Scoring has been an issue in the National Hockey League again, with totals down from last year. Average goals per game in 2014-2015 were 5.324, down from 5.343 the season prior. That’s obviously not a huge decline, but things have been on a fairly steady downward trajectory and the emergence of the “low-scoring” Jamie Benn as the scoring leader has given some analysts plenty to worry about.
It’s also given the NHLPA yet another reason to bring up issues with the red line – or the lack thereof.
The move to take the red line out was made a decade or so ago with the intention of taking out “the trap,” that apparently awful defensive tactic that was stifling scoring. Of course, goals-per-game numbers from around the “trap” eras show scoring in or around the neighbourhood of where scoring is at now. One has to wonder how much any “line” has to do with it.
This being the NHL, the tendency will always be to tinker. The red line was taken out to allow for two-line passes, which was to subsequently open up offence and provide a lot of those cool long-bomb attempts that would theoretically send a goal-scorer in on a breakaway. That happened, but goalies have been good if not better. Maybe that has something to do with a “drop” in scoring?
The NHL has also been playing around with the idea of bigger nets. They’ve gone so far with this idea as to narrow down the average sizes of goalies from the mid-1980s to now. The discrepancy is down to inches, 1.21 inches to be exact, but there’s enough “evidence” there to justify increasing the size of goal.
Average save percentages are up, to be sure, and it’s hardly a golden era for goal-scoring. For the NHL, that’s always a problem. People want to see goals, not a great physical game anchored by stellar goaltending. Right?
Butterfly goaltending changed things, better defensive planning changed things, and so on. The game has evolved since the “glory days” of goalies kicking helplessly at the puck while it flew in from the blueline. Does that have to be a problem? Does that necessarily make the game boring? Is offence all that matters? Goaltending wins championships, they say, but does it put butts in seats?