Goal-scoring will never be a substitute for physical play, like this exchange between Philippe Boucher of the Dallas Stars and Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
I’m a young guy, but I’m old-school.
So old school, in fact, that if it was at all logical, I’d revert back to the days when players didn’t wear helmets (By the way, just one of the things new rules have robbed us of: Kerry Fraser’s hair).
I’d make everyone use wooden sticks. I’d make goalies wear those old, water-logged, brown pads. Heck, I’d make the skaters wear the Sunday newspaper for shin pads and a Reader’s Digest as a jock (OK, that may be a little too old-school).
I’m sick and tired of hearing how the professional game of hockey is sick and tired; the notion that the NHL isn’t what it could be and if we change certain rules, we can manipulate the outcomes to have more goals, fewer fights, more penalties or fewer blocked shots.
This year, the league saw a need to increase goals – again – so whenever a team gets a penalty, regardless of where the whistle is blown, the faceoff occurs in the offending team’s end. It’s practically handing the team with the man advantage a scoring chance and, when it comes to how I like my hockey, it’s all about the scoring chances. Well, that and bone-crunching hits. I just have a problem when rules like this come in and almost make it a farce.
Look, the NHL did what it absolutely had to coming out of the lockout and clamped down on hooking, holding, interference, etc. The rulebook was simply not being called as it was meant to be called. That ship has been righted and, though a few calls are slipping through the cracks now that didn’t in the 2005-06 season, the game’s flow and scoring is higher than it was.
In 2001-02, three teams averaged 30 shots per game; in ’02-03 it was five; in ’03-04, three. In the three-and-a-bit-seasons since the lockout, largely because of an increase in power play time, that number rocketed up to 15, 10, nine and 12 so far this season.
Penalty enforcement levels won’t go back to how they were in ’05-06 coming out of the lockout and I don’t think they have to. Sure, you can crack down, but there were too many little taps being called that year and it took away from the game – not to say that still doesn’t happen from time to time.
Just watch a game from today and compare it to a pre-lockout game, it’s not even close. Players move between the bluelines, the game is quick at both ends and you can cycle the puck without being suffocated by a man-tree who can’t skate very well.
There is no question offense attracts crowds. After baseball’s infamous strike of 1994, attendance across the league plummeted and only started to recover when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa started their season-long home run derby. Mysteriously, after nearly 40 years of no one even nearing Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs, the mark was bested a few times and challenged even more.
Then, after the viewers came back, home run totals – again, mysteriously – came back down to earth.
So, what of that great offensive renaissance? Both the season and all-time home run records are now looked back on as a sham because of accusations of rampant performance-enhancing drug use; the rules had changed.
What if a bunch of these more radical ideas were adopted in the NHL and scoring went through the roof? We all know the NHL is after the desired American viewer so the league can get a major TV contract and since baseball revived itself with fudged offense, maybe hockey would be wise to follow that path.
Alex Ovechkin would score 100 goals to pass Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby would become the first player since Mario Lemieux’s 199 to challenge the 200-point barrier and Steven Stamkos would pass Teemu Selanne and notch 80 goals in his rookie campaign.
Yeah, but Gretzky did it in a time when players could block shots…Yeah, but Lemieux did it in a time when the nets couldn’t be used for long-line fishing…Yeah, but Selanne did it when a defenseman could crunch a guy without being called out by everyone for “hitting too hard…”
Let the game be played. We’ve already lost things such as front-of-the-net battles for ice and a defenseman’s ability to crush a player who dumped the puck in and tried to squeeze around him. It’s not all about the goals and it shouldn’t be about changing rules to give us more scoring chances. Hockey is about winning the zone, notching a well-earned tally and having accomplished something.
Too many rules are being changed today. We will not return to the 1980s and if we do on the back of major alterations to the game, it won’t be the same, anyway. If we stay on this trajectory, a lot of the hockey’s wonderful nuances – the art of shot-blocking, a gorgeous hipcheck, heavyweights engaged in a battle royale – will be lost to the sands of time and we’ll look back in regret.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays.
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