As a guy who spends a lot of his time watching and writing about hockey, I also read a lot of hockey publications. And suffice to say that if I had a nickel for every time I read how the “New NHL” encourages speed and “opens up the game” for skill players, allowing small players who otherwise would never have had a chance at the big leagues to get a taste of it, then I’d have a lot of nickels to throw at the guys who do the write-ups for THN draft previews.
There are lots of different ways to measure how the game have changed since the NHL lockout, and the way I decided to try today was to look at the top-30 scoring forwards in the NHL for the five years before the lockout and the five years after the lockout, and see what changed. The results showed some changes, but not necessarily the ones that are generally trumpeted.
It’s easy to forget, but 5’9” Martin St. Louis won his Hart, Art Ross and Lester B. Pearson awards before the NHL lockout. That was also when he was named to the NHL’s First All-Star team and when he got his name on the Stanley Cup and led the league in plus/minus. So it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that there’s been very little change in what a top-30 scoring forward looks like since the NHL lockout. Before the NHL lockout, the average top-30 scorer stood a hair under 6’1” while weighing 205 lbs; since the NHL lockout he has averaged a height just under 6’1” and a weight of 204 lbs.
There is some good news, though: while scoring has been in steady decline since 2005-06, the average top-30 forward still scores almost eight points more per season than his pre-lockout counterpart, averaging 86.8 points (as opposed to the 79.1 scored by his average predecessor). Total numbers for the 10 seasons under consideration follow:
The point I’m making, I suppose, is that all the lip service paid to the new equality for small players is just so much empty noise – the story for the Jordan Weal’s, Kellen Tochkin’s and Justin Feser’s of the world is the same as it was for players like St. Louis, Brian Rafalski, Theo Fleury, Steve Sullivan, Cliff Ronning, Donald Audette and countless others: they’re underappreciated until they prove more than the big players do. Big players have always gotten more chances, and they always will: it’s just the way the NHL works, and the lockout didn’t change things.
But hey, at least scoring is up.