6 Things Missing From Today’s Game

We often hear about how great the game of hockey was in an earlier generation. Whether it was Bobby Orr flying in the 1970s or Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier leading the dominant Oilers offense in the 1980s, fans will always remember how the game was better and that the NHL is never the same.

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Many fans would dispute that The NHL is better now than ever. After all, there are more teams, player skill is world-class, and the casual fan has access to more games than ever before. However, there are still many things in the game that are missing, from rule changes to the teams in the league to the uniforms. There are many things that made hockey the popular sport it is today but are now nostalgic memories.

Old famous arenas

The new state-of-the-art arenas are great for the NHL. New arenas such as the Climate Pledge Arena and USB Arena allow fans to watch the game from any seat without obstructed views, while also offering many modern features including large over-ice screens, spacious concourse areas and luxurious seating. The brand new venues are ideal for both fans and players as the game grows and will continue to improve in the future.

However, it’s hard not to associate the game and some of the iconic moments with its famous older arenas. The Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, and the old Boston Garden were some of the many older rinks that not only popularized hockey but also carried a mystique.

Montreal Forum, around 1970 (THW archive)

Additionally, the old arenas and barns often allowed fans to be a part of the games as they towered over the players and made the place shake, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Madison Square Garden is one of the last surviving arenas from bygone eras and has been home to the New York Rangers since 1968, the NHL has slowly replaced the iconic sites over the years, making the famous arenas a thing of the past.

The 1v8 playoff format

With the start of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL transitioned its playoff format to the current model, which pits two wildcard teams against the two division winners in each conference. Initially, the new playoff format made sense, considering the league went from three divisions per conference to just two. However, problems with the system have existed since implementation that were not encountered in the original 16-team playoff format, which pitted the team with the best record in the conference against the lowest seed.

The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs have had a particularly high number of first-round encounters that have raised concerns about the current format. In the Western Conference, the Minnesota Wild finished the regular season with the second-best record in the conference at 53-22-7, while the St. Louis Blues had the fourth-best record at 49-22-11. However, in the current format, the two teams had to face each other in the first round. Likewise, the top three teams in the Atlantic Division finished this season in the top four Eastern Conference records, but since the Maple Leafs failed to win the division, they instead face an even Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round against a team with one significantly worse record.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

NHL fans and pundits have been quick to point out problems with the current format, which doesn’t always reward teams with the best records. Alex Hobson, contributor to The Hockey Writers stressed: “If you look at how the four best teams in the Atlantic all made the top 10 in the league, there are too many elite teams competing in the first round. The 1v8 format would produce underdog stories and save the best-vaunted matchups for the conference finals.”

Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference

The Detroit Red Wings are one of the “Original Six” teams and despite recent troubles, one of the longest established and most successful franchises in the NHL, having won 11 Stanley Cup championships. Since 1926, the Red Wings have played in six divisions and four conferences, and currently play in the Eastern Conference. However, the conference that has stood out the most for the team, especially recently, has been the Western Conference, which they attended from the 1993-94 season through the end of the 2012-13 season.

The rivalries that formed the Red Wings in the 1990s made the decade memorable. Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Niklas Lidstrom and other future Hall of Famers would compete against Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues and great players like Joe Sakic and Brett Hull. The Red Wings were the most successful team in the Western Conference, but the rivalries that developed during this decade made the game more popular.

Sergei Fedorov Detroit Red Wings
Sergei Fedorov, Detroit Red Wings (THW archive)

The Red Wings in the Eastern Conference might make more sense geographically given that the team plays in the same division as the nearby Maple Leafs. For hockey fans, however, the Red Wings, who play in the Western Conference, are fitting for an earlier era that defined the team’s recent success. Additionally, having a team that plays in the same division as the Chicago Blackhawks would be great for both historic Midwest teams.

The offensive blast of the 1980s

The 1980s was a decade in which goals skyrocketed across the league. The Oilers averaged 5.33 goals per game in the 1985-86 season and 5.58 goals per game in the 1983-84 season, led by the fast, skillful offense featuring Gretzky, Messier and puck-wielding defenseman Paul Coffey. Even teams that were struggling offensively averaged three or more goals per game, which would be above average in today’s NHL. Goals were high and offenses were at an all-time high for the decade.

gretzky unbreakable records
Wayne Gretzky and his 50 goals in 50 puck games (THW archive)

Many factors contributed to scoring, including poor goalkeepers and goalkeeper equipment. In addition, the rules and team play allowed fielders to carry the puck into the offensive zone, often unaffected, without affecting the neutral zone. However, one of the main reasons for the increase in goals was prowess at the forward position, with the decade of Gretzky, Messier, Dale Hawerchuk and Mario Lemieux among many highlighting offensive prowess.

The defense and goalkeepers have improved and are at world-class levels in the modern game, causing goals to drop. However, high scoring games are often what fans like to watch, with some of the best games in a typical season being the 7-6 or 6-5 thrillers. Additionally, the high-scoring game of the past arguably made hockey as popular as it was in the 1980s.

The Hartford Whalers & Quebec Nordiques

A unique part of NHL history and a unique part of an era was the entry of two teams into the league. The Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques both came to the NHL when the rival World Hockey Association (WHA) folded in 1979. The two franchises joined the league along with the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets, expanding the NHL to 20 teams to start the 1979–80 season. The Oilers became an ’80s dynasty, winning five Stanley Cup titles in seven seasons, while the Jets relocated to Arizona in 1996 only to return in 2011, making both franchises a prominent part of the league. Unfortunately, the Whalers and Nordiques eventually relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina and Denver, Colorado, respectively, leaving both Hartford and Quebec City without professional hockey teams.

A team in Hartford was special to the NHL as it was the only team in the major sports to have a team in the city. The small town is known as “Anytown USA,” and the fact that the Whalers played in a small market in Connecticut made the team and the NHL unique. Additionally, the Whalers made hockey history as one of the first non-traditional teams, from their green and blue jerseys to the brass bonanza, paving the way for the following teams to become creative brands.

Zarley Zalapski Hartford Whalers
Zarley Zalapski, Hartford Whalers (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Quebec City, on the other hand, lost its team in 1995, and the city has been fighting for an NHL team ever since. The Nordiques were a popular team in a hockey-loving region. The league recently fielded professional teams in Las Vegas and Seattle, but the Quebec region is still awaiting the return of the NHL, including construction of a new arena, the Videotron Center, with anticipation of a team. As a result, Quebec City is on the shortlist of cities that make sense for an NHL move given the area’s severe lack of professional hockey.

The best players on the best teams

Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are two of the NHL’s greatest players, but the two generation’s talents have met with little success in the playoffs. Of the two skaters, McDavid is the only one to have won a playoff series, and both players have been consistently defeated in the playoffs. Hockey is a team sport, and the best teams are the ones that end up winning the Stanley Cup. However, it was a huge disappointment not to even see some of the game’s top stars on the biggest stage, unlike previous eras that featured the game’s top players in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Other things we miss about the NHL

The Montreal Canadiens dynasty, which won 10 Stanley Cup titles in the 1964-65 through 1978-79 season, was fueled by the pipeline of talented homegrown players. Quebec natives such as Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard have helped make the Canadians the dominant team and region, but the decline in local players is being overlooked not only within the fan base but throughout the NHL.

While jerseys are often a topic of debate, some fans miss the uniforms of earlier eras. The colorful jerseys of the 1990s that make teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Arizona Coyotes retro, and the reverse retro uniforms are mesmerizing. The game has changed a lot over the years, and while hockey is faster and more skilled than ever, there are many things about the game in the past that have made the league as popular and exciting as it is.

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