Secondary assists. So often they are handed out in a meaningless fashion. Not all the time, mind you. There are plenty of beautiful passing plays involving more than two players that finish with the puck in the back of the net. But there are also so many junky second assists swimming in the pool of NHL points.
Does a player who happens to be the one clearing the puck that results in a two-on-one rush -- even though they might have been on the bench for a line change by the time the puck goes in -- really deserve a point? A precious, meaningful point? What about a player who misses his teammate on a pass, but another teammate picks up the puck in the corner and passes it to another teammate for a goal? The puck never changed possession. Does that player who missed his target deserve an assist?
This is not to argue that a certain percentage of secondary assists shouldn't be counted, and it's not to imply that every single primary assist on a goal is bulletproof from a similar argument. The point is to wonder what the points landscape would look like if we removed second assists from the equation.
There is no good way to look up such a statistic. It is not something the NHL clearly tracks and separates out for consumption. Looking at the numbers would require someone crazy enough to go through every single NHL game sheet from this season and painstakingly build a spreadsheet by removing one secondary assist at a time.
It's too bad no one is that crazy. Well, almost no one.
The data set we have doesn't cover every single NHL player, but it does account for every player with at least 10 points or at least eight assists. We went through each game sheet and manually removed the secondary assists from all 400 NHL games that have been played this season. The result gives us the ability to sort and manipulate the scoring leaders by removing all second assists this season.
A couple of notes before we look at some of the information:
• Not all secondary assists deserve to be taken away. Do not take this analysis to mean we think that secondary assists should be done away with in the NHL. More often than not, the secondary assist is likely just as deserved as the primary.
• This was an arduous process, and one thing that was not accounted for was whether secondary assists occurred on the power play or not. Anyone familiar with the careful puckhandling on an NHL power play could tell you that a secondary assist is often prettier than the primary one on the man advantage.
• We are just going to look at some notes for defensemen in this article. The forwards are being saved for Monday's Front Line column. Come back then to see which scorers vault or plummet in the Art Ross Trophy race when secondary assists are removed.
• As we discuss defensemen, picture a defensive zone breakout. How often does a defenseman get the puck out of his zone before a set of forwards rushes down the ice and scores? It happens pretty often. Secondary assists by defensemen probably have a higher rate of being irrelevant to the play.
• But guess what else? The NHL and, therefore, the fantasy hockey world will continue counting secondary assists. That means there isn't much point in discounting players who generate a lot of their points from lucky puck touches. What we can do, though, is look at players who are still generating a lot of points by using mostly primary assists and consider whether they deserve to be thought of a little better.
Without further ado, here are your top 10 interesting players when we remove secondary assists from defensemen.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: Chara doesn't have any -- any -- secondary assists this season. His 12 points rank almost 40th among defensemen this season, but he jumps into the top five when secondary assists are out of the equation for everyone else. The Big Man may be pacing behind his usual numbers, but don't lose faith. Maybe a few more of his clearing passes will end up being goals on the rush during the remainder of the campaign. His assist pace is half of what it was last season. Bad luck with secondary assists might be what has Chara's value down.
Kris Letang and Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins: If you remove secondary assists, Martin and Letang have the same number of points. These two players are tied for third in the league with 13 points this season when the secondary assists are removed. It's not surprising to see Letang lose some of his ground among defensemen when you note that he leads all blueliners with 14 secondary assists this season. But it is a bit surprising to see Martin's points stand up to this test. It's safe to bet that Martin's owner in your league doesn't quite hold him with such high regard as he or she maybe should.
Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens: We said Martin and Letang were tied for third in defensemen scoring with no secondary assists counted. Markov is tied for first in the category. With 14 points after removing second assists, Markov proves he likes to be more involved in the play. In fact, Markov is often the finisher or primary assist thanks to his accurate point shot. If you were wondering, fellow Habs blueliner P.K. Subban goes from 20 points to 12 points because eight of his assists this season have been the secondary assist.
