One of the major talking points during the 2015-16 NHL season has been around finding ways to increase scoring around the league.
Increasing the size of nets and shrinking the size of goalie equipment were among the ideas discussed during the league’s GM meetings in November and March.
If there’s anyone qualified to speak about scoring in the NHL, though, it’s Wayne Gretzky.
In an interview with the New York Times, the NHL’s all-time leader in goals and assists spoke about how drastically the game has changed since his playing days.
“When I was 10 years old, they’d throw a puck on the ice and say, ‘Go score.’ Now, at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes,” Gretzky said. “Defencemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots. I mean, my goodness, I don’t think I ever blocked a shot, and I killed penalties every single game. I thought goaltenders were paid to block shots, not forwards. It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”
It’s a staggering decline if you were to contrast it to the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers team that averaged a whopping 5.575 goals per game. Gretzky reunited with some of his former teammates Wednesday during a farewell ceremony at Rexall Place.
Now, that Oilers squad is a bit of an outlier considering they’re the greatest offensive team in NHL history, but there’s no denying scoring is at its lowest point since the 2004 lockout.
Through 1,199 games this season, the average goals per team per game was at 2.71. That’s the lowest average since 2003-04 when there were no obstruction interference calls, no two-line passes and the neutral zone trap was a common team strategy.
The Great One added that while there are still a plethora of NHL stars that bring an imaginative, high-octane style to the rink – just watch an Alex Ovechkin or Patrick Kane highlight reel – the “defence first” mentality is something that starts at a young age.
“All in all, it’s sort of a grinding game now,” Gretzky added. “You’re taught from Day 1 that your role and responsibility is to keep the puck out of your net.”