NHL scoring is down once again. Last year NHL team’s averaged 2.73 goals per game, and through 241 games this season teams are averaging 2.67 GPG. It is not a major difference, but if the league stays at this pace we will see about 148 fewer goals than last year.
Since 1997, NHL teams have averaged fewer than three goals/game, except for 2005/2006 when the NHL clamped down on obstruction and teams averaged 3.08 GPG each.
How can the NHL increase scoring?
The only way I see it happening is through a combination of things, but we should not expect a massive increase in goal scoring. The advancement of video, goalie coaches, the butterfly stance, defensive systems and demand from coaches that all players block shots means we are unlikely to see a major spike in goal scoring, and definitely not close the the high flying 1980s and early 1990s.
When the NHL expanded from 21 teams to 30 teams in a span of nine seasons through the 1990s, coaches on new teams realized the only way they could compete was playing defensively. Today, coaches spend more working on defensive zone systems than they do offensive ones. Unless that philosophy changes, we will never see a significant uptick in goal scoring.
However, the NHL can make a few changes that will increase scoring.
#1. Regulate goalie equipment
Now before members of the highly loyal Goalie Union get to fired up, remember that currently the NHL has no regulation on pant size. Ryan Miller weighs 168 pounds while Carey Price weighs 215, yet they wear they same size pants. I don’t blame Miller, because there is no rule in place that says he is cheating. He can wear the maximum size.
Reducing the size of pants and other goalie equipment will only occur to a level that is safe for the goalies. The NHL does not want injuries. When the NHL instituted limits for the length of goalie pads two years ago, many goalies had to shorten theirs by an inch or two, yet we haven’t seen a spike in goalie leg injuries. Why? Because the pads were simply too big. It wasn’t a safety issue.
We can expect new limits on goalie pants and most likely the catching glove and chest protector. Safety will not be an issue. And for the goalie union members who utter, “Why don’t you play goal before you shrink the equipment,” read what current NHL goalie Jonathan Quick had to say about goalie equipment.
“If you look around the league and you look at goalies — in their street
clothes and then with their gear on — the difference in size, it’s a
little too much,” Quick said. “So I’m on board with that. The biggest
difficulty with gear is body size and body type. It’s so hard to get a
standard on who can wear what and what size everyone is…. Once guys get
gear, some guys make changes and try to make adjustments to make it look
a little bigger,” Quick told Lisa Dillman in her excellent article. You can read it here.
Quick also pointed out Kay Whitmore, the league’s senior manager of hockey operations who reviews equipment, is the only one who does it. Goalies are constantly changing their gear, and it is impossible for one man to police the equipment.
The NHL has not fined any goalies for equipment violations, and according to Quick, “There’s been some (goalies) trying to supplement their gear a little bit. That happens around the league, there’s no question about that.”
An active goalie admits the equipment is an issue and some goalies aren’t adhering to the rules. So making new rules on pant size will be a first step, but the NHL must enforce the rule once it is in place.
#2. Call Obstruction Penalties
On a nightly basis we are seeing more obstruction creep back into the game. The league cracked down on the rules in 2005/2006 and it resulted in significantly more penalties. There were 14,390 penalties in 05/06, and last year there was 7,521. The players did adapt to the rules for a short time, but the NHL has also allowed more obstruction to occur.
Some will argue they don’t want an endless parade to the penalty box, and that is fine, but players are much better skaters today. They don’t need to obstruct as much. The NHL needs to be firm with the players for two or three seasons and they will adapt. Players who won’t, or simply can’t, adapt won’t get icetime from their coach and eventually will be out of the league.
Calling more penalties will lead to more goals, but enforcing the rules and demanding players don’t obstruct as much will lead to more scoring chances, which will also result in more goals.
#3. Design an illegal Defence
This will take some time, and will likely be a very contentious issue. I exchanged text messages with an NHL GM on Wednesday and when I asked him about it he said it has been discussed, albeit not in any great detail. “Hockey is such a fluid game, I think it would very hard to enforce. What would be the punishment,” he wrote.
The last part is a great question. In the NBA illegal defence is a technical foul and the offensive team shoots a free throw. One point in an NBA game is much different than a goal in an NHL game. You couldn’t award a penalty shot, but a penalty might work. Also would the referee call it or could the linesmen help out?
The toughest issue is: what would we considered illegal defence in the NHL? Would they draw a circle in the slot and you could only have one defensive player within a stick length? It isn’t easy, but the NHL has brought it up. Maybe it never happens, but insightful discussions among the players, coaches and GMs could lead to some interesting ideas.
I realize this is the most drastic change, and that’s why I listed it last. I don’t believe we will see it right away, or ever, but the first two options would be easy to implement and wouldn’t change how the game is played.
I’d look at these options before making the nets bigger, although I’m not completely opposed to moving the posts and crossbar out an inch. The goalies are much taller than we’ve ever seen. They naturally take up more space than goalies in the previous decades.
I believe the NHL can use the “threat” of making the nets larger and the goalie union, who seemingly has way more power within the NHLPA than they should, will gladly accept regulations on equipment size instead of a bigger net.
Another very simple change would be making the long change in the first and third periods, instead of only the second frame.
How would you increase offence?
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