Weekend Wonderings: Five-Year NHL Trends and Streaks To Think Over

Mark JonesSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2010

During the NHL lockout that cancelled what would have been the 2004-2005 season, the entire rules of the game were re-evaluated and changed to make hockey an overall better sport. The biggest changes regarded adding in the offsides rule and the shootout, but plenty of other revisions were also made.

In the five seasons since then, the NHL has been an utterly different game than it used to be. However, as discussed and tested in the NHL's Development and Orientation camp last week, the league is beginning to see some more changes, and also some reversions to the pre-lockout rules, might be becoming necessary.

An investigation into the factual reasons behind their suggested modifications took us into a world of calculations in determining an array of trends and streaks through the last five NHL seasons.

The first thing determined was that no matter how many shootouts per season the NHL expected when they established it, the number of them per year is increasing. In the first season after the lockout, 2005-2006, there were 165 games decided in shootouts while there were 116 settled in the five-minute overtime.

Last season, by comparison, there were 204 games decided in shootouts, the first time in NHL history there's been more than 200, and just 97 settled in overtime. Granted, there were 20 more games tied after regulation this season than in '05-'06, but the percentage of extra-time games decided in shootouts still rose from 58.7 percent to 67.7 percent.

Interestingly enough, though, is that teams and their players don't seem to be getting better at shootouts with experience, as there were more teams in '05-'06 (eight) than last year (six) that had a team shootout attempt conversion percentage at or above 40 percent.

If the NHL does decide to do away with shootouts, which may be a verdict chosen with good judgement, it brings up the question regarding whether they'd like to bring back ties or have endless overtime.

With the endless overtime option, it could lengthen some games so much that player stamina becomes a question. Since the lockout, there have been between 80 and 90 players that have played a full regular season (82 games) every year, with the exception of 2006-2007, when there were 102. We will also throw in, for trivial matters, that seven players have played more than 82 games in a season during that time period due to a trade.

That number seems in jeopardy to perhaps take a 15 to 20 player drop if the games are lengthened in any way.

Removing shootouts could also bring the NHL's controversial point system, which rewards two points for a win of any kind and one point for an overtime/shootout loss, back into question.

The system was expected to slightly increase point scoring in the standings when it was implemented, but after 10 and 11 teams earned more than 100 points in '05-'06 and '07-'06, respectively, the next two seasons saw lower point totals, as only five and seven teams had triple-digit points. However, it saw a surprising sharp incline this past season, as the number jumped back up to 11.

One statistic that does indicate that more points are going to top teams rather than being evenly distributed throughout all 30 teams is the average of both eighth and ninth seeds point totals. After an average of 92.25 and 93.5 the first two seasons following the lockout, the stat has dropped down to an even 90.0 this past year.

An interesting trend that seems to be pointing in the opposite direction, though, is the average shots taken per team per game. The numbers clearly prove that teams are shooting more and more as the seasons wear on. During the three seasons from the end of the lockout to the '07-'08 year, teams took an average of 28.58 shots per game. But in the past two seasons, teams have taken 30.25 per game, a significant 1.67 shot difference.

When you look closer to see if the increased shots faced will positively or negatively effect goaltenders' save percentages, though, a trend is not clear. There were just four or five goalies with a save percentage higher than .920 in '05-'06, '06-'07, and '08-'09, but in the year in between, '07-'08, and then this past season, there were 10 who reached that milestone.

The recent all-around shooting spree does seem to be damaging the biggest superstars, as the number of players with more than 40 goals in a single season has dropped from 11 to 10 to 10, again, to eight and now a all-time low with just seven in '09-'10. The production of offensive defensemen has also dropped, as the quantity of blueliners with more than 50 points quavered from 11 to 16 in the first four years after the lockout until plunging down to seven in the most recent campaign.

The additional shots also aren't changing the goals-by-period pattern that's held true for all five years. Over the five season span, an average of 12.2 teams per season score more than 70 goals over the course of the year in the first period of games, but an average 25.8 and 24.0 teams score more than 70 in the second and third periods, respectively.

To continue on, in addition to shooting, players seem to enjoy crushing opponents more today than they did directly following the lockout. After the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons saw no player dish out more than 300 hits in a season, there have been four who have done it over the last three seasons, including Cal Clutterbuck of Minnesota doing it twice.

The extra violence hasn't created any rise in penalty minutes, in spite of the numbers. Furthermore, there also hasn't been an increase in high-PIM enforcers, as a trend was nonexistent (the players with more than 200 PIM in one season had a pattern of 3-1-5-1-4 over the five studied years).

Whether it's a cause or effect of the aforementioned statistics, it does seem that players are now taking fewer yet longer shifts. After there were 15 players who averaged more than 30 shifts a game in 2005-2006 followed by 14 the next year, an average of just 9 2/3 players have done so over the latest three campaigns.

Lastly, to complete the investigation, there is one thing we can clearly say; all of these trends obviously aren't affecting the outcomes of faceoffs. Over the five-year period, the number of teams with a faceoff win percentage above 52 percent for the given season has been four teams...all five times.

Whether this mass of statistics is a legitimate gauge for determining the recent NHL trends that may need to be either promoted or stopped is still yet to be determined. Conversely, though, it seems that the NHL will probably have some numbers to crunch the next time their rule testing camp is on the agenda.