The Current State of the NHL Power Play

Is it just me or are the number of power-play chances in the NHL down?

Given what happened to the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, it’s a question that definitely merits an answer. Recall that the Blue Jackets finished the 2016-17 season with the fewest power-play chances in almost 30 seasons according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 82 games, the Blue Jackets had just 211 chances, and average of 2.57 chances per game.

Is this an anomaly or a sign of something bigger? Are other teams experiencing a drop in the number of power-play chances? I decided to take a look at the last 10 full NHL seasons to find out.

What did I find? Hoo boy. Power-play chances are down at an alarming rate league-wide and not just by a little. We are talking a significant drop. Let me give you some perspective on just how large this drop is.

Let’s go back to the 2008-09 season. All 30 teams that season finished with at least 300 power play chances. The lowest total was 307 by the New Jersey Devils. That’s 3.74 chances per game for the team with the fewest chances.

Did you know that in three of the last four seasons, all 30 teams finished with under 300 chances? The only team in the last four seasons to get to 300 was Arizona in 2015-16. They finished with exactly 300 chances.

Chances League-Wide Way Down

Here is a breakdown of the number of power-play chances league wide in the last 10 full NHL seasons.

  • 2006-07: 11,935 total chances (4.85 chances/game.)
  • 2007-08: 10,541 total chances (4.28 chances/game.)
  • 2008-09: 10,228 total chances (4.16 chances/game.)
  • 2009-10: 9,136 total chances (3.71 chances/game.)
  • 2010-11: 8,716 total chances (3.54 chances/game.)
  • 2011-12: 8,133 total chances (3.31 chances/game.)
  • 2013-14: 8,055 total chances (3.27 chances/game.)
  • 2014-15: 7,521 total chances (3.06 chances/game.)
  • 2015-16: 7,656 total chances (3.11 chances/game.)
  • 2016-17: 7,349 total chances (2.99 chances/game.)

This past season was the first season in the last 10 (and likely more) that teams averaged under three power-play chances per game. Consider this your proof that overall chances are way down. Except for 2015-16 where there was a slight increase, the chances have gone down every season.

What makes you think this is going to change anytime soon? It’s not changing, especially when you consider how referees call games today. Obstruction and interference go uncalled more often than not. Even if they called this more, you wouldn’t see the number of power-play chances back near the levels of 10 years ago.

You’re probably wondering why this has happened. It’s a great question in which the answer takes some digging to get to.

I have seen some theories on this. One prevailing thought is that the game isn’t as physical today. To a certain extent that’s correct. The game is still one of the most physical in the world. But the speed element is definitely up from season’s past. There isn’t as much focus on hitting and punishing as there was in the past. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins as an example. The Blue Jackets tried hitting them early in their playoff series. Once Columbus shifted to skill, they played better.

When speed and skill is the focus, you won’t see as many penalties called. Watch this clip from the 1990’s. You don’t see this in today’s game as much.

YouTube player

What About Power-Play Success?

In digging into power-play chances, I found an interesting trend with power-play success rates in the last 10 seasons. This past season was the first in the last 10 that a team’s success rate was over 19%. So although teams aren’t getting as many chances as they used to, they are converting at a higher rate. In fact 2016-17 was the fifth consecutive season that the overall conversion rate increased. Take a look.

  • 2006-07: 2,085 goals in 11,935 chances for 17.47% conversion.
  • 2007-08: 1,867 goals in 10,541 chances for 17.71% conversion.
  • 2008-09: 1,929 goals in 10,228 chances for 18.86% conversion.
  • 2009-10: 1,657 goals in 9,136 chances for 18.14% conversion.
  • 2010-11: 1,562 goals in 8,716 chances for 17.92% conversion.
  • 2011-12: 1,395 goals in 8,133 chances for 17.15% conversion. 
  • 2013-14: 1,433 goals in 8,055 chances for 17.79% conversion. 
  • 2014-15: 1,390 goals in 7,521 chances for 18.48% conversion. 
  • 2015-16: 1,428 goals in 7,656 chances for 18.65% conversion. 
  • 2016-17: 1,405 goals in 7,349 chances for 19.12% conversion.

The conclusion I draw here is that teams capitalize more on their fewer chances. Exactly half the league finished at or above 19.1% this past season with 11 teams breaking 20%. In 2006-07, just five teams broke 20%.

There you have it. Power-play chances trend down while power-play efficiency trends up. Still, how did they give 4,586 more power-play chances just 10 years ago as compared to this past season? I’m not sure about you, but that’s a mind-blowing number.

Get used to this though. Power-play chances will come at a premium. You best take advantage of the ones you do get.