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26,388 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
NHL always finds the net (Continued)

On the back of goaltender Hall, the Blues made it to the Stanley Cup Final. They are still the only team in NHL history to make the Finals in their first year of competition. They were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens in four-straight games.

But in the regular season as well, the Western Division could not compare to the East. The top five Eastern teams all had more points than the Flyers, who led the West with 73 points in 74 games. Part of the answer? The West couldn’t score.

In 74 games that season, only the L.A. Kings in the West reached 200 goals, netting 200 exactly. In the East, Toronto was lowest at 209, Boston the highest at 259. The East had the top 10 scorers in the league, full of high-profile names, including Stan Mikita, Phil Esposito, Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and Alex Delvecchio. Not one had less than 70 points.

The top five scorers in the West, respectively, were Andy Bathgate, Eddie Joyal, Wayne Connelly, Gordon “Red” Berenson, and Ted Hampson. Bathgate led the West with 59 points in 74 games.

“The only reason we were mildly successful, was that we played against each other,” Bowman said.

During that first season of expansion, Mikita led the league with 40 goals and 87 points. It was the NHL's 51st season and the 51st season the NHL did not have a player crack the 100 point barrier; in fact, only five players had even come close.

The great Gordie Howe was the first to crack 90, in 1952-53, playing with the famed “Production Line” consisting of himself, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio. All three players were in the top five in scoring that season. Lindsay was second with 71. Delvecchio, fifth, had 59.

In 1960-61 Bernie “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion hit 95 for the Canadiens. Dickie Moore scored 96 points in 1958-59, also with the Canadiens. Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita hit 97 points in back-to-back seasons in 1965-66 and 1966-67, respectively, and co-held the title for most points in a season at the end of that year.

After the 1967-68 season, the record books would have to be re-written. Three players scored over 100 points that year. Four were at or above 97. The legendary Esposito led the league with 129 points, an unheard-of total before that season. Bowman credits the increase in scoring to more inter-divisional play.

“The West bit off too much the second year,” Bowman said. “The six Western teams only played two home-and-homes with the East in 67-68 and in 68-69 they wanted to get more people in the rink and they pleaded with the league to play more games, to get more Eastern teams on the schedule.”

The teams played 24 inter-divisional games in the first year of expansion. In the second year, inter-divisional play increased to 36 games, with three home and three away for each team in the opposite division.

Every team in the West except Bowman’s Blues and the Oakland Seals saw win totals decrease versus the dominating Eastern Division. The Blues totaled 88 points with 37 wins, which, if they had reached that total in the East, would have been good for fourth in the Conference. No other Western team had as many points as the Blackhawks, who were last in the East with 77. The Seals had 69.

“The Eastern teams beat up on us,” Bowman said.

Once again, the Eastern scorers reigned. Only Berenson, with 82 points in 76 games for St. Louis, cracked the top 10. He was eighth.

The Modern Era and beyond

From that season the NHL was never the same. Though the rules wouldn’t dramatically change after the 1943-44 inclusion of the red line, the league continued to grow, to push into new markets, and to tinker with divisional alignments. Scoring continually increased well into the 1980s driven by players like Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.

One of these three players won the scoring title every year from 1980-81 to 2000-01.

But offense began to decline in the mid 1990s.

In 1996-97, Lemieux led the scoring race with 122 points, the lowest total for an Art Ross trophy winner since Bobby Orr had 120 in 1969-70 (excluding the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season). The next season, 1997-98, Jagr led the league with 102 points, and in 2003-04, Martin St. Louis led the league with 94, the lowest total since 1967-68, the first year of NHL expansion.

Some blamed modern expansion, and a diluted talent pool that bogged down the stars and kept the most talented players under wraps. Some blamed the goaltenders, who began to stretch the limits in how much equipment could be worn, and how big it could be. Others said that the neutral zone trap, and the new defensive postures adopted by some teams, most notably the New Jersey Devils, was stifling scoring.

The lack of scoring could also be contributed to another factor: the quality of goaltending during these years. And none were more successful from 1985 to 2004-05 than Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek and Roy.

From 1985-86 to 2003-04, these four goaltenders won or shared in 14 of 19 Jennings Trophies, awarded to the goaltender with the lowest goals-against average in the league. They won 13 of 19 Vezinas, awarded annually to the League’s top goaltender, and they won eight of 19 Stanley Cups. They won all five Stanley Cups from 1998-99 to 2002-03.

Like Roy, the other three will likely be first ballot Hall of Fame inductees. Roy has since retired and been inducted. Hasek and Belfour are both playing on one-year deals and have battled injuries in recent seasons. Brodeur seems poised to carry the torch after the others retire. He signed a deal earlier this summer to play for this season and the next five, through 2011-12.

With these goaltenders moving on, and new rules bent on increasing offense, scoring is up. The stars can play again, unhindered from clogged-up neutral zones and the clutching and grabbing of the late '90s. Joe Thornton led the league with 125 points in the 2005-06 season, two ahead of five-time Art Ross trophy winner Jagr. The league had five 50-goal scorers in 2006, the most since having eight in 1996. The NHL also boasted seven 100-point players, the most since 12 in 1996.

Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell, whose Thrashers are averaging just over three goals per game, believes the new rules are helping the league’s best players get free and score points.

So what was the biggest change?


26,388 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Brad Holland | Staff Writer
Jan 15, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

As much as things change, they stay the same. The age-old axiom also applies to change in general and hockey in particular. The rejuvenated NHL returned to the ice in 2005-06, after a season lost to a work stoppage, invigorated by a handful of new rules and the mandate to eliminate the obstruction fouls that were slowing the game, stifling its flow and destroying its offense.
The end result was faster play, more room for playmaking, the ability of the NHL's skilled stars to showcase their talents and a more entertaining product.

The funny thing is, if you hadn't known better, you would have thought this was the first time the game had changed. Wrong! Scoring in the NHL has always been a work in progress and the changes that greeted the NHL in 2005-06 weren't the first time the League has moved to increase offense. It probably won’t be the last.

Need proof? Try this on for size. The first major rule change in the NHL was one that actually gave more power to the goaltenders. Prior to the 1917-18 season, the rules were changed to allow goaltenders to fall to the ice to make a save. Previously they had been penalized for such action. One has to wonder what sort of goaltender Patrick Roy Related Links:

would’ve been had he been prohibited to use his patented butterfly style under those early rules. Dominik Hasek would be a different goalie if he was not permitted to fall to the ice to make snow angels in the crease.

Since giving the goalies that edge in 1917-18, most subsequent NHL rule changes have had increasing offense in mind. In the 1925-26 season, for example, two rules were amended to encourage offense. First, teams were no longer allowed to leave more than two defensemen in their defensive zone after the puck had crossed their blue line. Second, goaltenders’ leg pads were limited to 12 inches in width in the first instance of equipment legislation. Goaltending pads were further reduced in 1927-28 to a maximum width of 10 inches.

Sound familiar? Fans of the current game should remember more recent reductions in equipment size after seeing Roy’s blanket-inspired jerseys of the late 1990s to the equipment restrictions involved in the 2005-06 package, where the size of goaltender equipment was reduced approximately 11 percent.

The goalies haven't always been the target of change, however. The NHL has also experimented many times in increasing “flow” during its games – that back and forth action that keeps the game exciting. In 1927-28, the NHL allowed forward passing in the defending and neutral zones for the first time. The rule was expanded in 1928-29 to include forward passing in the offensive zone, but only when the pass originated from the neutral zone, and expanded again before the 1929-30 season to include forward passing in all zones, but not to cross either blue line.

While imagining an NHL where Roy had to stay on his feet, one might imagine an NHL where Nick Lidstrom or Chris Pronger could not make long stretch-passes to breaking forwards, and instead would have to “lug” the puck out of the defensive zone themselves, or make back-passes to forwards heading up from behind.

This particular rule change was one of the most effective in league history. League offense almost doubled from the 1928-29 season to the 1929-30 season: leading scorer Ace Bailey had 32 points in 1929. His successor, leading scorer Cooney Weiland had 73 points in 1930.

The rule was not without its problems though. Players begun “cherry-picking,” standing in front of the opposing net and waiting for passes, until a precursor to the modern-day offside rule was implemented. On Dec. 21, 1929, a rule was adopted that called for a stoppage in play should any player precede the play into the offensive zone.

The rules were beginning to take shape: scoring was up and the NHL was growing into the game we now recognize today.

Some other minor rules were implemented during the 1934-35 and 1938-39 seasons. In ’34, the penalty shot was created, giving a player a free shot on goal when that player was tripped and thus prevented from having a clear shot on goal. The shot was taken from inside a 10-foot circle located 38 feet from the goal. In ’38, the rule was modified to allow the player to skate in before shooting. These penalty shot rules were considered minor, of course, until the re-evaluation of the rules by the NHL, and the advent of the shoot-out in 2005.

The red line was inducted before the 1943-44 season. In 1967-68, stick curves, which were becoming popular by players like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks, were regulated.

The stage was now set for the second greatest scoring increase in one season in league history, behind only the advent of the forward pass in effectiveness.

Expansion changes everything

In 1967, the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams. "The Original 6" in the Eastern Division were joined by the St. Louis Blues, California Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings in the newly created Western Division.

In November of that year, Scotty Bowman, winner of nine Stanley Cups with three different teams, was a rookie coach with the St. Louis Blues. He remembers the creation of the new division well.

“(The NHL) had an expansion draft,” Bowman said. “A goalie draft and a player draft. For the player draft, each Eastern team was allowed to protect its top 11 players, and the 12th was available; if he was taken, the team could add another player to protect. The teams in the East, they lost their 12th player, their 14th player, their 16th, and so on.

“So we only got three or four players who played in the (NHL) the year before,” Bowman said. “The rest of the West was filled in by the minor leagues. The only thing the West got that was pretty good was that (the NHL) only allowed the East to protect one goalie. That’s how we got Glenn Hall.”
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