This year's rule changes included a switch to shallower nets. The idea was that it would increase scoring -- a shorter line to the other side of the net would lead to more wrap-around goals, and the increased space would give better passing lines.
As Adam Oates said, per NHL.com, "I think you're probably going to see a few plays based on that, but I'm curious to see how many. It's one of those things that until you see it, it's tough to evaluate it."
So now we've seen it. Let's evaluate.
Last year, the average game had 5.48 goals. This year (through Tuesday's games), that figure was down to 5.42. It's a small enough change that I wouldn't read much into it, but it certainly doesn't look like offense is up overall.
Of course, that doesn't mean the shallower nets aren't helping. Scoring has been steadily dropping for a while, and it's possible that the change mitigated the decline to some degree. Let's look specifically at whether wrap-arounds are up (through Tuesday's games).
|Year||Wrap-around shot attempts per game||Percent of those attempts that went in||Wrap-around goals per game|
Teams aren't attempting appreciably more wrap-around shots this year, but a lot more of them are going in. Scoring overall is down from last year, but that decline would be almost 40 percent larger if teams weren't scoring on so many wrap-around shots.
If the shallower nets are helping the offense, it seems more likely to be from making wrap-arounds easier than from opening up passing lanes.
Is anyone taking advantage?
Overall, wrap-around shot attempts are only up a sliver from last year. Of course, that tiny increase is not uniform across the league -- some teams' totals have gone up a lot, while others have actually fallen.
Last year, Florida had the fewest wrap-around attempts in the league at 0.23 per game, and Detroit was fourth-lowest at 0.31. Both teams were below average in each of the two previous years as well. The stat sheet doesn't really tell us why they were low -- it could be their players' styles, the teams' systems, or simply a recording bias by the home scorers in those arenas.
But for whatever reason, Florida and Detroit always have had relatively few wrap-around shots ... until this year.
This year, Florida ranks second in wrap-around attempts (0.73 per game) and Detroit seventh (0.64). In the two previous years they combined for a total of one wrap-around goal, but they have four already this year. They are taking more wrap-around shots this year and reaping the benefits of the easier path to the far post.
I'm hesitant to go as far as saying it's a deliberate change in strategy by those teams. After all, if there were teams that were actively trying to take more wrap-around shots, we'd expect to see the league-wide average go up more than we have.
But remember, there was ambiguity about the best way to exploit the shallower nets. It's possible that some teams are using the increased space to try to create more plays, purposefully passing on the wrap-arounds that are historically pretty low-percentage shots.
In any event, whether it's by design or by happenstance, a couple of teams that historically haven't looked for the wrap-around have made it a more common part of their offense this year.