In the early 2000’s, a key concern of the National Hockey League was the number of goals being scored, which reached a low of 2.3 goals per game in the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons. With a new season about to begin, it seems like a good time to review goal scoring over a longer-term period. When we do this (using the last nineteen NHL seasons of data), we see that goals scored per game (see graph) definitely spiked the year following the lockout (3.1 per game), but have also remained at or above 2.8 since, so at least some of the actions taken by the NHL to address goal scoring worked and have continued to work.
Interestingly, even-strength goals have continued to rise since 2001-02, a few seasons before the lockout. In 2009-10, 2.09 even-strength goals were scored per game, levels not seen since 1996-97. Meanwhile, and of much more concern, the number of power play goals has fallen to 0.68 per game in the most recent season, nearing the all-time low of the last two decades.
This decrease definitely caught my attention, and hopefully the league’s as well. It’s the exact opposite of what one would expect to see. Looking more closely at the issue, power play success (see graph) has actually gone up in recent years (the dashed red line is the five-year trend). The last two seasons – 19.0% in 2008-09 and 18.2% last season – are the highest ratios since the first four seasons (1990-1994) of the data. That’s interesting in itself, and could also be caused by any number of reasons. More focus on the power play by coaches, for example, but it obviously doesn’t explain what’s happening to the number of power play goals being scored. In fact, it shows that the opposite should be true.
If we turn our focus to power play opportunities per game, it is there that we discover what could be a very serious issue. Power play opportunities per game (per team) were only 3.71 in 2009-10 (see graph), the lowest of the entire nineteen year data set.
This is a shocking revelation – we had been conditioned to think that power play opportunities were abundant. They certainly were after the lockout when there were 5.85 opportunities per game (higher than of the previous fourteen years included in my data). However, they’ve gone down every year since then to 4.85 in 2006-07 (a 17% decrease from 2005-06), then to 4.28 in 2007-08 (12%), 4.16 in 2008-09 (3%), and finally, 3.71 last season (another 11%). Overall, power play opportunities have fallen 37% from their peak after the lockout, and 12% from the year prior to the lockout.
It would seem that referees have put their whistles back in their pockets to an extent not seen in the last two decades, for reasons that remain unclear. This is surprising at best, alarming at worst given how much emphasis the league has indicated they are placing on stopping cheap shots and other infractions. While proponents of the new rules put in place during the lockout suggested players would get used to the new rules, are they really so used to them that we now have fewer infractions than in the past eighteen seasons? The other interesting fact uncovered is that even-strength goal scoring was already on the way up at the time of the lockout, and might have continued to increase regardless of any new rules implemented.
So, what do you think? Can you rationalize what’s going on? Does it concern you? What happens if this trend continues?
About the Author: Michael Senchuk really is a bit of a numbers freak – always has been. He’s parlayed this into a career in finance, and he currently works in that capacity for a Canadian poultry processor. He also writes a pair of blogs, one on inspired business insight (360 Analysis Avenue) and the other on new indie and alternative music (New Music Michael). He can also be found on twitter at @mikeatqazam.