Statistics tell only part of the story of a hockey game, and some numbers don't tell us anything useful at all.
The Second Assist is hockey's phony stat. Given that it is accorded the same value as a goal - one point in a player's scoring total - it might be the most spurious number in all of sport. Consider a couple of examples:
In a recent game against the Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins cashed in on a couple of five-on-three power plays. Here’s how the play unfolded on the second of those goals:
- From the New York blueline, Sidney Crosby passes the puck to Mark Recchi, at the edge of the goal crease.
- Recchi tries a cross-crease pass to Evgeni Malkin.
- Pass doesn’t connect.
- Puck slides to the boards and bounces back to the blueline.
- Sergei Gonchar collects it.
- Gonchar passes down low to Recchi again.
- Recchi shoots.
- Goaltender makes the save.
- Recchi whacks at the rebound and scores.
The scoring line reads: PPG - MARK RECCHI, Assists: SERGEI GONCHAR and SIDNEY CROSBY.
How does Crosby earn his assist? After his last touch of the puck, the Penguins lost possession, retrieved it, passed, shot twice and saw the goaltender make a save before finishing the job.
A few days later, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat Atlanta on an overtime goal:
- Defenseman Cory Sarich hands the puck to forward Vaclav Prospal.
- Sarich goes directly to the bench.
- Prospal skates into the Thrashers' zone.
- He protects the puck against the boards, giving his mates time to complete a line change.
- Martin St. Louis arrives and gathers the waiting puck.
- He takes it to the net and scores.
The scoring line: MARTIN ST. LOUIS, Assists: VACLAV PROSPAL and CORY SARICH.
Sarich wasn't even on the ice by the time the goal was scored. Yet statistically, he gets equal credit with Prospal and St. Louis, who created the play.
While some second assists are well-deserved, many are handed out on the flimsiest of pretences. And the fact that a second assist and a goal have the same value in a player’s point total is laughable. The rulebook says:
When a player scores a goal, an “assist” shall be credited to the player or players taking part in the play immediately preceding the goal, but no more than two assists can be given on any goal.That's vague enough to mean just about anything.
Which raises an interesting question: How different would the NHL scoring race look if all those bogus assists were eliminated?