A Simple Solution for the NHL to increase scoring

Every year it seems as if there is a rumbling for ways to make the game more exciting by increasing scoring throughout the course of the game. It's a common thread of discussion within NHL circles, and one that receives a fair amount of discussion during the summer months as fans and league officials are removed from the grueling nine-month season.

We'll have much more later this summer on various ways to change the game for the better-- no touch icing, removing the trapezoid, abolishing the shootout, among others-- but today let's look at a quick change that could accomplish the stated goal of generating more goals.

Coming out of the NHL Lockout, the League changed a lot of rules in order to open up the game. The two-line pass was allowed to occur, opening up the neutral zone and giving defenseman an opportunity to make a pass deep in their own zone up to a streaking forward heading toward the opponent's net. Hooking and holding were set to be enforced with much more zeal, giving skilled players a break from the waterskiiing days of the 1990's when big and slow blueliners were able to essentially bear hug the Joe Sakic's of the League in order to slow them down. The neutral zone was also reduced in size from fifty four feet to an even fifty, increasing the amount of ice available for teams in the offensive zone.

Since then there has been numerous other proposals to increase scoring at an even greater rate. Ideas such as widening the nets, restricting goaltending pads to an even greater degree (post-lockout they were reduced, and will be again next season), and increasing the width of the ice from 85 feet to something approaching the international regulation size of 98 feet are some of the more notable proposals to find their way into the media and blogs across North America.

However, one change that never seems to get much publicity is one which is an extremely simple one to implement.

Switching the benches that each team begins the game on.

Since the NHL Lockout there have been five NHL seasons, providing us a good sample size to see league-wide scoring trends on a period by period basis. And for all years except for one, the scoring totals in the second period have been the highest in respect to their first and third period counterparts:

Scoring by Period

1st Period
2nd period
3rd period
2217 2576 2514

A quick and dirty look at what could be causing this ultimately leads me to pin it on the long change that occurs during the second period. In other words, the fact that the benches are near the offensive zone instead of the defensive zone makes it much more difficult for teams to get their blueliners off for changes due to the fact they must skate all the way down the ice. This restricts the amount of time they have to change during a loose puck battle in the neutral zone-- while the near-side defenseman could get off quickly with the benches closer to him, allowing a fresh teammate to take his place in the span of a few seconds, the risks associated with leaving your team subject to an odd-man rush are much more pronounced with the benches at least twenty five feet away.

The same goes for forwards attempting to change, as well as the fact that this could be a cause for more icings as teams desperately try to clear the zone. I don't have the data handy to back up this assertion, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a slight increase in minor penalties during the second period either, as players lose the gas in their legs and turn to hooks and holds to keep opposing forwards at bay.

As far as I can see, there are no drawbacks to this proposal—hockey purists will likely find little fault in a mere change of the benches both teams occupy during the game, and those who wish to see an increase in scoring will be thrilled to see a better opportunity for teams to put the puck in the back of the net.

From a business standpoint, there is no drawback either. Season ticket holders who hold seats in front of the net where the home team attacks twice won’t be affected either, as the bench switch will not change that aspect of their own experience. The only drawback I see is one for Bad Boys Bail Bonds— during the 2009-2010 season they had seats behind the Sharks home bench, with individuals who purchased those seats being required to wear the company’s apparel. After this change, Bad Boys would only have one period with Todd McLellan and his team behind them.

Small price to pay, I’d say.

Go Sharks.