A better way to count game-winning goals.

DISCLAIMER: I did not think of this myself. I read it somewhere several years ago and have heretofore been unable to locate that piece. If you find it somewhere, I would love to credit those writers for the work. 

The NHL is a big league of hockey players run by gigantic idiot-morons who screw everything up in every imaginable way. Harping on these things is a bit more of an off-season activity for me, but I like to get a warmup in.

What follows is my critique of how the NHL counts game-winning goals and a proposal that I think is more befitting the title.

First, I should note that I think game-winning goals, like several other stats the NHL keeps are garbage and meaningless. However, if we’re going to insist that some goals count more than others by virtue of being granted the title of “game-winning” let’s at least make sure we are bestowing it upon the right ones.

The current methodology in determining the “game-winning goal” is simple. Whoever scores goal “n+1” where n represents the number of goals the opponent scored. Simple, right?

Well I agree. It is simple, but I think it fails to capture what the statistic sets out for. It’s mean to measure “clutch” goals (a ridiculous notion that does not exist), but ultimately fails in many regards.

Imagine if you will, a hockey game ends 5-2. After two scoreless periods, the floodgates open and Team A jumps out to a 5-0 lead with just 5 minutes left. Team B pulls a couple goals back and the game ends. Under the current rule, the player who scored the 3rd goal, the one that made the game a 3-0 trouncing late in the third period is credited with the “game winning goal.”

I propose a new way of thinking. Rather than simply counting up goals until you find who scored the “first extra” goal, the NHL should credit “game-winning goals” to whichever player first gives the team “a lead which they do not surrender.”

In this system, the player is rewarded for contemporaneously changing the game in a way that is not answered, rather than scoring at a time which will eventually be determined as the game-changing moment, as the title of a game winner would imply.

Under this system, breaking the tie is the key. Just ask any NHL fan about a game they find memorable to the point where they remember each goal. The one that will stick out in their minds after a 6-1 win will be the first goal if it was a game that went to 3-0 before 3-1 before ending 6-1. It will be the second if the team bounced back after allowing a weak first goal and rallied to a resolute win in the end.

Hockey is meant to be a game of flow and momentum (whatever that means). If we’re going to track plays that we consider game-winning, they should be the plays that permanently put a team into the lead. No one remembers a 5th goal in a 5-1 game unless the final score is 5-4. We shouldn’t be crediting the 5th goal as a game winner in a 9-4 final score unless there was a 4-4 situation that preceded it. Otherwise we wouldn’t remember that one either.


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