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Bring Back The 1980’s Hockey

from Sierra Rayne at CandaFreePress,

Playoff scoring and superstar-based entertainment was also at historic highs during the 1980s. If we look at the point-per-game average by the playoff scoring leader, we see that—once again—the 1980s are the peak, and following the end of the Gretzky-era, a return to the historical lows (and boring playoff hockey).

Goals-per-game for the goal scoring leader in each season increased steadily starting in the early 1960s, reached their peak during the Gretzky era (of which Gretzky, of course, holds the single-season, all-time, and many other goal scoring records), and has since declined back to historical lows in the post-Gretzky era.

The increased scoring in the Gretzky-era also corresponds with a historically elevated goals-against-average for the goalie with the most wins in each season.

The 1980s also saw the era of the high-scoring defenceman continue (e.g., Coffey), building on the pioneering offensive capabilities of Bobby Orr—who largely conceived the concept of a high-scoring defenceman when he burst into the league in late 1960s and achieved scoring prominence in the early—through mid-1970s.

High scoring wasn’t the only part of the 1980s hockey entertainment mix. There were a lot of penalties, and the behavior that led to the penalties was often more entertaining than we have in the current “cowardly thug” era. The 1980s saw a number of well-known (and regular) team brawls that were as enjoyable to watch as the scoring. If we look at the regular season penalties-in-minutes (PIM) for the highest penalized player of each year, we see more exceptionalism. Starting in the mid-1970s through to the mid- to late-1990s, the most penalized players were much more penalized on average than they were either prior to or after this timeframe. Lots of goals, lots of penalties (particularly fighting and brawls) = lots of excitement.

more, a long read but interesting...

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Old Time Hockey!

Posted by wingsnut25 from Cheboygan, MI on 09/02/13 at 08:34 PM ET

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ban the butterfly

Posted by bsalamon on 09/02/13 at 08:37 PM ET

Primis's avatar

ban the butterfly

Posted by bsalamon on 09/02/13 at 08:37 PM ET

Yeah there’s not much you can do short of this.  Goalies in the 1980’s still… umm… weren’t very good.  I hate to say that but…. just watch a game from the 80’s sometime, and you’ll sit there with your mouth wide open at their play.

Goalies have come so very far since then.

Posted by Primis on 09/03/13 at 12:18 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

The last big team-hate brawl was in 2011 between the Pens and Islanders and that was a goddamn embarrassment to hockey that caused the former-superstar-turned-face-of-ownership to (again) openly question whether he wanted to be involved in the NHL.

Sure, figure out the scoring thing where you don’t fix the problem of too many goals being “garbage” with a solution where you just introduce more garbage to cancel it out (like the overall abilities/size/equipment of goalies in the halcyon 80s)... maybe take a serious look at the full-time four-on-four to create the space to let the skill guys flourish (and then stop taking a serious look when the NHLPA blocks it on principle)...

But the idea that we need more guys collecting more PIMs to make the game more entertaining just doesn’t work. For one, whether people want to admit it or not, we know a shitload more now than we did as a society 30 years ago and you can’t responsibly foster a return to goonish gladatorialism on ice. There’s actual liability on the line for doing that nowadays. Maybe the $765M cost-benefit analysis that the NFL just paid to make it go away turned out better for them both in hindsight and in the long run (arguable), but can the NHL chance that, especially with the skeletons already in their closet?

If you want to foster the kind of hatred between teams that we last really saw between the Wings and Avalanche (and we were really starting to see grow between Vancouver and Chicago recently), then consider all the factors which make that happen.

Making them meet in the playoffs consistently certainly helps, but you also have a regular season to worry about. When the standings are always so artificially close to create drama, then teams don’t get as much leeway to decide maybe they’d rather kick the shit out of their rivals than actually beat them on the ice.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/03/13 at 12:47 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Keep in mind what really started the Wings-Avs rivalry, JJ…

Sure the playoffs were involved but…today there would be lawsuits galore over what happened to Draper.

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 09/03/13 at 09:19 AM ET

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Scoring went down because of the Devils and better coaching. Jacques Lemaire & the Devils changed the game. When Lemaire put in a defensive system and won with it other teams with less finesse players started to do the same. Today coaches coach better and make sure players play their system. Just like Bobby Orr changed the game as a scoring offensive defenseman, Jacques Lemaire changed the game. Now many teams play a strict defensive system because it works. Coaches coach to win and sometimes they can only do it with a defensive system, it is boring and ugly hockey but it works. That is why we don’t see 1980’s type of scoring.

Posted by Puckbubba on 09/03/13 at 09:53 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 09/03/13 at 09:19 AM ET

The Draper incident was certainly the catalyst, but the fire wouldn’t have kept burning without enough fuel and I think both teams might have turned down the burners for some of those regular season slugfests if all the races were tighter.

I could only imagine Detroiters calling police and clamoring for Lemieux’s arrest nowadays like Habs fans did with the Chara/Pacioretty incident.

Posted by Puckbubba on 09/03/13 at 09:53 AM ET

This is a great point.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/03/13 at 10:24 AM ET

Hank1974's avatar

JJ, I’ve been a big fan of full time 4-on-4 hockey. I think that would certainly help the cause.
But like you said, good luck convincing the PA of that. Even if roster sizes were kept the same.

I think everyone can pretty much agree that if goalies wore equipment that was the same size as the stuff Ken Dryden wore (who was 6’4”), there’d be no problems with a few more goals per game; and more specifically, much needed NICE goals.

