Does the NHL need more offence?

Goal

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

Goalie

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

Hooking

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

Ref

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.

Parting Shot…

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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  • Serious Gord

    What if icing was not allowed when teams are on the penalty kill. Along with another crack down in obstruction we would see a lot of goals. It’s a pretty simple rule, and would increase goals by a lot.

  • Serious Gord

    Increase the size of the net. 2 inches higher and 3 inches wider.

    Giving the goalies the option to decrease the size of their equipment is an option, but with net size the league is in control. Goalies will find ways to circumvent equipment .[ like tying a pc. of plywood to their chest as a protector. joke ].

  • Jaxon

    I almost agree with cancelling the rule that allows penalty killers to ice the puck, but, I don’t like the idea of putting that much power to change the outcome of a game in the refs hands. Powerplays are already almost too important and often decide the outcome of a game on sometimes questionable calls. That said, I think it should be eliminated in the final two minutes of the game as having the ability to ice the puck when the other team’s net is empty is a very real advantage.

    But, speaking of icing, I think changing the icing barrier from the center line to the defensive blueline would increase scoring. It would spread out the defence and allow teams to gain the zone easier. This could practically negate all forms of the trap. It would also increase the incentive for D to pinch to keep the puck in the offensive zone, which would lead to more breakaways.

    It provides more incentive to keep the puck in the opposition’s zone and allows the exiting team to dump the puck all the way down the ice. This would spread out the defending team from blueline to blueline making any kind of trap impossible, thereby opening up the neutral zone for more passing and carrying and actually less dumping and chasing unless they need to open up the neutral ice again to keep the opposition honest. Icing from the blueline would speed up and stretch out the game. You’d have more end-to-end rushes thereby increasing the excitement and goals scored.

    I don’t care as much about goals scored as I do about shots/chances. That’s where the excitement is. Actually shots are almost more exciting as the tensions/excitement keeps going whereas a goal is the release of that tension/excitement.

    • PimKing

      Your caution about making power plays more effective (by not allowing pk iceing), and incurring the risk of a bad call affecting the outcome of a game is wise.
      I like your thought of changing the icing barrier for even strength… a team with speed like the O have in Hall and McDavid would capitalize on that and I love speed in hockey.

  • CDNinATL

    As my son is a goalie for a local Bantam A travel team, so my first concern is safety. Equipment just have to fit but not bulky. Maybe something no more than an inch or inch and half thick.

    No to increasing the size of the net or the ice. There’s no need to overhaul the game we love!

    You want something simple?? Call the damn rule book. We already have the needed rules. Just call them!! This whole thing about managing a game is crap. The players will adjust once they get it through their head that slashing even once can be enough to get you sent to the box. The NFL calls pretty much everything it sees. The NHL can too.

  • CDNinATL

    Until the coaches are given a reason to work on offensive systems, defence will rule the day. An extra point for scoring 5 or more goals in a game might be a start.

  • Leaking5w-30

    Here’s an idea, create the ins entice from the very top down to increase scoring. What if there was a portion of revenues that was apportioned to teams based on their gpg. There is already revenue sharing why can’t that revenue be shared based on teams making the game more exciting. It could even be taken a step further and require the teams with the lowest gpg to pay into the collective incentive pot. It is completely unorthodox but I’m sick of how boring the games are getting.

  • Leaking5w-30

    only allow golies to freeze the puck when they are in the act of making a save. No jumping on loose pucks or smothering rebounds. This will increase net front battles, rebounds, and ugly goals.

  • Leaking5w-30

    Last one…. Get ready to trash it. Copy the over and back rule from basketball. I’m even trashing this one. But it would force teams to attack all day.

  • Leaking5w-30

    Whenever I see highlights from the Oiler’s golden era, one thing that strikes me is how small the goalies look in the net vs today.

    Make the goals bigger, similar to what MLB did 40 years ago when they lowered the pitching mound.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Some good ideas here, some bad. If you prohibit goalies from playing the puck behind their net AND crack down on interference EVERY defenceman in the league would become smears on the boards. I think downsizing the bulky equipment is a start, especially shin pads. Make players afraid to block shots and scoring chances will double instantly. Maybe if a few players wired shots around the defender’s ears they also would think twice before jumping into harms way; worked for MacInnis and Gingras.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Call obstruction & hooking penalties because they’re penalties. I don’t understand why officials accept this! Actually makes it frustrating to watch a game when skilled players are being cross-checked vigorously right in front of officials & no calls!

  • CMG30

    Seems like the primary reasons scoring is down is that both the goalies and the defensive systems have improved by leaps and bounds.

    In order to return to the equilibrium of the pre-90’s era both those factors must be countered.

    To counter the increase in skill of goalies, the NHL could shrink the equipment down to the smallest possible size that safety allows, increase the size of the net, give forwards more offensive options like allowing kicked goals or some combination of the above.

    In order to counter the improved defensive systems of today’s NHL, the league should really enforce the obstruction calls. (Nobody but Flamers and Wild fans watch hockey for the defense.) The league could go further and think about increasing the size of the O zone, either through thicker blue lines or actually going to a bigger ice surface. No matter what the solution, the league needs to return the advantage to the forwards.

    As the game evolves, so must the rules. People complaining about how changes will somehow ruin the ‘tradition’ of the game don’t realize that the game is always evolving through technology, better systems and player training. Balance must be maintained even if it means slaying some sacred cows.

  • Leaking5w-30

    So Gregor, how about putting the suggestions in the scoring app that bagged milk uses for the report card. I’d like to see how the nation would rate the suggestions….

    Thanks for keeping us distracted after the loss!

  • Leaking5w-30

    I’m not a fan of iligal defense. But here here is one that would be simple and easy to enforce. No more than four skaters in the defensive zone. It basically forces teams to cherry pick. I don’t suggest this for regulation. But maybe in overtime instead of three on three?

  • Leaking5w-30

    Players are bigger, stronger, faster. There is no time and space. Increase the ice surface size either (closer to or at international size) taking out the first row of seats (not likely) or dictate the new size for new arenas that are being built. A side benefit is more seating.

    Right now the play has no flow as the puck carrier has almost no time. You may get more scoring with smaller G pads, bigger net etc but that won’t help the flow of the game. Bigger ice.

  • PimKing

    Dont really care that offence is down, i like hockey. With that being said, they definitely could call more interference out there. There is a difference between “owning your ice” and getting caught flat footed and then basically blocking out another player who is skating way faster but you just jump in on his line. Isn’t that interference? Or when McJebus burns your ass and all you have left is a push in the numbers or a grab. That’s interference. Plenty of rules to be enforced in the current book to get more pp time for teams, and that will lead to more goals for all the “hockey fans.” Eventually the players will stop trying to get away with those little plays and you”ll see loose pucks up for grabs and speedsters finally grabbing them and making plays or getting breakaways. Dont touch the nets, omfg, dont touch the nets. You’re not supposed to be able to score every time you get a chance. Move lines, make the ice purple, allow goalies to shine laser beams into the other goalies eyes, please do NOT adjust net sizes. I want McDavids’ 50 in 50 to be legit…

  • PimKing

    Offaide is blue line going in and red line coming out. Dman can pinch wiser, keep it in the offensize zone easier, and the game doesnt change too much – just like when they got rid of 2 line passes. In general, the ol chip up the boards or glass and get it out boring and safe isn’t as effective. And get rid of the trapezoids…just awful