But there is a much simpler solution than inflating net size or shrinking goalie pads, in fact it doesn’t require any changes to the game as it exists today: just call more penalties.
Since the 2005-06 season, power-play opportunities have been on a rapid decline, and they’ve done so at an even greater pace than the scoring drop. During the first year after the lockout eliminated the 2004-05 season, a team received almost six power-play opportunities per game. That has since dropped to 3.24 per game, which is slightly higher than last year (3.06), but still low enough to keep the scoring rate depressed for another season.
NHL teams convert on the power play 19 percent of the time, on average, so an additional two power-play opportunities would result in 0.38 goals per team per game. That would buoy the scoring average up to 3.04 goals per team per game, a level we have seen twice in the past 20 seasons.
Penalties-called data goes back to the 2008-09 season, when teams were given 4.16 opportunities with the man advantage per game. At that time, teams were whistled twice per game for hooking, 1.3 times per game for roughing and almost once per game for interference and holding. Calls for each of those infractions have since slipped to 1.24, 0.95, 0.84 and 0.67, respectively, this season.
Last season there were five referees with at least 10 games that issued a below-average amount of power-play opportunities per game. This year that has spiked to 13, per scoutingtherefs.com.
If you really want to get into the math, Alexander Appleyard found a strong correlation between goals and power-play opportunities per game. Here’s his main takeaway:
… the reduction in opportunities for teams to go on the power play has led to a large reduction in power play goals, which has in turn heavily impacted the amount of overall goals a team scores in a game.
Forget making the nets bigger or tinkering with the goalie equipment — just get the refs to call a tighter game so each team gets more opportunities to score on the power play. Problem solved.