Monday, April 25, 2022

Weekend rankings: It all comes down to the Golden Knights, Stars, and Predators, plus a scoring rant and more

NHL scoring is up, as you’ve no doubt heard. We’re on pace to finish with the highest per-game scoring rate since 1995-96, and maybe even since 1993-94. This season will end up even higher than the fabled post-lockout 2005-06 season, the one that saw us all declare the end of the Dead Puck Era (only to almost immediately see scoring rates plummet again). Factor in having 32 teams, and there will be more goals this year than we’ve ever seen before.

This is a good thing.

You know I’m on board, because I’ve been banging this drum for over a decade now. Offense is fun, offense is what sells, and the NHL’s 25-year-long failure to address the problem with anything more than minor tweaks and hope was a catastrophic failure of leadership. So yes, higher scoring rates is a good thing. The Panthers scoring four goals a game is a good thing. More multi-goal comebacks is a good thing. Having several 100-point and 50-goal players and a 90-point defenseman are all good things. I’m not just on the bandwagon, I’ve been driving it for years. Welcome aboard.

The fascinating thing about this year’s increase is that nobody seems to be sure why it’s happening. I’ve seen multiple attempts to figure it out by smart people, including Travis Yost, Greg Wyshynski and our own Michael Russo. Nobody can quite nail it down, and it’s especially confusing because the league didn’t actually do anything to make this happen. Instead, we seem to be seeing several factors come together in just the right mix. We’ve got a generation of talented offensive players, combined with a step back from the league’s goalies, pushed along by COVID and a condensed schedule that’s meant more depth guys being forced into lineups. Maybe the slashing crackdown helped, or dialing down the netfront crosschecking. Maybe everyone has four lines that can contribute now. Maybe it’s all of these things. Nobody knows for sure, but we know that we like it.

Great. Now let’s keep going.

For all the back-patting over this year’s numbers, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d taken a giant leap forward. Look at those headlines on those pieces up above. It’s an “explosion”, an “offensive renaissance”, a “boom” that’s seen the game “reinvented”. But is it? We’re talking about an average of a bit more than a tenth of a goal per game for each team compared to the last full season. That adds up to about eight goals per team, maybe ten, or a little less than two per month.

When you think of it that way, this doesn’t feel like that much of a seismic shift, especially compared to the 70s, 80s and early 90s, when scoring was still nearly a goal-per-game higher at its peak than it is right now. Compared to that era, we’re barely making baby steps. And yet it’s indisputably led to a more entertaining season. It’s been great. Have you heard anyone complaining about the extra offense this year, even those “I love a good 1-0 defensive battle” weirdos? I haven’t. If an extra goal every few weeks is this much fun, imagine what this league could be if we kept going.

The part that worries me is that “if”. When we don’t know what’s causing the numbers to go up, that means we can’t be sure they’ll stay there. Maybe we really are on the cusp of a new era. Or maybe this is just a weird outlier, when a few hot shooters and cold goalies and the existence of the Red Wings nudged up the numbers just enough to trick us into thinking we’d seen something real. We’ve been fooled before, after all.

So sure, celebrate the increase. Hope that it continues. But hope is not a plan, and hanging a “Mission Accomplished” banner yet again only to watch as 32 defense-first coaches grind away at the gains would be a disaster. Scoring is fun. Offense is fun. Watching guys hit milestones and reach big round numbers and chase records is super fun. But right now this all looks like a happy accident, so let’s treat it as the first step towards a new and long-overdue era, not a finish line.

Rant over, let’s head to this week’s power rankings…

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