In today's Al Strachan column in the Sun there were a couple interesting quotes that I thought I would look into a little further:
"If it weren't for power plays, we'd be watching soccer on ice. Take out the goals that are scored in an unbalanced-manpower situation these days and you're usually left with something along the lines of a 1-1 game."
So far this year there have been 973 goals scored in 166 games, an average of 5.86 GPG - 1.92 per game on the powerplay. That means if you take out the "unbalanced-manpower situation" we'd actually have something along the lines of a 2-2 game (3.94 GPG at even strength).
"Scoring is up, but only because power-play scoring is up. On many nights, not much happens the rest of the time."
If you compare pre-lockout scoring to this season, the results aren't as dramatic as you would think:
03-04: 5.14 GPG (1.396 PPGPG and 3.741 ESGPG)
06-07: 5.86 GPG (1.916 PPGPG and 3.946 ESGPG)
So scoring is up 14% per game this year compared to 03-04. Of that increase, ten of those percentage points can be attributed to increased powerplay goals and the other four percentage points are due to an increase in even strength goals per game.
Those stats are a little misleading though. I don't know how many games Mr. Strachan watches on an average night but I've seen countless games this year when there was quite a bit going on when the teams were at even strength.
Although scoring is up only 14%:
In 03-04, only two teams averaged more than 3 goals per game (Ottawa - 3.15 and Detroit - 3.07). Twenty-two of thirty teams were under 2.7 goals per game.
In 06-07 so far, half the league's teams (15) are averaging over 3 goals per game. Buffalo is scoring 4.55 goals per game and there are thirteen teams averaging more goals per game than Ottawa was pre-lockout. The total league-wide goals per game are not as high as they could be, because of the scoring ineptitude of teams like Philadelphia (2 GPG), Los Angeles (2.07 GPG), Columbus (2.11 GPG), Boston (2.11 GPG), Phoenix (2.33 GPG), NY Islanders (2.4 GPG), New Jersey (2.45 GPG) and Calgary (2.5 GPG) - these teams are putting up numbers that would land them in the bottom half of the league in scoring, even before the lockout.
It is true that some teams rely way too much on their powerplay to score goals - in fact, Columbus has scored 52.6% of their goals so far with the man advantage and even a high-scoring team like San Jose has scored over half (52.5%) on the PP. But there are 13 teams who score the vast majority of their goals (70%+) when they are NOT on the powerplay:
Percentage of goals scored on the PP (GPG):
Ottawa - 18.8% (3.2)
Detroit - 20.7% (2.64)
Toronto - 26.2% (3.23)
Philadelphia - 27.3% (2.0)
Nashville - 27.3% (3.3)
Calgary - 28.0% (2.5)
Buffalo - 28.0% (4.5)
Tampa Bay - 28.1% (2.9)
Phoenix - 28.6% (2.3)
Washington - 28.6% (3.2)
NY Rangers - 28.9% (3.5)
Vancouver - 29% (2.6)
Carolina - 30% (3.3)
Atlanta - 31.1% (3.5)
Chicago - 31.3% (2.9)
Boston - 31.6% (2.1)
New Jersey - 33.3% (2.5)
Anaheim - 33.3% (3.2)
St. Louis - 34.6% (2.6)
Colorado - 35.1% (3.4)
Dallas - 35.3% (3.1)
Edmonton - 36.4% (3.0)
Montreal - 36.4% (3.3)
Pittsburgh - 36.4% (3.7)
Los Angeles - 37.9% (2.1)
Florida - 38.9% (2.8)
Minnesota - 40% (2.7)
NY Islanders - 41.7% (2.4)
San Jose - 52.5% (3.3)
Columbus - 52.6% (2.1)
I think the message is that if you want action at even-strength and exciting, high scoring games, they are definitely games there to be found, but there are teams who are really struggling 5-on-5. If you watch a Columbus-Islanders game you likely won't see much more than 2 even-strength goals a game. But if you watch a Buffalo-Ottawa game (one of 8), there's a good chance you could see as many as six goals at 5-on-5 (they average 3.3 and 2.6 even strength goals per game respectively).
To make a blanket statement about the league is both inaccurate and unfair to those who are working to improve the product - when I turn on the TV there are many games that keep me on the edge of my seat. However, what these numbers seem to show is that there are quite a few teams who don't have the talent to compete five-on-five and this is something that is worth exploring further, especially in light of the fact that the IIHF would like to scale back the percentage of Europeans in the league from 30% to 20%.