SUN Hockey Pool

Net result: Less scoring

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

When the NHL stumbled out of its second lockout in the summer of 2005, bigger and better things were promised.

The league and the NHL Players' Association knew they were about to embark on an uphill battle to get fans' butts back in the seats in the 30 NHL buildings across North America.

So some rule changes were instituted to bring people out of the hockey doldrums. Smaller goalie equipment, the elimination of the centre red line, a severe clamping on obstruction penalties, and restrictions on where goalies could play the puck would lead, it was hoped, to more scoring.

On second thought, couldn't we just turn back the clock 20-some years and remember the way things were when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers roamed the land?

Results were immediate as scoring increased.

But as clubs began getting away from open-ended hockey and players either adjusted to the obstruction rules or penalties were not called as stringently as before, goal production began to drop.

And 21/2 years after the lockout expired, it continues to do so.

Power-play goals per game, on average, have dropped half a goal since October 2005.

The idea of expanding the size of the nets has been thrown around, but there must have been a scare when a goalie with the potential for greatness, the Vancouver Canucks' Roberto Luongo, said in the pre-season that if the NHL went larger than its 6-x-4 nets, he would retire.

Interestingly, while goals decline, individual accomplishments have not. Nine players, including Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla and Sidney Crosby, at mid-season were on pace for 100-point seasons, and seven had a legitimate shot at 50 goals.

The league has been invigorated with the double-whammy presence of Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, and fans should be salivating with the idea that John Tavares will make his NHL debut in October 2009.

If anything, though, there could be a wider gap now between the league's best and everyone else. More than a few coaches this season have made note of the lack of secondary scoring throughout the league. Many teams have a couple of fairly prolific forwards, precious little afterward.

And this is with smaller goalie equipment, which has not had the impact that many thought it would. Watch highlights of any game 20 years ago and the difference in goalie equipment size borders on bizarre.

There seems to be little doubt that the NHL, which still has trouble attracting fans in many of its U.S. markets despite claims of record numbers, will have to come up with more ways to make the game exciting again. Let's hope some integrity remains if it does.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOALS GONE?

Rule changes entering the 2005-06 season temporarily helped to increase offence in National Hockey League games, but the overall trend toward less scoring across the league has continued since then. (- -- projected totals)

1985-86 1995-96 2001-02 2003-04 2005-06 2006-07 Jan. 6

Goals/game 7.90 6.00 5.07 5.14 6.17 5.89 5.60

Power-play goals/game 2.0 1.8 1.3 1.4 2.1 1.7 1.5

Shots/game 62.1 60.5 56.1 56.1 60.0 59.2 57.4

50-goal scorers 6 8 1 0 5 2 7 -

100-point scorers 13 12 0 0 7 7 9 -


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