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Parched? The Watered-Down NHL Will Quench Almost Any Thirst

Remember back in the late 80s when players like Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Hull, and Yzerman were racking up points; and Brendan Shanahan was racking up fights and PIMs? My how things have changed. Lemieux, having made his millions after freely roaming the ice for years protected by the likes of Troy Loney, Grant Jennings and Jay Caufield is now an owner. One that is more content bashing tough guys instead of respecting them. Shanahan, who first made his mark in the league because of his fists, is now dishing out suspensions at a torrid pace, as the league’s head disciplinarian.

The late 80s gave us a multidimensional game, full of both individual displays of scoring feats and enforcers who were actually allowed to enforce the game in the moment. Was the correlation a simple coincidence? Or did opposing players know that if they touched Wayne, Marty was coming for them? Or if Steve was touched, Bob wasn’t going to be far behind? Don’t even look at Brett cross-eyed… the Twister was watching your every move.

Yeah, let\‘s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The NHL was expanded from 21 to 30 teams between 90-91 and 00-01. So most would say that the talent pool has thinned out. Others might say that during the same time, and even more since 00-01, NHL teams have expanded their scouting reach ten-fold. These days, we have players coming from countries you never heard of in the early 90s.

What else has changed? When scoring dropped off in 03-04, with the likes of Martin St. Louis leading the league in scoring, the NHL thought it was necessary to “tinker” with the rules during the lockout. All that “clutching and grabbing” was slowing the game down… you remember? What better way to spend all that time than to “improve” the game by tossing in a few more rules that were designed to increase power plays and scoring. And an increase in scoring, of course, meant an increase in fans. Fans love goals, nothing more! At the same time, the NHL thought it would be wise to curb fighting a bit, (e.g. instigators in the final five minutes of a game brought suspensions for the player and coach). Excessive fighting was thought to be a hindrance from the casual fan making that leap onto the frozen ponds of hockey.

Guess what? It worked! As the clutching grabbing slowed, the speed of the game increased… and so did scoring. Thankfully for the NHL, instead of that anti-charismatic St. Louis, the superstar pool filled with marketable stars like Ovechkin and Crosby. Phew! [And now stop for a second and picture the league without those two guys… where would the NHL be?

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Nathan's avatar

Crosby is so charismatic…

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 11/01/11 at 03:09 PM ET

Link_Gaetz's avatar

Who is this clown?

I have never seen so many rhetorical questions in one “article” in my life. Look at all those question marks!

Posted by Link_Gaetz on 11/01/11 at 03:42 PM ET

wolverine's avatar

I don’t get it… what’s his point?[    quote][And now stop for a second and picture the league without those two guys… where would the NHL be?

I think this guys only exposure to hockey is watching NHL sponsored commercials.  Has he ever watched Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Toews, Kane, Hossa, Getzlaf, Perry, Weber, Suter, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall,Landeskog, Stasny, Kopitar, Quick,  and that’s just out west.  That’s where the NHL is!

Posted by wolverine on 11/01/11 at 04:13 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

To plays devil’s advocate back in the 80’s the speed of the game was so slow that guys like Semenko and Probert could actually keep up on a line with Wayne and Yzerman.
Can you imagine the late Derek Boogard skating with Richards and Gaborik?
It makes it a lot harder to stand up for skilled guys when you’re on the middle of the bench for 56 minutes of a game.

Like Probie said in his book, in his day each team had 2 fast guys, 14 average guys and 2 slow guys.
Today, you have 16 fast skaters, and 2 average ones.

Regarding scoring, I’ll always ask for more clean, even-strength goals.

I think that happens if the rinks are made bigger and nets increased (or goalies shrunk).
Whether you agree with increasing the size of the nets or not, nobody can argue today’s shooters have significantly less space to shoot on today compared to the 80’s and 90’s.
I actually think if there’s more net to score on, the goalie position can return to be an exciting one.
I think it’s become quite dull. Every goalie plays like a table-hockey goalie; “look big, play the angle, go post-to-post”.
I don’t see how anyone can think that’s more exciting than Roy or Potvin’s theatrics.

Posted by Hank1974 on 11/01/11 at 04:21 PM ET

Link_Gaetz's avatar

Posted by wolverine on 11/01/11 at 02:13 PM ET

I think he was trying to be sarcastic. I think his whole post was supposed to be sarcastic. Then again, it’s really hard to tell with all of the questions he asks.

I don’t even get what this was supposed to be about…

Posted by Link_Gaetz on 11/01/11 at 05:36 PM ET

wolverine's avatar

Link, I think you’re right.  On second reading, I detect a touch of sarcasm, unless he really doesn’t like Martin St. Louis.

Posted by wolverine on 11/01/11 at 05:53 PM ET


You guys are brutal!  Of course, I had a feeling that this wouldn’t get a warm reception posting it on a blog that is frequented by hockey fanatics.  I’m fine with that.

Yeah, sure, there are a lot of rhetorical questions in there.  I joked that I was going to write them to sound smart with the responses.  Anyone remember what recent movie that was from, “Stop asking easy questions to make yourself look smart.”  So the article has a lot of sarcasm.  Consider it more of a column than news if that makes it simpler.

The point of the article is that I think the game has become much more one-dimensional that it used to be.  The biggest loss has been the intensity, the physical play, and yes the fighting.  As that all has decreased, the finesse has picked up.  It’s not my cup of tea.  But I know it is for others.  So I’m not taking an “I’m right; you’re wrong” stance here. 

