There has been an explosion of new metrics to measure the worth of hockey players.
But it’s time to add a new wrinkle to an old metric: the value of goals as a gauge of scoring impact.
For 100 years in the NHL, goals and assists have been worth one point each in the scoring race. It’s time to introduce a weighted scoring race – that is, award two points for goals and single points for assists. Not as an official trophy competition – Art Ross need not roll over in his grave – but as a means of more accurately reflecting real scoring value.
It’s too late to re-write history and correct a century-long wrong. But it’s not too late to look at scoring impact in a new way. There is no logical rationale for goals and assists being of equal value – even leaving aside the silliness of second assists
Three points, pun intended, make the case goals and assists are, in fact, separate and unequal.
First: While a player can score a goal without an assist, a player cannot earn an assist without a goal. One’s very existence depends upon the other.
Second: The NHL has made it official goals are valued more than assists: when two players are tied for most points in the scoring race, the Art Ross goes to the player with more goals – as has happened three times in NHL history. (Fantasy leagues the world over have made it unofficial: goals are universally worth twice as much as assists.)
Third: Hockey games are determined by total team goals, not total team assists. Goals are recorded on the scoreboard, not assists. And until assists are, it can’t be argued goals and assists are of equal value.
But they are in the scoring race, and as a result goal scorers are getting ripped off – a circumstance that has become more and more prevalent. Consider this: Only three times in the last 28 seasons has the NHL’s leading goal scorer doubled as its leading point producer. (As a point of comparison, when the NHL was in its infancy and assists parceled out parsimoniously, only three of the first 18 scoring leaders did not also lead in points.)
To be sure there is a separate honour for goal scorers – the Rocket Richard – but it almost feels like a consolation prize in a league obsessed with the scoring race.
The Goal-den Age of the Goal-Scorer as the NHL’s primary point force ended in 1988-89 when Mario Lemieux led in both goals (85) and points (199). He and Wayne Gretzky doubled as goal and point leaders seven of eight seasons during that period of time.
Since then, only Lemieux (1995-96), Jarome Iginla (2001-02) and Alexander Ovechkin (2007-08) have led in both goals and points.
So, what to do about this circumstance?
Give more and proper attention to volume goal scorers.
Think how wacky it is – yes, wacky – that since 2000, a player has five times lost the scoring race by three or fewer points, but actually outscored the scoring leader by at least 16 goals.
Jaromir Jagr scored 25 – 25! – more goals than Joe Thornton in 2005-06 and lost the Art Ross by two points.
How can you seriously argue that Thornton’s 27 incremental assists (96 to 69) were more meaningful than Jagr’s 25 incremental goals (54 to 29)?
The scoring impact formula involves no higher mathematics: it’s simply a matter of assigning a value of two points for every goal. That means adding one more point for every goal in the traditional scoring race.
Here’s how scoring impact would differ from the scoring race in 2016-17: Connor McDavid would get 30 additional points – one for each goal – and finish with a total of 130 points and Sidney Crosby would get 44 additional points for a total of 133 points to edge McDavid in scoring impact.
There is a re-shuffling of the top scorers and among the biggest changes is Auston Matthews moving from No. 20 in the scoring race to No. 8 in scoring impact.
How Scoring Leaders Would Look If Goals Were Two Points
|2016-17 Scoring Race||2016-17 Scoring Impact|
|1. Connor McDavid||30||100||1. Sidney Crosby||44||133|
|2. Sidney Crosby||44||89||2. Connor McDavid||30||130|
|3. Patrick Kane||34||89||3. Nikita Kucherov||40||125|
|4. Nicklas Backstrom||23||86||4. Brad Marchand||39||124|
|5. Nikita Kucherov||40||85||5. Patrick Kane||34||123|
|20. Auston Matthews||40||69||8. Auston Matthews||40||109|
There’s no reason to believe that McDavid – voted the NHL’s best player by the media and his peers – would quarrel with scoring impact (so dubbed by TSN analytics guru Scott Cullen, who endorses the idea). After all, McDavid did say that his objective this season is to score more goals (like Crosby).
He didn’t say anything about wanting to earn more assists.
Not that McDavid wants point values changed in the scoring race. He was among several players asked in September what they thought of goals being worth two points on the points list.
“I hope it doesn't go to that, because I’m not a big goal scorer,” McDavid said. “I’m an assist guy. There’s definitely a premium on goal scoring…It’s hard for me to argue for (goals to be worth two points) – because I definitely don’t score as many goals as anyone else. There definitely is something to be said for goal-scorers, it's hard to score in the league.”
Sabres’ $10-million man Jack Eichel stands firmly opposed: “You can make the whole play, set someone up back door and it touches their stick and goes in. You made the whole play, but the other person gets two points and you only get one? I don't think that makes a whole lot of sense. It’s perfect the way it is.”
One player sees it differently.
“Goals are definitely more important than assists,” said Taylor Hall. “There’s no question about that – and that’s coming from a guy that is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. But I would just say, let’s maybe cut the second assist out of it. I think that devalues it. A second assist is worth as much as a first assist? If you look, second assists are almost pure luck for playmakers…I definitely think there’s a place for assists, but let’s take the second assist out of it.”
As appealing as that may sound – eliminating second assists, that is – the time for a dramatic change in how points are awarded has come and gone. But in this information age when data points are as plentiful as scoring points, why not add one more: scoring impact.