Like a lot of people, I’ve become increasingly concerned with the importance placed on several of these newfangled stats that take away from my enjoyment of the NHL game. Hockey was a better sport before all the bookkeepers came along and started siphoning out the fun by cataloguing everything and determining the best players in the game based on who scored goals and made assists.
‘Goals’ is a very poor stat that has been taken far too seriously by some of the newer analysts. You keep hearing people talk about 20-goal, 30-goal and 40-goal scorers as if every ten goals to reach some imaginary plateau is what separates players from others. But what about the players who don’t play to score goals in the first place?
Take a defenceman, for instance. Many defencemen, including the speedy and shifty ones, don’t play close enough to the opposing net to score a goal. The best goal scorers from the defensive position in these playoffs are Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, and Jake Muzzin, all with five. If you’re a proponent of the ‘goal’ statistic, do you mean to say that Muzzin is just as vital to the success of the Kings as Doughty? Anybody who watches the games would be able to tell you that Doughty’s vital defensive contributions, that can’t be counted, are more important for this team up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Then there are forwards who pass the puck rather than shoot. Many players can play on my team despite having very limited goal totals. Joe Thornton, for instance, scored just 11 times last season, as did Mikko Koivu. They were both centremen on playoff teams, need I remind you, while league leader Alex Ovechkin and his 51 goals didn’t even make it.
Clearly, “goals” are not a perfect way to judge players, but what about teams, even? The Stanley Cup is being contested this week between Los Angeles and New York. The Kings were 25th in goals for this season, while the Rangers were 18th. Better, more offensive teams, like Chicago, Anaheim, Boston and Colorado, met early playoff demises, despite their “goals for” statistic telling us otherwise. Let us not forget the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins, who were 3rd in the NHL in goals, were eliminated in the playoffs by 21st ranked Montreal, despite the Canadiens scoring nearly 50 fewer times.
It’s replete with examples and the evidence is clear: goals are an awful way to judge players and teams because the statistic lacks so much context. I long for the days when we could watch a game, and determine the winner based on how the teams played the game. Hopefully this desire to count “goals” is simply a trend, as these numbers can not tell me anything I don’t already know about the game of hockey.