At times, it feels like hockey coaches sap the joy out of the sport in the pursuit of wins. The painful thing to admit is that such tactics are usually justified.
We’ve seen quite a few instances in which a great artist of the game finds the sport’s creativity a little lacking, and we can add Pavel Datsyuk to that list.
Some might bristle at what the departed NHL star had to say to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but it could be because the truth hurts.
“There are not many creative players now,” Datsyuk said on Sunday. “It’s less and less every year. There’s lots of talent, but teams are playing more systems.”
It’s important to note that the stickhandling magician isn’t really saying that players are bad. Instead, he’s arguing that much of that skill is being suffocated by excessive structure.
One cannot help but find the timing of these comments rather amusing, as the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons recently reported that Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg told the Detroit Red Wings that they wouldn’t re-sign if Mike Babcock was still around.
Why it was time for Mike Babcock to leave the Red Wings: In exit interviews in different seasons before this one, both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk told management they would not re-sign with the Wings if Babcock was still the coach.
There are murmurs here and there that Babcock might scare off the occasional free agent, yet few would deny his acumen as a head coach.
In a way, that’s the point, really: to be effective, sometimes you have to be so rigid that you bore everyone to tears.
Circling back to an earlier point, Datsyuk is far from the only player who has criticized the style of play in the NHL as of late.
Losing a lot of Datsyuks
Some of the brightest minds align with the former Red Wings star. Consider what Wayne Gretzky said to the New York Times about the more grinding mindset in the modern game.
“When I was 10 years old, they’d throw a puck on the ice and say, ‘Go score,’” Gretzky said. “Now, at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes. Defensemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots … It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”
Igor Larianov, a legend so brainy he earned the nickname “The Professor,” seemed heartbroken in discussing this philosophical change in an article for The Players’ Tribune. This one line seems especially prescient since it came before Datsyuk decided to leave:
We lose a lot of Pavel Datsyuks to the closed-minded nature of the AHL and NHL.
(Chilling to think about, right?)
As we ponder why scoring continues to drop (or at best, continues to stagnate), there are methods to boost the game a bit here and there.
Bringing about more lasting changes would probably go a lot deeper, however, as you’d likely need to find a way to encourage coaches to do the thing they seem to fear the most: take risks.
Safe might not be death in the NHL, but it sure is boring.