Increasing NHL Goal Scoring Without Bigger Nets

Scoring Down Again?

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Jamie Benn won the league scoring title in 2014-15 with less than 90 points (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

In recent weeks there has been chatter about NHL scoring being down again. While it hasn’t fallen off much, goal scoring is slightly on the decline. Many hockey fans believe this trend needs to be turned around and there are a number of ideas being floated around. Our friends at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy published a recent column that discussed (among other things) whether or not taking away the red line for two line passes actually reduces offensive creativity. According to the Yahoo piece, New York Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle seems to think putting the red line back in as a two line pass rule would stimulate neutral zone creativity. The argument suggests there are more long stretch passes for simple dump and chase redirects than there are for breakaways. While the logic behind putting the red line back in is sound, I don’t think it changes much. The league took out the red line to help increase scoring. Maybe it hasn’t quite worked out, but I don’t believe it has been a significant factor in stifling scoring. Whatever the NHL decides to change (if anything) increasing the size of the nets should not be a consideration.

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Instead of making scoring itself easier (bigger nets and/or smaller goalie equipment), it is much more beneficial for the league to simply increase the amount of scoring chances. That is by far the bigger issue at hand. Scoring chances are where the entertainment lies. It isn’t just about the few pucks that cross the goal line between the current four by six cage. There are far more chances in a game than there are goals. Making the nets bigger just sounds tacky and lazy if you ask me. Making the nets bigger will increase scoring of course, but it would be an incredibly drastic change and it could easily dilute the game. There is no better goal than a tic-tac-toe passing play. We don’t want to take that creativity out and just have players shooting from distance more frequently with a larger target.

The Much More Intriguing Option

When thinking of better ways to increase scoring, Puck Daddy, as well as many others, are on the right track when talking about power-plays. The NHL bounced back from the 2004-05 missed season by increasing the amount of power-plays. Over recent years though the players and coaches have learned how to defend better without taking penalties and thus we have seen a slight drop in scoring. This time around though, one thing the NHL could change is icing on the penalty kill. This is something I first stumbled upon when reading a blog post a couple years ago by Sharks broadcaster Jamie Baker. Full marks to him for the idea for a short-handed team to no longer be allowed to ice the puck. A former NHL center and frequent penalty killer himself, if I remember correctly, (sadly couldn’t find the blog in the Sharks archives) Baker asks an intriguing question, why does a team being penalized gain an advantage? It is counter intuitive by logic to do something wrong and gain something from it. (A big reason why I dislike basketball).

Taking away icing while down a man would make it much tougher on the penalty killers. Combined with the no changing after an icing, power-play percentages would almost surely increase.  There would be more scoring chances and sustained offensive pressure on the man advantage rather than having to watch the power-play skate back into their own zone and go the length of the ice to set up again. While THW college hockey guru Eric Burton says this didn’t go over well during a NCAA preseason trial run, methinks the NHL should give it a serious look.

A chance to see the Sharks play (Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Other Options

Of course there are other suggestions like having two minute minors be played like two minute majors. In other words unlimited scoring for two minutes. While this would be a similar tweak, personally the idea of a team being 2 /1 on the power-play just seems too weird. Currently a power-play being 2/3 is pretty basic, they scored on two out of three power-play chances. But if multiple goals can be scored on minor penalties, then broadcasters would often have to clarify whether or not they scored both goals on one power-play or on separate ones. Just seems unnecessarily complicated.

Another THW colleague Prashanth Iyer suggests an increase in power-play opportunities similar to the previously mentioned 2005-06 season. Prashanth points out that power-plays per team per game are down an entire power-play from 20 years ago. Personally I wasn’t a fan of the players having to adjust to the 2005-06 rules definition of what was and wasn’t a penalty. It would be simpler to just know that you aren’t allowed to ice the puck while short-handed anymore. This is the tweak that makes the most sense. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments section below!