It's that most wonderful time of the NHL season, when everyone looks at the number of goals that have been scored and offers theories on why offense continues to stagnate compared to the way things used to be, when goals were as abundant as Cabbage Patch Kids and break dancers.
Ever see an old man who isn't quite as sharp as he used to be looking for his keys? That's what these yearly complaints about missing goals has become.
"Goals? Has anyone here seen my goals? I had them when I got here and I'm pretty sure I left them right here in the 1980s next to my Wham! cassette tape. If anyone finds my goals, please return them to me immediately."
The NHL employed some new rules for the 2013-14 season designed to generate more goals, but making the nets shallower and reducing the size of goaltender's leg pads haven't had the desired effect. Through Tuesday, NHL games have had an average of 5.38 goals per contest, which is just about on par with the past four seasons. The numbers aren't quite pre-2004-05 lockout levels, but they're not far off, either.
|Numbers since the 2004-05 lockout|
|Season||PPG per game||PP chances per game||GAA||Save pct.|
Those connected ideas led to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News asking if the NHL is barreling toward another Dead Puck Era. That led to Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy responding to said piece by saying that we're never going back to 2005-06 levels because that season was an anomaly. That led to me organizing some thoughts, because while I think they are both correct in certain aspects, they are wrong in others.
The point everyone seems to be missing in all of this talk about finding ways to increase offense is the fact that the number of goals scored during a hockey game does not necessarily correlate to the quality of the game. A 0-0 contest can be just as compelling as one that ends 6-5. One of the most exciting games I've ever witnessed was a 1-0 Devils-Rangers contest in 2011 that was scoreless through 65 minutes; a really terribly played game I watched this season was a 7-4 Devils-Red Wings game a couple weeks ago that featured more mistakes than a Toronto Maple Leafs offseason.
Judging the entertainment value of a hockey game based on the number of goals scored is like deciding whether you had fun during a night at the bar by counting the number of beers you've consumed.
The quality of a hockey game generally rests on the quality of hockey teams on the ice. If a pair of Western Conference teams are slugging it out, the odds say you're about to be treated to a darn good game. If you've got, say, the Sabres facing the Flames, you're not going to find a whole lot in the way of quality if the game ends 1-0 or 14-13. Bad teams produce bad games no matter the era.
And that's the problem in any conversation about goal-scoring levels in today's game. You have to shift your perspective and let go of the past.
Maybe it's time we all looked each other in the eye, nodded and accepted the fact that goal scoring isn't going to return to 1980s levels without drastic changes to the rules, and that's OK. If hockey fans are destined for a lifetime of 3-2 and 2-1 games, we need to come to terms with that, because if everyone spends the rest of their lives chasing the past, no one will ever be happy.
Hockey people of a certain age who lived through hockey's heyday of the 1980s and even part of the early 1990s have a tendency to romanticize that era, and it taints the way they watch today's game. Sidney Crosby will never have a 200-point season, but that doesn't mean his potential 100-point season in 2013-14 should be demeaned because it doesn't compare to what Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux did in their primes. It's unfair to Crosby, to fans and to yourself if that's what you're doing when looking at scoring levels now.
There were a lot of great things in the 1980s that may never be topped—Billy Zabka as a movie bad guy, every episode of The Facts of Life, any song by Poison—but we've moved forward as a society and now we have Mark Strong as the bad guy in every movie, Workaholics and any song by Florence and the Machine. Times change, and whether you like it or not, it continues to move forward and you can't go back.
That's why when the NHL looks like it's going to use long changes in overtime in an effort to increase scoring and minimize the number of games being decided by shootouts, it should be lauded for the genius idea that it is. Jonathan Willis delved into this idea here, and he found that by having teams use the first and third period for long changes instead of the second period, it could increase scoring by five percent.
Does going from 5.38 goals per game to 5.65 goals per game satisfy the craving for high-scoring hockey? Probably not, so it would only be a matter of time until we are back to this conversation.
The one argument that Campbell makes in his piece that I back 100 percent is having the league go back to calling obstruction penalties like it did during the 2005-06 season. There were 6.05 goals per game that season, and it had a lot to do with teams getting so many power plays and scoring with the extra man. As officials relaxed on calling obstruction over the years, power plays dwindled along with scoring.
I don't want to see games being decided by power plays, but I also don't want to see the rampant hooking and holding that existed before the second lockout that's creeping back into the game now.
Can't we find a happy medium between the two that improves the quality of the game—which should be the real issue—and placates those who shake their fist at the scoreboard?
The NHL should look to the NFL for help in this regard. The NFL has a five-yard penalty in place for any defender who impedes a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage. It was a penalty that came about in 1978 but wasn't a point of emphasis until after the 2003 season, when New England Patriots cornerback Ty Law was so physical with receivers that the NFL felt it had to crack down on everyone.
Since that time, NFL games average five more points and about 60 more passing yards. Some of that also has to do with the rule changes to protect quarterbacks, but defensive players are so aware of the five-yard illegal contact penalty that receivers are running free and making plays more often, which is what fans want to see.
The NHL can deliver something similar if it returns to the 2005-06 level of calling obstruction penalties. If the officiating remains consistent, players will learn to adjust their games, and instead of there being a parade to the penalty box, that sneaky hooking and holding will eventually be flushed from the game and allow for a more free-flowing five-on-five game, which is the thing I think everyone wants, and that will lead to more goals.
Long line changes, smaller pads, shallower nets, bigger nets, not letting shorthanded teams ice the puck, whatever. None of that matters.
Today's game is of a much higher quality than anything that was happening before 2004-05. If you are letting a scoreboard dictate how you feel about the quality of the NHL, you're simply doing it wrong.
(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)
This is a really good question. It's also a really bad question because it requires me to think really hard and I'm very against that. I prefer future questions to be multiple choice and without an essay portion.
Some facts about Patrice Bergeron: He is 28 years old. He has 173 goals and 410 career points. As far as paces go, Bergeron is not on one to reach 400 goals or 1,000 points, which are pretty solid credentials for inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
Other facts about Bergeron that help his case: He's won two gold medals at the Olympics and a Stanley Cup with the Bruins. He has one Selke Trophy to his credit.
Fans love to focus on goals and points, but as overblown and beaten into fans as it is during Bruins games on NBC or NBCSN, Bergeron is one of the best, if not the best, two-way players in the league. That has to count for something. He's not just an above-average scorer—he's a lockdown center that can erase the top forwards (along with Zdeno Chara) on other teams.
The X-factor is that hockey people would crawl across 10 miles (16.0934 kilometers) of broken glass to tell you how tough he is. Those hockey people are among the voters for the Hall of Fame, so a less-than-stellar set of offensive numbers won't limit Bergeron like it would other players.
If Bergeron has three or four more quality seasons and banks another Stanley Cup, I think he could get in. It's a long way off but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
When you see the latest story about an owner trying to get more money to support a sports arena/franchise, does it make you want to murder someone?
It most certainly does. This 13-year-old article is as true today as it was in 2001—dumping taxpayer money into sports facilities is almost always a poor investment. Admittedly, that study is long and boring, but so is Dave Lozo's Bag Skate, so if you can get this far here, you can give that 10 minutes of your time, too.
The use of public funds to lure or keep teams begs several questions, the foremost of which is, 'Are these good investments for cities?' The short answer to this question is 'No.' When studying this issue, almost all economists and development specialists (at least those who work independently and not for a chamber of commerce or similar organization) conclude that the rate of return a city or metropolitan area receives for its investment is generally below that of alternative projects. In addition, evidence suggests that cities and metro areas that have invested heavily in sports stadiums and arenas have, on average, experienced slower income growth than those that have not.
The way things like this occur is simple: Politicians use a person's passion for a sports team to extract more money for the coffers, which is how you get dozens of people in Phoenix Coyotes jerseys showing up for council meetings arguing for the chance to have money taken out of their pockets so the team doesn't have to relocate.
If you want read a solid take on subsidizing arenas and stadiums with taxpayer dollars, this report over at SB Nation would be a wise choice. That report is long but not boring, so again, no reason not to read it after reading this.
I assume this question is in reference to what the Florida Panthers are trying to do, which is covered nicely over at Deadspin by Barry Petchesky.
@DaveLozo Do you think the St. Louis Blues are capable of making it to the Cup Finals even with their horrible record v.s. Pacific?— Micah Lynn (@BluLineHockey) March 17, 2014
Oh sure. The Blues were among the handful of favorites before the Ryan Miller/Steve Ott trade, and they remained in that class after the trade, at least in my eyes, which require contact lenses.
One side editorial note from me: Miller is 7-0-1 with a 1.61/.933 split since joining the Blues. In his final eight starts before he was traded to Buffalo (then Washington), Jaroslav Halak was 5-2-1 with a 1.76/.944 split. I've said it once and I'll say it again—goaltending wasn't the problem for the Blues before the deadline; it was how their offense would produce in the postseason.
Vladimir Tarasenko is out at least six weeks after hand surgery, which means he won't be back until at least the second round of the playoffs. The wrong matchup in Round 1 could be a death knell for the Blues. If they had added offensive depth at the deadline, they'd be less susceptible to a first-round upset than they are now.
As for the Blues' 8-10-3 record against Pacific teams, it doesn't matter. The fact that they are 0-3 against the Ducks and Sharks and 1-2 against the Kings won't mean a thing if they meet in the conference finals. Hockey is loaded with cliches that usually induce eye rolls, but the idea that the regular season doesn't matter once the playoffs begin is one I believe.
St Patty's, Fourth of July or Christmas?
Excellent question. It's not quite the pancake/flapjacks question from last week, but it requires deep thought and little research, which I appreciate.
I'm going to go ahead and bounce St. Patrick's Day from the equation, because it's a bad holiday. It's loaded with amateurs covered in awful green garb that are very likely to induce vomiting, and that's just the NHL teams wearing jerseys like this. There are also a lot of drunk people walking around that day, too.
That leaves July 4 and Christmas in a battle for hockey holiday supremacy, as both are essentially dark days for the league. Free agency almost always has died down by July 4 (except when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are involved), and the new CBA means no NHL games on Christmas. They are hockey writer days off, and as someone who is biased in this regard, I enjoy both.
But I lean toward Fourth of July. It's the summer, it's barbecues, it's beers and it's the unofficial start of the offseason. Christmas means indoors, listening to your family passive aggressively judge your life choices and nothing but the NBA on TV.
If you believe the Flyers' tough remaining schedule will cause them to fall out of the playoffs, who makes it—the Red Wings or Capitals?
Yeah, that is a big hole in the idea that the Flyers will miss because of an almost comically difficult next nine games. The Capitals are a, well, what's the word here, mess? And the Red Wings have suffered more serious injuries this season than the entire cast of Jackass, making the hill tough to climb.
As of today, I will keep my wagon hitched to the Red Wings. Their schedule is the most forgiving of those three teams, as the Capitals are in the midst of a five-game stretch against the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, the Kings again and the Bruins.
If the Flyers can exit that 10-game stretch with 10 of 20 points, they'll be a lock for the playoffs.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.