Lack of Power Play Opportunities played a big part in this season’s low Art Ross race

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 3:03 am by Cam Lewis

Jamie Benn finished the season on Saturday night with a four point effort to pull himself ahead of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby in the 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy race. Benn finished the year with 35 goals and 52 assists, good for 87 points. Obviously I don’t want to take anything away from Benn’s phenomenal season, but leading the league with 87 points seem pretty strange. In fact, it’s the lowest league leading total the NHL has seen in a season that wasn’t derailed by a lockout since Stan Mikita won the Art Ross with 40 goals and 47 assists in 1967-68. Benn’s strangely low scoring title marks a trend in the NHL that we haven’t seen since before the 2004-05 lockout. 

There’s tons of factors that could go into why this season saw a really low scoring title race, but it seems the major factor in decreased scoring throughout the league has been the result of fewer penalties being called year after year. We’re a far cry from Joe Thornton’s 2005-06 MVP and Art Ross campaign largely because we’ve seen the average power play opportunity figure nearly chopped in half over that time. 

Let’s take a look.

First of all, I want to step back and look at Joe Thornton’s 2005-06 season. This was the year he was traded to Boston. He started the year putting up 33 points in 23 games with the Bruins before being shipped to the San Jose Sharks where he completely took off. In 58 games with the Sharks, Jumbo scored 20 goals and 72 assists, resulting in him finishing the year with a league leading 125 points. Those stats are pretty incredible. At a closer look, though, it’s pretty clear that Thornton was the benefactor of a ridiculous amount of power play opportunities. He scored 11 of his goals and 40 assists with the man advantage, which represents 40.8 per cent of his total points. 

In fact, Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Sakic each finished with 87 points that season, which was only good for a 17th and 18th respectively in the scoring race. Looking deeper into the ridiculously high scoring 2006 season, you start to see how much the power play had an effect on the league. After Thornton in the scoring race was Jaromir Jagr, who had 54 goals and 69 assists, while 24 goals and 28 assists were on the power play, which is 42.3 per cent of his points. Jagr’s 27 power play goals was good for second in the league, behind Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored 27 with the man advantage. Tomas Kaberle led the league in power play assists with 45, and only 20 players in 2014-15 assists all together. 

In 2006 the average team had 480 power play opportunities throughout the year, which equates to 5.9 power players per game. The average power play percentage was also 17.68 per cent, which resulted in the average team scoring a total of 85 goals, or 1.04 power play goals per game. This is obviously the result of the league baring down on the clutching and grabbing defensive style of the dead puck era before the lockout. Back in 2005-06, refs would call a penalty if you looked at somebody the wrong way while they were bursting down the wing. Since then, though, penalties have dramatically decreased, and as a result, so has scoring. 

Power Play Opportunities and Production since the 2004-05 lockout  

Screen shot 2015-04-12 at 4.33.17 PM

(Average Goals For, Average Total Goals per Game, Average Power Play Opportunities, Average Power Play Goals) 

The most glaring thing here is the average power play opportunities a team receives is dropping by quite a large margin every year and it’s pretty clear that both average goals for and average goals scored per game are directly tied to power play opportunities. The average power play goals scored has also obviously dropped along with the decrease in power play opportunities, which appears to dictate the average total goals per game. Let’s see how the scoring leaders of the past few seasons have been benefitted from the power play.

2014-15: 

Jamie Benn: 35 G, 52 A, 87 P – 10 PPG, 13 PPA, 23 PPP (26.4% on PP)

John Tavares: 38 G, 48 A, 86 P – 13 PPG, 18 PPA, 31 PPP (36.0% on PP)

Sidney Crosby: 28 G, 56 A, 84 P – 10 PPG, 21 PPA, 31 PPP (36.9% on PP)

Alex Ovechkin: 53 G, 28A, 81 P – 25 PPG, 9 PPA, 34 PPP (41.9% on PP)

Jakub Voracek: 22 G, 59 A, 81 P – 11 PPG, 22 PPA, 33 PPP (40.1% on PP)

2013-14:

Sidney Crosby: 36 G, 68A, 104 P – 11 PPG, 27 PPA, 38 PPP (36.5%)

Ryan Getzlaf: 31 G, 56 A, 87 P – 5 PPG, 18 PPA, 23 PPG (26.4%)

