Not All Were Cheap: Ilya Kovalchuk's Secondary Assists from 2011-12 Reviewed

Ilya Kovalchuk doesn't just score goals, but he makes passes too. Most of his secondary assists were from passes. - Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE

In 2011-12, Ilya Kovalchuk had 46 regular season assists and 9 in the playoffs. In this post, I reviewed all of the secondary assists he earned last season and found that only a few were not from passes.

When we discuss forwards, we inevitably discuss how they produce as part of their effectiveness. While some forwards are specialized for defense or being "tough," you can't have a successful hockey team without scorers. It can be done by committee or driven by a few, but goals are crucial in the game of hockey. Of course, production doesn't just include goals. There are assists and as you know, the NHL awards up to two assists for each goal.

How assists are counted has been a point of contention. Those who officially score the game assign assists to teammates who last touched the puck prior to the goal being scored. In a way, this makes sense. Many goals aren't the result of just the shooter, how the puck was moved around that created the shot has value. Just look at some of the goal breakdowns I did and you'll see that there are many instances of multiple people involved in creating a goal. In a way, it makes no sense because all a teammate has to do is get a touch of the puck. He doesn't have to intentionally pass it; he could have touched it off a turnover, miss a shot, or have his shot stopped but get credit if it leads to a goal. In the big picture, Eric T at Broad Street Hockey showed that secondary assists aren't nearly as repeatable as primary assists. He provides statistical basis for ignoring the secondary assist entirely. I highly doubt the players and their owners will want to throw numbers away for less impressive point totals, though.

After reviewing all of Ilya Kovalchuk's goals not too long ago, I was wondering about his assists from the last regular season and postseason. He was the New Jersey Devils leader in points across both realms, and he led the team in assists in the regular season and playoffs combined with 57. As an aside, regular season assists leader Patrik Elias was second with 55. In any case, I became curious as to how many secondary assists Kovalchuk picked up. How many of those came from legitimate passes as opposed to other means? Who did he make those passes to, and who finished those plays for goals? What was the situation he picked up the helpers in?

After running through the boxscores at NHL.com, Ilya Kovalchuk was credited for 26 secondary assists across the regular season and the playoffs. Twenty of his 46 regular season assists were second assists. That's about 43% of his regular season assist total and 24% of his regular season point total. Six of his eleven playoff assists were secondary, which is approximately 54% of his assist total and 35% of his playoff point total. I don't know whether 26 secondary assists are too high or too low relative to Kovalchuk's career. I also don't know whether this is high or low relative to the league. Based on what Eric T's reasoning, it's 26 points we shouldn't expect to repeat; though whether it'll be high or low is up in the air.

What I do know is that most of those 26 secondary assists weren't just gifts from the scorers. Like the goal reviews, I reviewed all of the video from NHL.com of each one of these assists to determine whether Kovalchuk made a pass to get that assist and how the teammate who was credited with the primary assist got the puck. It's something I've noticed in the many goal breakdowns I've done, like this one. Unlike the goal reviews, I'm not going to dump a chart of all of the assists. I will do so in a future post. Also unlike the goal reviews, there was one assist that didn't show up in the video either at NHL.com or in other videos of the goal that I tried to find elsewhere. I'm assuming it wasn't a pass based on a lack of evidence. Nevertheless, here are the findings of the 25 I did get to see.

Eight of Kovalchuk's 26 secondary assists were not from passes. He got two that were really missed shots, where the rebound was picked up and moved to someone for a goal. He got two that were really rebounds. I understand that some players shoot for rebounds, but I assumed that when Kovalchuk shoots, he intends to score. He didn't, but the puck was moved one more time for a goal, and he got credit that way. Kovalchuk got two assists that were really off turnovers he helped create. He didn't intend to play the puck towards anyone, just to get it loose in both cases. Kovalchuk got one secondary assist was really a dump-in that Ilya Bryzgalov missed in Game 1 that wheeled around the boards to a teammate that set up a play in front. The last one is the one I couldn't verify through video. Of these eight, six were in the regular season, two were in the playoffs, and none of them happened in March coincedentally. I would say that these eight assists were the "cheap" ones that boosted his point totals.

