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1992-93 featured unprecedented offensive explosion

Friday, 11.30.2012 / 9:00 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

The offensive numbers from the 1992-93 season are staggering compared to today's National Hockey League, a game that is considered faster and even more thrilling than it was 20 years ago.

"I'll say this -- the goaltending wasn't as good," Brendan Shanahan told NHL.com. "The coaching wasn't as thorough as it is now."

He might be on to something.

For proof, check out these stats and facts:

* A record 21 players scored at least 100 points during the 1992-93 NHL season. The Pittsburgh Penguins employed four of them. Wayne Gretzky was not one of them for the first time in his career.

* A record 14 players scored at least 50 goals, including seven who never reached that milestone again. Pierre Turgeon and Mark Recchi did it for the only time in their careers. Shanahan's 51 goals didn't even put him in the top 10.

* An average of 7.25 goals per game was scored; no season since then has come close.

* Eleven of the 24 teams had a power play that scored at least 20 percent of the time; by comparison, only three of the 30 teams were at 20 percent or better in 2011-12.

* The League-leading 282 goals that Pittsburgh scored last season would have been tied for 18th in 1992-93, when the Detroit Red Wings led the NHL with 369 and the Hartford Whalers, a team that won all of 26 games, scored 284.

* Fifteen teams scored 300 or more goals in 1992-93, compared to zero last season.

* Pavel Bure's 110 points, good for 13th in 1992-93, would have been enough to lead the NHL in scoring in each of the past two seasons.

"It does go to show you how much better the League is now and has evolved," Adam Oates, who was third with 142 points in '92-93, told NHL.com. "I wanted 100 assists but I ended up with 97. It was a pretty magical year."

But don't all these glaring numbers make you wonder why -- as in why was there such an abundance of offense in one season 20 years ago and why have we seen anything like it only once since, in 2005-06?

There were 7,311 goals scored in 1,008 games in 1992-93, opposed to the 7,443 goals scored in 1,230 games in 2005-06 -- when the NHL returned from a work stoppage with stricter rules on obstruction that led to an average of 480 power-play opportunities per team, 37 more than teams averaged over 84-game schedules in 1992-93.

"Teams weren't necessarily playing a trap or a 1-2-2 at that time and there is so much more emphasis put on defense and playing a defensive game all over the ice [in today's NHL]," said Hall of Fame center Steve Yzerman, who was fourth in the NHL with 137 points in 1992-93. "And goaltenders are just way better compared to 20 years ago. The equipment, athleticism, size -- they're better.

"Eighty-four games, two expansion teams, not as good goaltending and not as good defense or emphasis [on defense] -- you can put it all together for more offense."

Yzerman raises several interesting points, but specifically the two hard facts he mentions -- the 84-game schedule each team played in 1992-93 and the birth of the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning -- appear to have plenty to do with why there was so much offense that season.

The fact that there were at minimum 128 more games played than in any season prior matters as it allowed for more goals.

The stats also suggest that those added games -- all 252 that involved the Senators, Lightning and San Jose Sharks, who had come into existence in 1991 -- led to a flurry of offense.

San Jose, Ottawa and Tampa Bay combined to give up 1,141 goals in 1992-93. Not surprisingly, the three expansion teams combined to win only 44 games, including 23 by the Lightning -- a resounding success considering the Sharks won only 11 and the Senators just 10.

"It was a long year," Jamie Baker, a center on the 1992-93 Senators, told NHL.com. "We didn't think we were going to be good, but we didn't think we were going to be that bad."

The top five scorers in 1992-93 feasted on the expansion teams to the tune of more than two points per game.

Mario Lemieux, who led the League with 160 points despite playing 60 games, had 18 points in a combined five games against Ottawa, San Jose and Tampa Bay. Pat LaFontaine, second with 148 points, had 27 points in 11 games against the three teams, and Oates had 23 points in the same amount of games.

