Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

The NHL's Big Problem


This isn’t a new issue but its been on my mind the past few days and I felt the need to write something about it. No its not officiating, although it is pretty bad. Nor is it concussions, even though it deserves its own branch in epidemiology.

I was at the Leafs game last Saturday when they faced Philadelphia. The game was 0-0 all the way to the shootout. Needless to say, it wasn’t the most exciting hockey game I had ever attended. Fortunately I didn’t pay for the tickets, but I felt really bad for those that did.

The same thing happened last night in New Jersey: 0-0 all the way to the shootout. The game between San Jose and Nashville was 1-1 all the way to the shootout.

I looked back the schedule and saw that it was littered with these types of games.  And then it dawned on me: this league really sucks when it comes to providing on ice entertainment value to its fans, at least in terms of scoring. That is their big problem.

Over the last few decades the NHL has increasingly become a goalie’s league. If you look back at the 1980′s you’d be hard pressed to find goalies with GAA’s below 3.00. In 1980 there were only 4 (who had played at least 10 games) In 1981 there were only 3. In 1982 there were 5. In 1983 there were 3.  You get my point. These numbers remained more or less the same all the way through the 1980′s. However, in the 1990′s, the number began to go up.

In 1990 there 8 goalies with a GAA below 3.00 (who had played in at least 10 games) By 1995 there were 26. By 2000 there were 43. These increases coincide with the Dead Puck era and represent a broad trend of decreasing offense in the NHL that is continuing to this very day.

Today, there are 53 goalies with a GAA below 3.00 (who have played in least 10 games) Even more telling, there are 3 goalies with a GAA below 2.00, and another 4 hovering at or around it. In fact, the top 10 goalies in the NHL all have GAA’s below 2.30. The top 20 are below 2.50.

Its pretty simple: not enough pucks are filling the net, and that is not good for the NHL, who is fighting a perpetual war with the other major North American sports leagues for attention of potential fans and the cash of networks and sponsors. Furthermore, it is completely unfair to current fans, who are forced to shovel out hundreds of dollars to watch games in which there are one or two goals.

The relatively low scoring league the NHL has become completely deteriorates and discredits the value of the product its trying to sell.  Therefore, a key objective of the NHL in the upcoming CBA negotiation has to be adding more offense to the game.

How can they do this?

I’ve heard a number of suggestions thrown out there. Some include rule changes that would lead to more powerplays and open games up more. But that would only take away from the game, after all the most exciting hockey is back and forth at even strength, not spent at one half of the ice.

My goal would be to make changes that would not affect the way the game is called but rather simply make it easier for skaters to get pucks in the net. Ergo, my solution would: make the nets bigger.

By adding 4-6 inches to the net, shooters will given extra holes to hit and subsequently, will produce more goals.

Another interesting proposal I heard is adding an incentive to score more goals opposed to sitting on leads or playing a trapping style. For example, changing the rules so that a tie-breaker scenario becomes determined by goals for or structuring top seeds by most goals scored.

At the end of the day, the NHL is a business selling a product and right now not only is that product unappealing to potential customers, but its not giving its current customers good value for their dollar, at least not on a nighly basis. When fans pay a lot of money to come to a game they should be treated to an exiciting experience with plenty of scoring, not a 0-0 or 1-1 lullaby. The priortity should be about entertainment and experience. After all, this game is driven by those who watch it.

Hopefully the NHL addresses it in the CBA negotiations and makes it a focal point. And more importantly, lets hope they come up with some good solutions.

Thanks for reading.

  • Pingback: NHL Blog Beat – St. Patrick’s Day 2012. | Spectors Hockey

  • EricConverse

    I completely agree with this article. I am a diehard hockey fan and Boston Bruins season ticket holder. I love the game. I read some material from about 2006 by Ken Dryden who was advocating for larger nets. He makes some strong points to those who argue that changing the size of the nets would ruin previous records, because of this change. These critics ignore the fact, that almost EVERY facet of the game has changed throughout the years, even within the last 20 years. No more wooden sticks, larger and more protective goalie equipment, more advanced coaching methods, larger athletes etc. All of these changes are NOT ‘natural’ progresses of the game, but they are changes brought in by people to try to improve the game. The same should be said about larger nets. Often times, people criticize the argument for larger nets as this unnatural or foreign change being made to the game. If so, goalie equipment should have never changed and sticks should still be made of wood. 
    Ken Dryden described how the psychology of the goalie and the psychology between the shooter and the goalie have changed drastically through the years. These changes can be measured through the falling GAA cited in this article. Goalies prior to the mid-80s, not only were thinking about stopping pucks, but they were also more significantly concerned about their own protection. Dryden described how goalies would shrink or cringe to protect themselves from hard shots, as their chest protectors did much less to protect them, which then created much more space for shooters to aim at. Also include that the average height/size of a goalie was much smaller back then.
    Now goalies are getting increasingly taller, padding (even after the 2005 equipment reduction) continues to grow, goalies have little fear of injury from pucks now. This allows them to aggressively block pucks and actually enlarge their size in net with their positioning, to get any piece of themselves to deflect pucks away from the goal.
    With all of this being said, shooters now have much less net to shoot at. More goals need to be scored through deflections and screens. It is important to realize that as the scoring threat area in the defensive zone shrinks, defense can adjust accordingly. The Rangers are the perfect example of this. Now defenses can shrink and try to block perimeter shots, while also thoroughly clogging the middle of the zone where most major scoring chances could be made.
    If the net were enlarged, goalies would have to be more acrobatic to make saves and be less reliant on positioning and the butterfly. (Bring back the kick save?) Forwards would be more apt to take shots from along the boards and other parts of the perimeter in the zone, which would have a greater chance of going in. This should force defenders to play more aggressively and a bit more man to man, which would also in turn open up more scoring chances in the middle.
    As a hockey fan, it would be VERY interesting watch, if this change was made.