Primary and Secondary Assists

Jonathan Willis
April 08 2009 10:59AM

Gilbert Robin Brownlee mentioned second assists in his latest column, saying that Tom Gilbert’s numbers have been inflated by a bunch of second assists. It’s a point worth noting; obviously a first assist in most cases is going to be more valuable, so I thought I’d break down the Oilers assists this season to see who is cashing in on the greatest amount of secondary assists. All data courtesy of Gabriel Desjardins’ Behind the Net and NHL.com. Only players with at least 10 assists are considered. There is a tiny bit of error in this sample as 5-on-3 assists are not recorded at Behind the Net, but that shouldn’t be a major consideration in the overall picture. Player X: Assists | Primary | Secondary | Percentage of Assists That Are Primary

Forwards

Robert Nilsson: 20 | 16 | 4 | 80.0% Dustin Penner: 20 | 14 | 6 | 70.0% Ales Hemsky: 42 | 26 | 16 | 61.9% Sam Gagner: 25 | 15 | 10 | 60.0% Ethan Moreau: 12 | 7 | 5 | 58.3% Kyle Brodziak: 14 | 8 | 6 | 57.1% Patrick O’Sullivan: 27| 15 | 12 | 55.6% Shawn Horcoff: 34| 17| 17 | 50.0% Marc Pouliot: 12 | 6 | 6 | 50.0% Ales Kotalik: 23 | 11| 12 | 47.8% Andrew Cogliano: 19 | 9 | 10 | 47.4%

Defensemen

Steve Staios: 12 | 9 | 3 | 75.0% Sheldon Souray: 28 | 15 | 13 | 53.6% Denis Grebeshkov: 30 | 14 | 16 | 46.7% Ladislav Smid: 11 | 4 | 7 | 36.4% Tom Gilbert: 40 | 14 | 26 | 35.0% Lubomir Visnovsky: 23 | 7 | 16 | 30.4%

Looking at that chart, a couple of things stand out.

Robin Brownlee was indeed correct that Tom Gilbert has been picking up a ton of second assists (only Visnovsky has a higher percentage). On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that this is a bad thing for a defenseman – given that the guys who do the best job of clearing the zone seem to have the highest number of second assists, doesn’t it seem likely that all those second assists are a reflection of that ability? I don’t really know one way or the other – I’m just raising what seems like a logical possibility to me.

Two forwards who have been maligned for poor offensive output this season (Dustin Penner, Robert Nilsson) have been generating an incredible amount of primary assists relative to their total number of assists. This may suggest that part of their offensive dropoff is a decrease in second assists (particularly since Dustin Penner led the team in percentage of secondary assists at even-strength last season). I’d expect both to rebound to some degree next year.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
Avatar
#1 Wanye Gretz
April 08 2009, 11:05AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

You: "I’d expect both to rebound to some degree next year."

Me: "No Willis! Don't mention next year! What about this year? It's playoff time right? RIGHT?"

*drops to the floor sobbing*

Avatar
#2 Rick
April 08 2009, 11:17AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Does your chart include 5 on 4 or just 5 on 5 play?

At any rate, specifically for 5 on 5 play I think 2nd assists for defencemen is fine. Maybe it muddies the picture in terms of determining how offensive a guy is but it is should be seen as a positive stat in terms of how effective they are in moving the puck up ice.

That's a skill that shoudl rank higher in terms of importance in building your defence even more so than a guy that can create offence.

Now on the other hand, if a forward and more specifically a winger is making hay off of second assists a red flag may be warranted.

Avatar
#3 TLP
April 08 2009, 11:26AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Jon, one thing I'm interested in is the relative value of secondary assists vis a vis goal creation. Obviously its value is less than that of a primary, but is there a way to quantify it?

Avatar
#4 Jonathan Willis
April 08 2009, 11:31AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

@ Rick:

All assists except 5-on-3's (which I couldn't find). It includes 5-on-4, 4-on-4 and 4-on-5.

Avatar
#5 Jonathan Willis
April 08 2009, 11:31AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

TLP wrote:

Jon, one thing I’m interested in is the relative value of secondary assists vis a vis goal creation. Obviously its value is less than that of a primary, but is there a way to quantify it?

I really have no idea. It would be nice if I did, but as it stands this is a rather fuzzy indicator overall.

