SAN JOSE, Calif. – Does the game need another makeover or is it fine the way it is?
That will be debated Friday when the NHL’s board of governors wrap up two days of meetings just south of here in Pebble Beach. The meetings begin Thursday, with the headliner an address from NHL Players’ Association executive director Paul Kelly.
Friday could make for an interesting discussion. Goal scoring is down for a second straight season. Some owners and GMs will press for change. Others will warn against knee-jerk reactions.
“Right now goal scoring is dropping – it’s dropping by the day,” said San Jose Sharks head coach Ron Wilson.
A look at the updated numbers back up Wilson’s statement. The league was averaging 5.4 total goals per game through Tuesday night (not counting shootout tiebreakers), down from 5.8 through the same number of games last season and down from 6.2 at the same point in the first season coming out of the lockout when a number of rule changes opened up the game.
That’s 139 fewer goals from last season through 347 total games and 277 fewer goals from 2005-06 at the same point. The numbers are still up from the 5.1 total goals per game the league was averaging through the same number of games in 2003-04, but it’s trending south.
Theories vary as to why. Players have adjusted, taking fewer obstruction and hooking penalties which means fewer power plays and hence fewer goals. There’s also the thought that coaches have adjusted.
“That’s why they’re the best coaches in the game today, because they figure out ways to shut down dangerous teams,” Sharks defenceman Craig Rivet said Wednesday after his team’s morning skate. “Once one team finds a system is going to work, it seems like everybody is going to follow. It seems like teams are blocking a lot more shots. In order for forwards to score in the offensive zone now, it’s extremely difficult.”
Watch an NHL game these days and one will see teams collapsing down low with players blocking shooting lanes.
“Everybody’s blocking shots like never before,” said Wilson.
The Buffalo Sabres, a team built on speed and skill, have been very public about their concerns with where the game is heading and will make their feelings known at the meeting.
But what’s the answer? Wilson, for one, says people shouldn’t be scared of change. He points to the fact other sports have made radical changes over the years that were beneficial, mentioning how the pitcher’s mound in baseball was lowered years ago, which took away some of the advantage pitchers had and led to more offence. In basketball, Wilson said, they added a three-point line.
So what should hockey do? Bigger nets? Even smaller goalie equipment? Four-on-four hockey? What should the governors decide, if anything, this week?
“Leave it alone,” was the advice to governors from veteran Sharks centre Jeremy Roenick. “What are they going to do? Make the pucks smaller? Come on, enough is enough. They’ve tinkered with it enough. The game is good. The excitement is good. …
“I don’t think people are noticing that’s dropped down, I know I haven’t as a player.”
Sharks winger Mike Grier agreed.
‘I still think it’s a pretty exciting game,” said Grier. “There is more defence going on, there’s five guys low in the zone. Teams are blocking a lot of shots. It’s a little bit tougher in the scoring areas but I think the game is fine. There’s still a lot of hitting and it’s fast paced.
“Hopefully they’ll leave it alone.”
Roenick, for one, says the league has bigger issues on its hands than scoring.
“I think they should concentrate more on the stupidity of the head shots, which I know they have, the lack of respect that’s going on,” said Roenick. “Look at the Philly hit again the other night (Scott Hartnell on Andrew Alberts), the guy’s on his knees and you still smash his head into the boards.
“There has to be some level of respect amongst the players and there’s not.”