Tuesday, January 10, 2006


The $64 Question

Tom Benjamin is taking a look at the scoring numbers I posted yesterday, and takes the step I didn't--wonders about something that's of qualitative interest to NHL fans:
How much would scoring be up this season if PP and ES time broke down the same as last season (and thus, if the raw number of special teams goals was the same as last season)? Scoring would be up by 0.49 GPG instead of 1.03 GPG.

The $64 question I've been chewing over is "What rule change or changes is producing the extra half a goal per game?" The key point is that even strength scoring is up per minute and power play scoring is not, once an adjustment is made for all the extra two man advantages. That begs the question:

"What rule change or changes help offense at even strength play but doesn't help the power play?"

Hell of a good question, and his answer seems very plausible:
The fact that the change in the icing rule only affects even strength play provides a clue, I think. I can't believe the rule itself leads to more goals, but it does lead to fewer whistles. So does allowing the two line pass and so does the re-introduction of tag up offsides. Most of the missing whistles are missing from even strength play because most of the power play stoppages occur when a shot is deflected out of play or the goalie freezes the puck.

Indeed, although I think it's possible that the icing rule itself does lead to more goals. The rule prohibiting defensive line changes after an icing has, to my eyes, provided a very successful disincentive for icing. Icing the puck has changed from being a generally sound defensive play (particularly with a lead, and considering the alternatives) to being a generally poor defensive play, or at least that's the obvious wisdom among coaches and players at the moment. Icing has become pretty rare.

When you combine that with the delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, we have a situation where most players would rather attempt to chip the puck partway down the ice, and risk having it intercepted, than ice the puck knowing the consequences. Similarly, when a defender is the first to reach a loose puck in the midst of a sustained attack, he never just one-times a blast up ice anymore; he'll hold on to the puck briefly, to try to get into a position where he can clear the puck without icing it. (Note: these things apply regardless of whether the defender is dead tired or not.)

This cannot lead to anything except longer sustained pressure at times in the attacking zone. This should lead to more goals. Half a goal per game? Dunno.

[Postscript: now that the new icing rule has introduced this weird concept of prohibiting only one team from changing lines, shouldn't the "puck over the glass" be punished the same way (goalie and skaters)? A minor penalty is excessive for an infraction which surely is no more egregious than icing. There's actually less delay than with an icing, since no one has to skate back and touch the puck.]

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