NHL Scoring, By Year



In light of yesterday’s article comparing Sidney Crosby to Wayne Gretzky, I thought there might be some interest in seeing how NHL scoring has gone up and down over the last quarter-century. 


Please note that the graph ranges from two to four goals per game per team, not zero to four.  This gives us a better focus on the differences by season, but also exaggerates highs and lows.


If I worked for the NHL, I’d be very concerned that the “New NHL” which came in with such fanfare post-lockout has seen scoring decline to the point where it is only marginally above pre-lockout levels.  I’m honestly not sure what the solution is; there’s room for more vigorous enforcement of obstruction rules currently on the books, and tossing out the Wayne Gretzky rule to allow more four-on-four hockey (as suggested by a commenter below) might be one change that could be beneficial.


What else can the NHL do to increase scoring?

Comments (23)

  1. Smaller goalie pads.

  2. Definately smaller goalie pads, some goalies look like they could stop bullets with all that padding

  3. How much smaller can goalie pads get, though? I suspect that size is less of a problem than material – old goalie pads were so much heavier than new ones.

  4. The only thing you can do is change either the goalie equipment or make the nets bigger. Goalies are so well coached you don’t see as many weak goals as before. Watch some games from the 80′s. Alot of weak goals.

  5. Judging by the subtle spike in 2005-06 I’d wager that a lockout might be the answer. Shall we try it again?

  6. Not just the pads though, the goalie’s chest and shoulder areas. Sports Illustrated had a cover (or more likely a section) in their hockey preview that compared a goalie’s equipment in the 2000s vs the 1980s. I believe the number was about 16% more of the net is covered in just equipment alone.

    Slightly unrelated, but i’d be interested in seeing a Lemieux vs Gretzky comparsion, in terms of normalizing data somehow, looking at teammates, and other such factors.

  7. Goaltenders’ equipment actually being manageable has allowed them more practice time, and the better equipment has also translated into more effective practices since players are less scared of hurting their goalies.

    That’s why I’ve always thought that a lot of the decline in scoring (which, as this chart shows, generally pre-dated the trap coming into vogue with the exception of the anomalous 1992-1993 season that’s probably more the result of expansion teams) was more on goalies getting much better than any style of play changes.

    But, yeah, toss out the Gretzky rule. There’s no good reason to retain it, and there hasn’t been since the turn of the century.

  8. Larger nets is an idea that makes me uncomfortable, but it makes some sense too – so many advancements have been made by goaltenders, as the commenters have pointed out.

  9. Long changes for periods 1 and 3 instead of 2.
    Calling more penalties? Consistent rules enforcement. Consistent punishment for transgressions. All three of those would keep players safer, cut down on injury, create more 5 on4s and probably open up the ice for more chances by keeping players more honest.

    My problem with the ‘larger goals’ argument is the following: Why should we penalize a class of player for actually getting good at the game? This is along the lines of the NBA not allowing the Zone defense. They got good at playing the game, so we’re going to take their competitive advantage away.

  10. Why is there this constant focus on goal scoring? Scores dont reflect the quality of the game. You can watch a 2-1 game that might be the most exciting game you’ve ever seen in your life, and you can sit through a 7-5 game that is utterly awful.

    Players a big, players are fast, players are good. Ditto for goalies. Live with it, its still hockey. As long as the games are good, why the constant complaining?

    Don’t ruin my sport with larger nets, 3-pt lines, lightning rounds, or defencemen in shoes.

  11. Have to agree with Leafs. The players of the game have changed immensely in the past 20 years, which is usually quickly overlooked when scoring concerns are discussed. Also new styles of goal-tending have emerged that have clearly effected the game big time.

    FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT MAKE THE NETS BIGGER. What a joke that would be.

    Restrict chest padding on goaltenders and start the crack down on DIVING. Any ref that has the balls to call a diving penalty is good in my books.

  12. Death By Leafs/Rob:

    I have to admit that I don’t have an issue with low-scoring games, although I do like the barnburners too.

    But I do believe that the casual fan (i.e., not you, me, or anyone who checks out htis sort of site) likes to see more goal-scoring, and I think the NHL needs that fan to grow revenues. Personally, I don’t care if the league grows revenues or not, but I know they do and I suspect they’ll find some way to ramp up scoring.

    That might mean larger nets, whether or not we like it and whether or not it’s fair to goalies.

  13. @Bobby: This. It bugs me when people point to larger equipment as such a big reason why scoring is down. To me, the biggest single reason is that goalies are just better. They’re better because of coaching, because techniques are better, and because, like every other player in they league, they’re bigger, better athletes than they were in the past. It’s more pronounced with goaltenders though because 30 years ago the logic in kids hockey was that you put the fattest, slowest kid in goal. Since Patrick Roy you put the biggest kid who’s the best athlete in net.

