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KK Members Blog

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

11/01/2011 at 2:19pm EDT

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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