But what am trying to do is question whether or not this (at least my perception of what this is) is good for hockey.  I know the NHL just signed a decent deal with Versus/NBC.  But the average sports fan still won’t watch.  Hockey has to be put IN FRONT of them to get them to watch.  Versus isn’t accomplishing that that an ESPN could.  Check out the channels the NFL is on (ESPN included) and what their deals are worth.  Do you think the NFL even considers Versus in their negotiations?  Gary took the avenue that would net the bucks to line owners pockets and keep him employed.  He didn’t take the avenue that would grow the game.

Listen, if you like this brand of hockey, I’m happy for you.  Life’s too short to fight every battle.  But this isn’t the game I grew up with.  Games are over-officiated, lack the emotional intensity that they once had, and generally lack the character they once had.  That’s my opinion.  Those that disagree can still feel free to get pumped up for that spectacular shootout goal…. whew!  [that was sarcasm]

Feel free to hammer away.  But if I made grammatical mistake somewhere in this post or article, please refrain.  There’s no bigger stain on the net than those that nitpick an article while ignoring the message.

Posted by Siggy25 on 11/01/11 at 05:55 PM ET


Ha!  Yeah, that was sarcasm.  Marty is a pretty dull guy.  And I actually agree about Sid.  He’s anything but charismatic.  But he’s a North American superstar with a well known face.  So marketing him makes sense.  And while OV is Russian, and would otherwise be unmarketable, he’s fun and energetic.  So he’s a good push too.

Posted by Siggy25 on 11/01/11 at 05:58 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Siggy25, there are points you make that I’m all for and can agree with.
But to say that today’s game lacks physicality and intensity is just flat-out wrong.
Games in October look like games from Game 7 in 1987.
That’s why we’re seeing so many vicious hits. The game has become so intense, a game of inches so to speak, that every player on the ice is willing to kill, or be killed, in order to win at all costs - regardless of what month of the year it is.

Please, watch a game from the 80’s and compare that to a game from the past 5 seasons.
There’s more hits in 1 period than you’ll see in 10 games from 30 years ago. It’s not even close.

If you want to talk about the lack of offense, even-strength goals or even some personality, I can agree with that.
There were certainly more rivalries back in the day. That had to do with there only being 21 teams (and mostly in great hockey markets) and the fact you had to play your way out of your own division in the playoffs.
Bettman and the NHL killed that by adding too many teams and introducing conference playoffs.

But I simply cannot agree that today’s game is more soft or less intense than yesteryears. It’s simply not true.

Posted by Hank1974 on 11/01/11 at 06:07 PM ET


I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.  I think we’re seeing more vicious hits because players are bigger, stronger, and faster AND because the NHL cut down on the clutching and grabbing.  The ice has been opened up as a result. 

But I also think that the NHL is going about some of this stuff the wrong way.  If they wanted scoring increased, cut down on the size of the goalie pads.  If they want to minimize some of the on-ice hits, cut down on the size of the skaters’ equipment (to start).  No touch icing would be a nice touch too.  As would a bit of wild west justice—- but that’s a pipe dream, I know.

One thing I won’t give in on is that this is has become a more “PC league.”  I think that while the league office fears another Isles/Pens throwdown, it’s these types of games that put the NHL on every sports show out there.  There’s a ton of casual sports fan that love rivalries and the ornery side of the sport.

Posted by Siggy25 on 11/01/11 at 07:26 PM ET


Fighting doesn’t totally equate with intensity and excitement for a lot of hockey fans—I’d rather see a fast paced game with forechecking and fierce battles along the boards and in front of the net than see two goons (meaning players with sub-ECHL hockey playing skills) duke it out every night. Intimidation with skill is pretty damn entertaining to me. Interfering with that skill by hooking and grabbing isn’t.

The speed of the average game is unbelievable. The playoffs have been entertaining even in tight checking games. There were 25 combined goals in 21 periods but the intensity drew a really positive reaction even from non-hockey fans I talked to.

As for the TV deal, I’d love for hockey to be on ESPN and get even a quarter of the coverage the NFL does. But when the NHL was on ESPN, the reality is that non-hockey fans weren’t drawn to the sport. It wasn’t experiencing a magical bump from being on ESPN. As much as I’d like to think that having the NHL “out there in front of people” will convert the non-believers, recent history suggests that people weren’t drawn into the game—at least not as it existed in pre-lockout form, which you defend (in a roundabout way).

I hate the shootout, and some of those games fresh out of the lockout were just awful with the number of power plays. But as a whole, I firmly believe it’s a better product today. I speak as someone who doesn’t value fighting, but that’s a very small part of it. The idea that “intensity” has decreased doesn’t hold up, as Hank has said.

Posted by Dave on 11/01/11 at 08:36 PM ET


The blogger is obviously ill-informed about the long and tumultuous relationship between ESPN and NHL. There is a reason why the NHL is on Versus and not the so-called world wide leader in sports and it is NOT because of Gary Bettman.  I suggest you educate yourself on such topics before making the point.

Posted by Ryan on 11/02/11 at 12:06 AM ET


Excellent article! Sums up my feelings to the tee on how I feel about the NHL these days. There was a time that I wouldnt miss a game. Ive had alot more time this year because I have no interest in this sterile product. It’s become a joke. I miss when this game actually had emotion and bad blood. Just a step above shinny these days.

Posted by Bryan R from Buffalo,NY on 11/02/11 at 12:29 PM ET

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