March 5, 2012

The Numbers Game: Blocked shots bogging down offenses

By Jesse Connolly

Just for the hell of it, take out an NHL score-sheet and rank each of the categories from the highest in entertainment value to the lowest.

Unless you’re a netminding nut, odds are high your list starts with goals, is closely followed by assists, then features hits and saves in some order to round out your top four. Scrolling down, there’s a strong likelihood you’ve penciled in blocked shots at or near the bottom.

If you’re a normal person and adhered to the preceding line of thinking, there’s a disturbing trend going on in the National Hockey League these days.

Since 2003-04, the total number of shots blocked across the league has gone up in five of the last six full seasons.

The rule changes implemented coming out of the lockout were supposed to give a big boost to offenses, as the league erased the red line, crafted the trapezoid and did its best to extinguish all the clutching and grabbing that was slowing the game down.

But it appears the ever-growing focus on blocking shots by all of the NHL’s 30 clubs has gone and negated that. Since 2005-06 when those 30 squads combined for 7,443 goals (the highest mark in the last 14 seasons), goals have been down in four of the last five years. If this year’s current pace holds true (6,522), it’ll be five out of six and there will have been a 12.3 percent dip since that 2005-06 campaign.

Here’s how the numbers break down (the 2011-12 statistics are projected based on year-to-date totals):

TOTAL NHL BLOCKED SHOTS

2011-12: 34,800   2010-11: 34,904

2009-10: 33,452   2008-09: 32,324

2007-08: 29,660   2006-07: 33,182

2005-06: 31,959   2003-04: 28,293

2002-03: 8,861*   2001-02: 28,653

2000-01: 28,735   1999-00: 26,165 (28 teams)

1998-99:  23,813 (27 teams)   1997-98: 17,564 (26 teams)

* Unable to determine reason for drastic anomaly. Stats are per nhl.com.

TOTAL NHL GOALS

2011-12: 6,522   2010-11: 6,721   2009-10: 6,803

2008-09: 7,006   2007-08: 6,691   2006-07: 7,082

2005-06: 7,443   2003-04: 6,318   2002-03: 6,530

2001-02: 6,442   2000-01: 6,782   1999-00: 6,306 (28 teams)

1998-99: 5,830 (27 teams)   1997-98: 5,624 (26 teams)


So what position do you think this has had the biggest effect on? Well, what position clearly has the toughest task in getting the puck to the net?

Defensemen, of course!

With players dawning space-age, super armor, and willing to go down to block a shot at a moment’s notice, getting pucks through traffic has became increasingly harder for d-men.

Among the NHL’s 30 teams, only two are currently led in shots by a defenseman. Shea Weber takes the cake for Nashville, while offensive dynamo Erik Karlsson leads the way for Ottawa.

To delve into this a little deeper, here’s a look at how many defensemen finished in the top 60 in shots among all NHL players on a yearly basis since 1997-98 (2011-12 stats are accurate as of this posting):

D-MEN IN TOP 60 IN SHOTS

1997-98: 12   1998-99: 5   1999-00:

2000-01: 8   2001-02: 11   2002-03:

2003-04: 8   2005-06: 5   2006-07: 4* 

2007-08: 3   2008-09: 5   2009-10:

2010-11: 4   2011-12: 6

* 2006-07 was the only season during this span that no d-man finished in the top 30.

Just to break that down a little bit further, in the seven seasons prior to the lockout, an average over eight-plus blueliners cracked the top 60 in shots per season. In the seven season since then, including this year, the average has been a little over four – a 50 percent decrease.

Removing the statistical anomaly that is 2002-03 (a peculiarly low, 8,861 blocked shots), the average number of blocked shots for the 200-01, 2001-02, and 2003-04 seasons was 28,560. If this year’s projected numbers hold true, the average for 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 will be 34,385. That’s a 20.39 percent jump from the aforementioned three-year span to the current one.

CONCLUSION

So what do you make of all these numbers? Do blocked shots and decreased offense go hand-in-hand, or is there another reason why the NHL's goal totals have consistently dipped in recent years?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment below.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on twitter at @JesseNEHJ.