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NHL scoring is down from last season: Are bigger nets the answer?

The Canadian Press
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Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco. (AP File/Matt Slocum) Author: The Hockey News

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NHL scoring is down from last season: Are bigger nets the answer?

The Canadian Press
By:

"I know this is going to rock some traditionalists, and I can say this because I'm one of those, but I really think we've got to look long and hard at bigger nets," Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations, said in an interview with The Canadian Press. That's the kind of thing that can start a revolt in the goalie fraternity.

"Cringe is one word," Dallas goalie Marty Turco said Tuesday after hearing about Campbell's view. "I think it's so far down the line of necessities. I don't think it should be an option, personally."

The NHL came out of the lockout in August 2005 with an impressive package of rule changes meant to open up the game: a massive crackdown on obstruction, smaller goalie equipment, allowing the two-line pass and restrictions on where goalies can play the puck.

It worked. The game has been better to watch.

But the goals aren't going in at the same rate in the second year of the experiment. Through 491 NHL games this season, roughly 40 per cent of the schedule, the league is averaging 5.8 goals per game (not counting shootout tiebreakers). That's down from 6.1 goals per game at the same point last season.

"Wow, stop the presses, 5.8," said Turco. "What, did people think it was going to keep going up like the salary cap? It has to even out, you're going to have ups and downs."

It's still up big time from the same number of games in 2003-04, when the average was 5.0 goals per game, but the trend appears to be going downward from last season's high.

Why?

"I think a lot of it has to be chalked up to adaption," said Campbell. "As you recall, a couple of the reasons that we did massage the rules was because two areas had gotten really good: coaching and goaltending."

And now the goalies and coaches have had a year to figure this out. There are other reasons as well, though none of them are terribly scientific. One could argue the skaters are smarter about what's a penalty and what isn't.

"The goalies have gotten used to the downsized equipment," added Campbell. "Coaches have obviously adapted, they always do, that's their jobs, to the no red-line, to the tag-up off-side, to the puck in the stands (penalty), killing 5-on-3s, a number of things really."

So now what? Campbell says the bigger nets, which have been toyed with in the past, most recently at an NHL rookie tournament last September in Toronto, will be on the agenda at the GMs' meeting in Naples, Fla., Feb. 18-21.

"We're at that point where I think we would be a little bit neglectful if we didn't look at it," said Campbell. "And I'm not saying it's going to be the final result. But certainly we have to look a little bit harder than we have."

First, Campbell would need to convince his GMs in Naples. Then the NHL's competition committee, made up of players and GMs, would have also have to sign off on such a change before it finally goes to the board of governors for approval.

So there's a long way to go before bigger nets ever see the light of day. For starters, people within the game will need to change their long-standing views against it.

"I've never liked the idea when they've talked about it, because that's the tradition of the game," star Tampa Bay centre Brad Richards said Tuesday. "But people are a lot bigger now, they're taller, they weigh more - including the goalies - than they did 80 years ago.

"So maybe it is something that is smart to look at. I'm not sure."

Turco is sure. It's a non-starter.

"We've made a lot of changes and it hasn't even been a year and a half post-lockout," he said. "You can't measure off of that, it's not fair. I think we've made great changes, we've got a great product, things are moving in the right direction economically. I think we can bare to stand pat a bit in terms of changes to the game ...

"We have to relax a little bit, let this game grow and not screw it up."

Campbell has liked what he's seen from the post-lockout changes, noting that teams are erasing two-goal leads more than before, but he's not totally satisfied. There's a type of goal that no longer exists in the NHL, one that used to electrify crowds - the slapshot off the wing. Campbell wants to see it back in the game.

"We have to experiment (with bigger nets) to see if we can get that puck in off the wing, that Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner shot," said Campbell. "Players are so good now at blocking shots and getting in the way of shots. You just can't get one through. Goalies are bigger and better."

And there's no way goalie equipment is going to get any smaller.

"It is what it is now because they've worried us that if we reduce it more somebody is going to get killed by a hard shot," said Campbell. "We can only take it back so far."

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NHL scoring is down from last season: Are bigger nets the answer?