But again, the PA will block slimmer goalie gear till the day it dies.
So the only obvious solution is to alter the size of the nets.

I know, I know “It hurts the historical continuity of the game”.
B.S. Nobody here can tell me that the players in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s didn’t have twice the amount of net to shoot on as they do now.
With the size of today’s gear, it would be no different if the NHL rolled out 3x2 nets for a game in 1975. No difference at all.
And yet, today’s newest fans don’t seem to realize that.

Either shrink the gear drastically and ban composite sticks, or go to bigger nets.
As a fan of goals, I’m not asking for 18-9 games. I see nothing wrong with enjoying an average 4-3 tilt. And one where goals can be scored from more than 4-feet away from the net.

Posted by Hank1974 on 09/03/13 at 10:35 AM ET

Primis's avatar

There’s always Bob Gainey’s suggestion that defenders leaving both feet to block a shot get penalized.  Go to a knee to do so, but not laying out.

He was absolutely ridiculed some years ago for suggesting it, and nowadays it looks like a much smarter suggestion.

Posted by Primis on 09/03/13 at 11:15 AM ET

redxblack's avatar

But again, the PA will block slimmer goalie gear till the day it dies.

https://www.google.com/search?q=nhlpa+goalie+pads&oq=nhlpa+goalie+pads&aqs=chrome..69i57.8251j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I think you’ll find the word AGREE in almost all of those headlines. The NHLPA simply asked the players what they felt on goaltender pads before going along with what the league wants. Considering the PA is made up of the people having pucks flung at them at high velocity, that does not seem out of line. Ken Dryden was not facing slapshots at over 100mph. These goaltenders are playing a much different game. Yes, I too hate giant goalie pads that leave four inches of net, but don’t blame the PA for players not wanting to have bones broken when they don’t have to.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 09/03/13 at 12:06 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I know, I know “It hurts the historical continuity of the game”.

I’d be ok with bigger nets as well and I think the historical continuity of the game argument is just a gripe of convenience. Nobody seems to care that players wear stronger, lighter, and better equipment nowadays and that means nobody’s gear weighs 10 pounds more in the third period than it did in the first.

It’s not like we don’t already have issues with comparing hockey across generations. People love doing that stuff.  Make the nets slightly bigger just so I can watch the comparisons of 70-goal scorers now and back 20 years when it last happened.  At least we’ll have a 70-goal season to talk about.

There’s always Bob Gainey’s suggestion that defenders leaving both feet to block a shot get penalized.  Go to a knee to do so, but not laying out.

I still don’t like this idea and that may just be entirely about taste.  I know pretty much any change is arbitrary, but it kind of doesn’t fit in with the whole set of rules. The rest of the “you can’t do that with your body” rules are more about the safety of others.  I guess the helmet and visor rules are “defend yourself”, but we’re not talking about making that a rule to keep guys from getting hurt; we’re talking about making it a rule to keep them out of the way of shots.  Just seems…arbitrary.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/03/13 at 12:17 PM ET

Primis's avatar

I still don’t like this idea and that may just be entirely about taste.  I know pretty much any change is arbitrary, but it kind of doesn’t fit in with the whole set of rules. The rest of the “you can’t do that with your body” rules are more about the safety of others.  I guess the helmet and visor rules are “defend yourself”, but we’re not talking about making that a rule to keep guys from getting hurt; we’re talking about making it a rule to keep them out of the way of shots.  Just seems…arbitrary.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/03/13 at 12:17 PM ET

To be fair it also WOULD be safer for the players.  We see more guys getting hurt blocking shots now.

Posted by Primis on 09/03/13 at 12:35 PM ET

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I grew up watching hockey in the 70s and 80s and while I found both eras entertaining, I will argue until the cows come home that the game, as a whole, is better now. The players are more prepared coming into the league, coaches do a better job of getting the most from those players and the overall level of skill is much higher.

Case in point, the goaltending. I look back at that 80s freewheeling hockey and just laugh at the goaltending. While there were a few really good goalies, few of them could play, with their same skills, in the AHL now. As someone already mentioned, the butterfly style was the turning point.

Defense is also improved. There isn’t a coach in the NHL that doesn’t focus on defense. There is a lot more preparation put into each game and matchups and adjustments for the opponent are high priority. The biggest difference maker in this area was probably video tape.

Finally the players take the game a lot more seriously now, for the good and the bad. They take better care of their bodies, train harder on and off the ice and generally avoid the kind of contact that might shorten their careers. The sciences of training and nutrition change the game.

Since there is truly no going back to “days of yore”. the question then becomes “is it as entertaining”. I say HELL YES. I can appreciate a good 2-1 battle as much as an 8-6 contest. There is still plenty of drama and what the players can do with the puck and their feet is nothing short of amazing.

That doesn’t mean the game could stand some tweaks. I sorely want the loser point removed. I want the blasthemus shootout gone (this thing only gets worse with each passing year). I loved to see a bit bigger ice now that the players are bigger but understand how difficult that would be. I’d like to see the puck over the boards penalty modified (perhaps only a minute?).

There is no need to go back to 80s hockey to have an entertaining product. They’ve already got one.

Posted by evileye on 09/04/13 at 09:10 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

At least we’ll have a 70-goal season to talk about.

Dany Heatley…

Posted by mrfluffy from A wide spot on I-90 in Montana on 09/04/13 at 09:20 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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