I was in attendance at the Ottawa-Toronto Game in Ottawa, and sat baffled at the two bench minors assessed to the young Maple Leafs. During the first few minutes of the game I thought veteran Dominic Moore had been assessed a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, or mouthing off to the ref. But nope, faceoff violation early in the game. This would set the tone early, as the Sens would score an uncontested power play goal. This is only a small example of the scoring shift that will take place on the power-play.
Miscommunications and ill-fated battles at the hash-marks have always been under question. It’s actively called “Cheating” in the face-off circle. Now establishing actual penalties for vying for position will force defences to be properly formed, and making quick plays even more efficient in terms of offense.
If ‘cheating’ can lead to a minor penalty, there will obviously be a huge learning curve as we have seen in the pre-season already. This will mean more time for skilled players to handle the puck, and more room to work with. Displaying talent as well as racking up points will be the inevitable result of increased penalties.
We all remember the lockout, which was one of the dark periods in NHL history. Penalties for holding, slashing and hooking were enforced significantly, making faster players not only more effective, but also got teams on the power play more often. PP time means more goals, and more goals equals more points. This was the result, a faster, more high scoring game. Power plays were higher than the previous average and point totals were immense.
Joe Thornton recorded 125 points the following year to win the Art Ross. Crosby won the year after with 120. Ovechkin had 112 points the year after. Now 10 years later we will start to see close to those numbers again. McDavid was far and above the most skilled scorer this season and recorded 100 points. Expect him to top 110 if these penalties remain the same.
Increased penalties were combatted in the past decade by increased foot speed as well as the skill and size of goalies in tandem with a collapsing structure and zone coverage from teams. Offense through defense. Look at the Sens last season and their 1-3-1 system. Guy Boucher took them to the conference finals against the eventual cup champs running this trap formation. Hockey needs more goals to be successful long term. 1-0 games can be amazing to watch, but are not great for ratings. Goalies are more talented and equipment will always be up for debate.
Next I will focus on slashing penalties, which is a area of focus George Parros has honed in on. That being said, they need to be enforced. Skilled players will have more leeway and the slow footed players who can’t retain position will fall by the wayside. Penalties will go up and subsequently, so will goals.
Preventing injury is also huge. Methot basically had his finger severed, and Johnny Hockey had his arm hacked apart by the Wild. Increased penalties is not only a great way to decrease injury in the long term, but increase scoring in the short term. Last evening in Ottawa there were 5 slashing penalties, and three faceoff violations. In New York they topped 9 penalties, and 6 occurred in New Jersey. In Edmonton and Calgary, where they played split-squad games, the four teams combined for 13 slashing penalties, one faceoff violation and 32 power plays in total. The NHL was down to 6.0 power plays per game last season. The two Alberta contests Monday averaged 16 power plays per game. This is obviously pre-season and averages are skewed, but there will be an adjustment period for the face-offs and more noticeably will be the slashing. Slower players will suffer the most, as foot speed and positioning will have a lot more to do with defense than actual stick work.
If the league plans to continue this method of penalizing, expect a strong increase in scoring, and points totals. In terms of historical projections, there could be upwards of a 10-point jump in the Art Ross finalists.