Adam Proteau will return Jan. 9. In his absence, the The Hockey News.com will feature several guest bloggers. Up today is THN copy editor and Trauma Unit author Ryan Kennedy:
You want to know why sports are so popular in society? Because people love to argue about them. The fact that many of these debates can never really be put to rest only heightens the passions of homers, cynics and stat junkies alike.
But put that thought aside for a second and chew on this: If you could ice a starting lineup of all-stars with today's NHL talent, those six players would beat any other era in history. Truth.
While it seems like the game has hit a plateau after the euphoric return from the lockout, things are actually much brighter. The reason it appears as though there are more complaints than ever about the game is because there are more people than ever watching, writing about and playing than in any other point in history.
Yes, there are more NHL teams than ever (though I never bought the Â“talent dilutionÂ” argument Â– how much bigger is North America's population today? How many Europeans played in the Original Six?) and attendance is sagging compared to last year, but YouTube is giving the game Net buzz and even Ireland and Israel have national teams now.
So let's take you to the first-ever all-time all-star game. The past six decades of the NHL are represented. Each player is playing in the prime of their career and everyone gets brand-new skates and composite sticks. Guy Lafleur isn't just fast anymore; he's vertigo-inducing. Once Bobby Hull gets the hang of his new carbon blade, the U.S. government upgrades his status to Â“WMD.Â” There's fighting, hard hitting, and John McCauley is the ref, with an order that clutching and grabbing are gone, but use discretion. The tournament is played in heavenÂ…or maybe Minnesota.
Your lineup of today Â– or Â‘The Kids' as the other teams call them Â– is as follows: Alex Ovechkin on the left, Sidney Crosby in the middle and Jarome Iginla on the right. Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger stand in front of Miikka Kiprusoff.
While Nick Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer would serve as an easy 1A pairing, Chara and Pronger could stand 10 feet apart and cover the entire length of the ice. And they have range. Nobody gets closer than the hashmarks to Kiprusoff. Ovie and Sid defy physics with the puck and Iginla adds a potent shot and heavy knuckles when Gordie Howe decides to throw elbows. How could this team ever be beaten? All six are competitors who hate to lose and would never take a shift off. The tenets of evolution mean this crop is bigger than any other team and still has as much skill as anyone else.
Thanks to modern knowledge, today's athletes are specimens of physical perfection. Players don't smoke on team charters (as they did even in the 1980s), nor do they use training camp to get in shape as they did in the 60s and 70s Â– they now get in shape for camp. Unlike the days of yore, players now have the salaries to afford the luxury of workout time. During Red Kelly's first training camp in the late 40s, he frequently returned to help out on the family farm between practices. Bailing hay doesn't exactly hone your passing skills.
So respect and enjoy the current state of the game, and the fact you can watch junior tournaments in Sweden and college games in Bowling Green on TV or even the Internet.
As for the Tournament of Tournaments, I think the competition would be as follows (some forwards have been moved around due to exceptional talent and a dearth at certain positions):
Team 1990s: Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Jaromir Jagr, Ray Bourque, Scott Stevens, Dominik Hasek.
Team 80s: Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin, Patrick Roy.
Team 70s: Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden.
Team 60s: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Gordie Howe, Tim Horton, Pierre Pilote, Jacques Plante.
Team 50s: Ted Lindsay, Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Doug Harvey, Red Kelly, Terry Sawchuk.
After all the players got over their time-travel lag, here's how it would go down:
After an entertaining round robin, The Kids and Team 60s earn byes to the semis. Team 50s draw tough against the 90s, where Sabres-era Hasek out-duels Sawchuk in a low-scoring affair. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a Beliveau/Richard give-and-go, Team 50s are taken aback when 5-foot-8, 165-pound Ted Lindsay is leveled by a trademark Scott Stevens open-ice hit. Â‘Terrible Ted' brushes off the collision, but the size and strength of Penguins Lemieux and Jagr are too much, leading to a 90s 2-1 final.
Naturally in the other semi, goals are plentiful. With Paul Coffey jumping into nearly every rush, Team 80s pour on the pressure and, despite a hat trick from Lafleur and a vintage rush by Orr, Team 70s are bested 6-4.
In the semis, Team 80s are bounced around by Tim Horton and the 60s. Howe recreates his famous shot of him hooking a boyhood Gretzky around the neck, albeit without the Great One's permission this time. Bobby Hull breaks a land-speed record with a slapshot registering about a 110 mph and it proves to be the difference in a 3-2 decision.
In the other semi, The Kids ride Crosby set-ups to the first three goals of the game (two by Ovie, one by Iginla) and an out-hustled Team 90s are kept to a frustrating 15 shots on net, mostly from the perimeter. Lemieux breaks one rush for their only score in a 3-1 loss.
So who prevails in the final? Here's how it is: Howe and Iginla fight to a draw while Chara rag-dolls a shocked Horton, taking away the intimidation that had previously worked so well for Team 60s. Plante struggles against the new wave of shooters, who are used to the superior techniques of modern butterfly goalies. Hull and Howe still get theirs, but Crosby's strength on the puck and Chara's immovable presence in front of the net on a power play leads to the tip-in winner in a 4-3 final.
The Kids are better than Â‘all right' today; they're the best. Acknowledge that.