It isn’t just the goalies

Dear Lou

Feschuk has done it again.  He’s now saying that the NHL can’t become a goalie-dominated league.  As if… He also doesn’t grasp the irony of having a picture of Mario in the top of the story.  This is the same Mario who, when asked years later, what it was that made him stand out so much, replied, “In those days, there was always a defenceman or two I could beat on the other team.”

And that point can’t be emphasized enough.  It’s not just that goalies have gotten better.  Equipment has made the butterfly something you could use to seal off the bottom of the net.  Back in the day, the old leather pads left a gap just below the knee, and you could slip the puck underneath.  But the whole game has gotten better, and deeper.  Now, you scour the globe for good, solid defencemen.  Mario would not have had such an easy time today.  In his day, when Wayne was also dominant, expansion had created far more jobs on the blue line than could be filled by top-rung guys.  Goals actually went up from the sixties to the eighties.  Markedly so.

If anything, the eighties should be remembered as the high scoring era, because there was no depth in the league.  The WHA was like that, in its day, and while entertaining, it was not top quality hockey.  But Russians soon started coming to the NHL.  And Czechs and Slovaks.  There were some quality players in there, and they bolstered the lineups, so that today, you can always find a journeyman defenceman far better than the mid-pack guys from the eighties.

Next, let’s talk about structure, Mike’s favorite word.  In the bad old days, Canadian hockey was about willpower and brute strength.  Then, when we nearly lost the Summit Series, and later did lose to the Soviet teams, our eyes were opened to the power of structure.  They had it, and we didn’t.  And that was still the case when Wayne and Mario tore through the league with an unprecedented scoring spree.  Ditto Brett.  But it didn’t last too long beyond that.  We learned from Tarasov, and then Tikhanov.  And we improved on it.  Mike’s structure today is the state of the art.  And guess what:  Played right, it doesn’t let even super Mario skate through the whole team and pop goals.

Crosby was so far better than his peers when he entered the league, that he could probably have been in the same class as Wayne and Mario, or at least close.  But Sid had no gaping holes to skate through, hence his lower numbers.  When he gets better, and I hope it’s soon, you’ll see the same for Connor.  Even his injury was caused because he thought he could get around that defenceman, and he could not.  He was forced into the boards, and wham!

So let’s put things in perspective.  You cannot unteach the systems of structure used today.  You can tweak rules, like maybe force the goalie to play behind the net, which will help scoring, but then it won’t resemble hockey as it has evolved.  Live with it!


It isn’t just the goalies

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