The Profile Of A Top-30 Scorer, Pre- And Post-Lockout

LAS VEGAS - JUNE 23: Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning poses for a portrait during the 2010 NHL Awards at the Palms Casino Resort on June 23, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

As a guy who spends a lot of his time watching and writing about hockey, I also read a lot of hockey publications. And suffice to say that if I had a nickel for every time I read how the “New NHL” encourages speed and “opens up the game” for skill players, allowing small players who otherwise would never have had a chance at the big leagues to get a taste of it, then I’d have a lot of nickels to throw at the guys who do the write-ups for THN draft previews.

There are lots of different ways to measure how the game have changed since the NHL lockout, and the way I decided to try today was to look at the top-30 scoring forwards in the NHL for the five years before the lockout and the five years after the lockout, and see what changed. The results showed some changes, but not necessarily the ones that are generally trumpeted.

It’s easy to forget, but 5’9” Martin St. Louis won his Hart, Art Ross and Lester B. Pearson awards before the NHL lockout. That was also when he was named to the NHL’s First All-Star team and when he got his name on the Stanley Cup and led the league in plus/minus. So it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that there’s been very little change in what a top-30 scoring forward looks like since the NHL lockout. Before the NHL lockout, the average top-30 scorer stood a hair under 6’1” while weighing 205 lbs; since the NHL lockout he has averaged a height just under 6’1” and a weight of 204 lbs.

There is some good news, though: while scoring has been in steady decline since 2005-06, the average top-30 forward still scores almost eight points more per season than his pre-lockout counterpart, averaging 86.8 points (as opposed to the 79.1 scored by his average predecessor). Total numbers for the 10 seasons under consideration follow:

Season Height Weight Total Points
1999-00 72.6 201.8 77.0
2000-01 72.7 205.0 86.3
2001-02 73.7 210.0 74.9
2002-03 73.0 204.9 82.6
2003-04 72.5 204.5 74.7
Average, Pre-Lockout 72.9 205.2 79.1


Season Height Weight Total Points
2005-06 72.9 206.0 91.5
2006-07 72.7 202.9 91.0
2007-08 73.3 205.4 84.2
2008-09 72.7 201.6 84.2
2009-10 73.1 203.5 83.2
Average, Post-Lockout 72.9 203.9 86.8

The point I’m making, I suppose, is that all the lip service paid to the new equality for small players is just so much empty noise – the story for the Jordan Weal’s, Kellen Tochkin’s and Justin Feser’s of the world is the same as it was for players like St. Louis, Brian Rafalski, Theo Fleury, Steve Sullivan, Cliff Ronning, Donald Audette and countless others: they’re underappreciated until they prove more than the big players do. Big players have always gotten more chances, and they always will: it’s just the way the NHL works, and the lockout didn’t change things.

But hey, at least scoring is up.

  • The NHL game post-lockout is drastically different than the one Theo Fleury and Cliff Ronning played when they first game into the league. It’s not remotely the same.

    If you can find a narrow set of numbers — like these ones — to say otherwise, it goes to show you can find a set of numbers to say anything.

    • He wasn’t using this metric to suggest the game is the same. He was stating that the dialogue suggesting the game is more suitable for smaller players may not be completely accurate. The greatest hockey players have a combination of speed, tenacity, vision, and an ability to get/protect the puck. Size is an asset no matter what the era/rules.

  • Ducey

    The increase in scoring is directly related to what I expect is an increase in minor penalty calls.

    Making one handed hooking and accidental tripping (or even lifting someone’s stick) calls has done nothing for the game or the little guys.

    The reality is that coaches have devised defensive systems that are very good. A bigger player is seen as both an important element in implementing this defence as well as being more likely to withstand it.

    Add in the fact that small guys are going to have a harder time after the first round of the playoffs, (the refs eat their whistle, & games much more physical) and it is not hard to see why the small guys still have an uphill fight.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I’d be curious to see a more in depth look at this numbers with a bigger selection of players. It just seems to vague of a selection. What does it tell you that the top 30 players are the same size? Nothing really.

    I’d look and see how many smaller guys are playing in the NHL as a whole. The new NHL isn’t opening the game up for the elite small guys. It’s opening it up for those 2nd and 3rd line guys.

    If you have the skill it really shouldn’t matter what set of rules that you have to play under.

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    I completely agree the league is different now than when Ronning and Fleury broke in, but I only brought their names up to make the point it’s always been more difficult for small players.

    But looking at the five years before the lockout, I think it’s fair to say the new rule changes haven’t been a renaissance for small forwards – the game’s changed a bit since 2000, but the size of an NHL forward hasn’t really changed in the last 10 years, despite the oft-repeated suggestion that small players are thriving under the new rules.

    • There are more opportunities for small players to thrive now — the reduction in obstruction and intimidation away from the puck is significant and it has opened up the ice.

      The holding and hooking smaller players like Ronning and Fleury had to fight through in their first seasons was absolutely ridiculous. The difference is like night and day (the New Westminster Bruins were my beat as a young reporter when Ronning was there and I covered the WHL during Theo’s days).

      That said, the increase in open ice has been countered by the fact small players, all players, are facing generally better goaltending and improved defensive schemes than they did in the 1990s and early 2000s.

  • @ Ogden Brother Jr. – Team Lynda Steele:

    I disagree with you here, and I expect the numbers will be the same regardless of how we set our sample.