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers: Tied with Markov with 14 points (not counting secondary assists) is the resurgent Flyers defensemen. Timonen is third among defensemen this season with 16 total assists, but a surprising 11 of them have been the primary one. That compares very favorably to the rest of the league. If you are in a position to target a trade for an elite defenseman for the stretch run, may we suggest Timonen? If we accept the theory that some secondary assists for defensemen are somewhat dependent on luck, then Timonen remains a top defender despite having very little luck this season. That bodes well for his finish to the campaign.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild: No one has benefited more from the secondary assist than Suter. A whopping 13 of his 20 assists have been the secondary one. If we accept that luck can play a part in those second assists, that means Suter has been extremely lucky to have as many points as he does. Remember though, that we aren't suggesting every secondary assist might be a bit questionable. For example, Suter had two secondary assists on two goals by Mikko Koivu on Thursday. One was very much deserved on a beautiful three-man rush. But on the other, Koivu happened to be the guy who chipped the puck out of the Wild zone before Zach Parise and Koivu took it down ice for an empty-net goal. Skilled players like Suter probably shouldn't be looked at as being extremely lucky with this particular metric. There is a reason he has so many assists, whether they be primary or secondary.
Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers: Again, we aren't in the business of suggesting some players have been exceedingly lucky and should be traded away with this secondary-assist analysis, but it doesn't hurt to have some knowledge of who is on the fringes of more scoring plays than others. Nine of Schultz's 10 assists this season have been secondary assists. That may seem a bit scary if you buy into the luck theory, but don't let it bother you too much. Power-play quarterbacks, such as Schultz, likely will have a high secondary assist total, especially if the power play seems to be the only place they can score -- that should be your concern, as eight of his 10 assists have been on man advantage. A high number of Schultz's assists have probably been a quick pass off the point on the power play.
Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: Like the Penguins teammates, these Coyotes defensemen even out when we remove secondary assists. Ekman-Larsson has five secondary assists, while Yandle has three. That leaves both men with 12 goals plus primary assists this season. While on the surface it may look like Ekman-Larsson is beginning to pass Yandle this season, Yandle's goal total and primary assists suggests this race isn't over yet.
Looking for offense
Vancouver Canucks: The week ahead doesn't rate all that highly for the Canucks on the forecaster, with a quite average O:5 predicted. But the other "5" in their forecast is the number of games they play. The Canucks have five games on tap for the week ahead, which is at least one more game than everybody else in the league. A seven-goal outburst Thursday wasn't enough to improve the forecaster rating, but it gives us something to look at from a fantasy perspective. The relatively new line combination of Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond and Andrew Ebbett was responsible for three of the seven goals Thursday. Ebbett is a playmaker, Raymond has plus speed, and Hansen has enough offensive skills to keep up with both of them. This line could be worth gambling on for next week, especially if we see something else out of them over the weekend. At the very least, Hansen has nine points in his past seven games and should be on your radar. Do a quick check on the availability of Kevin Bieksa in your league too. He is still available in 15 percent of ESPN leagues despite returning Thursday from a groin injury.
Washington Capitals: With a four-game week on tap, the Capitals rate an O:10 on the forecaster. A pair of back-to-back road games against the Winnipeg Jets bolsters that number, but the Penguins have been an easy opponent to score on as well. The first place to look among coach Adam Oates' ever-changing lines is definitely Eric Fehr. He is widely available and seems to be a permanent member of the top-six forwards in some form now. Whether playing with Nicklas Backstrom or Troy Brouwer, Fehr has received significantly increased ice time in recent weeks. He played almost 20 minutes in a couple of games. He has been held off the score sheet the past four games but has five points in three games prior to that. On the back end, Steven Oleksy might be worth a shot next week. His ice time spiked up to almost 30 minutes Thursday after Tomas Kundratek suffered a leg injury in the first period. Oleksy has four points in six games this season despite limited ice time.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The forecaster appears to be a big fan of the Bolts' contest with the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday when it comes to offense. That matchup seems to bolster the entire four-game week for the Lightning to an O:10 rating. The team has been struggling to find its offensive rhythm lately, mixing and matching some forwards on the top lines. With Vincent Lecavalier out for three weeks, the team looks somewhat lost for a second line. AHL leading goal scorer Tyler Johnson is up to replace Lecavalier and will get an extended look on the second line with Teddy Purcell and Cory Conacher. Johnson is not only leading the AHL with 32 goals this season, but he also led the WHL in goals for the Spokane Chiefs two seasons ago. What was he doing last year? Playing on a line with fellow AHL rookie Conacher leading the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup championship. Johnson skated 11 minutes with zero shots on goal in his debut Thursday, but familiarity with his linemates and a great scoring pedigree is a combination fantasy owners ought to be looking closely at. Alex Killorn is another place to look, as he has been playing with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on the only line that really matters now for the Lightning. Killorn has four points in the past five games.
