37
Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings: North Division Scores More Because It Has More Skill

If your team plays in the North Division you likely think NHL scoring is up, but in fact, it is down slightly across the NHL. Teams are averaging 2.94 goals/game, down from 2.97 last season. (Hockey-reference.com includes shootout goals in its totals.) The North averages 3.12 goals/game, while the other three divisions combined are at 2.87. Many have suggested the North is playing wide open hockey, but I’d argue the other three divisions simply lack the same offensive talent.

Scoring is usually up early in the season, and then slowly goes down as the season progresses. The fact the 24 American teams are already averaging fewer goals than end-of-the-season league average last year tells me it is more a lack of offensive punch in those divisions, than it is the North playing wide open hockey.

The Central division teams are averaging 2.94 goals/game, the East is at 2.85 and the West is 2.75. The league average last season was 2.97. It is more a knock on the lack of offence on those teams, rather than sound defence in the North. But sadly, many NHL pundits would rather promote defence.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It is asinine. Goals sell the game, not neutral zone traps, teams who can put it off the glass and out regularly, or those who don’t have the skill to score.

Prior to the season, I outlined why I felt the North would score more goals. The North was composed of 31% of the league’s top scorers over the past two seasons, so one should be surprised the Canadian division is producing so many goals.

What is a surprise is how many points some of the top players have already. The great starts by Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews have fans buzzing, not only in Toronto and Edmonton, but around the NHL. The “Hart trophy” talk is a bit premature considering many teams haven’t even played 20 games, but I understand the excitement due to all the goals and points they are producing.

I wanted to look at the past five seasons of points among these four, along with David Pastrnak, Patrick Kane and Nathan MacKinnon. If Kucherov was healthy this year, I’d have included him as well.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Here are their numbers from 2016/2017 to now…

2017-21 GP G G/GP PTS PTS/GP
McDavid 326 158 0.48 458 1.40
Draisaitl 333 157 0.47 392 1.18
Kane 334 146 0.44 385 1.15
Pastrnak 302 164 0.54 340 1.13
MacKinnon 320 135 0.42 360 1.13
Matthews 310 176 0.56 314 1.05
Marner 319 92 0.28 321 1.01
RELATED ARTICLE:
Right Side Depth... Finally

McDavid’s pts/game is much higher than anyone. Matthews and Pastrnak are the leaders in goals.

Here is 2018 to now:

2018-21 GP G G/GP PTS PTS/GP
McDavid 244 128 0.52 358 1.47
MacKinnon 238 119 0.50 307 1.29
Draisaitl 251 128 0.51 315 1.25
Pastrnak 227 130 0.57 270 1.19
Kane 252 112 0.44 193 1.17
Matthews 218 136 0.62 245 1.12
Marner 242 73 0.30 260 1.07

As the young guns get more experience their points/game and goals/game are going up. Even Patrick Kane at his age was producing more. McDavid averaged 0.35+ more pts/game than Matthews in both charts. While Matthews and Pastrnak are leaders in goals

2019 to present day.

2019-21 GP G G/GP PTS PTS/GP
McDavid 162 87 0.54 250 1.54
Draisaitl 173 103 0.59 245 1.42
Pastrnak 145 95 0.66 190 1.31
Kane 170 85 0.50 220 1.29
MacKinnon 164 80 0.49 210 1.28
Marner 160 51 0.32 191 1.19
Matthews 156 102 0.65 182 1.17

McDavid and Matthews continue to improve their points/game and goals/game. Draisaitl inched closer to McDavid in points/game. Draisaitl had the largest point/game increase, while McDavid was up to 1.54 pts/game while Pastrnak and Matthews were at 0.65 goals/game or higher.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2020 to present.

2020-21 GP G G/GP PTS PTS/GP
McDavid 84 46 0.55 134 1.60
Draisaitl 91 53 0.58 140 1.54
Pastrnak 79 57 0.72 109 1.38
MacKinnon 82 39 0.48 111 1.35
Kane 89 41 0.46 110 1.24
Matthews 88 65 0.73 109 1.24
Marner 78 25 0.32 97 1.24

McDavid eclipses 1.60 points/game, Draisaitl is up to 1.54 while Pastrnak and Matthews are over 0.72 goals/game.

Now this season…

2021 GP G G/GP PTS PTS/GP
McDavid 20 12 0.60 37 1.85
Matthews 18 18 1.00 29 1.61
Marner 19 9 0.47 30 1.58
Pastrnak 9 9 1.00 14 1.56
Draisaitl 20 10 0.50 30 1.50
MacKinnon 13 4 0.31 18 1.38
Kane 19 8 0.42 26 1.37

Of course this is a smaller sample, but early on the numbers are incredibly impressive.

We haven’t seen a player average one goal per game since 1994 when Cam Neely scored 50 goals in 49 games. It would be unreal if Matthews could maintain that pace. I love goals, so I hope we see it. The highest we’ve seen in the 2000s was in 2008 when Alex Ovechkin scored 65 goals in 82 games (0.79 goals/game). Matthews beating that would be a great feat. Pastrnak missed seven games, so in theory he could be like Neely and score 50 in 49 games.

RELATED ARTICLE:
Not So Fast

Meanwhile for McDavid, only five players have averaged 1.85 points/game in an NHL season.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Wayne Gretzky did it 11 times. His last time was in 1991.
Mario Lemieux did it six times. The last was in 1996 when he averaged 2.30 points/game.
Those two have the top-17 point-per-game totals.

Steve Yzerman is 18th at 1.94 in 1989 when he scored 155 points in 80 games.
Bernie Nichols is 19th with 1.90 in 1989 when he tallied 150 points in 79 games.
Adam Oates is 20th at 1.89 in 1991 when he produced 115 points in 61 games.

McDavid sits at 1.85. Outside of Lemieux’s ridiculous 1996, the highest totals in the past 25 years include:

Lemieux’s 1.77 (76 pts in 43 games) in 2001.
Sidney Crosby had 1.68 in 2012, but he only played 22 games. He also had 1.61 in 41 games in 2011 before he was concussed.
Nikita Kucherov had 1.59 in 2019 with 128 points in 82 games.
Draisaitl scored 1.55 last season with 110 points in 71 games.

Even if McDavid only scores at 1.75 points/game it will be an amazing season, but pushing 1.8 or more would be great for the NHL.

I hope Matthews, or possibly Pastrnak, push for 50 goals and McDavid pushes 100 points. It would make for great conversations and debates, but hopefully people will focus more on how incredible it is.

I think the narrative in the NHL needs to be readjusted. Scoring goals isn’t a bad thing. It should be appreciated, and the reason the North is scoring more goals is because it has more elite offensive players than the other divisions. That should be the conversation, not that the North is weak defensively. If anything, the conversation should be about why the other divisions so bad at scoring.

Recently by Jason Gregor: