October 28, 2011 5 Comments
A crazy night in Philadelphia was overshadowed by an even crazier one in St. Louis. A 9-8 hockey game that I can imagine got like received little to no press in the United States wasn’t even the headline story in Canada.
Insane, I know.
As amazing as the Jets-Flyers 9-8 shootout was, it highlighted an even greater issue plaguing the NHL — Goal Scoring. Long gone are the days of barn burners while the ever-present goaltender duels have become front and center over the past 10 years.
The hockey “purists” won’t agree but it’s an epidemic of small pox proportions.
Goals = entertainment. The formula isn’t a difficult one. Although the NHL is gaining a bit more prominence recently thanks to some great playoff battles and charismatic stars, it is still having trouble keeping up with the high-scoring forces of the NFL and NBA.
The reduction of head shots, quarterback hits and general contact all together have produced one of the NFL’s highest scoring seasons in history so far through 7 weeks. Needless to say, but the NFL is thriving.
Despite being stuck in a lockout, the NBA is fresh off a season where the hype reached the heights of the old Magic-Bird days. It hasn’t hurt that the skill positions have benefited from rules limiting what defensive players can do to stop them.
Scoring doesn’t just equal entertainment. Scoring = ratings.
The NFL and NBA understand that. They have adapted accordingly.
The NHL doesn’t and have been suffering from a scoring drought for the past 15 years.
The die-hard Canadian fans will stick around through thick and thin but the casual North American audience needs a reason to sit on their couch for 2.5 hours. Scoring would do that. It’s pretty clear why Soccer isn’t more popular in North America.
As each day goes along, hockey is starting to look more like soccer. A lot of back and forth neutral zone play and decreased amount of scoring opportunities. Nothing much happens a lot of times in hockey especially with the likes of the Minnesota Wild playing trap hockey, a strategy seemingly taken straight out of the playbook of a relegation threatened EPL team.
In the decade prior to the lockout, there was more hooking in the NHL than in the Amsterdam Red Light District. The skill players weren’t allowed to be skill players. It didn’t help that the increasing size of goalie pads caused a brick wall effect on pucks attempting to reach the netting. How else could Jose Theodore win a Vezina Trophy?
In 2003-04, the final season before the lockout, the NHL’s scoring numbers were at its lowest total since the Korean War according to this graph from dropyourgloves.com.
It’s no surprise that following the lockout, scoring increased by more than a goal a game when the NHL decided to crack down on all the hooking and holding while also slightly limiting the size of goalie pads.
But the numbers have fallen again from 6.17 in 2005-06 to 5.43 goals per game through the first month of the 2011-12 season. Fortunately, the continued enforcement of the post-lockout rules has kept the numbers a bit higher than pre-lockout years.
Okay, so where am I going with this?
The NHL has been playing around with subtle changes that predictably will only make a subtle difference.
Players and goalies are as big as they have ever been. There is less room on the ice and less room to shoot at.
Owners don’t want to decrease their seating capacity in their respective arenas so bigger, international-sized ice surfaces are not plausible. Neither are bigger nets, with the inevitable asterisk that would sit in front of possible broken records.
There’s only one solution that would unquestionably turn the game around for the better: Make the goalie pads small again.
Watch old highlights from the early 90’s and you will see the degree of ease with which players are scoring comparatively to modern times. Goalies couldn’t go into their butterfly stance and take up ¾ of the net or make highlight reel saves ordinary by simply placing their massive glove hand in the right spot.
Goaltenders had to rely on athletics instead of technique back in the good old days. In 2011, it’s improbable to score from behind the ringette line if the goalie isn’t screened or the puck isn’t deflected. Napoleon Dynamite has an easier time scoring blonde bombshells.
It’s not about protection anymore. Guys may shoot harder but you don’t need a novelty-sized glove or pads that would cover up a Sumo Wrestlers legs to protect your body. It sure helps to stop the puck though.
Make the goalie pads significantly smaller and goal scoring will increase significantly.
The NHL wants to make the game appealing to a broader audience yet, since the lockout, they haven’t even experimented with a 1990’s style pad size.
They have tried bigger nets. That is and can never be the answer. At the very least, the NHL has to test out and research the idea of smaller pads.
9-8 games is not the type of hockey we should be striving towards but a step or two in that direction would not only make the game more entertaining for current fans but it would engage a much wider, casual audience.
It shouldn’t take another 15 years for us to see 17 goals in a single game again.
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