By: Shane Kehl
Instead of hearing the clank of the post it would be the sound of a goal horn. Instead of the “almost” highlight reel goal it would be a SportsCenter Top 10 Play. Instead of a boring 2-0 game it would be a thrilling 5-4 game. I think you can catch my drift here; bigger goals in the National Hockey League (NHL) would lead to much-needed higher scoring games and the goals that make you rewind wondering how that just happened. With the number of goals per game in the past five seasons being substantially lower than in the latter half of The Expansion Years (1968-1986) the NHL should consider expanding the size of the goals.
If the NHL were to expand the size, from the current 72” x 48” goal, to a 73.5” x 49.5” goal it makes one wonder how greatly it would impact the scoring throughout the course of a game. Scoring in the National Hockey League has been declining the past several years and the only changes that have been made have benefited the defensive aspects of the game. Goalie and player pads have gotten bigger, which increases shot blocking, but the goals have remained the same size throughout the history of the NHL. From players, to coaches, to fans, everyone must be curious as to how a small increase in the size of the goal could change the sport for the better. Bigger goals would result in more scoring and thus fans would be rewarded with more “bang for their buck” when purchasing the ever-so-expensive ticket to an NHL game. With comparisons of Alex Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky, the scoring throughout the NHL during their careers, how the goalies were completely different, and how other sports boosted their scoring, it is my hope to show how the NHL desperately needs to do something to increase the goals per game across the league.
The thing that I find most unfortunate about the goals not being made bigger after the increase in goalie pad size is the stat line of Washington Capitals’ superstar Alexander Ovechkin. He has scored 510 goals, as of February 15, 2016, in 812 games and is widely regarded as the most prolific goal-scorer the game of hockey has ever seen. He came into the league after the NHL Lockout during the 2004-2005 season and if the nets had been increased since the start of his career his statistics would be absolutely astounding. He is currently #39 on the all-time goal-scoring list and I believe that if the goals had been larger since he entered the league his unofficial crown as the most dangerous shooter in NHL history would be solidified by the end of his career without a doubt. His 510 goals is 384 behind the great Wayne Gretzky, but with 11 seasons under his belt and at least six to seven more the record is still attainable for the Russian Machine. However, in theory, Ovechkin is the greatest pure goal-scorer to ever step onto the ice, so why must this record even be a struggle to attain? Gretzky played in a completely different era, and when the goalie pads were smaller, and this why Ovechkin must have several prolific years ahead of him, with larger goalies, in order to catch The Great One.
From 2009-2015 the National Hockey League saw an average of 5.48 goals per game, the current 2015-2016 season sits at 5.23 goals per game. When compared with the 1981-1982 season, where the goals per game was 8.02, these numbers seem depressingly low and appears to be depriving the great players of today’s game the chance to put up numbers like ’81-’82 superstars such as Wayne Gretzky (212 points), Mike Bossy (147 points), and Peter Stastny (139 points). Gretzky’s impeccable 212 points that season is surprisingly not the highest however; while it is the second most of all-time, the person in first put up 215 points in a single season – which was also Gretzky. Now, how is it that no player has been able to put up numbers even close to that in the last two decades? One thing is for sure; it’s not due to a lack of skilled players in the league.
At the inauguration of the National Hockey League goalie pad rules, set for the 1937-1938 season, the limit was set at no wider than 10 inches. In 1989 they changed that ruling and said that goalie pads must be 12 inches wide or less, only to change it again in 2003 to say that they must be no longer than 38 inches and no wider than 11½ inches. Then two years later they changed the maximum width to 11 inches, and that is where it sits today. In 1989 the league changed the maximum goalie pad width to 12 inches and since then only six seasons have had a total goals per game greater than six, and only one of those took place in the last 20 years. Clearly the scoring in the National Hockey League has greatly decreased since the inception of larger goalie pads, which had the primary mission of protecting the goalies, but with these larger pads and larger goalies should have come a proportionate increase in the size of the goals.
Several other professional sports leagues have made changes in attempts to boost scoring in their sport. The National Football League implemented an illegal contact rule, which generally angered cornerbacks and safeties, in 1978 that caused a spike in passing yards per game. In 1978 when the rule came into play the average passing yards per game was at 317.7, and by 1980 it had shot up to 391.9. The National Basketball League also made a change to boost scoring by adopting the three-point line, which was implemented right before the 1979 NBA season. During the 1979-1980 NBA season an average of 2.77 three-pointers were taken per game and we have seen a drastic increase since then. As of 2014, an average of 21.25 three-pointers were attempted per game and the average number of two-pointers taken per game dropped from 87.87 in 1980, to 62.02 in 2014. Additionally, Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1968, while also shrinking the strike zone, in hopes of increasing scoring around the league. These changes resulted in an 11-point increase in the big league battering average and a 19% increase in runs. Other sports are obviously trying to boost scoring in their respective sport, but the National Hockey League seems content on sticking with their traditional ways and ignoring the fact that scoring has tremendously decreased since the days prior to the goalie equipment adjustments.
Personally, I believe that the National Hockey League should make the goals bigger, preferably to 73.5” x 49.5”, even though this may be an unpopular opinion. The game of hockey has changed so much over the last two decades in a multitude of ways, but the decline in scoring has never been at the forefront of the discussion. Teams are no longer employing “goons” to go out there and fight; they want players who can be physical, but also score some goals and help the team win. While the NHL may not be able to get that demographic of fans back they can entice new fans by giving them something they haven’t seen – higher scoring games.
The goals in the National Hockey League need to be larger. The NHL is already the smallest of the big four professional sports in the United States and if it wants a chance to even be in the same conversation as the others it needs to increase scoring. Making the goals larger will do so, thus drawing in more fans and put more excitement into the game. While this would be a big change for most players and goalies it could be experimented with in the American Hockey League and then if proven to increase scoring, without tarnishing the integrity of the sport, it could make a debut in the National Hockey League in the next two to three years.