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.