This should be the standard for NHL assists.
  • 1-2-3 double play. Pitcher throws, catches, throws again. Catcher throws. No one scores, the asshole that hit it back to the pitcher is out for sucking, and his teammates trash talk him for being useless.
  • Magic Johnson. Not specifically an assist. More like an assist machine. Highest career Assists Per Game in basketball regular season history, which is an assist per game lower than his highest APG in NBA playoff history. As the game got harder he got better. Known to say “whoo whoo!” as he broke down 40% of the defense singlehandedly and then toss a ball to a 6’10” guy a foot from the basket for an easy 2.

The problem is that the NHL hands out assists like candy, padding the stats of many mediocre players. This is a BAD IDEA. The sport lives in a salary cap world. And not like the NBA salary cap, which has gone up on average of $10 million a year each year over the last four years. You can have players with stats that look something like a half point a game of productivity while actually impacting the scoreboard and outcome of the game about 10% of the time looking to get paid on par with the people with similar surface stats who impact the scoreboard 150% more frequently.

So, how should the NHL reform the stat of assist to make it like the NBA- a direct impact on the scoring- without destroying their salary structure and without rewarding marginal talent?

Let’s start with changing what an assist is and isn’t.

An assist should clearly cause a goal. Like a chip pass to a guy sneaking behind defensemen. Or a one timer pass. Or a saucer pass over a defemsemans stick that someone takes to make a deke and score a goal. Or a passing play where one guy feeds a cutter who collects the pass and rips a wrist shot past the goalie. Like these:

It should not be when a guy makes a pass and goes off for a change to watch a goal get scored. You’re not even on the ice, so how did you affect the play?

It should not be when a guy that passed from the circle in front of his own goal to the guy in the other circle, who then skates singlehandedly across the length of the ice, dekes all defenders, and scores a goal. The fans had as much impact in that play as did the first pass.  

As a whole, secondary assists should almost entirely not exist. No other sport does secondary assists. Why? Because they’re stupid. There is only one way a secondary assist should be allowed to happen. Player A hits player B with a pass who immediately hits player C who shoots and scores. Entire play takes 2 seconds. Then maybe you can make the case for everyone being involved contributors. But a guy who skates around, then hits another guy with a pass who skates around, then shoots it at goal to have it redirected? One assist.

A goalie makes a save on your shot on goal and someone tucks in a rebound? That’s not even a fucking pass. No assist at all.

Puck hits you in the ass and goes in? No assist. Puck hits the opposing team and goes in the net? No assist. Accidents aren’t assists.

What would you find from these changes? Let’s take a couple of players to study, shall we?

Wayne Gretzky had over 100 assists in a season 11 times. Is he a playmaker? Fuck yes. Why? Because Gretzky also has 894 goals. Not counting the 46 more from the WHA. Defend the pass, don’t defend the pass, he’ll still fuck you. One of the most dominant players in any sport ever. Think 99 would have been less great if you added more strict assist rules? Nope, because he scored 900 fucking goals.

Too high a standard? OK, lets take it down a notch. Ziggy Palffy.

12 year career. 684 career games- that’s a 57 game a year average. 329 goals, 384 assists. More than a point a game. If you made assists less frequent? Still a 500 point player in the NHL. I find Palffys last two seasons in the NHL interesting. Here’s why:

16-25-41 in 35 games, then a retirement, followed by a year off, and then his second and final NHL retirement year of 11-31-42 in 42 games. He couldn’t stay NHL healthy, yet he came back at a point a game pace. After Palffy’s second retirement from the NHL? he played 5 more pro seasons in Europe at a pace of almost two points a game, Into his 40’s.

Stat lines like 16-25-41 and 11-31-42 remind me of a certain player….hmmm….can any reader guess whose full season totals I’m thinking of?

An average of 12-20-32 over a full season for 8 years in a row. Anyone calling that elite? Now, add in tougher assist rules and you’re looking at a roughly 20 point a season player.

Welcome to 2008-2016 Josh Bailey, ladies and gentlemen.

Bailey is the player that is often called elite by #IslesKoolAid, who are often cultish in defending the players that they like. So lets start with Ziggy Paffy. Is HE a 20 point a season player with tougher assist rules? Hell no. Is Anze Kpoptiar? Or Patrick Laine? Hell no.

