The NHL experienced an offense last season.
Led by the exploits of stars such as Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Roman Josi, teams across the league score an average of 3.14 goals per game – the most since 1995-96 when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr combined for a ridiculous 310 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Those numbers are hard to imagine in today’s game, but the current generation of stars continue to push the envelope.
“So much skill, so much talent,” McDavid, captain of the Edmonton Oilers, said at the recent NHL/NHLPA player showcase. “The game has never been so dynamic. Not for typing in any other era, but the current skill is pretty wild.
“It was fun to be a part of it.”
Matthews and his deadly shot that seemed able to be launched from anywhere with razor-sharp precision hit 60 goals between 2021-22, the first since Steven Stamkos hit it. milestone a decade earlier.
McDavid, with his incredible speed and elite vision, scored 123 points, placing him fourth in a season since Lemieux (161) and Jagr (149) in the mid-1990s.
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And Josi, who also has to worry about the other end of the rink, picked up 96 points – the most by a defender in 30 years. But that still wasn’t enough for the Nashville Predators star to win a second Norris Cup after Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar scored 86 points on his own as a catalyst for the league’s most dynamic team.
“You can’t even go crazy because he’s so nice,” Josi said with a smile. “If you had told me I was going to hit 96 a few years ago and not win, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.
“Can’t be angry about that. He is wonderful.”
Where things go in 2022-23 when it comes to individual achievements will be one of the NHL’s intriguing storylines.
Could Matthews become the first player to hit 65 goals since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08? Can McDavid become the first player to reach 130 points since Lemieux and Jagr? Can Josi or Makar – or maybe someone else – become the first to hit 100 since Brian Leetch in 1991-92?
“I never really liked putting numbers in my head,” said Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs sniper and defending Hart Trophy champion as NHL MVP. “As long as I play well and help the team win, and we are playing well as a team, it doesn’t matter how many goals I score.
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“Whether I score 20 goals or 100 goals, as long as those things are okay, that’s fine with me.”
Josi also tried to throw cold water when talking about pushing his stats line further.
“That was amazing,” he said of the 100-point mark. “But it’s been a long way. If you ever told me I was going to get 90 years old, I would probably laugh in your face. To get 100, I know how hard it is.”
McDavid, who also scored 44 career goals last season, was asked if going 50 was important to him.
“It’s great to be able to do that, but the team’s success comes first,” he said. “That (individual) only comes from the success of the team. That is clearly the focus. The numbers, at this point, don’t matter.
“I’ve been there and done it.”
Makar, the owner of a spectacular skating stride, says the skill level across the league can be astounding.
“It’s hard to believe watching all these people,” he said. “All these people are very good – wise and wise. I just hope the fans have fun watching because there are talented guys.
“It’s a great time for hockey.”
Anaheim Ducks’ Trevor Zegras and New Jersey Devils’ Jack Hughes were among the next-generation stars to leave their mark last season with spectacular performances.
“Nearly everyone, whenever they come to the NHL now, has some crazy skills and can do things that people couldn’t (before),” said winger Matthew Tkachuk of the NHL. Florida Panthers said.
Phillip Danault of the Los Angeles Kings center said seeing the bar raised forced other players to adapt.
“You could say those people worked on their gloves — I needed to work on that, too,” he says with a smile. “It’s good to watch, it’s good for the game.”
New York Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said watching highlights from around the league is often an indication of what could happen next.
“You’ll raise your eyebrows,” Oh. We are doing it right now,” said the guard. “It’s great that hockey is growing.”
And the goalkeepers – for better or worse – have the best seats.
“My job is to shut down those guys,” said Dallas Stars netminder Jake Oettinger. “You want to compare yourself to the best in the world.
“Lucky for me, I can do it nightly.”
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