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Why is it that various media outlets continue trying to put their own spin on the "what's wrong with the NHL" story? Our latest example comes from The Hockey News, in a piece by Jay Greenburg entitled, "Excitement Level On The Decline."

Take the opening sentence:
Attendance is down and yet still up from before the lockout, leaving it arguable whether buildings in New Jersey and Florida are half-full or half empty.
It's no surprise that attendance is down from last season, particularly if you compare the first half of 2005-06 to the first half of this year. Coming out of the lockout, there were legions of fans starved to see the on-ice product, particularly in light of the massive rule changes. This year is more indicative of business as usual, so the fact that the league is above pre-lockout levels is a positive. Toss in the projection that overall revenues are increasing despite a 1% decrease in attendance, and I'd say that paying fans have come back to the game. Yes, there are certain trouble spots that need to turn things around, but the league as a whole seems healthy.

Frankly, I wonder if some of these critics who harp on attendance figures expect the numbers to grow by leaps and bounds every year. Considering that almost 2/3rds of the league is playing to over 90% capacity for their home games, it's not like there's a huge amount of room to grow that that number. The three best candidates to improve their situation would appear to be...

1) the Nashville Predators, which, once football season is over, will have the undivided attention of local fans and will be vying for their first Central Division title,
2) the New York Islanders, who aren't just surging on the ice under Ted Nolan, but are perhaps working harder than any team in the league right now to win back fans, and
3) the Chicago Blackhawks, who are off to a promising start under new coach Denis Savard, and have a huge fan base to draw from. In a city of 9.4 million, it shouldn't take too much to fill the United Center more often. Then again, they do have Bill Wirtz at the helm, so perhaps I'm being optimistic here.

But back to Greenburg's column, which appears determined to paint a picture of a failing league that's headed back to the defensive, clutch-and-grab days of the 1990's:

Since the NHL does not keep decibel levels, all we have to go on are goals, which are what people most cheer. There were 6.05 scored per game in the first 296 contests this season, down .23 from the first quarter of 2005-06, when the final regular season average was 6.05, up almost one per game from the pre-lockout season.
So goal scoring is equal to last season's overall total? Boo-hoo! He seems upset that the pace from the first quarter of last season hasn't been equaled, but again, coming out of the lockout with numerous rule changes, those initial months don't make a good basis for comparison. Besides, if you think about what Greenburg wrote there, it suggests that scoring is actually on its way up:

If the rate from the first quarter of last year was 6.28 (6.05 + 0.23), and the overall figure for 2005-06 was 6.05, that means that for the last three quarters of that season, scoring was around 5.97. So if you look at this year so far (6.05) compared to that figure, it appears that scoring is increasing. You had an early breakout of goal-scoring as teams tried out new strategies, then as defensive schemes adjusted, those numbers dipped. This season, they appear to be up again, slightly. Certainly, we don't see a host of 2-1, 1-0 trapping affairs like we had in the past. Did Greenburg even notice last week's thriller in Edmonton, with the Avalanche winning a 7-6, "last goal wins" scoring fest over the Oilers?

Speaking of the Oilers, I don't quite understand this assertion:

The horse got out of the barn when the league grew from 21 to 30 teams, putting more franchises into survival mode, diminishing the chances of spectacular accidents like the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Now, the cap has closed the door on a team with a lot of horses ever getting back in.
I would submit that the pre-salary cap days were more conducive to "putting more franchises into survival mode," as teams like Calgary and Edmonton cried poor and bemoaned any chance of prolonged success. As to assembling a team like those 80's Oilers, yes, you won't see those teams stick together for 10 years anymore, but that's a fact of modern professional sports more than any particular NHL issue. And it's not like the pendulum has swung completely to the mercenary world where the roster changes over wholesale year after year. Look at the current Detroit Red Wings, for example, and you can still find 5 players from their 1997 Stanley Cup roster, 25% of the nightly lineup.

I just wish we could go a couple weeks without another screed from the mainstream media about how lousy the NHL is. If you can't see the difference between today's NHL and the pre-lockout action, perhaps you shouldn't be writing about it.

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