Looking for goaltending
St. Louis Blues: Considering the goaltending clinic put on by Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott last season, this is a strange recommendation to make: Pick up Jake Allen. Whatever the reason and whatever the case with Halak and Elliott, Allen seems to be the man right now for the Blues. Halak hasn't won a game since March 1 and has allowed eight goals in two starts since then. Elliott hasn't won a game since January and sports an .851 save percentage (he set the NHL record for save percentage last season, by the way). Through it all, Allen has started and won four of the past five Blues games, picking up a shutout along the way. Don't doubt for a second that the two points in the standings mean a lot more to the team than any goaltender's fantasy statistics. Allen will continue to get the majority of starts as long as he is winning. With the offense getting stronger by the day with the return of healthy bodies -- Alex Steen back on Thursday; Andy McDonald is next -- there is nothing to stop the team from continuing to win in front of Allen.
This chart shows you the top and bottom teams in the NHL in goals and shots, for and against, during the past 21 days.
Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers: If you note in the above chart, the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are easily pacing the league in goals allowed during the past three weeks. If you look closer at the schedule, the Hurricanes and Rangers both have games against the Devils and Panthers in the week ahead. It looks like Martin Brodeur might still need more time to get back in between the Devils pipes, which means the goal-scoring trends should continue against both teams. Fittingly, the Hurricanes and Rangers happen to battle each other Monday night before they continue their week against weaker opponents. If you want to try and take advantage of the schedule, Carl Hagelin is still available in 18 percent of ESPN leagues, and Joe Corvo remains on a hot streak (four points in five games).
Each week, the Fantasy Forecaster will include some advice for the ESPN Hockey Challenge. This is the salary-cap game that allows you free rein over your fantasy hockey decisions within a $100 million fantasy budget. For more on the game and to sign up, click here.
The skeds: If you can find the dollars in your lineup, Henrik Sedin ($9.3M) and Daniel Sedin ($9.5M) are the no-brainer starts. The Canucks play five times in the coming scoring period and are the only team with such a loaded schedule. Alex Burrows ($7.4M), Jannik Hansen ($4.8M) and Mason Raymond ($4.8M) are other options to take advantage of the schedule.
The Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks all have four games in the coming week.
The Capitals, Bolts, Stars and Ducks have particularly conducive schedules to offense. Alex Killorn ($6.0M), Daniel Winnik ($4.4M) and Derek Roy ($6.7M) are some cheaper options from those teams. If you are feeling particularly gutsy or see official word of it over the weekend, Brett Connolly ($3.7M) is available in the Hockey Challenge and may get a call-up from the AHL to the Lightning as the team looks for offense with Vincent Lecavalier injured. He and linemate Tyler Johnson lit up the AHL together, and Johnson is already up with the team.
Goaltending: The Canucks have five games on the week, but deciding between starting Cory Schneider ($12.0M), who has zero wins in three starts during the past 10 days, or Roberto Luongo ($12.0M), who has won two straight after a couple rough starts to begin the month, is not a clear-cut decision. Honestly, if you believed the Canucks could sweep through the five-game week, starting both would not be unreasonable. Getting 10 points from your goaltenders in a week is better than a lot of folks do in the Hockey Challenge. Jonathan Quick ($12.5M) and Henrik Lundqvist ($12.5M) have good schedules among the teams with four games, and Tuukka Rask ($12.5M) has the best schedule of the three-game goalies. Use Jake Allen ($11.0M) if you need to save some coin.
My roster for next week:
Roberto Luongo, G ($12.0M)
Jake Allen, G ($11.0M)
Kevin Shattenkirk, D ($6.7M / $7.4M on market)
Dan Hamhuis, D ($6.6M)
Kris Letang, D ($8.5M / $8.8M on market)
Alexander Edler, D ($7.5M)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.8M / $10.6M on market)
Ryan O'Reilly, F ($4.1M)
Steven Stamkos, F ($8.7M / $10.1M on market)
Gabriel Landeskog, F ($7.3M)
Henrik Sedin, F ($9.3M)
Daniel Sedin, F ($9.5M)