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2019 Offseason Reader Mailbag – Episode 1

Hello friends! If you follow us on social media, specifically, Facebook, you will know that we are dedicated to our community. Each week we will try to give a “shoutout” to a reader who posts a good question, and attempt to answer it in the most satisfactory way possible. Sometimes solo, sometimes as part of a back-and-forth.

This is the first episode of a recurring series we’re now launching, thanks to the inquisitive nature of this week’s reader, Thierry Kulwicki. Thierry asked:

“What is the purpose of this GWG (game-winning goal) statistic?”

He then raises some good points about the absurdity of keeping track of the statistic in lopsided games, while providing a hypothesis for the statistic’s tracking.

The short answer is: Thierry, you’re right. It is a mostly useless statistic; however, it mostly has a bit of an asterisk next to it.

All the sources I’ve consulted do not show any indication as to why this particular statistic is tracked; however, I’ve pieced an explanation from those sources, which are a few google searches away.

Sports are, by their very nature, centered around statistics. An incredible amount of stats are collected to try to quantify the sport. It is a shorthand for GMs and Fantasy GMs to try to measure the quality of a player and gauge a player’s relative value measured against other competitors. Think of a player’s stats as sort of a living resume. As with any resume, it is important to have relevant experience pertaining to the position you are applying for (i.e. starting goalies often have a save percentage over a certain value, and a GAA under a certain value).

By that logic, game-winning goals measure the relative timely contribution of a player to their team’s success, theoretically speaking of course. In Thierry’s example, he outlines how Alex Pietrangelo is credited for the Stanley Cup Final game 7 winning goal, despite not being what a person would traditionally associate with a game winning goal worthy of the stat (timely goal in the dying seconds of the 3rd or in overtime). Yes, Pietrangelo was not the last player to score in that game, and yes, Pietrangelo’s goal wasn’t quite the “dagger” that defeated the Bruins; however, on the scoreboard, Pietrangelo’s goal was the difference-maker and the one that put the Blues ahead (regardless of when it happened).

In statistics, you could collect partial data and extrapolate results based on the information, but that relies on the assumption that the rest of the data that you could gather would be equal. As it applies to sport, the assumption would be to track the first 10-20 game winning goals and then extrapolate to assume, for example, that if Pietrangelo scores the game winning goal in 4 of the first 20 games as sampled, he should be expected to score around 16 game winning goals by the end of the season. This raises two problems: Firstly; if you have a full set of data from which to extract information, why bother with tracking just halfway? Secondly, the assumption that sports will be constant or consistent, statistically speaking, is inherently flawed.

So, what exactly does the game winning goal stat tell us? Not a whole lot. It is not a reliable metric to measure the quality of a player; however, in a hypothetical scenario where two players have an equal or very similar number of goals, assists, points per game, and possession metrics, perhaps looking at game winning goals can set the difference between a leader-type player, and a player who contributes, but not necessarily when the game is on the line. Much like adding additional details in your resume to get a competitive edge in a position over another applicant.

Your hypothesis is also partially correct, as keeping absurd statistics also allow commentators to have talking points during lulls in the game.

I hope that the answer is satisfactory, Thierry!

We’ll see you next week with another answer!

Pedro Rengel

Pedro Rengel

Originally hailing from the tropical paradise of Venezuela, I moved to Canada at age 11 for the sole reason of falling in love with hockey as a self-proclaimed Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Now a Canadian citizen, my mad love affair with hockey represents a statistical contribution as opposed to an anomaly. Being able to write this well despite having Spanish as a first language is enough of an anomaly (I'm occasionally biased).
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