‘That’s a crock’: Don’t ask NHL coaches to fix stagnant scoring, says Torts

AP Photo

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is a big proponent of the NHL figuring out ways to increase scoring.

His only exception is any discussion that begins with the league placing the burden on coaches to solve the problem.

“That’s a crock,” Tortorella said, bluntly making his case that a coach’s job security relies on victories rather than how many goals a team scores.

“If everybody wants a wide-open game, guarantee the coaches a seven- or eight-year deal, and they’ll let them go play,” he said. “But when you struggle and you lose games, and you’re not winning, they’re looking at the coach. He’s the first one to go.”

Or as Sabres coach Dan Bylsma put it: “I don’t know of any coach that’s been fired because their team gives up zero goals.”

Concerns over a lack of scoring in what’s become known as the “Dead Puck Era” continue after offensive production remained stagnant during the regular season that ended Sunday. Teams combined to score 6,565 goals, just 16 more than the previous year, according to STATS. And it’s the fourth consecutive 82-game season the league has failed to top 6,600, which would mean teams were averaging at least 2.68 goals per game.

More troubling is this year’s total is a whopping 858 goals fewer than 2005-06, when the NHL revamped its rules to eliminate clutching and grabbing in a bid to open up offense. That was the last season goals averaged more than three goals per game.

What’s happened since is coaches have adapted to the new rules by devising ways to clog up the area in front of the net, and teaching defenders to steer puck-carriers toward the boards without interfering.

Another issue, which the league is set to address, is goalies wearing oversized equipment. The NHL is expected to introduce new rules next season in which the jersey and equipment worn by a goalie is based on a player’s individual size.

Talk of placing an emphasis on coaches teaching offense is not a new one.

The topic was brought up by members of the league’s competition committee in 2007, according to the minutes of the meeting released as part of the evidence in the class-action concussion lawsuit filed against the NHL by former players.

Former Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe proposed introducing some type of illegal defense rule to force teams to play differently. Former NHL goalie Marty Turco is noted as saying: “Drastic changes like bigger nets will be hard for most people to swallow. Agrees that illegal defense might be a possible solution.”

Former Atlanta Thrasher GM Don Waddell blamed the coaches in 2007, which is no different than what Sabres GM Tim Murray suggested in November, when he said: “Our coaches have to come up with offensive schemes to match defensive schemes.”

Murray, however, will acknowledge it’s easier said than done.

And like Tortorella, Bylsma said the inherent pressures that come with the job leads to coaches taking a more conservative approach.

“We can give lip-service by saying we need to coach more offense, but that’s not the reality,” Bylsma said. “It’s way easier to coach defense than it is it coach offense.”

Tortorella said reducing the size of goalie equipment should help. He also noted a proposal to redesign goal posts so they’re configured to angle pucks into the net.

The NHL’s offensive decline mirrors the drop in the number of penalties called.

In 2005-06, teams were averaging 5.85 power-play opportunities per game, which resulted in teams averaging 1.03 power-play goals. Last season, teams averaged just 3.11 power-play chances per game, which resulted in teams averaging 0.58 power-play goals.

On the bright side, the NHL’s decision to switch the four-on-four overtime format to three-on-three paid off with a large decrease in games being decided by shootout.

A league-high 168 games ended in overtime, while just 107 were decided by shootout last season. It marked the first time since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06 that more than half the games ended in overtime.

Minnesota Wild forward Jason Pominville called three-on-three good for the game.

“Goalies probably don’t like it, but as fans, we’re all fans of the game, I think it was really intriguing and fun to watch,” Pominville said.

Murray agreed.

“It’s only your better players that get on the ice, so your fans get an extra look at them,” Murray said. “A lot of open ice, so I’m good with it.”