So in finishing The Game by Ken Dryden this week (which was amazing, by the by), I came across a rather unexpected little detour by the author about the history of hockey and the NHL. While this immediately made me search for Bill Roche's The Hockey Book on Amazon (unavailable, published in 1953), it also reminded me of just how incredibly different hockey used to be from the product we've grown accustomed to over the past few decades.
To give you an idea of what I mean, let's look at a few snapshots of where the game has been over the years. But wait--that would just be a history lesson, and lots of you are already starting school with much less important history assignments to do. So to make this slightly more timely and applicable, we'll try to figure out which current Dallas player could best fit into the eras we peruse.
Strap into the old time machine, won't you? First stop:
Here's a look at some of the earliest decent hockey footage I could find on YouTube:
First impression here is that lots of players seem to be saying, "See here, Rhett, you shall take the puck and skate thattaway, whilst we lolligag behind you, seeing what comes of this." (I'm an expert lip-reader.) Really though, this gives you an inkling of just what a swervy, deliberate game this was before the forward pass. Yes, that's right--hockey was an "onside" game before 1931 (with some experimentation taking place in the years prior), just like rugby. In other words, you could only pass backwards, lest your teammate receive a pass "off-side." This made it dangerous to advance more than a couple of players at a time, and it resulted in a lot of the trap-style play that you can see in that video, where the defense just waited for a player to "wind up" in his defensive zone (zones themselves were nonexistent for quite a while, as there was no need for them) before making a charge up the ice, his wingers (and rover) trailing behind. Defensemen were just that, and nothing more. As Dryden puts it, the game was "dependent always on [the puck carrier] for its initiative and creativity." Passing was a concession, not an offensive tactic in most cases.
Of course, some great things evolved out of the first 50 years of hockey, such as the necessity of stickhandling and body checking. Maybe the best-known star of that onside time period was Cyclone Taylor, the skater who was moved to defense because he was too fast for his other forwards to keep up. Taylor amassed over a goal per game, but he was an anomaly in the league. For the most part, hockey was steeped in the exaltation of honorable play, few (and for a while, no) substitutions, and generally rote strategy.
[Note: Really though, those Zamboni-people were the stars of the show. I hope some enterprising owner had a mascot perform that Grand Sweep o' the Frosty Plains dance they all seem to be doing.]
Dallas Star Who Would Best Fit in 1929: With his 11 assists in 80 games, Brenden Dillon's setup skills would be perfectly suited to a league that disallowed passing in any direction other than away from the goal. Plus, he would probably be able to wield four of those sweepy-zamboni-brooms at once, drastically reducing intermission times!
Fast forward another 40 or so years, and the game looks extremely different--both from its origins and today's iteration. Let's have a look at Dryden leading his team to the 1971 Stanley Cup:
My question when watching pre-90s hockey is always this: How on earth did goalies ever stop anything? Dryden's prowess here is made that much more unfathomable by his obvious faux pas of forgetting to actually bring goalie gear to the game. Of course, the pace is what sticks out the most. The frenetic nature of a rush up the ice, the ability to hit an open forward on the back door of the crease, even the one-timer--these were all derived from the institution of the forward pass (and vastly improved ice conditions).
Brutal physical play was becoming more common in this era--the Broad Street Bullies would win the cup in '73 and '74--as league expansion had diluted the talent pool and forced teams with fewer stars to adopt strategies intent on neutralizing rather than creating. It was a "how can we drag them down to our level before we start the fight" mentality that the small-fish teams often resorted to, and the league didn't react to it for many years afterwards (and perhaps it's still trying to catch up).
Seriously, though, Dryden was kind of insane. The next time Razor lauds a goalie for an old-time hockey pad stack, sprawl or kick save, these are the images I'm going to have in mind.
Dallas Star Who Would Best Fit in 1971: In a league that was still somewhat reticent to wrist the puck at a goalie's ill-protected pumpkin, Valeri Nichuskin's propensity for casting riddikulus on a netminder before sliding the puck into the net (along the ice) would cause a Bonanza! in whatever city the U.S.S.R. wouldn't have allowed him to escape to back then.
Ron Hextall started for the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final, and Ron Hextall was almost a stand-up goalie. He was extremely good. How was this possible?
