What type of hockey do you prefer? Offensive hockey with chances at both ends, speed, skill, etc. or defensive hockey that features countless blocked shots, low scoring games, little flow through the neutral zone? I myself enjoy offensive hockey, I like to see the speed, the slick passing, the odd man rushes, etc. I’m obviously not alone because we’ve all seen what happened when the ‘dead puck’ era was around in the mid 90’s and early 2000’s. The offensively challenged hockey of those times led to the NHL adopting rule changes to free up the superstars and increase scoring. The rule changes worked for several seasons after their implementation. 50 goals and 100 points were reachable goals again and scoring was up all over the league. However, the goals have started to dry up again as teams have started to deploy defensive schemes to quell scoring. This defence first philosophy appears to be the way to go in the current NHL as the final 4 teams left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs play with a defence first mentality.
The players who have benefitted the most from the decrease in offence are obviously the back stoppers. Mike Brophy posted a great article on the lack of scoring in the NHL and suggested that possibly the great years by goalies such as Brian Elliott and Mike Smith are products of their teams defensive systems rather than new found skill. I tend to agree with Brophy on this subject with the goalies. If the above two goalies were playing in Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or San Jose would they still have Vezina caliber years? It would be hard to convince me that they would.
It’s apparent coaches have adapted to the new rules and have mastered ways to squash scoring. Players also seem to have found ways to get away with just enough obstruction to slow the flow down without taking a penalty. So what’s next for the league? Do they just leave things be and accept the fact that defensive hockey is here to stay? The suggestions have been flying in from all over: bring the red line back, no glove passes in your own zone, icing on PK, bigger nets, bigger rinks, etc.
Ratings may be up in the US for hockey these playoffs, but this likely won’t last if the league slips back into a dead puck era. Fans come to the rink to see the likes of Ovechkin, Stamkos, Crosby, Sedin dazzle with their skill, they don’t pay hard earned cash to watch Dan Girardi block 14 shots in a game and watch 2 good scoring chances per game. At least I wouldn’t anyway. I’ll of course stubbornly continue to watch no matter how non-exciting the product on the ice is. Here’s hoping the big wig executives can figure out a way to modify the rules again to give us at least another 4-5 years of offensive hockey before the smart coaches figure it out again.