What kind of goals do we want? A hockey fan’s take on whether the NHL should change the size of the net

Generals goalie Finn Brophy makes a save versus Pentucket, December 30th 2019. Photo taken by Len Dolan.

Lately there’s been a push to make NHL nets bigger. With 5 on 5 scoring getting lower and lower, many fans are starting to look to the nets as a solution to this scoring drought that seems to be sweeping the league. Gone are the 70-plus goal seasons of the 1980s, and while players seem to be getting fancier with the way they score in the National Hockey League, they simply aren’t scoring as many goals. 

For many modern hockey fans the solution seems to be increasing the size of the nets. Some advocates for increasing net size argue that low-scoring games are boring, and watching two teams battle it out to a 1-0 win simply isn’t as entertaining as a 7-6 game. At first glance, making the nets bigger seems like it would be an effective strategy for increasing the number of goals scored. With more space for the goalies to cover, there should be more space for players to shoot for, and the result should be more goal scoring in the NHL. However, this solution isn’t as ideal as it may seem. 

By increasing the size of the net, players would score more goals; however, that doesn’t mean the goals they’d be scoring would be entertaining. Making nets larger would only be creating odd angles for players to shoot at. There would very likely be a shift from an emphasis on puck handling and creative passing to purely shooting the puck, which would detract from the creative nature of goal scoring in the National Hockey League. Some of the most entertaining goals to watch are tic-tac-toe plays where players set each other up for beautiful one-timers, or a series of creative dekes that end up in a goal off the breakaway. If the best chance players had to score goals was by shooting randomly and hoping for a goal, goal scoring would increase, but it might not be the way that fans want it to. 

I’ve watched and played hockey all my life, and frankly, I see the appeal of high scoring games, and I understand why fans might want to see an increase in scoring. There’s definitely something exhilarating about watching goals scored back and forth every few minutes, but I also appreciate the tension and suspense of watching a 2-1 or 1-0 game that goes right down to the wire, or ends in overtime. For those who argue that these low scoring games aren’t exciting, take soccer as an example. Soccer is the most followed sport on the planet, and most games end with only a single goal scored. 

The truth is, although scoring has decreased per player on average, goal scoring isn’t ridiculously low. According to Hockey Reference, last year the NHL had an average of 3.01 goals per game, which is actually the highest the NHL has been scoring in 12 years. So perhaps individual players aren’t scoring as much as they used to, but team scoring is still there. Perhaps the question we should be asking as fans of the National Hockey League isn’t how are we going to see more goals, but what kind of goals do we want to see?