Measuring stick

GARY LOEWEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, but the NHL's dream of more offence is reaching giddy heights.

A return to the wide open Wayne Gretzky era it's not. But the hockey this season certainly is a notch above the whacking and grabbing style we had become subject to as the neutral-zone trap took hold.

One month into the season, goals are up about 25% from the tedious 2003-04 season. Shots on goal are up almost 20%, while power-play goals have increased by more than 50% stemming from the crackdown on obstruction.

The aim of the rule changes was to free up ice for the star players and certainly some have taken advantage.

Through games of Oct. 30 -- roughly 14% of the schedule -- big names such as Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg were shining, but lesser lights were taking advantage, too. John-Michael Liles and Lubomir Visnovsky, for instance, were leading the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings in scoring, respectively.

In 12 games, the New York Rangers' Jagr had 11 goals -- on pace for a 70-goal season, which is something the league hasn't seen in more than a dozen years. Further, eight of Jagr's goals were on the power play, which prorates to more than 50 for a season. That's nine more than the entire Carolina Hurricanes roster mustered in 2003-04.

Then there's Forsberg's 17 assists in 10 games. At that rate, he'll amass more than 135 this season, which would be the second-highest in NHL history to Gretzky's 163 in 1985-86.

Granted, there are players who get off to hot starts every year: Mark Parrish had 10 goals in 10 games for the New York Islanders in 2001-02. But this year there are many more players than usual who have bolted out of the gate. At this point in 2001-02, there were 50 players in double figures; in 2003-04, there were 34; this year, 84.

While referees are calling a tighter game, the slimmed-down equipment goaltenders are wearing seems to be having an effect, too.

Pavel Datsyuk, who had seven goals through 12 games with the Detroit Red Wings, was leading the NHL in shooting percentage at 30.4%. Fourteen players were at 25% or better.

In 2003-04, by comparison, the Isles' Parrish was first in the league in shooting percentage at 22.9%. In 2001-02, the Buffalo Sabres' Daniel Briere was tops at 21.5% -- one of only three skaters above 20%.

GOALS PER GAME

Eric Staal had as many goals (11) in 12 games as he had in 81 games in 2003-04 with the Carolina Hurricanes. Players young and old, such as Alexander Ovechkin and Eric Lindros, struck for eight goals apiece in the first month of the new NHL.

1985-1986

7.90

Offensively, it was Wayne Gretzky's year. He set an NHL record with 215 points and the Oilers averaged almost 51/2 goals a game -- that's more than the total GPG average of the early 2000s.

1995-1996

6.00

This season marked the dusk of a the gunslinging era. Mario Lemieux won the scoring title with 161 points and the term "neutral-zone trap" was not yet in your Funk and Wagnalls.

2001-2002

5.07

Offence hit bottom -- the average of 5.07 GPG the lowest since 1955-56. Montreal goalie Jose Theodore was league MVP while Patrick Roy (below) had a 1.94 GAA and nine shutouts.

2003-2004

5.14

Some goalies wore jerseys you could go camping under, while 11 teams couldn't muster 200 goals. Miikka Kiprusoff led with a 1.69 GAA -- the lowest since Dave Kerr in 1940.

2005-2006

6.42

Jaromir Jagr seemed doomed to life as a 30-goal man, but the new rules have unchained him. He was hot through October and maintained roughly a goal-a-game pace into this weekend.

SHOTS PER GAME

While goals are up about 25%, shots have increased 20%. So, either shooters are getting better opportunities to score when they do shoot, or else the goaltenders really do miss the Dough Boy padding.

1985-86 62.1

1995-96 60.5

2001-02 56.1

2003-04 56.1

2005-06 66.0

PENALTY MINUTES PER GAME

Penalty minutes are way up over recent seasons because of the obstruction crackdown. PIMs are down from two decades ago because of fewer fights. In one game in 1986, Larry Playfair had six minors, two majors and one misconduct.

1985-86 43.3

1995-96 40.1

2001-02 30.4

2003-04 29.8

2005-06 35.1

POWER PLAYS PER GAME

During the first week of this season, it seemed one team or the other always was short-handed as players adapted to the new rules. Referees deserve credit for not being afraid to call a penalty on a team already short-handed.

1985-86 9.2

1995-96 10.1

2001-02 8.3

2003-04 8.5

2005-06 13.3

POWER PLAY GOALS PER GAME

Some will argue that the obstruction rules give an added advantage to teams on the power play. If so, the Columbus Blue Jackets haven't figured it out. They had just eight power-play goals through 12 games. The Washington Caps were allowing two a game on average.

1985-86 2.0

1995-96 1.8

2001-02 1.3

2003-04 1.4

2005-06 2.4

100 POINT SCORERS

The pace may yet drop off but, as of Oct. 30, fully half of the NHL teams could boast of having at least one candidate on a pace to reach 100 points this season, including a handful of defencemen.

1985-86 13

1995-96 12

2001-02 0

2003-04 0

2005-06 20*

50 GOAL SCORERS

In 1995-96, teammates Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr combined for 131 goals, only 33 fewer than the entire Columbus roster scored in 2001-02. This season, finally, the Maurice Richard Trophy (leading goal-getter should have a legitimate winner again.

1985-86 6

1995-96 8

2001-02 1

2003-04 0

2005-06 13*

FREQUENCY OF SHUTOUTS

Throughout the 2000s, goalies were averaging better than one shutout every six to seven games. The introduction of smaller goaltender equipment this season has helped drop it to one shutout every 14.3 games.

1985-86 16.8

1995-96 10.9

2001-02 6.9

2003-04 6.4

2005-06 14.3

* -- projected stats


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