The Great NHL Scoring Debate Roars Forth And A Wild Update!

Marc Elliott

ST. LOUIS… Last week I made mention of some renewed fervor regarding goal scoring in the National Hockey League, or lack thereof. Well, I am disappointed to report that for the better part of the week, whether I had on the NHL Network on Sat TV or on Sat Radio, the debate continued on, much to my chagrin. Personally, I fail to see that there is ANY problem here. Perhaps I am a purist or maybe a traditionalist that can enjoy a great 1-0 or 2-1 game as much as a scoring festival of 6-4 or more. I just love watching this game. And certainly, having watched thousands of games over the years, I can’t say I have never seen a clinker type of a game, but for the most part I can find enjoyment in watching just about any tilt played at any level.

So, by the time Wednesday afternoon rolled around and after listening to yet another analyst pontificate on the woes of the game relative to how many goals are scored (or not scored) per game, I had just about had my fill. First off, not a one of them has yet to produce any solid evidence, opinion poll or study that shows that this is a bonafide problem with fans of the game and of the league. Until that occurs this is just an exercise of some individual(s) trying to push an agenda as far as I am concerned. I am reminded of Los Angeles Kings Head Coach Daryl Sutter’s comments a couple of years back during a playoff push regarding goal scoring and why it seem so hard to score goals in the playoffs. His response; It’s a 3-2 league.

Well, the coach is somewhat right. The last solid piece of info I could find about goals scored per game showed a 5.23 per game average. Is that bad? If so, why do you think that? I have seen a lot of pretty fantastic 3-2 games in my time. Are there fans and media people that want bigger margins of victory? Would those kinds of games be compelling to watch? With the parity of today’s NHL would increased scoring still provide fans with a majority of one goal contests? And then, if this is a real problem, would fans be ok with some rules or standards changes to increase goals scored even if it meant less competitive games? There are many angles to consider when you really dig into it.

One of the proposed solutions to this alleged problem has been to expand the size of the nets. As I have previously stated I am dead set against doing that. Every hockey scoring and goaltending record in the game, and in every league has been set upon the 4’ X 6” goal standard. Changing that is an asinine response to a non-existent problem. The people behind this “solution” say that you simply place an asterisk next to all previously set and held records. Right-o. I did hear one point of interest regarding the net size debate and that was that there were about 1300 “hit posts” in the NHL last season. (not sure where that info comes from) If you make the nets larger does that number decrease? I sincerely doubt it.

There IS validity to Sutter’s comment, but there are also a myriad of reasons behind that. Due to better training, systems, structures, equipment, coaching and other factors, the game has never been played in a more excellent manner. The offenses are better, the defenses are better, special teams, skaters, and… goalies. So is it some kind of surprise that it is harder to score? And if it is, why would you want to tamper with that? Isn’t that just a natural progression? For that matter, hasn’t it ALWAYS been hard to score a goal in a competitive hockey game? The answer to that is yes, it has been.

In the 1961 Stanley Cup Final between the Detroit Red Wings and the eventual Champion Chicago Blackhawk’s, the game scores were as follows; 3-2 ( C ), 3-1 (D), 3-1 ( C ), 2-1 (D), 6-3 ( C ) and 5-1 ( C ). Were fans and/or media upset over the number of goals scored in this series? Not that I know of. My point in this? Some nights the game is going to be 3-1 and some nights it will be 5-3 or 7-5 or whatever. That’s the way it IS. When you start suggesting that standards be changed to manipulate the results you are misguided.

There is only one item I would be willing to take a look at and that would be relative to goaltender equipment size. There are established standards in existence now, and they are enforced from the league level. I would find it hard to believe that there exists any widespread fudging on these standards, there would be H-E-double hockey sticks to pay from the league. Did players modify in the past and on their own? Undoubtedly so. But I don’t see that as a factor anymore. There are those in the “make a change” camp that believe this is a problem too. Maybe, maybe not. Some years back when Dominek Hasek was a prevalent force in goal, he was a sort of diminutive type, but when he took the ice looked about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Goalie equipment has since been downsized and some want yet another change.

If the day arrives that someone can prove to me, beyond reasonable doubt, that this is a real problem, doing real harm to our game, I’ll be ready to roll up my sleeves and help find an amenable fix to it, until then…. Take a nap, switch to decaf or something. You are trying to fix a machine that ain’t broke….

THE MINNESOTA WILD are in the middle of a four game roadie and have beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in OT and lost to the Dallas NorthStars by the same score and also in the extra frame. They will be at Pitt on Tuesday eve and at Boston on Thursday before returning to St. Paul next Saturday to take on Nashville. Their game continues to improve and I have seen Goalie Devan Dubnyk’s game elevating as well. As for the Nashville return bout on Saturday, if you are a Wild fan, you know we owe them one, enough said…. PEACE