Jordan Leopold of the Avalanche scores the penalty shot game-winning goal on Chris Osgood of the Red Wings on Dec. 15. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
Pop quiz time, kiddies. OK, here goes: Who holds the NHL’s all-time record for game-winning goals?
Time’s up. No problem, we don’t know either, largely because that particular statistic doesn’t exist. We know by looking at the NHL Guide and Record Book that Joe Sakic has 81 career game-winners, but we don’t know where that ranks among active NHLers. (And we don’t have time to look because we’re doing our annual gift exchange in 10 minutes. Don’t tell anybody, but my contribution is a really cool Hockey Night in Canada travel mug and T-shirt.)
Anyway, it’s probably just as well that the league has not kept track of game-winners because the way a game-winning goal is counted, it might be one of the most useless statistics in hockey.
For example, Team A scores four goals in the first period en route to an easy 8-3 victory. The fourth goal is scored at the 19:58 mark of the first period and the game is already out of reach. Team B scores two in the second, another one late on the power play in the third, so that meaningless fourth goal stands up as the game-winner.
I propose the NHL changes its method of determining game-winning goals. The goal that provides a team with the ultimate margin of victory should not be considered the game-winner. The game-winner should be the goal that puts the team “ahead to stay” in the game.
That means the game-winner would in some cases be the first goal of the game and in others the shootout winner would be counted as the game-winner.
In another statistical bafflement by the league, shootout winners are counted neither among a player’s goal total for the season nor as a game-winning goal for the individual player, despite the fact it counts as the goal that decides the game and in goals-scored in the standings.
There is no equivalent of a game-winner in football or basketball, but in baseball, generally speaking, the winning pitcher is the one who is in the game when his team takes the lead and keeps it for the remainder of the game.
There are game-winners and there are lame-winners and it’s about time hockey do something about rewarding the ones that are meaningful.
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