PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Goal scoring is down but the NHL’s caretakers decided Friday to resist more radical change.
The NHL’s board of governors meetings wrapped up with a healthy discussion of the game, and despite the downward trend in offence, it was mostly agreed to leave the game alone at this point in time.
“I think it’s a wonderful game the way it is today,” said New York Rangers president and GM Glen Sather. “Just because the goal-scoring is not as high as everybody would like it to be, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the game. It’s a terrific game.”
Friday’s 3 1/2-hour meeting at a posh golf resort was focused mostly on the state of the game, although there was also a presentation from CBC Sports president Scott Moore. It followed Thursday’s busy developments:
-The owners voted in a new schedule format, which is really just the pre-lockout version, with six games against each divisional opponents instead of the current eight and 18 total games against the other conference, up from 10. It means every team will play every team next season.
-The sale of the Nashville Predators to a mostly local group led by David Freeman was approved.
-A look at league finances and early season projections for this year’s revenues. Commissioner Gary Bettman told owners to expect the salary cap to go up yet again next season.
-An address to owners from new NHL Players’ Assocation executive director Paul Kelly.
On Friday, it was about the game.
“The game is in excellent shape,” said Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke. “I think the package of rule changes since the lockout made the game better and showcased the skill.”
But the numbers don’t lie. The NHL was averaging 6.2 goals per game through the first two months of the 2005-06 season, the first year coming out of the lockout, but is down right now to 5.4 goals per game. That’s close to 300 fewer goals at this point.
“People wring their hands about that but I don’t think goals sell our game,” said Burke. “It’s scoring chances. I’ve said that for years and I’ve built my teams on that in terms of entertainment value. If you go to a game there’s a series of events that entertain you: scoring chances, a fight, a big hit. Our goal is to provide as many of those per period. We don’t need more goals.”
Former superstar centre Steve Yzerman, now the vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings, was relieved no major changes were adopted.
“I’m not so concerned with goal scoring being down, regardless of whether it’s 1-0 or 5-4 you can have exciting hockey games,” said Yzerman. “We made dramatic changes to the game coming out of the lockout and some of them have been very positive and some of them have had a negative effect on the game.
“I wasn’t really in favour of making dramatic changes three or four years ago and I’m certainly not in favour in making any changes at the time being. Let’s just play the game and continue to develop good young players from all over the world. We cannot keep tinkering.”
Not everyone agreed with that sentiment.
Buffalo Sabres president Larry Quinn made a presentation to the governors Friday which passionately asked for the league to consider spending more time and money on research and development to try and figure out ways to improve the game.
“We didn’t propose any rule changes either,” said Quinn. “What we said is, goal scoring is going down, we don’t think the zone trap is what our fans want to see, and we’ve got to find a way to get it out of the game without damaging the game. And that requires a lot of research and development in my opinion. So it was a good discussion.”
Quinn would like to see the league’s head office adding way more staff in order to tackle these issues more effectively.
“If somebody wants to go to a bigger net or a smaller catching glove or anything, we have the desired outcome at the end by researching it before we do it,” said Quinn.
“For instance, there’s a theory that bigger nets would get rid of the trap and improve goal scoring,” added Quinn. “Who knows if that’s true? I don’t. So ideas like that need to be tested thoroughly so that if we decide to do something like that, it has the desired result. You’d hate to do it and not have it work.”
He seemed to find an ally in Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi.
“I think the most important thing they said in there which I think is accurate that maybe we’ve got to spend a little more time on research when we make changes which I’ve always kind of advocated,” said Lombardi.
But in the meantime, you can forget bigger nets and other ideas of the sort.
“I think there is a natural reluctance to go in that direction but with recognition that if you felt that there was a sufficient problem and that was the only way to address it it would be your last resort,” Bettman said of bigger nets. “I don’t think anybody’s careening out of control in that direction.”
The league will continue to monitor things, Bettman said.
“We need to constantly poke and prod and be vigilant but we need not be revolutionary, we need not be impatient,” said Bettman. “We need to see how it evolves and how it all settles in. But if we need to make tweaks then we shouldn’t be afraid to do them if we’re convinced that they’re necessary.”
Burke says the evolution of goaltending is why it’s so much harder to score goals in today’s game.
“I blame Patrick Roy for all of this because he glamourized the goaltender position,” said Burke. “The single biggest difference in any pro sport over the last 50 years is the emergence of the goaltender position in the National Hockey League. They’re superior athletes, better coached, better trained. You watch tape from 20 years ago and some of the goals going in are horrendous, just horrible. You wonder what were they doing? I don’t think we should lament goals being down. We should be committed to entertaining hockey and a big save is an exciting play.”
Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson said there was a danger in constantly trying to change the game.
“The more you talk about it sometimes, it makes it seems like you’ve got things you’ve got to do. It becomes a self-fulfiling prophesy.”