This doesn't seem like it was 17 years ago, does it? At least, it doesn't until you see that harbinger of the first down line, the Glow Puck. (Personally, I kind of love it.) Fox was at its NHL zenith, broadcasting the Final on its network in an ill-run attempt to entice American viewers to a game that had seen the speed of the '80s wane before the great youth movement of the post-lockout 2000's revived the pace again. Big bodies were king (Lindros), and the clutch-and-grab style was a recourse of just about every defensemen not named Lidstrom.
Machismo was as alive as ever, with brawn and intimidation neutralizing flash and stickhandling often as not. Counterattacking was crucial, but scrums in front of the net were perhaps the most frequent precursors to goals. It made for a choppy game flow, if entertaining in its own own right. Power plays opened the game up refreshingly, and one-timers were full-on deadly with the aid of composite sticks.
Note Federov's wrister for Detroit goal #3 just before the 8:00 mark in comparison to Hextall's play for much of the game (and Vernon's save at around 12:30). It's an interesting dichotomy of where goaltending had come from and where the shot was going. It was as though the game was a thoroughbred straining at the bit, aching to run faster. Love or hate Gary Bettman, you have to consider whether the 2005 reboot perhaps unleashed hockey's California Chrome, rescuing it from the morass of unskilled bulk and unnecessary brutality that had kept the game slogging behind its true pace for far too long.
Dallas Star Who Would Best Fit in 1997: With speed, size, a deadly shot and the ability to pummel Jarome Iginla on command, Jamie Benn would have been a revelation to the late '90s NHL, the perfected form of Lindros -- a bit of size traded for more awareness, sagacity and speed. Jamie Benn is a great way to end any piece of writing.
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Bueno, es día de la joroba, mis amigos. (Thanks, Google Translate!)
*Edit: Tony Gallagher reports that Gary Bettman is now heavily considering NHL expansion to Las Vegas and three other cities: Seattle, Quebec City and Kansas City. This broke late last night, and guess who failed to find it this morning before this post went up? [The Province]
Patrick Eaves knows how to ingratiate himself to a fanbase, as demonstrated by this quote about the Stars: "They are going places and I want to be a part of it." [Stars]
[Movie Trailer voice] "Colton Sceviour has earned every chance he's gotten so far. Now, with a spot all but sewn up for this season, it's time to find out what his TRUE. CEILING. IS. The latest Player Profile from writer Mike Heika." [/stupid voice] [DMN]
The Blues unveiled their new sweaters, and they're a huge, massive, very large improvement over their previous duds. I'm glad not every team is doing the laces thing. (It works on ours, though.) [Icethetics]
Nashville's Rich Clune decided that someone joking about his recovery from alcoholism on Twitter wasn't cool, so he called the guy back and got an apology, sort of. [YouTube]
Aw, those poor Red Wings. Even Niklas Lidstrom is taking a pass on joining their bench this season (as an assistant coach). [The Score]
Yes, now is the perfect time to reflect upon the myriad disappointments Detroit's hockey dudes have suffered over the years. I think they're still in denial about a certain noticeably absent Jamie Langenbrunner goal. [Puck Daddy]
Sure, Philly signed Vincent Lecavalier to a 5 year/$22.5 million deal, but not to play like this. (There but for the grace of Jim Nill...) The best part of this piece is probably, "There also was some talk that Lecavalier, who has a no-move clause in his contract, is unwilling to accept a trade to most every other team." Let me guess: it's the Rangers, because it's always the Rangers. [NJ.com]
Hey, speaking of, let's remember who the real New York hockey pioneers were. Now those are hockey sweaters. [SB Nation]
Just go ahead and apply that Dark Knight quote about "the one we need right now" to Sidney Crosby and the NHL, says Cam "Two First Names" Kerry. Or maybe I should say, don't apply that quote. Whatever. Does the NHL need a LeBron? [THW]
Who are the sleeper picks on defense in fantasy hockey? Well, according to Yahoo, Alex Goligoski. In fact, he was at one point listed twice in this article (they have since fixed it) as both a "Star" and "On the Rise," which is kind of like the Dallas organization's motto from last year. The point is, people think Goose will be good. I'd also like to mention that I am uncomfortable with the phrase "fantasy sleeper pick." [Yahoo]
Seguin tweeted this video from the Biosteel camp the other day, and his editor saved the best for last. Check out that catch by #91 toward the end of the clip.