The 2022-23 NHL Season Could Be The Highest Scoring Since The Early ’90s
NHL scoring has steadily increased in recent years.
In 2015-16, the 2.71 goals average was the lowest since 2003-04 (2.57), which was the final season of the “Dead Puck Era”. It has since risen by each season, reaching 3.14 in 2021-22. The last time it was that high was 1995-96.
That season saw eight players, including Hall-of-Famers Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Paul Kariya, reach or exceed the 50-goal plateau. Two of them (Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr) scored over 60 goals.
Twelve players, including Lemieux, Jagr, Sakic, Kariya and Hall-of-Fame stars like Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros, Ron Francis, Teemu Selanne, Sergei Fedorov and Wayne Gretzky, reached or exceeded 100 points.
2021-22 saw four players reach 50 goals, with Auston Matthews becoming the first player in 10 years to score 60 goals. Eight players, including Matthews, Edmonton Oilers’ superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, netted 100-plus points.
Those stats may pale somewhat to the output of the class of 1995-96. Nevertheless, they were a part of a trend that began in 2018-19 when two players reached 50 goals and six netted 100 points. That was a big jump over 2017-18 when there were no 50 goal scorers and just three players got to 100 points.
The increase in scoring is continuing this season with the goals average at 3.19, which would be the highest since 1993-94’s average of 3.24.
That season saw nine players tally 50-or-more goals, including Hall-of-Famers such as Pavel Bure (60), Brett Hull (57), Fedorov (56), Dave Andreychuk (53), Brendan Shanahan (52), Mike Modano and Cam Neely (50 each).
Eight others exceeded 100 points, including Gretzky winning the last scoring title (130 points) in his storied career, followed by fellow Hall-of-Fame players like Fedorov (120), Adam Oates (112), Doug Gilmour (111), Bure and Mark Recchi (107 each) and Shanahan with 102.
As of Dec. 10, 2022, this season’s top-nine goal scorers include the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid with 25, the Dallas Stars’ Jason Robertson (23), Buffalo Sabres’ Tage Thompson (21), Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat (20), Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak and the Oiler’s Leon Draisaitl (19 each), with the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov, the Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander and the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby all sitting with 17 goals.
By my rough estimate, at their current rate of production, they could all reach or exceed 50 goals by season’s end, with McDavid and Robertson potentially reaching 70 goals apiece and Thompson and Horvat netting 60 each.
Fifteen players had 35 or more points. Fourteen of them could hit 100-plus points by the end of this campaign. I’ve excluded the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, who has 34 points in 23 games but is sidelined for four weeks with an upper-body injury, which will likely keep him out of range for 100 points.
McDavid is the league leader with 54 points, putting him on pace to exceed 155 points. Draisaitl (46 points), Robertson (42 points) and Thompson (41 points) could reach 120 points.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov has 39 points, Crosby has 38, Pastrnak, the Florida Panthers’ Matthew Tkachuk and the San Jose Sharks’ Erik Karlsson each have 37.
The Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner has 35 points. Kaprizov, along with the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, and the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin each have 34.
Again, by my rough estimates, they could reach or exceed 100 points.
Bear in mind that scoring tends to decline over the course of the season as games become more meaningful for playoff contenders and defenses tend to tighten up. Still, these numbers suggest we could see at least five players reach the 50-goal plateau and perhaps 10 topping 100 points.
What’s behind this rise in scoring? As I recently observed in my NHL Puck Drops column in The Guardian (PEI), a combination of factors appears to be at play here.
A growing number of players are faster, younger and more highly skilled. There are more puck-moving defensemen compared to recent years. Because of the growing number of younger stars, as Philadelphia Flyers coach John Tortorella recently observed, there are also more defensive mistakes being made.
Teams have improved their play with the man advantage to generate more scoring chances. Players are also driving more to the net and getting more goals with deflections and tip-ins. The quality of goaltending also seems to be on the decline as today’s scorers appear to have figured out how to beat the butterfly style favored by goalies since the early-1990s.
The growing rise in scoring could concern those fans who fear a return to the wide-open style of the 1980s when the quality of defensive play was rather poor. I don’t think that’s going to happen because there remains an emphasis on two-way skills in today’s league.
What we could be seeing is a more entertaining style of game with more offensive chances. At the same time, we should still see skillful defensive play that doesn’t rely on uncalled obstruction that dominated the Dead Puck Era of the league 1990s and early 2000s.