There are several reasons why the
is suffering from a drop off in offensive production. This is not a "this
year" problem, it actually is something that started in the early 1990's
and has been growing slowly but surely every season. If you look at the stats
from year to year, you will not see a steady path or reduction EVERY year but
you can see the obvious trend. So why has this happened? There are several
Less teams making the playoffs since expansion
In 1979-80 four teams "merged" into the
from the WHA. That brought the number of teams to 21 and out of that 16 teams
made the playoffs. By the All-Star break it was generally accepted who was
going to miss the playoffs and there wasn't as much pressure on the top 16
teams to push every game. Coaches would allow the players to enjoy a more
offensive game because every mistake was not life and death. The dead puck era started
after the lockout in 1994 but the seeds were planted once the league decided on
mass expansion in 1991, adding 4 teams in two years. At this moment 53% of the
teams make the playoffs, in 1980 is was 76%...
Better goalies - bigger goalies - bigger and lighter equipment
There is no doubt that goalie improvement is the number one reason scoring is down in the
NHL, and there
is nothing wrong with that. If you were to look back at highlights from the
1970's and 1980's, you would laugh at the level of goaltending. You don't see
many week goals slipping behind goalies these days, which was common 20 years
What you wont laugh at is how much net you can see behind each goalie compared to what you can see now, which is pretty much nothing. Average goalie size now is 6'2" 197 lbs, up from 5'10" 177 lbs twenty years ago. That doesn't even take into account the new, larger equipment goalies are wearing that weights significantly less than the equipment worn in the 70's and 80's.
Better players - bigger players
How does better players equate to lower scoring? Easy, they can be taught to defend and that they have. Team defence has improved so much in 20 years its staggering. Players are also for the most part bigger as well as faster. As of 2011 the average size of a player was 6'1" 205 lbs. In 1966-67 players were on average 5'11' and 180 lbs. Bigger, stronger, faster certainly applies. Players are also closing the gap now faster than ever. Less time and space for skilled players = less offence.
The size of the
hockey rink has not changed (outside of
and Boston ) for decades. The
average Buffalo NHL player is 10% bigger and I would
argue at least 10% faster if not more. The skill players have less room to
The Loser point
The business of the
loves parity. More teams in the race is good for the box office, no one can
deny that. While it may not be good for the on ice product (see point one) no
one can argue the growth the NHL has had
financially in the past several years. The overtime and shootout loss point has
done more for parity than any one single factor. as long as the NHL
stays with the 2-1-1 point
system, there will always be 12 teams in the playoff race in each conference. I
read where gained 3 points
in the standings from two 0-0 games this year. If that isn't a problem for you
then your system is a mess. Columbus
Better coaching - all levels
There is currently more coaching support for Teir 2 players in
there was in the Canada NHL 25 years ago. Strength
and conditioning coaches, two or three assistant coaches, goalie coaches, special
teams coaches, and video coaches. What's next, a coach for the coaches? At all
levels of hockey, coaches are for the most part trying to improve skill and
development. The NHL is the only league that
is not trying to improve the offensive game. Instead the NHL
collectively coaches to defend and stifle offence. Defensive scheme's are the
buzzword of the NHL. Years ago you had a
"shadow". If you take a step back from the game and think about that
for a second its sobering. We are privileged to watch the best players in the
world play chip and chase hockey for millions of dollars...
So what didn't work?
The clamp down on obstruction after the 2004-2005 lockout gave us a nice bump in offence. Most of that can be attributed to the huge increase in power play attempts. Several seasons later we have all witnesses the standard slipping and of course the goal output slipped as well. Many also now feel that the clamp down on obstruction has let to an increase in concussions and more injuries to defensemen because wingers can now come down at full speed where as in the past you were able to "hold up" the players.
To be fair, hooking and stick infractions have been for the most part upheld and that has helped somewhat. One can only imagine what the league would look like if they allowed the hooking we saw ten years ago.
The red line was also eliminated after the lockout and has had little positive impact. To be honest I almost forgot that the rule was changed until recently I saw a player standing near the other team's blue line and he chipped the clearing "pass-dump" from the defenseman so they could make the change. The rule has helped the defensive team more than the offensive team in my opinion.
The trapezoid was introduced as well and other than making goalies angry, it had no effect really. For every goal that resulted from a fore-check that was allowed because a goalie couldn't play it, I would argue that just many didn't happen from a sharp outlet pass from a Marty Brodeur. Most goalies now wait for the puck to come to them or get ahead of the goal line. This has also allowed for more injuries to defensemen in my opinion. They can take those lines away and save the painting crews the hassle.
Delayed off-side was taken away, and then put back. The problem with this rule is that if you blow the whistle immediately on a delayed off-side it destroys the flow of the game. If you allow the teams to do what they do now, you are letting the defensive team fall back into a 1-4 position of defence. I read recently an idea that if you go offside, the face-off comes back into your zone. At first I thought was harsh, but there might be something to that.
So what else can be done? Coaching is not going away although that would be the easiest fix. Players are not going to get smaller. This much we know. But...
Rinks can get bigger. If the players are 10% bigger at least, why not give them 15% more space to work with? I haven't heard or seen one person who suggests moving to the IIHF size of rink but just slightly more room in the offensive zone and slightly wider would make a big difference I believe. Obviously it would have to be tested and the owners would have to make a financial investment in that plan. I think its a solution that is 15 years overdue when the wave of the
arrived but better late than never.
Goalies are not going to get smaller and they are not going to be able to reduce the size of the equipment either, as it's become a safety issue as much as anything. With that in mind, nets need to get wider. Taller is not going to happen due to player safety, but wider should happen as early as next season. Period. If the shot off a rush comes back into reality, it will open up the rest of the game because defensemen will have to play different. (Note, the NHL HAS managed to reduce goalie equipment size this year, we will see if it has any impact)
Ditch the loser point or at very least reward a team for winning in regulation. Critics will say that this will only further add to the problem of teams clamping down once they have a lead. Optimists point to the fact that with more points on the line, teams who are losing are more inclined to "go for it". I'm on board with the latter group but the argument is there. And to the people who are "traditionalist" who don't want three point games I offer you this. The
has always been about change, that is their tradition. The NHL
used to play with 6 players per side and didn't allow forward passes. Times
change and the NHL needs to evolve with it.
There has been talk of an
wild card. Why not copy MLB and the NFL, it's not like they haven't done that
before... I don't see this having a positive effect, if anything it may add to
the problem with having even more teams in playoff contention.
NHL could also look
at some of the tactics the NBA used years ago to fix their problems but things
like illegal defence should be only as a last resort. One thing for certain,
the NHL needs to stop rewarding the
defensive teams. Case in point - a forward hand pass IS allowed in the
defensive zone, but NOT in the offensive zone...
In conclusion, I believe that size is the issue to help blend some offence back into the
rinks and bigger nets would go a long way to bringing the flow of play back.
May the days of stacking 5 players in the slot and blocking 30 shots per game
be in the rear view mirror soon and never be seen again!