No, Bailey is a different type of player. He’s a coattail player. When others score, he gets points. And that is a problem in a salary cap sport- coattail points.

Because Baileys stats look productive, he is paid like he is productive. But research shows? A drastic overpay- almost 100% over valued.

4 stars in shooting? How generous!

This is TERRIBLE for the sport. It causes skilled players to ask for even more money because coattail players are getting rich. This ties up the salary cap for a team, locking them into a win now mentality as they can’t pay today’s coatails and today’s RFA’s. Salary caps are tied up with players getting contracts in career years, and from padded stats, damaging teams and fan bases. Frans Neilsen in Detroit, anyone? Bobby Ryan in Ottawa?

Wait, what’s that I’m hearing from coattail fans and #IslesKoolAid? What about Baileys coattail prime year hanging around 40 goal scoring Anders Lee and 36 goal scoring John Tavares? Sure, lets look at Bailey averages for career phase two:

15-41-56 over a full 4 seasons, including 15% of his career points coming in one outlying glorious coattail year. “HOW CAN YOU CALL THAT COATTAILS!?,” #IslesKoolAid screams. Here’s how:

Anders Lee scored 34 then 40 goals playing wing next to Some Piece of Shit. Since those years? A 20 something goal scorer, just like before those years. Also, Lee played the 2018-19 season with his same linemate Bailey, just without his center King Douchbag. What happened? Lee saw his goal scoring output drop 30%, back again into the 20somethings. Anders Lee gets paid $7 million a year to score 20something goals. That’s who he is.

And Bailey? Without Snake, his points total that first year dropped over 20%. So…how could both Bailey and Lee have production drops if one guy was such a great playmaker? And why did that “playmaker” drop in his point total another 10% in the season after that? Because the real playmaker is in Toronto. How do I know?

Because one guy was 272-349-631 in 669 games, and the other was 154-322-476 in 865 games. Judging by those two stat lines, which is the playmaker and which rides coattails? Now factor in tougher assist standards and which seems to have more value?

Also, how impactful was that outlier year for Bailey? Without it, Bailey’s FOUR SEASON average drops 10% to 14-37-51.

“Unassisted”

Look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bailey was the Islanders leading scorer with 20 points, breaking down as 2-18-20. The team that won the cup was led by Braden Point who was 14-19-33. Imagine the difference in the Islanders season if Bailey had 9 more goals to go with all of those coattails? Shit, although Nikita Kucherov had 26 assists in the playoffs, he had 350% more goals than Bailey.

Defensemen even had larger impacts on goal scoring than an elite forward. Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen was 6-20-26 in the playoffs, dwarfing the offensive output of Bailey in goals and grabbing almost 50% more points on the power play. And very deserved playoff MVP Victor Hedman? 10-12-22, 13 power play points, 3 game winning goals including one in overtime. GAME WINNING GOALS. I don’t see any category for game winning assist, however. Because there shouldn’t be.

This isn’t a knock solely on Bailey. Many teams have a Bailey. Kyle Turris in Nashville. Vladislav Namestnikov in Colorado. Ryan Strome on the Ranjerkoffs are some examples of the guys who bring something to the table, but take way more off of it.

Hockey needs to reassess how it hands out its participation awards. It would be healthy for the sport and would keep parity among salaries for the elite, the good, the average, and the bad, which would benefit the fans by maximizing their entertainment value. It would both externally and internally manage a salary cap, and there would still be actual playmakers in the game, not guys who are called playmakers who do not rank in the top 50 in active players for assists after a decade in the game. Those guys are coattails. Feel free to use that when discussing hockey. It’s on me- call it an assist.

Based on its revenues, hockey needs to be a sport of penny pinchers. It need not pay players that watch others players play hockey like any fan can, just from better seats. Paying people for shit that they don’t do is never a good idea. Hockey needs to reinvent how they credit assists, because not doing such will lead them into a greater financial crisis than they already face, which is the most dire of professional sports. Consider this my assist to the league.

*This piece was written without help, so it was unassisted, which was my goal.   

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *