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NHL Twitter Mailbag: Lack of Goal Scoring Becoming Big Worry Again?

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistJuly 14, 2016

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby stops a shot by Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) during Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Welcome to the first of what should be many NHL Twitter mailbags. The middle of July might seem like a funny time to get things started, but no doubt there are a few of you out there hungering for some hockey content right now.

Our first edition starts off with a question about the decline of goal scoring again in the league and how worried (or not) hockey people are about it. 

I took questions right off my Twitter feed for this, and so the questions you see are in their original tweeted form. 

Let's get started:

1.

Bob Warren @Jwa174900

@adater with scoring lower than the dead puck era what do you attribute that to? Less talented players? Better goalies? What can be done?

Technically, scoring was up this past season compared to the last couple of years of the so-called "Dead Puck Era," which most hockey historians peg from about 1997-2004. New rules designed to enhance offense were put in place after the lost season of 2004-05, and scoring did increase. 

That said, it has sunk quite a bit since that 2005-06 season, when teams averaged 3.08 goals per game, according to Hockey-reference.com. In the 2015-16 season, teams averaged 2.71 goals per game. The Dallas Stars led the league with 265. In 1983-84, the Edmonton Oilers led the league with 446. Here is probably the most mind-blowing stat of all in showing how much scoring has declined in the last 30 years:

The Stars led the league in goals this past season, but in 1985-86, that number would have been last in the 21-team NHL. The Detroit Red Wings scored 266 goals that season, lowest in the league. Hard to believe, but it's true: that would have led the league this past season.

From 1997-99, average team goals per game was below 2.70, and in the season before the canceled one, 2003-04, the average was 2.57. So, we're still on a higher pace than that. 

Yet there's no question that hockey people are worried about the decline again since 2005-06. Nobody wants to see the game devolve into 2-1 finals every night, but that's the way things are trending.

Why? There are a number of factors, but at the top of the list is the fact that goaltenders and defensemen are just much better, on average, than those of yesteryear. Coaches always figure out ways to stop offense with better defensive systems, and referees are putting teams on the power play less frequently. 

Wayne Gretzky had 215 points by himself in 1985-86
Wayne Gretzky had 215 points by himself in 1985-86Associated Press

You can't beat D-men wide off the rush anymore. You can't score on goalies if they have any time to see a shot, especially from beyond the hash marks. You can't get shots through from the point much anymore, as there are five guys playing goal in front of the actual masked man. They're all diving and blocking shots.

According to an analysis by the New York Times' Lucas Aykroyd, the average number of power plays per team in 2005-06 was 480. This past season, it was 249. 

That's one area where I think scoring can be increased, even if it has to be done somewhat artificially. Referees need to call more penalties, even in times when they are supposed to "swallow the whistle" like in overtime or in tied, late-game situations. 

Beyond that, there is always talk of making the nets bigger and/or slimming down goalie equipment even more. But the NHL done things like make goalie pads smaller, and the goal-scoring numbers have still declined in recent years. It has declined each of the last three seasons, in fact, from 2.74 goals per game per team in 2013-14 to 2.73 to 2.71.

Beyond calling the rule book tighter, there just doesn't seem like any easy solution to increasing offense. Eventually, the NHL will probably have to go to some radical new idea, like making the nets bigger, but at what cost to the tradition of the game will that bring? 

2. 

Jeff Jardine @JeffJardine3

What teams will make playoffs that didn't make it last year ? https://t.co/fZ0mDTj1BU

That's a tough question, as I really don't feel any of the 16 teams that did make it will be in for any major slippage, but if I had to name a couple that won't again, I might start with the New York Rangers. There wasn't much tangible change to their roster, one that is starting to age as it is. 

Who could replace them as a playoff team in the East? Well, you have to think the Montreal Canadiens have a good shot. Assuming Carey Price returns healthy, and with exciting new additions such as Shea Weber (yes, I know they lost a fine player to get him) and Alexander Radulov, they should be better. I'll go on record as saying the Habs make it and the Rangers don't.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

I'm also going to go on a limb and say the Detroit Red Wings finally miss the playoffs after 25 straight appearances. Yeah, they signed Frans Nielsen from the Islanders, and he's a nice player, but the loss of Pavel Datsyuk will hurt on the ice and will also take some of the swagger from their dressing room. They barely made it this year, and I think they will fall short in 2016-17. 

Who replaces them? Tough call, but I'll go with Boston. Getting David Backes was a nice addition, they still have Tuukka Rask in net and they still have Patrice Bergeron at center. 

In the West? I just don't see any of the eight teams that made it slipping out. If anything, they all look stronger to me. Maybe Colorado can slip past Minnesota for that last spot (the Avs finished ninth to Minnesota's eighth), but based on their respective offseason moves, I don't see it.

3.

ChuckR @ceedubR

@adater Who's gonna be on the 1st power play unit in Las Vegas and who's in net? Educated guess a year in advance

Well, at the risk of being accused of ginning up some cheap link bait here, I did my projection of the first roster for Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. But I didn't do anything like try to come up with a first power-play unit, so here goes:

Jason Garrison and Jack Johnson on the points, with Eric Staal, Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Cogliano down low. 

That's probably a more dangerous unit from the back end than up front, but for an expansion team, that wouldn't be too bad either way.

4.

Al Cunningham @cunningham_al

@adater unless I missed it, why is Matt Carle still unsigned?

Well, it's only been a couple of weeks since Matt Carle had his contract bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carle, 31, had two years left on a deal with a $5.5 million cap hit, so the Lightning are still on the hook for $1.83 million spread out over the next four years. 

It's not like Carle was terrible last season, as he played 64 games, along with 14 in the playoffs. But his offensive production has dropped precipitously from the days he regularly put up 30-40 points a year. He had just two goals and nine points in those 64 games for the Lightning.

Free to make his own deal, it is a little surprising Carle hasn't found a new home yet, especially with so many teams hurting for depth at defense. I suspect he won't last too much longer, unless he has some outrageous salary demand, which I haven't heard. On the right team, under the right coach, you have to think Carle could still be of value. 

5. 

Leigh Eustace @leigheustace

@adater Will Quebec City get an NHL team and if so by when?

It was a bit heartbreaking when the NHL made its expansion announcement late last month but only handed out keys to one team, Las Vegas. Quebec City, the only other city to apply for an expansion club, got rejected.

Most of the blame has to go to the drop in value of the Canadian dollar, which as of Thursday was worth only 78 cents to the American greenback. The league just had too many worries about that, even though Quebec's ownership group, led by media conglomerate Quebecor, appears solid financially.

Don't forget—the bulk of Canadian teams' revenue comes in Canadian dollars, but they have to pay players in American dollars. Not to mention, much of their travel costs are in American dollars. The drop in value of the loonie just brought too much uncertainty to the equation.

Pierre Dion, CEO of Quebecor
Pierre Dion, CEO of QuebecorJohn Locher/Associated Press

It's a shame, because there are fewer better and more knowledgeable hockey fans than those in Quebec City, and Quebecor's CEO, Pierre Dion, is a class guy. The fact there were two more teams in the East than the West also hurt Quebec's bid.

It's hard to predict what happens from here, but there is little doubt that for it to ever happen, the value of the Canadian dollar must get stronger again. A big part of the Canadian economy, at least in Western Canada, has to do with the price of oil, and we all know the hit that industry has taken in the last few years. 

I hope Quebec gets a team again. The fans there got the shaft in 1995, losing their team to Denver and then having to watch it win the Stanley Cup its first year in town. They're good fans, and it would be great to see the old Montreal-Quebec rivalry restored.

But it's a business, and the numbers have to improve for it all to happen again.

6.  

His Stigness @TheRedStig

@adater What is it about hockey that causes it to have such a different culture than other mainstream sports?

It's changing more as time goes on, with more American and European players than ever before and more players being identified at younger ages and being spoiled with more media attention. 

But hockey still is a sport full of guys with small-town, humble values. It's just not the hockey way to say a lot of "I, me, my" sentences. Teams still have a culture of "Don't say too much, don't stand out to much individually, don't put yourself ahead of the team." Many people theorize it's that kind of culture that keeps hockey out of the larger public eye in the U.S., keeps it from being discussed on the Pardon the Interruption-type of sports shows. 

But it's that kind of culture many hockey fans wear as a badge of honor as to why they love the sport so much. A lot of true hockey fans say, "To heck with being on PTI or SportsCenter. Keep the sport the way it is, and if the masses don't get it, their loss."

Duncan Keith with missing chicklets, a pure hockey tradition
Duncan Keith with missing chicklets, a pure hockey traditionJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I mostly feel the way the true fans do. Would it be nice if hockey got bigger TV ratings and more Joe Q. Publics out there talked about the sport? Probably, yeah. But personally, I like covering a sport where players aren't in the headlines every day for getting in trouble away from the arena, where there is still, at its core, a real love of the sport with its players.

Like I said, it's changing. The bigger the salaries have gotten in hockey, the bigger many of the egos have gotten and the sense of entitlement, which is a turnoff. I've covered all the major sports, though, and it still can be said: Hockey players are the nicest guys to deal with.

In our mass media society of today, nice is too often equated with boring. And boring doesn't get big ratings. But I'll take take nice and boring over loud and obnoxious any time.

Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.

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