Gretzky: Stars were rarely targeted back in the day

33 Comments

Over 30 years after it happened, there’s a reason people still talk about the time Wayne Gretzky got laid out by Bill McCreary.

You didn’t do this to the Great One.

Whether through fear of Dave Semenko or Kevin McLelland punching your lights out or simply respect, the NHL’s best players didn’t have a bull’s eye on them like they seem to do today.

Just ask Gretzky, who spoke to 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia about the on-ice violence that’s become the major storyline of the playoffs.

“They talk about the Flyers back in the ‘70s – guys like Bobby Kelly, Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz — but you never really saw those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil Esposito,” said Gretzky, as per SportsRadioInterviews.com.

“It was just sort of honest, hard, rough-nosed hockey, and it’s changed — there’s no question — the players are bigger and faster and stronger today than they were when we played, and obviously there’s a lot at stake playing for a Stanley Cup, and emotions are definitely really high and subsequently you’re going to have issues.”

From Henrik Sedin to Marian Hossa to Claude Giroux to Henrik Zetterberg to Daniel Alfredsson to Mike Smith, the league’s stars have been on the receiving end of violent acts, both legal and illegal, this postseason.

And that’s just during the playoffs. Victims during the regular season included Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Miller, Kris Letang and Gabriel Landeskog. And those were just the ones that resulted in suspensions.

Not surprisingly, calls for the instigator penalty to be repealed have grown louder as more stars have been placed on the injured list.

In November, Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe said too much responsibility is being heaped on referees to protect players.

“I like the game a little better in our era, mostly because the players policed the game,” he told Hockey Night in Canada. “I think there’s so much onus put on the officials right now … I don’t mind the fighting in the game, I know they’re trying to take a lot of it out.

“The game in the old days got rid of the pretenders and the guys who do the whacking and the hacking, guys that are chirping back. That stuff got eliminated years ago. If somebody was taking a shot at your best player, somebody got rid of that right away.

“The reason I think there’s a lot more injuries now? Guys are bigger, stronger, better fit overall. But you can just take runs at people left and right and they’re coming at full speed. And in the old days, you eliminated that from the game.”

Well, not entirely.