These days, I’m basically piggy-backing off the better hockey writers around because it’s late August and I can’t be bothered to think of anything myself. That will change next week when the calendar flips to September and we can really start to preview the upcoming season. It doesn’t feel like the season is about to start until the NFL starts, at least to me. But nothing gets you ready for the start of hockey season like Kaner in a Bears jersey, right?
So today, it’s basically a reaction to Down Goes Brown’s study of why scoring was so batshit crazy in the 80’s and then by the mid-90’s had completely arrested. Sean provides a multitude of reasons, from the difference in goalies, expansion, rules-relaxations, defensive systems that became successful, and all of these are correct in their own way.
That’s not really why I’m here today though, as I’d more like to look at whether or not there needs to be a clamoring for something of a return to those free-scoring ways.
As with our expansion discussion, the push for more scoring, at least according to a theory bouncing around my hungover brain, stems from the same thing in the NFL. You don’t even have to be a football fan to know that scoring in that sport has become pornographic in recent seasons, due to a crackdown (and an unfair one) on any player attempting to defend a forward pass. At this rate, safeties and cornerbacks will simple be outlawed from moving.
I can’t prove this, and I doubt anyone can, but I’m sure that a big reason that the NFL has made passing and scoring so easy is fantasy football. That’s become such a huge part of the fan experience, and everyone wants their receiver racking up 100 yards and two scores or Peyton Manning regularly topping 400 yards and 4 TDs. This is another reason fantasy football is stupid and random, because with everyone piling up points it’s just a matter of getting the right combination of weeks when your players produce slightly more than anyone else (the biggest reason it’s dumb is I’ve won my league two years in a row and I don’t even really like football outside the Bears).
It’s not just the NFL, but hockey’s winter-mate the NBA that also went under a scoring reconstruction a few years back. The hand-check rules were changed (basically you can’t touch a guy on the perimeter now), out went illegal defense and in came defensive three seconds to open up the lane. The NBA wanted something of a more European, drive-and-kick game, as well as to open things up for LeBron and Derrick Rose and Kobe (when he could walk) to be more able to fly to the hoop and provide highlight-worthy buckets. And they have.
But the NBA went to that because their game had become a slog. Point guards were mauled, everything kind of went through the post, it was harder to open up shooters. It was really hard to watch, at least according to my basketball-loving friends.
To me, hockey doesn’t have either of these problems. There isn’t a huge fantasy component to fandom (from what I can tell, fantasy hockey is even dumber than football as it counts penalty minutes and basically hinges on your goalie solely, but admittedly I’ve never played it). And I don’t think hockey, even with its scoring down slightly from years previous, is hard on the eye.
Yes, again my soccer-loving ways kick in here, but I don’t think the amount of scoring tells you how entertaining a game does. Action does. And action can happen without scoring. You can have a 2-1 game but if each team has had chances and piled up say 30 shots apiece, you’d find that pretty entertaining.
I’m sure the NHL would love it if every game looked like that Kings-Hawks series, but that’s simply not possible. You can’t consistently put that talent out together unless you reduce the league to like 16 teams. Just off the top of my head, you have the second and third best centers in the game taking shifts against each other, two of the five-best d-men, and a slew of scorers behind that.
To me, goals should mean something. They should be definitive in hockey. If every game is 6-5, then they’re really nothing more than holding serve until the tie-break of the 3rd period or overtime (how many other sports can I work in here? If I get a cricket reference in someone owes me a beer). The game now isn’t the late-90s, trap-heavy, 1-0 torture-chamber. Sure, a lot of games end up 1-0 or 2-1, but they’re much easier to watch.
Plus, hockey could see an up-tick, as the winning style these days is possession-hockey. The Kings and Hawks have the last three Cups because they want to play with the puck. That has forced teams to try and play that way too. In the past season and this summer, you’ve seen the Wild, Stars, Ducks, Rangers, Lightning, Jackets, Islanders all try and become more high-octane teams. What do you think these Leafs’ hires are all about? (though apparently the Sharks are determined to go the other way)
We won’t see a return to every punter and whos-it piling up 35+ goals. But I don’t think we need to. While I wouldn’t mind seeing a mini-crackdown on the obstruction that has crept back in, I don’t think the game is in need of a major repair.
Anyway, have a lovely Labor Day Weekend. We’ll start playing for real when you get back.