Here are three ‘major changes’ the NHL should consider

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There will be no “major changes” to the NHL’s rulebook, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

“There will be some recommendations, some things people will look at, there will be some more homework done, but you should continue to enjoy the game principally the way it’s being played.”

And for most hockey fans, that’s fine. The NHL is in a good spot right now. There’s labor peace. More and more people are watching — in rinks, on TV, and on the internet. And hockey fans are traditionally averse to change anyway. They wonder why people are always trying to mess with their game.

Which I guess puts me in the minority. Because here are three fairly major changes I’d like to see the NHL consider:

1. A revamped points system

Something that gives teams an incentive to win in regulation time, not play for a tie and hope for the best in overtime or the shootout. In the Olympics, it was three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime or shootout win, one for an overtime or shootout defeat, and none for a regulation defeat. A system like that could be especially effective down the stretch, when there’s desperation to make the playoffs and the difference between winning in regulation and winning in extra time could be the difference between making and missing.

Granted, lots of people have suggested this, so here’s a more dramatic idea to consider: a bonus point for scoring a certain amount of goals in a game.

Before some of you faint at the mere suggestion, they already do this in rugby, as Wikipedia explains:

It was implemented in order to encourage attacking play throughout a match, to discourage repetitive goal-kicking, and to reward teams for “coming close” in losing efforts. Under the standard system, points are awarded as follows:
—- 4 points for a win.
—- 2 points for a draw.
—- 1 “bonus” point for scoring 4 tries (or more).
—- 1 “bonus” point for losing by 7 points (or fewer).
No team can get more than 5 points in a match.

The “encourage attacking play” is the big part for me.  It’s not so much I need goals, but I at least need the attempt to score goals.

Look, obviously there are drawbacks to a system like this. It would penalize teams whose best players are goalies or defensive-minded skaters. I appreciate defense. It takes a total team commitment. Frankly, at the end of the day, I probably wouldn’t even want this system. But it does make me laugh thinking about an idea like this even being broached by the NHL, and what the response would be. People would go ballistic. Why is that?

All I know is the NFL has never been more popular. Just a coincidence that the league has also seen a dramatic rise in scoring in the last two decades? Why are hockey fans who want to see more goals treated with such disdain? Were people who watched hockey in the ’80s wrong to like what they saw? Can you not want to see more attacking hockey, on average, and still appreciate the occasional 1-0 game?

2. Bigger nets

Before you rip the stupid blogger in the comments section, you should know that you’d also be ripping Mike Babcock.

“If the goalies [are] getting bigger, then the net is getting smaller,” Babcock said last year. “By refusing to change you are changing. Purists would say you can’t do it because you’re changing the game but by not changing you are changing the game.”

I’m old enough to remember the time when, if you were a small kid, they’d throw you in goal. Hence, the diminutive retired goalies we see working in TV today, like Darren Pang and John Garrett.

The small kids don’t become NHL goalies anymore. And let’s not even get into the size of pads those big, tall goalies wear now compared to back in the day.

At the very least, I’d like to see what bigger nets would look like in a real-game situation. I mean, wouldn’t you? Play a few exhibition games with them. What would be the harm in trying? Green eggs and ham, etc.

3. No more icing allowed during penalty kills

For as long as I’ve been a hockey fan, I’ve always wondered why a team that’s been penalized suddenly gets to do something it normally wouldn’t be allowed to do. Does that make any sense? It’s like being thrown in jail for assault, but because you’re in jail and being in jail is hard, you’re allowed to — I don’t know — engage in tax fraud or something.

Again, I’d just like to see how this looks. I’m not saying put this rule in right now. There are always unintended consequences. But I think the new icing rule where the offending team’s players have to stay on the ice has been fairly received. This would be an extension of that, because tired players don’t make for very good defenders, and if you can’t ice the puck on the PK, you’re going to see a lot of trapped, tired defenders on the ice.

“The overwhelming sense of the group is you don’t make change for the sake of change,” Bettman said after the general managers’ meetings. And he’s right in saying that.

