Don't Blame Bettman: Scoring Down In NHL, Every Other Major Hockey League

CHICAGO - MAY 03: Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks at a press conference before the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Vancouver Canucks in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 3, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Scoring is down across the NHL and the popular response is to blame Gary Bettman. SB Nation's Derek Zona explains why this isn't just an NHL problem, and thus, why Bettman is not the problem.

Brother, can you spare a goal?

It's fashionable to blame Gary Bettman for the collapse of goal-scoring in the NHL since he took the job as Commissioner in 1993.  It's fashionable, but wrong.

NHL scoring rates peaked in 1980, then started a downward trend that lasted until the lockout in 2004.  Rules changes were implemented during the lockout and shortly thereafter that were supposed to increase scoring in the NHL.

And it worked, albeit briefly. 

Though scoring was up in the power play-filled 2005 season, rates again began sliding downwards in 2006. Thousands of words have been devoted to the topic blaming culprits like the neutral zone trap, the left wing lock, goaltender equipment, widened shin pads, expansion, goalies playing the puck, the New Jersey Devils, lack of rules enforcement, increased goalie size, increased defender size, the butterfly and of course, Gary Bettman. 

But Bettman, Colin Campbell and Bill Daly are in control of only one major professional league.  What about the rest? The line graph below traces per game scoring rates for the four major professional leagues over the last thirty-five years.


Click to enlarge.

Raise your hand if you knew that the NHL is currently the highest-scoring major professional hockey league. 

The SM-Liiga, once the high-scoring league, saw rates peak in 1978 and fall nearly 50 percent. The Swedish Elite League peaked in 1975, the KHL/Russian Super League peaked in 1975.  Though rates have finally leveled off over the last five years, and actually increased in Russia, the downward trend over the entire time frame is obvious.

It's also interesting to note the convergence of the scoring rates between the four leagues.  Over the last three years, SEL teams have averaged 2.70 goals per game, the SM-Liiga 2.72, the KHL 2.70 and the NHL 2.85. The last three seasons represent the closest the four-league scoring rates have been in the last thirty-five years. 

Scoring is down all around the world, even on the big sheets of ice, and for that Gary Bettman can't be blamed.  Scoring champions in all leagues are well off of previous highs and goaltender salaries have ballooned as their goals against averages have plummeted.

While some, like the face of Hockey Night In Canada, might enjoy the collapse of goal scoring and relish the 2-1 clutch and grab struggle, it's goal-scoring that brings fans to the gates. It's something for the NHL to consider as nearly one-third of the league struggles with attendance and the entire league struggles with television ratings.

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