Yzerman had 28 points in 13 games against Ottawa, San Jose and Tampa Bay. Turgeon had 15 points in seven games.

"Some of the expansion teams made the mistake early on of trying to go after players on other teams that were older, established, maybe brought a bit of a marquee name but were past their prime," Shanahan said. "Sometimes those teams were easy to play against. Sometimes those players were either on the back nine of their careers or even the 19th hole. The teams were trying to get established, trying to accumulate draft picks, but they wanted to have some names for fans to come see."

Adding insult to the defenses and goaltending in 1992-93 was the sheer number of power-play opportunities (480) and the success of the power plays (an average of 19.57 percent).

The Buffalo Sabres, with a combined 79 power-play goals from Dave Andreychuk, Alexander Mogilny and LaFontaine, finished just 10th in the League with a 20.34-percent power play.

The average amount of power plays per team topped 400 twice between 1992-93 and 2005-06. It has dropped precipitously since, down to 271 last season.

"That season [1992-93] might have been the year where there were going to be more calls on the clutching and grabbing and I think there might have been a little more power plays earlier," LaFontaine told NHL.com. "We thrived on the power play that year. It was an offensive year and there wasn't any slowing it down because if you tried, you were sent to the box."

Shanahan also thinks television -- or more specifically, the lack of modern-day technology that is now available to all coaches, players, scouts, managers, media, etc. -- had a lot to do with why there were so many bloated offenses in 1992-93.

"You knew the players, but I don't know if the pre-scouting was at the same level," he said. "When you'd get into a playoff series you would really pre-scout a team and know where the scorers went, but in a full NHL season, where you're playing three or four games a week, you just didn't have the ability to scout a team like you can now, when all the games are televised.

"You would go home on your off nights and there really weren't a lot of nationally televised games. There wasn't a hockey package that you could flip on and watch any team. You read the stat sheet. So I would say it was an advantage to the offensive players because, as we know, a coach's ability to coach defense and to check has made it a lot tougher to score [in today's NHL].

"It was all sort of word of mouth [20 years ago], because you didn't have the ability to watch all these other teams play, and that probably helped the offensive players."

Shanahan also pointed to how limited depth hurt defenses across the League.

"I remember guys like Pat LaFontaine and Alex Mogilny, you didn't roll four lines [against them]. You'd roll sort of two lines, they'd insert the third line a little bit and the fourth line sometimes got a shift a period depending on who you were playing, the style of game," he said. "I had buddies on the fourth line that would complain because they got one or two shifts a game. There wasn't that, 'Let's roll four,' so as an offensive player, if you got on a bit of a roll, you'd touch the puck a lot, feel good and get more points.

"If you're going with a shorter bench, you don't have the energy to backcheck with that same intensity, so there was a lot more time to pull up, slow down, crisscross and get some more offense. I don't know the exact numbers, but the top three or four offensive guys on every team were probably playing 25-35 minutes a night and that certainly made it a lot easier [to score]."

It's also possible that, for whatever reason, the goaltending just wasn't good enough that season.

Felix Potvin and Eddie Belfour were the only goalies to play more than 25 games and finish with goals-against averages less than 3.00; 40 goalies had a sub-3.00 GAA last season, including five that were below 2.00.

Curtis Joseph, Potvin, Belfour, Tom Barrasso and John Vanbiesbrouck were the only goalies to play at least 25 games and stop at least 90 percent of the shots they faced; 41 goalies had a save percentage of .900 or better last season.

"I remember the goals and all the points, and I don't know if it was just the amount of talent that there was offensively or if the goalies were just poor that year," Hall of Fame forward Dino Ciccarelli, one of the 25 players who scored at least 40 goals in 1992-93, told NHL.com. "I really don't know. It's just one of those things where everything came together with so many offensive guys.

"It just seemed like you were not going to win games 3-1 or 4-2; you had to score a lot more goals and every team responded to that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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