    For the top-30 example, if the rule changes were disproportionately benefitting small players we would have seen the small guys just outside the top-30 move up faster and displace big guys at the tail end of the top-30. The fact that we haven’t seen that suggests the rule changes do reward skill (look at those point increases!) but that they effect big and small players more or less equally.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Do you happen to have the average height and weight of all the players over the last 10 years or even how many guys under 6′ 200lbs made the NHL per year?

    • What has changed the most in last twenty years or more is the athletic abilities of the bigger players as a group . Like football , these behemoths are developing rapidly , and have speed and athletic abilities normally associated with smaller athletes .

      • This arguement cannot ever be won.

        Theo had to fight off hooks in his day, while defenseman now have the capability in their skates to heat the blade to 5 degrees to allow them to skate faster and smoother and keep up with faster forwards.

        Hockey sticks have the PERFECT flex to allow for a harder shot, while goalies have thicker and lighter equipment.

        The blue lines have changed and there is no more 2-line passes, however, obstruction calls have sky-rocketted.

        We have shortened the average game by 30-40 minutes by introducing hurry-up faceoffs so players are likely more tired between shifts, yet we have better engineered drinks on the bench to provide a more effective means of introducing solute to the body to counter-act fatigue.

        I love it… this arguement never grows old. The beauty is that there is always a counter-arguement for any change in the game made today as compared to 20 years ago.

        One thing that will never change – a 174 lbs kid scoring more points in 10 years than the next closest did in over 20 years…

  • Ducey

    A team still needs to be architected similar to how you would construct one in Nintendo’s 1988 game Ice Hockey.
    A couple skinny guys who can skate fast, a medium-sized guy with versatile skills, and a couple of obese players who can strip the little guys of the puck and can blast rubber.

  • Not sure how Oilers diminutive experiment went sour if size not part of it ? More important going into this season is managements approach to making us better through inside graduation and rookies .

    If this experiment fails, seeing as they seem to have given up much hope for the marketplace route , how long before we might see a Maciochia type axing ? Seems to me this might be their last straw of hope to hold onto their positions .

    Seems to me that instant results should come this year or managerial changes will ensue. Oiler fans have suffered thru enough over last few seasons , and growing intolerant of lengthly talk of more years to come of poor hockey .

  • Now that I think of it, I wonder if the observed weight reduction while height remaining the same is an indicator of increased fitness, indicated by higher point totals.

    It might indicate that level of fitness (and maintaining that level during the season) is more important that outright size as a determiner of success.

    If that’s the case, maybe there was some validity to Chad Moreau’s claims the team had not done a good job maintaining fitness levels during the season – thus the injuries and reduced performance. It might also be a reason why the training staff was axed.

    Yep. Stretching that string pretty tight this morning.

  • Moop

    PATIENCE ! PATIENCE ! Sick and tired of this patience talk. I’ve had it up to my eye teeth with this patience talk . Same crap we’ve had for last 3 seasons . If they want patients tell them to go to hospital and start throwing all their patients back out of the infirmary and back out onto the ice to show their ready for recovery !

    I want to see Recovery Road talk , not patience talk . If management wants another 3-5 years to build then tell them we can’t wait that long for them to get their doctorate degrees . After all ,this is hockey and respectability we are talking about . Wake up Rumplestilskin and company !

    • Librarian Mike

      PATIENCE ! PATIENCE ! Sick and tired of this patience talk. I’ve had it up to my eye teeth with this patience talk . Same crap we’ve had for last 3 seasons.

      Well, then you’re going to love the 7th Annual “Is this the year Hemsky becomes an elite player?” discussion which is sure to begin any day now…

  • ubermiguel

    @ JW, you make a compelling case, but using simple averages might obscure some of the finer details.

    Could the increase in points not be entirely due to smaller player scoring more while bigger players scored the same?

    If you have your stats handy still may I suggest dividing the samples into two groups, big and small (using say 5’10” as the dividing line) and averaging out the pre and post lock-out points?

    To refine it even further you could run a correlation on height with points pre and post lock-out.

  • Small players can be successful in any era until their foot speed levels off.

    Guys like Kane & Parise are putting up good numbers now but by 30?

    Effective but not elite after 30.

    Jeff Skinner comes to mind from the 2010 draft.

  • Lofty

    Just going to you can find some interesting numbers. Since 00-01 you can look up how many players sized 5’10” and smaller have suited up for at least one NHL hockey game.


    Seeing as how the highest number of munchkins playing in one season is only 2 higher post lockout then before the lockout, I’d have to agree with Willis.

    All these great new opportunities for small players is looking mostly like a fabrication.

  • TNT Cooler Factory

    @ Brownlee

    It might behoove you to take a look at the data and then form an opinion rather than seek out the data that proves your previous beliefs and throw out the rest. It’s called wisdom.

  • Crackenbury

    This is where stats can mess up what common sense tells you. The game is clearly easier to play post-lockout. I wouldn’t limit it to smaller players. All players have benefitted. All the obstruction and hacking guys in front of the net is pretty much gone. Guys like Craig Simpson would be eating it up playing today.

    I think the reason we don’t see groups of players running up the scoring today is a result of better overall players in the league. Athletes in all sports, individual or team, are better today than they were yesterday. Nutrition, training and coaching all contribute to making players better today and more difficult to play against even though the game itself has opened up.