But he’s also making a bit of a straw-man argument, because nobody’s suggesting change for the sake of change. People who want change are trying to make the game better, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Scott Darling: Latest goalie beaten from center ice (Video)

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Here’s a thought: considering an 82-game regular season and about a two-month-long postseason, it’s almost a little surprising that we don’t see more center-ice goals.

Such a goal can happen in so many ways. A puck can take an odd bounce. A goalie might take his eye off the puck for a second while deciding what to do next, much like an NFL receiver who drops an easy pass while dreaming of those sweet, sweet, yards up ahead.

So, let’s not be too hard on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling, who padded Mika Zibanejad‘s already-robust goal totals with the center-ice flub you can see in the video above.

If you prefer a GIF form, this one nails the spirit of the thing:

(Agreed, little emoticon monkey. Agreed.)

Since we’re on the subject of goals netminders would want back even more than usual, we might as well also consider Tyler Ennis beating Chad Johnson here:

Ouch. Hey, we’ve all been there (vaguely speaking).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks – Lightning, Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” features a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks.

During that competitive series, the Blackhawks were the favorites. The tide has turned now, however, as the dynamite duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have propelled the Bolts to the upper crust of the NHL. Chicago, meanwhile, strains to remain a contender.

But it’s worth noting that the Blackhawks cannot be taken lightly. They still feature Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Corey Crawford, so tonight should provide plenty of entertainment.

Along with watching on NBCSN, you can also check the action out on online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

The NHL has seen a pretty big spike in goal scoring this season

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If it seems like there have been more goals scored in the NHL this season you would be correct.

As the season gets ready to move into its second quarter the league announced that there have been 1,924 goals scored this season, the highest total since the 2005-06 season when the league had 2,008 goals scored through the first quarter.

Third on the list was the 2006-07 season when 1,905 goals were scored.

You might remember the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons as being that brief spike in goal-scoring coming out of the lockout when the league cracked down on obstruction and interference, resulting in far more power plays and power play goals. In the years since the league saw a steady decline in both power plays and goals.

The league has made a point to try and crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations this season. That has not really resulted in a significant increase in the total number of power plays, but teams are converting on more of their power play opportunities.

There has also been a pretty dramatic increase in even-strength scoring (that is up 10.9 percent from a season ago at the same point).

That overall increase in scoring has also trickled down to the individual player level where 30 players (minimum 10 games played) are averaging more than a point per game.

At Thanksgiving a season ago only 11 players were averaging at least a point per game.

Only eight players finished the season (minimum 40 games played) with a point per game average.

For years everyone has had theories as to why goal scoring has decreased and what can be done to change it. Bigger nets? Smaller goalie equipment? More power plays? The reality is that goal scoring did not decrease for any one reason, it was likely a combination of factors, from goalies getting bigger and better, to teams becoming more structured and defensive, to power plays decreasing. The league has made a few small changes along the way to help remedy it and so far this season it seems to be reversing a little.

Whether or not it continues remains to be seen. It is, however, a pretty encouraging start.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

How the Oilers became the NHL’s biggest disappointment

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At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers were one of the top Stanley Cup favorites.

They were one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals and they have the reigning league MVP and scoring champion (and arguably the game’s best player). All of that seemed to indicate a team that was on the verge of taking another major step and breaking through as one of the league’s elite teams. Their preseason Stanley Cup odds from Bovada were second best in the league to only the back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The bandwagon was filling up.

Here we are not just a quarter of the way through the season and there is no debating that the Oilers have not only failed to reach those sky-high expectations, they are clearly the league’s biggest disappointment.

Entering play on Wednesday — and following an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night — the Oilers have the third worst points percentage in the league, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. Their minus-19 goal differential is fourth-worst. They have managed to win just four games in regulation with only two of them coming over the past month.

So, how did they get here? Let us try to figure it out.

It starts with the people upstairs

Three years ago the Oilers were given a gift from the hockey draft gods when they won the lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid. It was the fourth time in six years they won the top pick and this time were able to pick a player that would quickly become the best offensive player in the league. Since McDavid entered the league he has more than lived up to the hype with a 1.18 points per game average that is tops among all players (minimum 100 games played) during that stretch.

