Blackhawks News

The NHL’s Big Problem

By Cody Pugh

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.