Failure to launch: Where has all the scoring gone?

Although his season had a rough start off the ice, Patrick Kane has had a monster year for the Chicago Blackhawks. On Sunday, he helped the Hawks take down a desperate Boston Bruins team with three goals and an assist. With three games left in the season, Kane now has 100 points, a full 12 ahead of Dallas’ Jamie Benn, all but assuring him of his first scoring title.

Which is great, but consider that the term “monster year” is relative. Because 20 years ago in the 1995-96 season, Kane would have been (if the season ended today) in 13th in scoring. In 1992-93, he’d be tied for 20th. Hell, in 1988-89, there were four players with more than 150 points.

Hitting the century mark in a season was a fairly common occurrence back in the days before the Dead Puck Era, which took hold after the ’94-’95 lockout thanks to teams like the New Jersey Devils perfecting the neutral zone trap. Clutching and grabbing became commonplace, as did bigger, more athletic goalies (equipped with seemingly larger and larger pads and jerseys) than in the past. Pretty soon, scoring dried up and as a result, the NHL adopted some radical changes after the 2004-05 lockout in an attempt to jumpstart league offenses. The changes included adding the shootout, abolishing the two-line offside pass and reducing the size of goalie equipment by 11%.

There was an immediate boost in scoring the first few seasons after the rule changes but by 2010-11, the year the Boston Bruins used a stifling defensive game and the hot goaltending of Tim Thomas to win the Cup, offense was on the downswing again. Last season, scoring diminished to the point where Dallas’ Jamie Benn led the league with just 87 points, the lowest non-lockout-year total since Stan Mikita’s 87 in 1967-68. It was a far cry from the days when Gretzky would drop 200 points in a season (he did that FOUR times and missed a fifth by four points).

And it’s important to keep in mind that even though individual scoring is down, we’re not seeing the obstruction and downright boring style of play that the Devils and other teams specialized in during that decade of dullness from ’95 to ’04. There are still boring games from time to time, but all in all, there are a lot of exciting players still creating excitement on the ice.

So what’s the solution? As we’ve seen, there’s no easy fix. Some suggestions have included bigger nets, calling more penalties, reducing the size of goalie equipment again and even increasing the size of the ice surface. Whatever the NHL does to address this situation (if it does anything at all), hopefully it won’t be something gimmicky. Ultimately, the game has changed so much since those halcyon days of the early ’90s when Gretzky, Lemieux, Hull and Yzerman were racking up ridiculous stats. It may just be that nobody will score 150 or more points because defensemen are too big and goalies are too good to allow so much offense. As long as they don’t start using soccer nets or requiring goalies to wear blindfolds, we should be okay.

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