Thursday, December 10, 2015

The NHL's talent dilution myth

The hockey world has spent the past few weeks discussing the NHL's scoring rates, and what (if anything) the league should be doing about them. I've covered the topic from a few different angles, and each time I do I get a big dose of feedback from readers. Some are pining for the high-scoring days of the 1980s and '90s. Others aren't sure there's really much of a problem at all. And almost everyone has an idea about what's behind the league's two-decade drop in scoring.

The usual suspects show up often: The goalies are too big and too good; their equipment is out of control; defensive systems are too well-coached; the rulebook isn't enforced properly; the rinks are too small; and the loser point has left everyone playing for the tie.

But there's another culprit that comes up surprisingly often, so much so that it's easily one of the most common I hear from fans: talent dilution. There are too many teams and not enough players.

The argument goes something like this: If you want to know why scoring rates started to plunge in the early '90s, look at what else changed in the game around the same time. In 1991, when scoring was high, the NHL had 21 teams. It added five more over the next three years, and another four more by 2000. That's a 42 percent increase in teams, and roster spots, in less than a decade.

All that expansion, the thinking goes, might well have added new fans and increased the league's reach, not to mention its revenue. But it also watered down the talent level, to the point that hundreds of players who wouldn't have made the cut in a 21-team NHL were suddenly holding down big-league jobs. Those guys weren't as skilled, so of course we saw a drop in goals. Each team had fewer guys who could score them. And further expansion will only make things worse -- if anything, we could use a good round of contraction.

It's a convincing argument. And it's a timely one, as the NHL continues to tiptoe down the path to adding new teams. If the talent dilution theory is true, the scoring situation might be about to get even worse.

Luckily for us, it's not true. Talent dilution isn't behind the scoring drop. And here's why.

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1 comment:

  1. You're exactly right. I've heard the talent dilution argument too and, as you say, it's completely wrong.
    One thing that fans of the high-flying 1980's forget is how terrible many teams were defensively. There were dozens of really poor defensemen that guys like Gretzky could exploit, and this was mostly die to talent dilution.
    Now you should address the "Bobby Orr factor,"which I've also heard a lot, but may or may not be true. The idea is that a lot of the young defensemen were trying to be offensive producers like Orr, but, even if they were good point-producers, they couldn't defend like Orr.