Avatar
#6 jdrevenge
April 08 2009, 11:46AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Unless the dman is consistently making breakaway passes you'd think that second assists are still just as valuable. Its usually a solid pass up to an open forward that has time to think and make a play to a second man that leads to goals most of the time anyway right?

Avatar
#7 baggedmilk
April 08 2009, 11:51AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

How is a second assist in any way worth less than a primary? That's what I want to know. Did one pass, then another result in a goal or not? Why is this even a topic of conversation. I mean, Willis, great piece and nice work on the research but my God, I wouldn't want to play here either.

Avatar
#8 joestevens
April 08 2009, 11:51AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

So why isn't Brownlee yapping about Lubo's numbers? Gilbert is a young d-man who only has a couple full years under his belt, yet again a media figure in this town has to stir the pot.

Avatar
#9 Robin Brownlee
April 08 2009, 01:15PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

@ joestevens: Don't be a putz. I'm not "yapping" about anything. I think Gilbert is a good hockey player, but I'm not overly impressed with some aspects of his game. Still, I think he's attractive because of his overall numbers and might land the Oilers something they need. Visnovsky is harder to trade because he makes even more money and is older. Stir the pot? Get a grip.

Avatar
#10 Ogden Brother
April 08 2009, 01:55PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Just the fact that one player consistantly gets them while others don't, suggest he's doing something right.

Avatar
#11 SeanS
April 08 2009, 02:05PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

I don't want to step on any toes, but if you remember our biggest problem a few years ago when we traded jason smith was we didn't have anyone that can move the puck out of our zone. As a forward yes second assists probably do not mean as much but from your defense in a lot of cases I would prefer the second assist from the first. Is there anyway to find out how many of Gilberts assists came from the breakout compared to just in the offensive zone?

Avatar
#12 Jon K
April 08 2009, 02:12PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

If it were possible, I think it would be an extremely valuable analysis to know where assists are accrued.

Primary assists from a defenseman in the neutral zone or own zone might indicate an ability to find a seam for a homerun pass.

Secondary assists might alternatively be interpretable as merely starting off the transition and then maybe cashing in off the forwards' work.

Avatar
#13 Jon K
April 08 2009, 02:17PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

As an additional note, I think Gilbert's most valuable ability is his knack for making deft passes through the neutral zone. An ability that the 2006-2007 Oilers were severely lacking, setting off the management's search for more "puckmoving" defensemen.

Since then we've acquired Denis Grebeshkov, Joni Pitkanen, Sheldon Sourary (arguable, I know), and Lubmoir Visnovsky. And of course, given a substantial role and contract to Gilbert.

If we do move Gilbert, which might be a good idea considering he likely has substantial value, we sure as hell better hold onto Vis and Grebeshkov.

Avatar
#14 Robin Brownlee
April 08 2009, 02:42PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Jon: Thanks for looking that up. The play has to start somewhere, so it's not like second assists don't matter. I just don't see Gilbert as the puck-moving whiz some people might if they look only at total assists.

And, like I've said before, he'd bring a good return on the trade market and would be easier to move than Visnovsky -- assuming the Oilers use a bargaining chip from the back end to bolster the front end.

Avatar
#15 misfit
April 08 2009, 02:49PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

I was actually wondering the same thing, JW (I've noticed this happens a lot).

Gilbert is one of the guys who often starts the Oiler breakouts, so if he's making a pass out of his own zone, unless the guy he's getting the puck to carries it in the rest of the way and scores, he's not going to get a whole lot of primary assists out of it no matter how important his contribution may have been to creating offense. Of course, that only accounts for offense that's created off the rush.

A guy like Souray should have more primary assists than secondary since his main contribution to creating goals is blasting it from the point. He isn't much of a playmaker, and when he's not shooting the puck on net he's passing it to someone just to get it back for a one-timer. I'd think that a lot of his assists come from someone tipping his point shot or putting away the rebound. There isn't as much opportunity for multiple players to get their sticks on pucks. Staios isn't as involved in the offense, but I've noticed he tends to just put the puck on the net and hope for something good to happen when the puck comes to him in the offensive zone, which I'd think would cause him to get more of those 1st assists than secondary ones.

Of course, Gilbert shoots a lot too, so maybe that isn't such a hot theory.