As great as McDavid has been, he can not do it all on his own. This is not the NBA where one or two great players can carry a team deep into the playoffs (or even into the playoffs at all). There has to be a supporting cast around them, and the Oilers have quickly sabotaged their chances to do that through some brutal roster and asset management.

Let’s just examine some of the moves made by Peter Chiarelli since taking over as the Oilers’ general manager.

His first move was to trade two top-33 picks (No. 16 overall and No. 33 overall) to the New York Islanders for defenseman Griffin Reinhart. The Islanders used that pick to select Matthew Barzal, currently one of the top rookies in the NHL this season. Reinhart played 30 forgettable games with the Oilers before moving on to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this season.

[On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers]

Then came the one-for-one trades: Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and then Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome.

Both trades have played a significant role in reducing the team’s scoring depth.

Since being traded Hall’s 26 goals and 74 points would make him the third most productive player on the Oilers. His point total this season alone would make him the team’s second-leading scorer behind McDavid. Eberle’s 14 points would make him the team’s fourth-leading scorer.

The return for the Oilers has not come close to matching that production. Larsson is a solid, if unspectacular defenseman, while Strome’s offense has been non-existent. Even at his best Strome was never quite on par with what Eberle has shown to be capable of on a regular basis. Those trades have devastated the Oilers’ scoring depth and are now left with a team that is 27th in the league in goals scored and seems to be unable to generate any offense when McDavid is not on the ice.

In three years Chiarelli has traded two picks in the top-33 of a draft, a top-line forward and gave Kris Russell, a borderline second-to third-pairing defenseman to help improve the defense and the team is still desperate for defensive help.

That is a lot of bad roster management, and it is wasting what might be some of McDavid’s best years in the league.

Cam Talbot can’t get a break

Literally, he can not get a night off.

The Oilers’ goals against numbers improved dramatically a season ago and a lot of credit for that improvement was directed toward the additions of Larsson and Russel. The reality is that a lot of it had to do with Talbot helping to solidify the goaltending position.

His save percentage wasn’t anything spectacular and at .917 was fairly close to the league average. But Talbot played 72 games and if you can get average to slightly above league average goaltending for 72 games that is going to be a positive value to your team, especially with where the Oilers were coming from in recent seasons. His performance, combined with his durability to play that many games, probably shaved 15 goals off the Oilers’ goals against totals.

Talbot has not been as strong so far this season, and given that he has already played a league-high 19 games you have to wonder if maybe that workload is starting to catch up with him.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season Talbot has played in 93 regular season games. Only three other goalies have played in more than 80 and only one (Frederik Andersen, 85) has played in more than 83. He has faced 2,688 shots.

That does not include the 13 playoff games and 437 shots he faced in the playoffs. That is a ton of work for a goalie over a season-and-a-quarter.

The Oilers have no adequate backup that can give him any sort of a break.

Lucky or unlucky?

There does seem to be an element of some bad luck to the Oilers’ struggles this season. Their possession and shot attempt numbers are among the best in the league, and they do seem to be struggling with some poor percentages on the offensive end.

When it comes to the save percentage numbers and Talbot’s struggles it is worth wondering if that extensive workload over the past two seasons has started to wear him down.

It is also worth wondering if they had a lot of players play over their heads a season ago, specifically when it came to players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu. That duo combined for 43 goals a season ago. They have combined for 8 so far this season. That puts them on pace for about 15 over 82 games. Combine that with the offense they are losing going from Eberle to Strome, as well as the absence of Hall and that is a big chunk of offense going away and helps explain how a team with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkings all averaging close to a point-per-game is 26th in the league in goals scored.

You might be reading all of this and thinking to yourself, relax, Gretz, it’s only Thanksgiving. Still a lot of hockey left to be played. Sure, there is a lot of hockey remaining in the season. The problem for teams like the Oilers is NHL history tells us the standings do not tend to change much once the calendar rolls over to December. Currently the Oilers are already seven points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and eight points out of one of the three playoff spots in the Pacific Division.

Points are difficult to make up as the season goes on and teams that are already this far out do not tend to make them up.

Perhaps the Stanley Cup for this Oilers team was a little too premature, mainly because they have managed to squander any chance of building a competitive team around the best player in the world through some terrible roster management.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.