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2010-11: A Statistical "Meh" for the NHL

Brodeur: "I'm grinning, because I'm winning."
Brodeur: "I'm grinning, because I'm winning."

Yes, after the Lockout we achieved a New Dawn in the NHL: our drastic advancements in rules created freedom for the offense and a removal of the defensive drudgery of the so-called Dead Puck Era.  At least, that's what our Commish was preaching, and the owners were hoping.  The reality is, outside of a few exceptions, we still have a league that stops the puck at the same rate that we saw before the lockout.  We still have a league that offers fewer power-play opportunities.  And most of all, we still have exactly what we had before: a league of 30 teams with a fairly equitable spread of talent.  

The story hasn't been promulgated yet, but as we near the end of the regular season, people are going to start noticing that we only have one legitimate shot at a 50-goal scorer (Steven Stamkos), and we'll be close to having no players finishing with over 99 points.  These were two areas that caused great nervousness before the lockout, particularly during the 2001-02 to 2003-04 seasons.  Well, I'm here to tell you we're back in the same boat, and really I'm not so sure we ever left.

Sure, there was a little bump in 2005-06, when everything was fresh and perky again, like Jaromir Jagr's perm at sunrise.

Year ES Goals EN Goals PP Goals SH Goals Shots SV%
2000-01 4637 208 1877 267 68162 0.900
2001-02 4621 201 1600 220 67851 0.905
2002-03 4513 185 1787 230 69783 0.906
2003-04 4356 189 1717 244 69007 0.908
2005-06 4579 178 2545 318 73744 0.899
2006-07 4715 205 2099 268 72775 0.902
2007-08 4581 215 1871 239 71496 0.906
2008-09 4831 227 1937 235 74265 0.905
2009-10 4935 204 1665 183 74569 0.909
2010-11* 4851 229 1619 207 74830 0.910
*projected finish

Having lost a guy who was legitimately dominating in every offensive category (Sidney Crosby), we could have been hidden from statistical doldrums that aren't only reminiscent of the "Dead Puck Era," but even stingier.  As you can see by the shots, it's not for lack of trying.  But I think this is the league that emerged as we held static in size and just swapped a few hurl bags on the Hindenburg.  Talent is slowly filling in the gaps, to the point now that little edges (such as not overpaying for goaltending and winning faceoffs) can make a team competitive year-in, year-out.  Look at the teams wallowing at the bottom and, for the most part, their undoing has been poor management either in the immediate past (last 5 years) or present...and I'm not talking about poor management in hindsight, either.  Maybe you could include poor drafting in there, but I'm of the mind that GMs are going to generally pick scouted 1st round talent in the 1st round, scouted 2nd round talent in the 2nd, etc. and every pick has myriad reasons for failure including true talent, injury, and adjustment to league play.  Although Tampa was pretty horrendous at drafting in the 2000s up to Stamkos...

Picture this: take the current league format, current rules, and imagine 100 same-length seasons in a row.  The population of the world would increase (barring something disastrous), as would the potential NHL-playing population; techniques to make players perform better would be even more refined.  Over a century the talent would continually bubble to the surface, to the point that the league would achieve even more parity than the present.  But we'd also reach physical peaks, in the same way that a baseball will only be thrown so fast without seriously damaging the human arm, or a person can only run so fast on turf, or basketball players can only jump so high, or a person can only put on so much muscle before losing dexterity.   Would we score more or less in this hypothetical future?  In other words, would we become better at scoring or preventing goals?  I think league history suggests the latter.

I'll just close with one final argument, and that's that if we really want to change things, there's only so much left that would fend off this parity.  Increasing goal size and decreasing goalie equipment size done together would work a slight amount, so slight that people would gripe that we didn't do it enough.  Calling more penalties would just tick people off, even though it comprises a true opportunity for increasing scoring.  Expansion would work for a bit, then bring us to the same point.  Drastically reducing the salary cap would make nearly everyone upset and also level out eventually.  So it's crunch time; we could overhaul everything, or get used to parity and fewer dynasties.  I like it this way, because the turnover in the standings and the playoffs is refreshing and gives the opportunity for those "Cinderella teams."  This also makes it less predictable, much to the aggravation of analysts and odds-makers.

So, what do we want?