Las Vegas and Quebec City sent expansion applications to the NHL earlier this week, and now the NHL will decide when the league will expand. It isn’t a question of if, but when and how many teams.
Expansion will be great for the owners. They will split the expansion fee, reportedly $500 million per team, and not have to share the money with the players. Expansion will create 45-50 more pro contracts per organization, and create 23 more NHL jobs (per team) for players, meaning the players will see some benefit.
The owners and players will like it, but from my seat it will lower the entertainment value of the NHL.
The NHL will welcome one, and most likely two, new franchises in the near future, and both of them will need to rely on boring, defensive hockey to compete. It will water down the league even more by creating jobs for AHL-talented players.
(On a side note, how happy are Jets fans? They got their NHL team back four years ago, and it only cost their owner $170 million and the team was competitive within a few years. Quebec fans will likely have NHL hockey very soon, but it will be a crappy expansion team that costs $500 million. They will pay premium pricing for a brutal team. Ouch.)
This past season Jamie Benn led the league with 87 points, the lowest total for the Art Ross trophy winner since Stan Makita had 87 points in 1968, when they only played 76 games.
Offence is on the decline because there is more of an onus on defensive play than on offence, and the goalies still have over sized equipment, especially their gloves. The NHL could easily shrink the size of their gloves without risking the safety of the goalies. Many former goalies have admitted this on my show in the past few seasons.
Since 2006 we’ve seen a steady decline in scoring, and that season was an anamoly due to the lockout and new rules.
In 2005/2006 the NHL combined for 7,443 goals and this past season we saw 6,549 after witnessing the league combine for 6,573 in 2014.
5on5 5on4 5on3 4on4 4on3 3on4 4on5 EN PS Total
The most glaring difference is PP scoring. In 2006, we saw 2,529 PP goals compared to 1,385. But we have to consider teams were shorthanded 14,390 times in 2006 compared to 7,521 this past season. Teams were adjusting to the new obstruction rules, and today players have conformed to the rules, but I also believe the NHL has relaxed their standards on penalties.
The PP average in 2006 was 17.57% compared to 18.4% this past season. Penalty killers aren’t any better, they just don’t have to kill off as many penalties.
We can also see that 5×5 scoring is lower, but that is due to less 5×5 TOI.
The sad reality is NHL scoring is returning to the low levels we saw prior to the 2005 lockout season. In 2003/2004 we had 6,378 goals. In 2002/2003 there was 6,530 goals and the game was not exciting. Offence has declined the past decade and when the NHL adds more teams, with less offensively skilled players and more defensive minded systems, I don’t see how it will improve.
Adding more average players to the league will not help, but the owners can only see $ from expansion fees. Expansion will fill their pockets, but it will not be good for the game.
The NHL does not encourage offence. Coaches prefer defence, and it seems too many media, bloggers and fans applaud solid defensive play over offence.
Players like Phil Kessel, Alexander Ovechkin, Taylor Hall and others are criticized because they aren’t “solid” defensively, even though they produce more points than 95% of the players in the league. If a skilled player makes a defensive miscue he is ripped, but when an reliable defensive player misses a great scoring chance, it is overlooked or we hear “It is not his role to score.”
I’m not in the group that wants to see low scoring, “solid” defence. I love hockey and it is my job to watch games, which is an awesome gig, but I find myself watching fewer games not involving the Oilers than ever.
I channel surf during games now. If Patrick Kane is on the ice I will watch his shift, but switch and return in a few minutes for his next one. Too much focus in hockey is on how to defend, rather than how to score, because it is easier to teach defensive hockey.
Most players won’t take risks. They will dump the puck in at the blueline rather than risk a turnover, and many of them don’t have the skills to handle the puck in traffic.
The game is faster than ever, but that doesn’t mean it is better. Players can get to a spot quicker, but outside of the elite players, most don’t have the hockey sense or skills to make plays in confined areas. If you skate well and work hard you can defend, but you need elite offensive ability to score and NHL coaches and systems are more focused on how to stymie offence, rather than create it.
Most coaches say, “Once they cross centre they are free to do what they want.” This is true, but with coaches teaching their players how to defend, but not spending as much time with the offensive players, of course offence will suffer.
Adding two more teams will only make it worse, but even if the NHL doesn’t expand I don’t think we would see a direction to add more excitement in the game.
We see fewer goals, fewer hits, fewer fights and fewer mistakes, and for me that equals diminished excitement.
Can we fix it?
I don’t see a quick fix. The NHL is big business and owners, GMs and coaches want to win, and their chances of success increase by playing sound defence. Today’s strategy is more about defence than offence, and until that philosophy changes, I don’t see offence increasing.
I do believe making the nets bigger makes sense. Goalies are much bigger and better than ever before. There simply isn’t as many holes to shoot at. I believe the guys who score 35+ goals now are incredibly skilled, because it is so difficult to score on goalies today, so an added inch to the net would help a bit, but I believe a philosophical change to hockey is needed.
Expansion makes financial sense for the owners, and creates more jobs for the players, but it will hurt the overall entertainment value.
Unless fans stop watching on TV or stop going to the games the NHL will not alter their defensive mindset.
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