As fans, we love goals - from the slick moves, the well placed shots, the player celebrations and the high-fives amongst the crowd. We can watch goals over and over and often do through SportsCenter highlights, TSN Turning Points and Top 10/50/100 Goals lists.
But how has goal scoring across the league changed over the last few decades?
The 80's to Present
There were the high scoring 80's, when the league had the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, and every single season saw the goal scoring leader have over 60 goals on the season (high of 92 by Gretzky in '81-'82).
This scoring trend continued until the '94-'95 lockout shortened season when the New Jersey Devils and their coach Jacques Lemaire re-introduced the neutral zone trap and started a trend across the league that pulled in the reins of high scoring. A strategy that saw great adoption among NHL teams and is still a big part of the game.
From the '94-95 shortened season to the '04'-'05 lockout, the league saw only one goal scoring leader with over 60 goals (Mario had 69 in '95-'96) and a total of four seasons with the league leader having less than 50 goals, which hadn't occured since the '69–'70 season.
Average goals scored by each team per game:
Total average goals scored by both teams per game:
This is clearly seen in the chart above where the average goals per game tumbled by a goal per game from a high in '92-'93 of 3.63 to 2.64 in '97-'97, just five seasons. Goals per game hit a low of 2.57 in the '03-'04 season just before a lockout that would cancel a full season.
It was the 2005 NHL Lockout that brought about rule changes such as the removal of the red line and greater officiating focus on removing clutch and grab from the game that improved things offensively.
After the lockout and the new rule changes, as well as the introduction of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the '06-'07 saw the first season since '95-'96 where the average goals per game scored was over 3 at 3.03.
However, 3+ goals per game in the NHL wasn't to last, after that season as teams settled into the changes brought in by the lockout the average goals per game started to decline again and hit a low of 2.66 in the '11-'12 season. Again, this was just before a lockout shortened season.
NHL Total Goals Scored and Goals Per Game (1990-Present)
Due to the big improvement in goaltending and defensive strategies it's unlikely that we will ever see a return to nearly 3.5+ goals per game. As fans, we can only hope that we don't see a strategy or rules that take us below 2.5 goals per game.