The NHL experienced an injection of offence last season.
Led by the exploits of stars like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Roman Josi, teams across the league averaged 3.14 goals per game — the most since 1995-96 when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr combined for a ridiculous 310 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Those types of numbers are hard to envision in today’s game, but the current generation of stars continue to push the envelope.
“Lots of skill, lots of talent,” McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers captain, said at the recent NHL/NHLPA player media tour. “The game has never been as dynamic. Not to knock on any other eras, but the skill is pretty wild right now.
“It’s fun to be part of.”
Matthews and his lethal shot that can be seemingly released from anywhere with razor-sharp precision hit 60 goals in 2021-22, a first since Steven Stamkos reached the mark a decade earlier.
McDavid, with his blazing speed and elite vision, registered 123 points, which tied him for the fourth-most in a season since Lemieux (161) and Jagr (149) in the mid-1990s.
And Josi, who also has to worry about the other end of the rink, put up 96 points — the most by a defenceman in 30 years. But that still wasn’t enough for the Nashville Predators star to capture his second Norris Trophy after Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche registered 86 points of his own as a catalyst on the league’s most dynamic team.
“You can’t even be mad about it because he’s so good,” Josi said with a smile. “If you told me I’d get 96 points a couple years ago and not win, I probably wouldn’t believe it.
“Can’t be mad about it. He was awesome.”
Where things go from here in 2022-23 when it comes to personal achievements will be one of the NHL’s intriguing storylines.
Can Matthews become the first player to get to 65 goals since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08? Can McDavid become the first player to crack 130 points since Lemieux and Jagr? Can Josi or Makar — or perhaps someone else — become the first blue-liner to reach 100 points since Brian Leetch in 1991-92?
“I never really like to put numbers in my head,” said Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs sniper and reigning Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP. “As long as I’m playing well and helping the team win, and we’re playing well as a team, it doesn’t matter how many goals I score.
“Whether I score 20 goals or 100 goals, as long as those things are lining, that’s fine with me.”
Josi also tried to pour cold water on talk of pushing his stat line further.
“That’d be awesome,” he said of the 100-point mark. “But it’s a long way. If you ever told me I’ll get 90 I’d probably be laughing at you. To get 100, I know how hard that is.”
McDavid, who also put up a career-high 44 goals last season, was asked if getting to 50 is important to him.
“It’d be nice to be able to do that, but team success is first and foremost,” he said. “That (individual) stuff only comes from having team success. That’s obviously the focus. Numbers, at this point, don’t matter.
“I’ve kind of been there and done that.”
Makar, the owner of a breathtaking skating stride, said the skill level across the league can be jaw-dropping.
“It’s pretty incredible watching all these guys,” he said. “All these guys are so good — stick-wise and shooting-wise. I just hope it’s fun for fans to watch because there’s guys that are so talented.
“It’s a great time for hockey.”
Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks and Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils were among some of the next generation’s stars to leave their marks last season with eye-popping displays.
“It’s almost like everybody, whenever they come into the NHL now, has some crazy skill and can do things people just couldn’t (before),” Florida Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk said.
Los Angeles Kings centre Phillip Danault said seeing the bar raised forces other players to adapt.
“You can tell those guys have been working on their mitts — I need to work on it, too,” he said with a grin. “It’s good to see, 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’s potentially coming his way next.
“You’ll get the eyebrow raised like, ‘Oh. We’re doing that now,'” said the defenceman. “It’s great that hockey is evolving.”
And the goalies — for better or worse — have the best seat of all.
“It’s my job to shut those guys down,” Dallas Stars netminder Jake Oettinger said. “You want to compare yourself to the best in the world.
“Luckily for me, I get to do that on a nightly basis.”