Wilson: How lower power play opportinuties have affected scoring

Follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter @gunnerstaal and read his work also at HockeyBuzz 

Everybody loves offense in hockey and everybody loves to see the most skilled players in the world work their magic.  So why does the NHL go out of its way to reduce the chances of this happening?

Unlike other sports that try to facilitate more offense the NHL has actually done quite the opposite for its better players.  They are shunning skilled play.  In each passing year since the 2005-06 lockout NHL players have had to fight through more and more uncalled infractions each season. It has impacted the best players’ ability to generate points and in turn has stifled some of the excitement that hockey is capable of.

The amount of goal scoring in the league has been on decline.

Wilson graph 1

A big contributor to the decline of goals has been the number of power play opportunities in each game dropping.

Wilson graph 2


The percentage of goals that occur on the power play have also dropped.


Wilson graph 3

So we have less power plays called and a lower percentage of power play goals.

These trends have impacted the ability for the better players to generate points.  Players are getting less opportunities on the power play and they are having potential scoring chances taken away at even strength due to uncalled infractions.

More power plays will lead to more points for the players and more goals for teams, but more importantly it will lead to defending players thinking twice about reaching in for the fear of taking a penalty.

When players have a legitimate fear of infractions being called they will be more hesitant to engage illegally.  The result will be the game opening up during even strength play making it more entertaining product to watch.

I looked at the top 10 point scorers in each season since 2005-06 and averaged together their points per game to highlight the impact this has had on the players’ ability to produce offense.  There is a similar trend as the graphs above.

Wilson graph 4

Players Season GP Points Points/Game
Thornton, Jagr, Ovechkin, Heatley, Alfredsson, Crosby, E Staal, Kovalchuk, Savard, Cheechoo  






Crosby, Thornton, Lecavalier, Heatley, St. Louis, Hossa, Sakic, Jagr, Savard, Briere  






Ovechkin, Malkin, Iginla, Datsyuk, Thornton, Zetterberg, Lecavalier, Spezza, Alfredsson, Kovalchuk  





Malkin, Ovechkin, Crosby, Datsyuk, Parise, Kovalchuk, Getzlaf, Iginla, Savard, Backstrom  






H Sedin, Crosby, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Stamkos, St. Louis, Richards, Thornton, Kane, Gaborik  






D Sedin, St. Louis, Perry, H Sedin, Stamkos, Iginla, Ovechkin, Selanne, Zetterberg, Richards  






Malkin, Stamkos, Giroux, Spezza, Kovalchuk, Kessel, Neal, Tavares, H Sedin, Elias  






St. Louis, Stamkos, Ovechkin, Crosby, P Kane, E Staal, Kunitz, Kessel, Hall, Datsyuk  






Crosby, Getzlaf, Giroux, Perry, Kessel, Hall, Ovechkin, Pavelski, Benn  






P Kane, Backstrom, Voracek, Tavares, Ovechkin, Crosby, Tarasenko, Seguin, Benn, T Johnson  






*2014-15 numbers include games completed up to February 23, 2015*

This is discouraging.

It is also something that people in NHL front offices should be looking at as well.  The inability for star players to generate more points means that you have to rely less and less on them as the primary source of offense.  Some people need to temper their expectations on what a star player is capable of in this current era.

Lots of star players are blamed when their teams are in a funk, but the reality is it is tougher and tougher for them to function at a high level because of how the game is being called.

This makes filling out your roster with quality depth players all the more important.  Star players without depth have minimal chance at team success the way things currently are (I’m looking at you Pittsburgh).

There was something I else I noticed when researching the frequency of penalties in the NHL.  Apparently there is little correlation between puck possession and the ability to draw more calls

Wilson graph 5

One would think that the teams who have the puck more would also be able to draw more calls.  However, with such a low correlation this does not appear to be the case.

One explanation of this could be the human nature of officiating.  Another explanation could be that drawing a penalty is a skill which some players are better at than others.

Declining power play opportunities and referee decisions  aren’t the only factor getting in the way of offense.  NHL coaches do their best to snuff out creativity from the players as well.

Another huge issue with the NHL’s product is the insistence of coaches telling players to make the safe play.  Igor Larionov wrote a wonderful piece about this dynamic:

The problem is more philosophical and starts way before players get to the NHL. It’s easier to destroy than to create. As a coach, it’s easier to tell your players to suffocate the opposing team and not turn the puck over. There are still players whose imagination and creativity capture the Soviet spirit — Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago just to name a few. However, they are becoming exceptions to the rule. Many young players who are intelligent and can see the game four moves ahead are not valued. They’re told “simple, simple, simple.”

That mentality is kind of boring. Nobody wants to get fired. Nobody wants to get sent down to the minors. If you look at the coaches in Juniors and minor league hockey, many of them were not skill players. It’s a lot of former enforcers and grinders who take these coaching jobs. Naturally, they tell their players to be just like them. Their players are 17, 18 years old — younger than I was when I joined the Red Army team. Say what you want about the Whiplash mentality (or the Soviet mentality), but if coaches are going to push kids at that age, why are they pushing them to play a simple game? Why aren’t coaches pushing them to create a masterpiece?

We lose a lot of Pavel Datsyuks to the closed-minded nature of the AHL and NHL.

We can talk about bigger nets, smaller goalie equipment, and other approaches to increase offense in the NHL, but the answer to generate more fun and excitement would be to just call the rules as they are written and let the best players do their thing.

Let’s open the game back up.

4 thoughts on “Wilson: How lower power play opportinuties have affected scoring

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  2. Larionov is correct. “Systems” hockey and defensive play are THE priority even when players are under 10 years old. Not turnovers, no chances, everyone blocks shots, etc.,

    Also, conditioning is a factor. The low o-skill, high energy, high motor players (often great skaters, too) can be very effective in preventing offense. One-way players are OK, as long as that “one-way” is defense.

    As far as PP’s and officiating a point of emphasis for the league should be stickwork. It seems players can hook/slash anywhere and everywhere without consequence. It is not as blatant as the old days but instead of the ride ’em cowboy hooks and windup slashes there is a dozen “mini” tug-tug-hack-hack-tug-hack-hack-tug-hack sequences which serve the same purpose.

    Really, the blade of the stick should never be able to contact the body of a player legally without a penalty.

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