The non-famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus said ‘All is in flux’. He also said ‘You can never step into the same river twice.’ These two notions should be our guiding principles through this examination. I will be demonstrating how NHL scoring has changed over the last 5 years. It’s a story not often talked about in the media, and as a result, fans aren't aware of it either. I'll see fans predict X number of goals for the top players, this guy'll score 40 goals, that guy should get 30, and I want to reach into their computer to show them these numbers. At the rate offense is declining, there's a limited number of players who I would consider favorites to score 30 goals in a given season.
To first examine this issue, let's just count up the average number of goals scored per team since the lockout. The NHL, in its infinite wisdom, decided to count shootout wins as ‘goals’, so to examine league-wide offense, we’ll have to get those out of there. We've done so in this helpful chart (all stats in this entry are courtesy of nhl.com and hockey-reference.com):
I also included the number of overtime games per team - it shouldn't change the numbers very much at all, but it is worth noting that teams play an average of one more OT game per season. We see a general decline in goals - 24 per team since the lockout.
So, goal scoring is down. Why has goal scoring gone down? It's pretty simple, actually - power plays. Power plays provide the best opportunities for offense, and power plays per game have dropped considerably.
As we can see, power plays per game per team have dropped by over two since 2005-06. Each team had on average, 33 fewer power play goals in 2010-11 than in 2005-06. Power plays are still falling - where should we expect next year's number to land? The league office has yet to issue one of its 'Hey, We're Actually Going to Call The Rulebook' decrees that were so common in the late 90s and early 00s. Those 'tight' calls would last until December and be a dim memory by the time the playoffs rolled around. Without one of those mandates, I see no reason to expect power play opportunities to rise next season, and I would expect to see them between 260 and 280 per team on average.
Goals are down, power plays are down, so how does this filter down to the individual player? It's certainly in a more erratic fashion than goals or power plays per team, but we cannot help but note the downward trend. This chart shows how many players scored a minimum of 40, 30, and 20 goals in a given season:
Injuries are going to foul this chart considerably - Sidney Crosby would have been a lock for 40 goals in 2010-11 had he stayed healthy. Regardless, only 5 players scored 40 goals last season, and there have been only 19 40+ goal seasons in the last three years. I attribute this to the decline in power plays - with fewer power plays, it means the top players get fewer opportunities to score. Average power play time for the top players has declined considerably. However, while 40 and 30 goal scorers are down considerably, there were only 16% fewer 20 goal scorers in 2010-11 than 2005-06. That's where to make your safe bets - your best players are still pretty damn likely to get at least 20 goals.
So yes, all is in flux, and no, you can't step in the same river twice - we don't know exactly what's coming next season. Offense could go up. Regardless, I see no reason to expect it to rise. So, when an overeager fan offers you a bet about his favorite player's goal scoring, take the under and spend that money.