Avatar
#16 Peter Pan
April 08 2009, 03:11PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Robin Brownlee wrote:

And, like I’ve said before, he’d bring a good return on the trade market and would be easier to move than Visnovsky — assuming the Oilers use a bargaining chip from the back end to bolster the front end.

Why the hell would we move Visnovsky? He's the most talented player on the team.

Avatar
#17 Robin Brownlee
April 08 2009, 03:31PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Peter Pan wrote:

Robin Brownlee wrote: And, like I’ve said before, he’d bring a good return on the trade market and would be easier to move than Visnovsky — assuming the Oilers use a bargaining chip from the back end to bolster the front end. Why the hell would we move Visnovsky? He’s the most talented player on the team.

No, he isn't. And you don't say "why the hell" would we move anybody until you look at what's coming back. There isn't a player in the league you wouldn't trade Visnovsky for?

Avatar
#18 Ogden Brother
April 08 2009, 03:45PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Robin Brownlee wrote:

Peter Pan wrote: Robin Brownlee wrote: And, like I’ve said before, he’d bring a good return on the trade market and would be easier to move than Visnovsky — assuming the Oilers use a bargaining chip from the back end to bolster the front end. Why the hell would we move Visnovsky? He’s the most talented player on the team. No, he isn’t. And you don’t say “why the hell” would we move anybody until you look at what’s coming back. There isn’t a player in the league you wouldn’t trade Visnovsky for?

Sounds like Hemsky for Kovalchuk

;)

Avatar
#19 David Staples
April 08 2009, 09:03PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Secondary assists are just fine for a d-man, just what you'd expect.

Secondary assists are even better than unofficial assists, right?

Gilbert is fine when he has the puck. He's a puck moving machine.

When he doesn't have the puck, he's Pat Price. He's Tom Poti. He's Joni Pitkanen.

Well, he's a smarter version of Joni Pitkanen, but he's got a long way to go on his off-puck play.

Fortunately, for the Oilers and Gilbert, this seems to be an area where d-men still improve between ages 25-32.

Avatar
#20 David Staples
April 08 2009, 09:06PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

@Robin. Well, you move Visnovsky because by the time the young Oilers are really ready to win, he's too old to win. So you move him now when his value is high, and you get top return, bringing on both assets and cap space that will pay out at the right moment in a few years. . . .So that's the theory. . . I'm not saying I'd do that, but I'd certainly give that some thought.

Avatar
#21 kingsblade
April 09 2009, 12:55AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Personally, if Bouwmeester could be had and Grebeskov signed I'd gladly trade Gilbert AND Visnovsky for some talent up front.

Avatar
#22 Ogden Brother
April 09 2009, 09:34AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

kingsblade wrote:

Personally, if Bouwmeester could be had and Grebeskov signed I’d gladly trade Gilbert AND Visnovsky for some talent up front.

Good point, we could add 66% of a top line moving Gilbert/Vis, and we wouldn't miss a beat if Bow was brought in and Grebs was signed for 3.5

Avatar
#23 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 09:42AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Lubomir Visnovsky is the best puck-moving defenseman on the team, and probably in the division.

You only move him if you're doing a rebuild.

Avatar
#24 kingsblade
April 09 2009, 09:53AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Jonathan Willis wrote:

Lubomir Visnovsky is the best puck-moving defenseman on the team, and probably in the division. You only move him if you’re doing a rebuild.

Fine. Gilbert and Souray then.

I just think that if Bouwmeester could be had (a big if of course) then he would not really be much of a drop-off from either Souray or Visnovsky at a much yournger age. Either of those guys, along with Gilbert, could potentially bring in talent up front.

Avatar
#25 kingsblade
April 09 2009, 09:55AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

Jonathan Willis wrote:

You only move him if you’re doing a rebuild.

Do you really think moving Visnovsky to acquire Bouwmeester (again...a big if) and a solid top six guy constitutes rebuilding?

Avatar
#26 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:44AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
+1
0
props

@ kingsblade:

What I know is that of the four defensemen the Oilers have, Lubomir Visnovsky's the last one I'd be willing to trade.

Grebeshkov is cheap, Gilbert's not that pricey and Souray's physical game and slapshot are important, but IMO none of them has the same impact on the team as Visnovsky.

Comments are closed for this article.