Rejoice! The NHL announced this week scoring has risen 12.4 percent, with the league average now 6.1 goals per game, the highest mark since the 2005-06 offensive explosion after the year-long lockout.
When 2005-06 launched The New NHL, the obstruction crackdown was largely responsible. Each team received an average of 4.24 power play chances per game in 2003-04, the final season of the Dead Puck era, and the shift toward enforcing the “clutch and grab” penalties like hooking and holding spiked every team’s power play chances to an average of 5.85 per game in 2005-06.
This season, of course, we have the slashing crackdown. I don’t blame anyone who believes it will fade away by season’s end, but the tougher enforcement of the “casual slashing” culture has helped teams gain an average of 3.46 power play opportunities per game. That’s nowhere near what we saw 12 seasons ago, but 3.46 is up from 2.99 last year and is the highest number since 2010-11, which happens to be the first season after the NHL introduced the new rule 48.1 for illegal checks to the head. It helps that teams are currently killing penalties league-wide at 80.3 percent, which is the worst mark since 1989-90.
So maybe we have a new standard of offense, at least until (a) players have the new rule enforcements so drilled into them that they stop committing the infractions, leading to fewer power plays and (b) teams adjust their defensive schemes, which seems to happen every season. When was the last time we didn’t rave about an increase in offense by mid-fall only to see it evaporate come winter?
The slashing crackdown at least gives us hope that the scoring increase is here to stay, unlike last season. If scoring is bound to drop again, though, we should enjoy it while it lasts. Let’s have some fun with on-pace numbers, shall we? While we know they should regress, offsetting that notion is the fact I’m not doing era adjustments here. If I did, the current individual numbers would look even more impressive. Big stick taps to the dynamite stat sites hockey-reference.com and quanthockey.com for making my research easy.
* Among NHLers with at least 20 games played so far this season, 30 average at least a point per game. In the past two decades, 2005-06 and 2006-07 are the only completed seasons in which that’s happened. We can expect this season’s number to come down since a 20-game sample size is small, but even if half that group – 15 players – average a point per game by season’s end, they’ll represent the highest number in a non-lockout year since 2010-11. In each of the three seasons preceding this one, just eight players with 20 or more games averaged a point or better.
* Among NHLers with at least 20 games played so far this season, nine are on pace for 100 or more points. Nine NHLers have scored 100 points in the previous eight seasons combined. The league hasn’t boasted more than one 100-point scorer in a season since 2009-10. The last season in which nine guys cracked 100: 1995-96. Seven did it each year in the offensive boom of 2005-06 and 2006-07.
* NHL scoring leader Steven Stamkos’ 36 points in 21 games put him on pace for 141. That would smash Joe Thornton’s post-lockout record of 125, and 141 would be the highest point total since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr had 161 and 149, respectively, in 1995-96. (side note: that’s a 22-year-old stat. Let it sink in for a moment that Jagr still plays in the NHL). The only players in NHL history to record 140 or more points in one season: Wayne Gretzky, Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito, Bernie Nicholls, Jagr, Pat LaFontaine, Mike Bossy and Adam Oates. Stamkos is also on pace for 101 assists, which would be the most since Wayne Gretzky notched 122 in 1990-01. Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr are the only players to record 100-assist seasons.
* Among NHLers with at least 20 games played so far this season, four – Nikita Kucherov, John Tavares, Mark Stone and Alex Ovechkin – are on pace for 50 or more goals. That number climbs to five if we count Auston Matthews, who has 12 goals in 19 games. The last time four or more NHLers notched 50 goals in the same year: 2005-06.
* If Ovechkin gets 50 goals again, he’ll have eight in his career, putting him within one of Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky for the most all-time, which is unbelievable given how much of a lower-scoring era Ovie plays in.
* Kucherov’s goal-scoring pace: 66. The last player to score that many in a season: Lemieux, who notched 69 in 1995-96. The only players to score 66 or more in one year: Gretzky, Brett Hull, Lemieux, Esposito, Alexander Mogilny, Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Nicholls, Bossy and Lanny McDonald.
* In the 20-games group for 2017-18, 21 players are scoring at a 40-goal pace. The last time that many players notched 40 in a year: 1993-94.
* The Tampa Bay Lightning average 3.90 goals per game as a team right now. That’s the highest mark since, you guessed it, the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 4.41.
* Among NHL defensemen with at least 20 games played so far this season, 10 are on pace for 60 or more points. That hasn’t happened since 1995-96, when 11 blueliners did it. If we extend this year’s sample to D-men with 15 or more games, we get 14 on pace for 60-point campaigns.
* Erik Karlsson’s 17 points in 15 games put him on a 93-point pace. Since he’s missed five games, he can only max out at 77 games on the year, but his current scoring average pro-rates to 87 points. That would be the highest total since Ray Bourque had 91 in 1993-94.
* League-wide save percentage sits at .911, the lowest mark since 2009-10. It peaked at .915 in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
* So far, 41 goaltenders meet the NHL’s games played requirement to be qualified SP leaders. Of that group, nine netminders, or 22 percent, have SPs lower than .900. Last season: two of 44 (4.5 percent). In 2015-16, no qualified leader had an SP lower than .900. Eddie Lack and Anders Nilsson were dead last at .901. The last time more than 22 percent of goalies sat below .900 was 2006-07.