The average size of a National Hockey League player today is 203 pounds, on a 6-1 frame. Yet they skate like they’re 5-8.
They are bigger, stronger, faster and better than their brethren from even 10 or 15 years ago.
They’re thoroughbreds, these professionals, highly trained and highly conditioned, maximizing energy for 20 or 25 minutes 82 times a year, excluding pre- and post-season.
There are advances in equipment, lighter yet increasingly resilient. Advances in medicine, and advances in coaching where today’s bench-bosses are hi-tech, schooled in the classroom of sticks and pucks.
Video has the hockey player more prepared today for the opposition than ever before.
There is better icemaking equipment, and better officiating.
Bigger and better goaltenders.
So why is the game not better? Why, it could be argued, has it regressed?
Has the game outgrown its North American-sized ice surface?
Head shots. Slew-footing. Hits from behind.
The greasy stuff.
Left-wing locks. Traps.
The end-to-end dash? Gone the way of the straight blade.
Hockey, at it’s elite level, has been regulated to death — poked, prodded and pecked at until soon there could be little left of its core.
What is a legal, or illegal, hit? Beats me anymore.
Success in the NHL is no longer so much about bench strength or depth, but rather the effectiveness of the power play.
Push someone from behind so they pile into the boards, and you’re slapped with two or three games. Leave the bench to join a scrum or fight and the player’s penalty is falls somewhere between 20 games and life in prison.
Not that we who inhabit this corner are huge proponents of fighting, but it’s interesting that in NHL’s haste to eventually cast out the fisticuffs from the game, presumably to satisfy an outraged American audience, Ultimate Fighting — and all it’s guts and gore — enjoys resounding success in North America and beyond.
An American audience that is captivated by the NFL — it’s true sporting courtship — college football and the good ol’ boys revving RPMs on the race track.
Somewhere, between truck and tractor pulling and lawn darts lies ‘ice’ hockey.
The NHL is big business, and with it comes big price tags. Which is par for the course. Try finding a decent concert ticket for less than $100. Buy a beer at any downtown pub in any reasonably-sized city in Canada or the States and what’s left of a 10-spot is spare change.
Still, imagine paying 100-plus dollars and watching the debacle that occurred between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay last week, the so-called ‘stalemate’ that developed when the Flyers and Lightning stood around for 30 seconds when Philly refused to move the puck against Tampa’s ‘1-3-1’ defence?
This, thankfully, is an anomaly. But as coaches search for new and innovative ways to find an edge, we fear more teams — those challenged to score goals — will fall back into a suffocating defensive formation.
But perhaps we are being a tinge melodramatic. The NHL is not spiralling downwards into a den of indifference. The majority of its markets remain exceedingly strong, and a certain degree of parity exists.
And judging by last year’s Stanley Cup final, the entertainment barometer is high.
It’s just that for all the growth and improvement, for all the calibrated athletes who toil in today’s game, for all the coaches with a PhD in hockey, how come the game is no better to watch?
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org