This also means that I can confidently say that most of Kovalchuk's secondary assists are from intentional and successful passes. Eighteen, to be precise. Fourteen in the regular season and four in the playoffs. The types of passes did vary. I counted five that were cross-ice passes, where the puck was moved across the center of the offensive zone. Four were up-ice, not unlike a breakout pass. Four were just simple passes that weren't particularly notable in terms of where they were placed. Three were centering passes; and two were along the boards. Kovalchuk didn't pick up second assists primarily from one type of pass, which I think speaks to why secondary assists should not be as seen as all that valuable. I will admit that I'm assuming intentional passes that became secondary assists are more legit than the eight I described earlier. I understand a pass from point-to-point or down-low to an open skater may appear all that important for the eventual goal; but they weren't accidents or throw-away plays. Kovalchuk made that decision at the time and it led to success, so I'm willing to make that assumption.

Regardless, secondary assists were credited. As far as when Kovalchuk picked them up, a slight majority of them came at even strength. Fourteen of the 26 came at evens; eleven came on the power play, and one was an empty net goal at what would have been even strength. As far as who he made them to, eleven different Devils earned the primary assist after Kovalchuk. Here's the list in alphabetical order:

Secondary To Count % Total
Clarkson 1 3.85%
Elias 7 26.92%
Henrique 5 19.23%
Josefson 1 3.85%
Larsson 2 7.69%
Parise 3 11.54%
Salvador 1 3.85%
Tallinder 1 3.85%
Zajac 2 7.69%
Zidlicky 2 7.69%
Zubrus 1 3.85%

Both Elias and Adam Henrique stand out from the pack. Interestingly, Kovalchuk got assists before them in different ways. For Elias, all but one of Kovalchuk's secondary assists happened on the power play. The one that wasn't was led to the empty net goal. Five of those seven were legitimate passes and they were what you would expect. Kovalchuk at the point or on the left side, sees Elias open, hits him with a pass, and then the playmaker finds a shooter open for a score. Incidentally, none of these assists happened in the playoffs. As for Henrique, only one of secondary assists happened on the power play. The other four were at even strength. Curiously, only two of those five secondary assists were from legitimate passes and both of those happened in the postseason. It's worth noting that one of the three that weren't includes that unaccounted-for-by-video assist. The other nine Devils make up the rest of the group.

For further trivia, here's who scored on the goals where Kovalchuk got a secondary assist - also in alphabetical order:

Secondary Goal Count % Total
Carter 1 3.85%
Clarkson 2 7.69%
Elias 4 15.38%
Fayne 1 3.85%
Foster 2 7.69%
Henrique 2 7.69%
Parise 7 26.92%
Salvador 1 3.85%
Sykora 2 7.69%
Urbom 1 3.85%
Zajac 1 3.85%
Zidlicky 1 3.85%
Zubrus 1 3.85%

Thirteen different Devils scored on plays where Kovalchuk got a secondary assist and two players stand out from the rest: Elias and Zach Parise. What surprised me was that only one of Parise's seven goals came on the power play. With all of the passes to Elias, I figured that he'd be the main target for the next pass, but he wasn't. Six were at evens, including that empty net goal. Five of those seven goals resulted from secondary assists that did not come from legitimate passes, which is also coincidentally strange. It also surprised me was that all but one of Elias' goals that came from Kovalchuk secondary assists were on the power play. Maybe it shouldn't have since Kovalchuk and Elias are part of the same power play unit and a few scores were (hopefully) bound to happen.

Again, the above two charts showing that players Kovalchuk played a lot with benefitted from his secondary assists may be trivia. What isn't trivial was the finding that most of Kovalchuk's secondary assists came from passes. It may not mean all that much given that in the bigger picture, secondary assists aren't at all likely to be repeatable. But it at least means that Kovalchuk's point totals in the regular season and the playoffs weren't completely inflated by non-pass secondary assists. There were only eight of those out of the 26.

Of course, this begs the question of how legitimate were his primary assists. I will cover that in the next post. Until then, let me know what you think about Kovalchuk's secondary assists? Is this something worth noting (and tracking), or is it just trivial? Did you expect Kovalchuk to have more primary assists than secondary assists? What do you expect to see from the primary assists based on the secondary assists? Would you agree that a legitimate pass for a secondary assist isn't as cheap as a touch in some way? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Kovalchuk's secondary assists in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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