On the long list of ways that the NHL fails to make their statistics as descriptive as they possibly could be, the failure to split assists out into first assists and second assists is way up there.
Intuitively, one would think that a player with a higher than average ratio of assists from second assists may be being helped out by the offense generated by other players on the line. Conversely, one would think that a player with a lower than average ratio of assists off of second assists is the guy who’s actually doing the bulk of the work at creating the offence.
As the NHL hates giving us any information in general they choose not to make this information available. I’ve compiled a list of scorers through the end of tonight’s games (game 665) and split the assists out into first and second assists. That’s available here.
One of the fun things for Oiler fans to do this year (or at least for me) has been to go to the front page the scoring section on NHL.com where they put the top 30 scorers and count the Oilers. For a team that has lacked scoring talent for a while, it’s been nice to see as many as three or four of them in the top 30 from time to time this year, although it’s currently two-Stoll is tied for 37th and Smyth is tied for 52nd.
I’ve reproduced that list here, along with the assist breakdown. It’s kind of interesting to see where Horcoff and Hemsky fall-they’re at opposite ends of the forward spectrum. While Horcoff has one of the highest percentage of second assists (only Heatley, Zetterberg, Stillman, Spezza, Gionta, Straka and Hossa have a greater percentage of second assists amongst the forwards in the top 30 scorers), Hemsky is at the opposite end of the spectrum-nobody has a lower percentage than Hemsky’s 23.5%. A cynic might say that that’s because when Hemsky has the puck in the offensive zone the puck either ends up in the net off of a pass or turned over (no safe cycling for Ales), but I suspect that there’s some truth to the position that despite their similar assist totals, Hemsky actually CREATES more offence than Horcoff does.
What does this mean? I’ve got no provable idea, although as mentioned above, I have my suspicions. It would be interesting to see a historical breakdown of this stat-I’d like to see the numbers that Gretzky or Lemieux put up in their prime and what percentage of those were first and second assists. I took at look at Vancouver’s big line to see the breakdown there-it’s Naslund at 37.0%, Bertuzzi at at 39.3% and Morrison at 45.8%. I’ve come to think of Horcoff as Edmonton’s version of Morrison, albeit $2.2MM cheaper and this would seem to conform with that view.
Long term though, it raises some interesting implications about Horcoff’s position on the team. Horcoff is a free agent this summer. He’s staring an 80+ point season square in the face. It seems to me that in the past, GM’s have struggled dealing with guys who’ve seen a huge leap in their stats so he could well be on his way to arbitration. If Morrison is used as a comparable, he could be in for a huge bump in salary. If my theorizing is correct about the value of guys at the bottom end of the assist column, he may not be a particularly vital offensive cog on this line, despite the fact that he could end up leading the team in scoring and finishing in the top 20 in the NHL in points. Where does that leave Lowe, particularly since the Oilers are going to have other guys looking for raises (Hemsky is RFA as well) and they’ll presumably want to spend some money on a goalie?
Horcoff’s line hasn’t been anything all that spectacular defensively this year, although he has been one of MacT’s top choices to kill penalties. Given that Mike Peca is gone this summer (someone is going to pay him $3.0MM+), the Oilers probably need to retain Horcoff-otherwise they could be left with Stoll, Reasoner, ??? and ???. Personally, I figure Horcoff will be back because the Oilers won’t have better options available but he’ll be pulling in between $2 and $2.5MM.