In an era where the options for consumer entertainment are endless, professional leagues are always on the hunt for ways to keep the fans coming to games and watching on television. There has been a massive shift towards increasing the amount of offense in the NFL this year and the results were very positive. Viewership is back on the rise and fans bases are growing. High scoring sports are widely considered more entertaining and fun to watch. The NHL is no different. For years now the NHL has been trying to find ways to increase scoring and make the game more entertaining and it appears those efforts are finally coming to fruition.
For more than 20 years, scoring in the NHL has been in a stagnant rut where the average goals per game by a team were consistently around the 2.70 range. There was even a low point of 2.57 goals per game in the 2003-04 season. This has been the lowest scoring era in NHL since the 1960s and the beginning of expansion in the league. Those fans who have been around for a long time will often still refer to the high flying 80's as the most exciting time in the NHL. Goals per game by a team in the '80s averaged over 3.50 per game and were often close to 4.00 per game. We saw some of the greatest scoring and records during that decade and some of the greatest players ever dominated at that time.
As we moved into the 90s, hockey evolved. The coaching improved and better defensive systems were being used by teams. At the same time, players were getting bigger and stronger and the amount of space out there on the ice appeared to be getting smaller. The 90s are known now as the dead puck era. A time when systems like the neutral zone trap eliminated the time and space needed to play a high flying attack style of hockey and the scoring plummeted as a result. Teams were very successful playing this way and more defensive styles of play started to be adopted by other teams. In the eyes of many hockey lovers, including myself, this was some of the most boring hockey in NHL history.
There was also an evolution at the goaltending position during the 90s as well. Goalies were getting bigger. Not just in the actual player size but in the size of the equipment. Equipment was becoming oversized and as goalies got bigger, the net appeared to get smaller. The more space a goalie takes up means less space to shoot the puck. In the 80s, goalies equipment was very form fitting and the goalies were not much bigger than the actual players sized. By the mid-90s, you couldn't tell the difference between a small goalie and a big goalie because of the size of the equipment. Not only were the average goals by a team per game declining, the GAA and save percentage were increasing. Were goalies just getting better or was there something else at play?
Over the past ten years, the league has been trying to increase scoring and get back to the exciting hockey that fans love to watch. In many ways, the skill level of players in the league is as good or better than it has ever been and the consensus is that it is time to see that skill displayed to its fullest. It started with the removal of the red line and the elimination of two-line passes. This played a big part in reducing the neutral zone trap and encouraging more speed when entering the attacking zone. There was definitely an increase in scoring chances but the average goals stayed relatively the same. It wasn't long after that when executives started to take a closer look at the goalies and started listening to the people who were preaching about the oversized equipment. It was getting to the point where you could barely see the net at all.
There was some initial debate about whether the goalies needed to get smaller or the nets needed to get bigger. In the end, it was decided that increasing the nets was too big a change to the league and ultimately, goalies had become too big. The changes started with the reduction in the size of goalie pads. The pads needed to become less wide. They had grown to 12 inches and bigger depending on the goalie and they were coming further up the player's body. Some pads were so big that you could barely see the goalie's pants behind them. Back in the 80s and earlier pads were not a whole lot bigger than the goalie's legs.
Next was the reduction in the size of the goalie's blocker and trapper. Then last year the goalie pants were streamlined to be more form-fitting and less baggy. An inch here and there from all different areas on the goaltender makes for some bigger gaps for players looking at the net. The league even moved to ensure that the sweaters the goalies were are also more form-fitting. This year there was yet another change to goalie equipment with the reduction in the size of the chest protector and arm pads. This was a tricky rule to implement because you can't just give a specific size to these pads. The idea is that the pads can only be so much bigger than the person wearing them.
The chest and arm protector worn by each goalkeeper must be anatomically proportional and size-specific based on the individual physical characteristics of that goalkeeper," then gives precise measurements for elbow, arm, clavicle and shoulder protection.
Elbow floaters have been reduced from 7 inches to 6 across the front. Bicep and forearm pads must taper -- 5.5 inches to 4.5, then 4.5 to 4. Clavicle floaters cannot extend more than 2 inches above the shoulder at the lateral edge, 1.5 inches at midpoint and 0.5 inches at the medial edge. Shoulder caps cannot project laterally beyond shoulders more than 1.5 inches. Source
The results have been clear as NHL scoring is on the rise and for the first time in 13 years and second in 25 years, average goals by a team per game are over 3.00. More goals are being scored in games and the reaction from fans has been extremely positive. More goals equals more excitement. It feels like it has taken a long time to get to this point but the NHL is a lot of fun to watch again. We are getting to see the great players in this league produce and put up points like the stars they are. Not only can we see the difference in the number of goals being scored by teams but also in the number of points that players are scoring. Last year in the NHL there were 20 players who scored a point per game. So far this year, there are over a whopping 50 players that are currently on pace to score over a point per game. Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov currently leads the league with 71 points in 42 games. This is a pace that has not been matched since Jaromir Jagr did it with the Penguins over 20 years ago.
When asked about the changes to the equipment there are some goalies who are frustrated but for the most part the feeling that the position should be about skill and not how big you are. The smaller equipment has actually contributed to some goalies being quicker in the net. Less heavy equipment allows them to move more easily. When asked about changes the goalies unanimously voted for equipment changes over an increase in the size of the net. I have even found that the goalies are more entertaining to watch and that on many occasions they are making nicer and more skilled saves. More goals and more dynamic goaltending play sounds like a win-win to this hockey fan. I hope that the increase in goals trend continues and that we see the largest number of players eclipse the 100 point mark in years. LAst year was a bump in the right direction and this year could set a new mark.
What are your thoughts i the changes to goaltender equipment? Do you enjoy the higher scoring games? I would love to hear your opinions.