Claude Giroux: 28 G, 58 A, 86 P – 7 PPG, 30 PPA, 37 PPP (43.0%)

Tyler Seguin: 37 G, 47 A, 84 P – 11 PPG, 14 PPG, 25 PPP (29.7%)

Corey Perry: 43 G, 39 A, 82 P – 8 PPG, 10 PPA, 18 PPP (21.9%)

2012-13 (lockout year):

Martin St. Louis: 17 G, 43A, 60 P – 3 PPG, 17 PPA, 20 PPP (33.3%)

Steven Stamkos: 29 G, 28 A, 57 P – 10 PPG, 8 PPA, 18 PPP (31.6%)

Sidney Crosby: 15 G, 41 A, 56 P – 3 PPG, 14 PPA, 17 PPP (30.3%)

Alex Ovechkin: 32 G, 24 A, 56 P – 16 PPG, 11 PPA, 27 PPP (48.2%)

Patrick Kane: 23 G, 32 A, 55 P – 8 PPG, 9 PPA, 17 PPP (30.1%)

2006-07:

Sidney Crosby: 36 G, 84 A, 120 P – 13 PPG, 48 PPA, 61 PPP (50.1%)

Joe Thornton: 22 G, 92 A, 114 P – 10 PPG, 44 PPA, 54 PPP (47.4%)

Vincent Lecavalier: 52 G, 56 A, 108 PTS – 16 PPG, 20 PPA, 36 PPP (33.3%)

Dany Heatley: 50 G, 55 A, 105 P – 17 PPG, 22 PPA, 39 PPP (37.1%)

Martin St. Louis: 43 G, 59 A, 102 P – 14 PPG, 16 PPA, 30 PPP (29.4%)

2005-06:

Joe Thornton: 29 G, 96 A, 125 P – 11 PPG, 40 PPA, 51 PPP (40.8%)

Jaromir Jagr: 54 G, 69 A, 123 P – 24 PPG, 28 PPA, 52 PPP (42.3%)

Alex Ovechkin: 52 G, 54 A, 106 P – 21 PPG, 31 PPA, 52 PPP (49.1%)

Daniel Alfredsson: 43 G, 60 A, 103 P – 16 PPG, 32 PPA, 48 PPP (46.6%)

Dany Heatley: 50 G, 53 A, 103 P – 23 PPG, 20 PPA, 43 PPP (41.7%)

The scoring race this season wasn’t really all that different from the one last season. The only difference last year was the fact Sidney Crosby was heads and tails above everybody else. He actually managed to score 20 more points last season despite the fact his points scored on the power play percentage has been similar over the past two years. After Crosby, the race in 2013-14 looks really similar to the one this year, which isn’t surprising, considering average power play opportunities and goals has remained consistent throughout the two seasons. The massive difference is noticed when you look back to 2005-06 and 2006-07 where teams were averaging way more power plays per game. 

My conclusion here is that the players who have huge scoring seasons are typically the benefactor of both a lot of power play opportunities and good power play execution. Multiple different factors go into the Art Ross Trophy race, with one of them being the amount of power play opportunities a player and team gets, but that certainly isn’t the only reason a player could go off and score 120 points. Of course Thornton and Crosby’s seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07 were helped by the fact refs were calling everything, but they still managed to execute and score a ridiculous amount of points on the man advantage. In 2005-06, the average team scored 85 power play goals on 480 power play opportunities throughout the season, while in 2014-15, the average team only scored 46 on 248 opportunities. It isn’t really a surprise that as refs put away their whistles and power play opportunities go down, production follows. And as a result, your highest scorers aren’t going to put up the crazy numbers that they would given twice as many power play opportunities. With more power plays, the league’s elite players will be given more ice time in premium situations, which will likely result in their stats inflating, and in turn, a higher scoring Art Ross race. 

If the league wants to see scoring like it had eight, or even six years ago, the refs are going to have to start handing out power plays like Halloween candy again. If they continue this trend of only giving the average team three power play opportunities per game, we’re only going to see somewhere around 5.50 total goals per game. Also, if that’s the case, the league scoring race is very likely going to be between players scoring points in the upper 80s and low 90s, with the occasional outlier breaking the trend and putting up mammoth numbers like Crosby did last year. 

Call some goddamn penalties, refs!