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Power plays, not goal scoring, down in NHL

Steven Stamkos leads the NHL with 53 goals this season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Steven Stamkos leads the NHL with 53 goals this season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The phrase “Dead Puck Era” has a lot of negative connotations to it. When you hear it uttered, you picture slow-moving board play, hooking, holding, a lack of scoring chances and just a dreadful overall entertainment experience. The NHL spent a year trying to move away from this style and the hockey we were left with when the 2005-06 season began was fittingly dubbed ‘The New NHL’ and provided a fresh take on the age-old league.

Coming out of the lockout, goals were soaring. The 6.05 goals per game being scored in 2005-06 was the highest average since 1995-96 and this was viewed as a victory for all.

Ever since then, the entertainment value has been held up to this number, which was derived from what was essentially a tryout season for the new rules. As goals per game dropped from 5.70 in 2008-09 to 5.53 then 5.45 in the following seasons and now this year’s 5.29, the idea that the Dead Puck Era was on its way back began to percolate and, once latched onto by the knee-jerk world of social media, caught fire and became a major talking point.

But this thought is flawed. It only takes into consideration numbers on the surface when, in fact, the issue goes much deeper. Goals per game is down from 2005-06, but one passing glance at today’s game and one hard look at the numbers shows the Dead Puck Era is not on the verge of returning.

GOALS PER GAME
STAT
2003-04
2005-06
2011-12
GP
2,460
2,460
2,278
5on5 GF
3,919
4,027
4,171
5on5 GF/G
1.59
1.63
1.83
PP OPP
10,089
14,390
7,528
PP OPP/G
4.1
5.8
3.3
PPG
1,717
2,545
1,311
PP%
17.0
17.7
17.4

Editor’s note: There were, on average, five extra minutes of power play time per game being played in 2005-06 over 2011-12. When five is multiplied by the total number of games played in 2005-06 you get 12,300. Divide 12,300 by 60 minutes per game means there were an extra 205 games at even strength in 2005-06. Multiply 205 by the 1.63 5on5 GPG average in 2005-06 and there should be 343 goals added on to the 2005-06 total. In dividing the new total (4,361) by the 2,460 games actually played in 2005-06, you get an even strength GPG average of 1.77, still lower than this season.

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Let’s get one thing straight: The low goal totals of the Dead Puck Era can be attributed to the overwhelming obstruction that was allowed. Therefore, the era should be defined more by the slow pace at which it ran, rather than strictly by the amount of goals being scored. There was so much obstruction it hurt the league’s speed and entertainment value immensely, but there is no one on this planet who, in their right mind, can compare the game we have now to the one we had eight years ago.

Is goal scoring down from what it was after the lockout? Absolutely – the numbers show that clear as day. But the numbers also suggest this development is in direct correlation to the fewer numbers of power plays being handed out. And just because there are fewer penalties called does not mean obstruction is at the level it was in 2003-04.

The one common ground where we can compare these three years is at even strength, where there are actually more goals being scored now than there were in 2005-06. In fact, only 108 more goals were scored at even strength in 2005-06 than in 2003-04. This year’s even strength markers have already surpassed the first post-lockout season by 144, with a few games to play.

Is obstruction creeping back into the game? When you compare it to how obstruction was handled fresh off the lockout, yes. But, again, when you watch a game and look at the numbers, the NHL is not in danger of reverting to what it was in the dark ages. Too many penalties for inconsequential plays were being called in 2005-06 (i.e. minor, unobtrusive stick taps) and there’s now a happy medium between that and the overwhelming pre-lockout levels of obstruction. What we have now is a good balance of goals, difficulty level and, in turn, entertainment value.

Power play opportunities per game jumped by 1.7 in 2005-06, but are currently being handed out less frequently than they were in the last year of the Dead Puck Era. But this has not had an adverse impact on the game’s goal totals at even strength, so how can one argue the clutching and grabbing is impeding with the entertainment level of a game to the degree it was before the lockout - or even that it’s headed in that direction?

If fewer penalties meant the Dead Puck Era was creeping back, wouldn’t that mean 5-on-5 goals would suffer rather than swell?

Entertainment value depends on your opinion. If all that keeps you interested in games are goal totals, then constant passing around the perimeter with the man-advantage is right up your alley. I like to call this “Harlem Globetrotters” hockey.

But if every other facet of hockey is something you enjoy as well, then this version of the NHL is still in a good spot. If you like battles for the puck, battling through checks, earning every inch of ice and every goal scored, the current incarnation of the NHL is for you. I like to call this “old-time” hockey.

I’m not here to argue the game is called perfectly - the level of officiating always has to be monitored. By having human beings manage a sport that runs at this pace, there will be calls missed from time to time. Suck it up and push through.

But let’s cut out this idea the Dead Puck Era is back. If you have a problem with the fact fewer power plays are being awarded and, in turn, fewer overall goals are being scored, please call it something else.

Because by watching the games and looking at the numbers, today’s NHL and the Dead Puck NHL are nothing at all alike.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.

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