Last week, we wrote about the possibility that the NHL could have no 100-point man or 50-goal scorer this season.
Alex Ovechkin could still reach 50 goals, too. He’s got 47 with three games to go.
But their totals will be nothing compared to the numbers Wayne Gretzky used to amass with the Oilers. In 1981-82, he scored 92 goals and 212 points. In 1985-86, it was 163 assists and 215 points.
How times have changed.
In an interview with the New York Times, the Great One lamented the “grinding game” that he sees today in the NHL.
“When I was 10 years old, they’d throw a puck on the ice and say, ‘Go score,'” he said. “Now, at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes. Defensemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots. I mean, my goodness, I don’t think I ever blocked a shot, and I killed penalties every single game. I thought goaltenders were paid to block shots, not forwards. It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”
Of course, it’s hard to blame NHL coaches for coaching the way they do today. The evidence clearly shows that defense wins championships, and that’s what coaches are paid to do — win. Go back and watch some hockey from the 1980s and you’ll regularly see defensive lapses that would get players benched in 2016.
And for the record, it wasn’t all beautiful run-and-gun hockey back in the ’80s. Often it was just plain sloppy, full of hooking and holding and slashing. Compared to today, the players in Gretzky’s era weren’t as fast, they weren’t as strong, and they sure weren’t as fit.
But Gretzky’s words have already struck a chord with many, and that’s something the NHL may want to investigate further.