    Anyway, goalies are physically bigger even before factoring in equipment, so it’s kind of a no-brainer to me to consider larger nets. It would be interesting to consider the average size of goalies from the past compared to today. Not too many guys are Manny Legace-sized anymore.

  14. I think the idea is to make the game more entertaining, and scoring isn’t necessarily the way to do it. It’s not like anyone watches lacrosse.

    if you want to make hockey more fun to watch, drop offsides. I’m serious. There is enough talent in the NHL that cherry picking for goals isn’t going to win you hockey games. It’ll make the game easier to understand for people unfamiliar with the game. The trap won’t work anymore. Way less whistles. It seems ridiculous, I know. Team defense is good enough to handle it with it turning the game into a circus. The less whistles the better. (Lose the trapezoid, too.)

  15. I agree with everything rsm said – consistent officiating that just calls every rulebook infraction, all the time. Sure a ref might miss one once in a while, but at least an honest effort from all refs to call everything. That would make the game so much more interesting to watch and more dynamic.

  16. It has less to do with goalies and their equipment or size of the net than the quality of shots. If the NHL rinks were increased in size to match international rules (all else equal), there would be more room to skate, reducing the effectiveness of the trap to a degree, but also leading to a rise in scoring chances by having more quality shots. It is more difficult for a defensive group to cover more ice which would lead to better chances.

    The fact that there are games where teams score 5, 6, and 7 or more goals in a game means that there is no problem with the net’s size or that of goalie equipment. A strong defensive crew has an easier time covering the high percentage areas on a smaller ice surface though, which is why there is less scoring.

    I think an interesting comparison would be to look at scoring chances as well (if there is enough data on the stat) and compare the percentage of chances on average converted. This would illustrate a more accurate relation to scoring as opposed to just goals.

  17. I think there should be six less teams in the league. If we were back at 24 teams the talent in the league would be more condensed (approximately 120 less players, that’s the fourth line gone off each of the remaining teams). Not only that but the league would get rid of a few of its financial millstones.

    I also definitely agree with dumping the Gretzky rule and shrinking pad sizes. I’m such an anachronist sometimes!

  18. I also think that pucks kicked into the net should be counted as goals. (Okay, you got me, I’m a Canucks fan!) It’s not like it happens that often anyway, and it’s pretty hard to do with the way most goalies sprawl across the goal line these days. And with the way sticks are tied up by opposing defenders, it would give goal scorers an extra opportunity to raise the score.

    The downside of this is the injury potential. So maybe a distinct kicking motion should still be disallowed, or kicking the goal tender could be a major penalty, but really, a puck deflected off a skate should be a goal, why on earth would the NHL want to prevent goals from being scored?

  19. Chances make for an exciting game, not just scoring. I think that hockey should be careful about what changes it makes… they should be subtle (like the no change after an icing rule) and not gimmicky (the stupid trapezoid).

  20. “If the NHL rinks were increased in size to match international rules (all else equal), there would be more room to skate, reducing the effectiveness of the trap to a degree, but also leading to a rise in scoring chances by having more quality shots.”

    Have you seen international hockey recently? Scoring isn’t any higher, because teams have adapted to the wider ice by playing 1-4 defensive alignments.

    And that’s when it’s really good players playing. God help us when it’s Minnesota / Edmonton in January.

  21. @Reuben:
    Happy medium; if the blade stays on the ice, it’s a good goal. kicking motion and all.
    seems safe enough to sweep the puck into the net with your skate.
    If you skate blade leaves the ice, no goal. thats starting to get dangerous.
    It’s simple, black and white, not a lot for judgement calls

    I think that clown Duthie talks about installing a rule similar to this whenever he gets a chance.

  22. Black Gold : I like your happy medium! Totally makes sense!

    Not sure I like agreeing with a clown though.

  23. That spike in the year following the lockout was very largely due to the million billion zillion kerjillion penalties they called that season. It was very tedious, not worth the extra goals when only one team is trying to score half the time.

    Goalie equipment is too big. The new lighter materials have enabled them to enlarge the pads while actually cutting down on their weight. They are also made of stronger materials – no way does a goalie need a Bigger chest pad made out of stronger stuff. Shaping of pads to close the butterfly hole (as opposed to, say, protecting the goalie’s knees) has gotten way out of hand. As for the “cheater” on the catching glove, the name says it all. The bloody thing doesn’t protect anything but net. Get rid of it. When done the goalie should actually resemble a humanoid figure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *