Every NHL season, there seems to be some sort of gripe that pundits and fans have with the game. Not enough parity in the league, so let’s introduce the shootout and award a loser point. The star players aren’t getting enough room out there, so let’s crack down on hooking, holding and obstruction in general. There’s always something and this season is no different. We’re entering another dreaded ‘dead puck’ era, or at least that’s what the media wants you to believe. They lament that since the 2012-2013 lockout, the amount of goals scored per game has gone from 2.72 GPG to 2.66 GPG; that’s far too egregious. Something needs to be done to remedy this and the solution? Increase the size of nets and shrink goalie equipment; do something to save the game!
The truth is, scoring or the perceived lack there of, is not really that big of a problem in the NHL. The most popular game on the planet, football, (or soccer for us North Americans) averages 2.66 goals per game and yet fans can’t get enough of it. Soccer is a finesse game, a chess match, much like hockey, and fans appreciate the artistry of the beautiful game. Just like hockey, goals per game in soccer have decreased over the decades because of one thing: Evolution. Players are faster, stronger and think the game on an entirely different level than players before them. In addition to that, the way every position in the NHL is played has changed. A 5’11” Patrick Kane is currently leading the League in points with 76, the top defenceman, Erik Karlsson, isn’t the top d-man because he throws crushing hits and goalies are standup/butterfly hybrids and athletic specimens. Gone are the days where guys would smoke half a pack of cigarettes between periods, a la Guy LaFleur. Today’s NHL players aren’t only students of the game but students of the gym.
Those reasons may not wash with a vast majority of lamenters but I’m confused as to what the media and ‘fans’ want from the game. Granted, the coach’s challenge for offsides on a goal is asinine; an attacking player being half an inch ahead of the puck has zero impact on whether or not a goal is scored. That rule has no doubt hurt the amount of goals that have been scored per game so far this season. Having said that, I would much rather watch a well-played, three-goal game than a 10-goal barn burner that resembles more of a beer league game. This isn’t the WWE, the main focus of the NHL is not to entertain; entertaining is one small part of the equation. These teams are in the business of winning, because winning puts people in seats and cable networks wanting to broadcast games. Do you really think that fans in Florida will come out in droves to Panthers’ games if they scored five goals a game but lose? Any reasonably informed fan will tell you no.
The complaints regarding lack of scoring is also a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Look no further than the championing of John Scott in the NHL All-Star game. His story was compelling and fun and there’s no doubt that he’s a solid human being but is John Scott playing 13 minutes a night going to increase the amount of goals scored in an NHL game? All signs point to no. A referee recently told me that in any sport, two things win championships—defence and turnovers; something that was clearly evident in last night’s Bronco’s Super Bowl win. If you want to see hundreds of points scored in a game and 57 lead changes, tune into an NBA game but please, leave hockey be because when it comes to the game itself, it’s trending in the right direction.