As scoring drops, NHL regretting legalization of two-line passes?

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BOSTON - DECEMBER 31: A detail of the red line is seen with skate marks on it during practice prior to Bridgestone's presentation of 2010 NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on December 31, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

red line

BOSTON - DECEMBER 31: A detail of the red line is seen with skate marks on it during practice prior to Bridgestone's presentation of 2010 NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on December 31, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Scoring is down the National Hockey League. 

The average goals per game dropped from 5.343 last season to 5.324 in 2014-15, which is still higher than it was in 2011-12 (5.320) but it’s still been on the decline for the last few seasons. This chart from Quant Hockey shows the trajectory, and the current state of goal scoring finds it on par with some of the “trap” era seasons.

But a good majority of the goal-scoring panic is centered around the fact that Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars won the Art Ross with 87 points, which is the lowest total in a non-lockout year since 1967-68, when 87 points won you the Art Ross more often than not (and when the season was only 74 games long.)

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So armed with all of this, the NHL is probably do what the NHL does and overact to a trend. According to Damien Cox, that could include revisiting the rule that was designed to open up offense and kill the trap, but apparently has done neither:

The NHLPA is becoming increasingly concerned with the drop in scoring during the regular season and playoffs, which makes sense because lower statistics can impact bonuses, arbitration and contracts.

Meanwhile, more and more you’re hearing out there that a growing number of coaches, players and executives believe that the move a decade ago to take out the red line for the purposes of two-line passes has proven to be a failure, producing a style of low-scoring hockey few contemplated.

This notion has actually been bubbling under the surface of the NHL for at least the last three years. From Bob McKenzie in 2012, via NHL Network:

“There some people in hockey — be it general managers or coaches — that want to put the red line back in not so much for the slowing down of the game, but because they don't like the way the players post up at the far blue line. Hard pass from behind the net all the way up, the guy just tips it in, and the other players are coming in hard on the forecheck."

In other words, the game has become far too predictable offensively and far less creative than it otherwise might be because teams do the above, rather than exhibit offensive flourish in the neutral zone.

Dan Boyle, then with the San Jose Sharks, agreed:

“I'm not a big fan of the red line being taken out. I think it takes away offense. Guys can make the long play now and just flip their blade over and have the puck go in, and it's not icing. [Putting the red line back in] is probably something that could change the game, but I don't see that being changed any time soon."

Boyle’s an interesting one to talk, because it’s his type of player that’s been adversely affected by the red line being taken out. With no two-line passes, offensive defensemen needed to protect against home run passes, which somewhat stifled their creativity in the offensive zone. Combine that with the fact that offensive D-men now fling outlet passes up ice rather than skate through the neutral zone, and you can see why someone like Boyle might be irked.

(Although it really hasn’t harmed Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban.)

Should they put the red line back in? I think we see enough stretch plays that would otherwise have been whistled down to warrant it remaining out, especially when you factor in how it made life more difficult for trapping teams.

The real issue, as usual, is whether any of this has negatively affected offensive flow, and that’s debatable. Chip-and-chase is Chip-and-chase whether or not there are legal two-line passes.

You wanna pump up goal-scoring? Call more penalties. And then change the rules on the power play to give a heavy advantage to the team with more man power.

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