Hockey Fans Unite?

by Steve, December 26th, 2006

hockeyA reader left a note requesting visits to, and support for their call for “bringing back a traditional North American brand of hockey to the NHL.” The site urges fans to take part in a mass action on January 20th, when almost all NHL teams are playing. The message? As best I can tell, they blame the new rules enforcement crack-down for taking away the excitement of the game.

Uh. Well. I’m afraid I can’t jump on this bandwagon. Sorry, guys. First off, they seem to be yearning for “old time hockey”, i.e. the rough-and-tumble game of the 70s. This is not going to happen. No way. No amount of pleading or sign holding or threats of ticket boycotts is gonna help. Second, the new rules enforcement addresses something that happened in the 90s, which was the slowing down of the game with intensive defensive systems (the “trap”) and lots of clutch and grab. Honest to God, guys, you want to go back to trapping and grabbing?

Seriously, the game is much faster, with far more end-to-end action on a nightly basis than you’d ever see in the 90s. I dare any of you guys to go back and watch game seven of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final (the last year of unofficially sanctioned clutch-and-grab) and compare it to the 2006 series with Carolina and Edmonton. The difference is stark.

The “rules changes” (really, there were only a couple changes, mostly it’s just more strict enforcement of pre-existing rules) have addressed the slow down of the 90s, when league expansion diluted the talent pool to the point that teams were allowed to obstruct the offense in order to compete. Smart coaches took advantage of the relaxing standards of enforcement, and developed tight neutral zone defense (the trap). Once a team got a one-goal lead, the game was basically over. Two goal lead going into the third? Might as well channel surf, cuz the game was over.

Between zero-tolerance on obstruction penalties (hooking, tripping, holding) and the elimination of the two-line pass call, the trap has become far less effective. Games with two-goal leads in the final five minutes are turned around and forced to overtime. No team is comfortable sitting on a one- or two-goal lead anymore. The game is far more exciting than it had become in the 90s. Is it “old time” like the 70s? Nope. But it never will be. The game is always evolving, and frankly, it’s far better now than it was pre-lockout. With any luck, things will keep getting better, and we will never return to the boring defensive style so prevalent before the rules changes.

12 Responses to “Hockey Fans Unite?”

  1. Comment from John:

    Nice press release from the site here. Just looking at it, it doesn’t look like they are looking for a return to 70s style hockey, more 80s, early 90s. Today’s league is a joke. If you don’t believe me, look at the attendance and t.v. ratings. You have to admit there is a problem. If you can’t, you are blind. So if you CAN admit there is something wrong with the game, you have to ask what it is. Do you have any ideas? It appears that the guys on the site do. They have countless articles, columns, and even PUBLISHED RESEARCH that supports a return to a more aggresive style of game. On top of that, the anectodal evidence is overwhelming! The BIGGEST problem with the league right now IS the zero tolerance on obstruction. While it opens up the ice by creating more power plays, it KILLS the emotion of the game. When teams are focused on scoring a goal or killing yet another power play, how much emotion is there? Very little at all is the correct answer. That is half the game these days. Instead of watching what hockey once was (hard fought, fight your way to the net, emotion filled game) fans get to watch the “new NHL” (finesse, open ice, no emotion). The tradition of a 100+ year old game has been sucked away under one commissioner.

    You kill the emotion and flow of hockey, you kill hockey. There might be fans that enjoy the end-to-end play, but there are more fans that enjoy a good rivalry that is hard fought and allowed to blossom. Hockey is dying bro… feel free to go down with the “new NHL.”

  2. Comment from Marc C.:

    You obviously didn’t take time to go to the site, read up and actually understand where old-time hockey fans are coming from.

    You must be kidding when you write that more obstruction-type penalties being called are making the game truly more exciting, it simply disrupts the flow of the game and minimizes physical play. I don’t mind guys being called for true obstruction, but many such calls in today’s NHL are borderline retarded, guys barely touch each other and they are in the box for two minutes.

    Rivalries are now a thing of the past, I miss seeing passion in the game, not necessarily fisticuffs, but hard-hitting action and, yes, a little tension between teams that work hard to win. None of this is present today, players are going through the motions and barely doing enough to get their paychecks.

    Lastly, it seems to me that stickwork and from-behind checking and boarding are actually up this year, mainly because players who do it are not held accountable for their actions. Let players police themselves, and you’ll cut down on this type of behavior.

  3. Comment from Hannibal:

    Do you always view things so literal? There are many ways to save the NHL – a combination of many tweaks would do the job. To pigeon hole a group of hockey fans by saying they want to revert back to the Broad Street Bullies days is putting words in their mouth from what I can tell. I don’t see their message that way at all. To me, it sounds like they have grown tired of seeing a “mans sport” be transformed into a ice capades with a puck. Frankly, I cannot blame them and support their cause 100%. To bad someone did start this movement earlier – I’ve already had to endure a year and a half of this watered down game since the lockout.

  4. Comment from Chuck:

    Hockey used to be fun to watch. Now is a parade to the penalty box for whimpy trips and hooks. I thought hockey players were tough? The constant penalties are a nuisance. There are other ways to increase scoring without playing 5 on4 or 4 on 4 hockey. I don’t think Bettman saw the side effects in creating his new stance on calling penalties. He has driven away the average hockey fan and geared it towards the yuppie that watches one or two games a year. Sorry, I’d much rather pay to watch a real sport, like football. How is the NFL doing these days?

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