NHL·The Buzzer

NHL scoring is up again and that's leading to other fun things

Today's edition of our newsletter is about the pretty wild start to the NHL season, a new gig for Don Cherry and a big moment for Canada's Davis Cup tennis team.

For example: McDavid and Draisaitl are on pace to join exclusive clubs

The Mantle and Maris of the 2019-20 NHL season. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The NHL season is off to a pretty wild start

Almost exactly 25 per cent of the 1,271 scheduled games are in the books. A lot can still change over the next few months, but we're deep enough into the season to buy into a few trends and other interesting stuff. Here are some of the big takeaways:

Scoring continues to rise

It's up for the fourth straight year. If we toss out the "goal" teams are credited with when they win a shootout, we're seeing an average of 6.07 goals per game this season. Scoring hasn't been this high since the wacky 2005-06 season, which shouldn't even count. In an effort to win back fans after a year-long lockout, the NHL goosed scoring by ordering refs to call everything. That led to an incredible 5.85 power plays per team per game on average — easily the highest rate in history according to hockey-reference.com's numbers. As a result, the average team scored 1.03 power-play goals per game in 2005-06 — the only time over 1.00 in NHL history outside of the run-and-gun '80s and early '90s.

This season, the scoring chances are much more organic. The average team is getting 3.25 power-play opportunities per game — the highest rate in six years, but nowhere near that post-lockout fever-dream season — and scoring 0.63 power-play goals.

It's always hard to pinpoint a reason for more scoring, but we can assume the suite of minor rule changes introduced by the NHL over the summer are having at least some impact. In certain scenarios, for example, the offensive-zone team now gets to choose which side of the ice the faceoff happens. This makes it easier for that team to generate an immediate scoring chance.

Anecdotally, skaters seem to be getting more and more skilled every year as we move away from an era when goalies and defensive systems dominated. Today's more offensive-minded players understand the best ways to beat a goalie, and many have perfected the skills (like, say, a good one-timer) to convert that knowledge into goals. Tighter limits on the size of goalie equipment, which went into place a few years ago, have also helped. Also, have you noticed there's just a lot less hitting these days? Less-physical play generally translates to more scoring — in any sport.

Leon Draisaitl is on pace to join an extremely exclusive club

"On pace" can be misleading at this point in the season because there's still plenty of time to regress from a hot start. But let's just play this out: with 43 points in only 22 games, the NHL's leading scorer is on track to finish with 160 points. The only two players in NHL history to reach that total are Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, who did it a combined 13 (!) times.

Connor McDavid has a shot at a historic season too

Draisaitl's teammate on the Edmonton Oilers has 40 points through 22 games. That's a 149-point pace, which would match Jaromir Jagr's best season. The 150-point club, by the way, has only five members: Gretzky, Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito and Bernie Nichols. Those last three guys only did it once each.

Seems like everybody is having a good year, actually

The NHL says 72 per cent of all skaters have scored a goal — the highest percentage in 26 years. Four guys have already had a four-goal game, which happened four times all of last season. Eleven players are on pace for 100 points, which would be the most in a season since 1995-96. That includes Washington's John Carlson, who's on pace for 120 and has a shot to become the first defenceman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to reach the century mark. Meanwhile, Colorado's Cale Makar is on pace to shatter Larry Murphy's 39-year-old record for points by a rookie defenceman.

The long arm of regression is probably coming for some of these guys. But still, it's shaping up to be a fun season.

Caps defenceman John Carlson is on pace for an incredible 120 points. (Hans Deryk/Canadian Press)

Quickly...

Canada pulled off another upset to advance to the next round of the Davis Cup finals. Yesterday, Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov both won their singles matches to help Canada surprise Italy. Today, they did the exact same thing against the U.S., giving Canada its first win in 16 tries against the Americans in Davis Cup history. With that, Canada won the group and advanced to the knockout stage. If it wins its quarter-final matchup (Belgium or Australia will be the opponent), Canada will match its best-ever showing at the Davis Cup. Read more about today's big win here, and read about how the revamped tournament works here.

Don Cherry has a podcast. It's called "The Don Cherry's Grapevine Podcast" and the first episode came out today. It's basically a 25-minute version of Coach's Corner, with Cherry's son Tim playing the Ron MacLean role. Anyone hoping for Don's extended thoughts on his sudden departure from television might be disappointed. All he really said was that he "offered to explain" his now-infamous "you people" comment to his bosses at Sportsnet. "...Not an apology but I was going to smooth it over. And they made conditions that made it impossible to do it." As for MacLean — who went on TV Saturday night and said he chose "principle over friendship" in condemning his former partner's comments — Cherry said he's "still a friend, I'm a little disappointed but I won't go any farther than that." Read more about Cherry's new gig here.

There will be no more Midgets, Bantams, Peewees, Atoms or Novices in minor hockey. Those traditional age-group names are being changed to, respectively, Under-18, Under-15, Under-13, Under-11 and Under-9 starting next season across the country, Hockey Canada announced. Those numbers reflect the age limits of the players in each division. Hockey Canada says this will make things easier to understand for people just starting out in the sport, and will help make the game "more inclusive." It's been pointed out that "midget," for example, is now considered a derogatory term when referring to little people. Read more about the name changes here.

And do you remember…

The Malice at the Palace? The infamous brawl between NBA players and fans at the Palace of Auburn Hills just outside Detroit happened 15 years ago today. The trouble started when Pistons big man Ben Wallace shoved Indiana's Ron Artest in response to a hard foul with less than a minute left in the game. Other players joined the fray as it spilled toward the scorer's table at mid-court, where the eccentric Artest did the unusual move of laying down on the table. That's when all hell broke loose. A fan up in the seats hit Artest with a beverage, and the man who would later change his name to Metta World Peace charged up into the stands to punch the first guy he could find. Artest's teammate Stephen Jackson ran up there and slugged another fan who had gotten involved in the Artest fight. That's when it became a full-scale melee between players (mostly Pacers) and fans.

After the dust settled on one of the worst brawls in sports history, Artest was suspended for the rest of the regular season (a whopping 73 games) plus the playoffs. Jackson got 30 games, Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal 15, and a half-dozen more players from both teams received bans ranging from six games to one. If you want all the details (and then some) about the brawI, check out this oral history from 2012.

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