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Was the game really much better 25 years ago?

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Old
06-04-2004, 11:41 AM
  #1
colonel_korn
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Was the game really much better 25 years ago?

Those who watched Game 5 on CBC might have caught Don Cherry's Coach's Corner segment where he had the Bobby Orr montage that ran for a few minutes. As skilled as Orr was (and I'm not trying to take anything away from him here), I have to say that the level of competition back then just seemed to be way, way down from what it is today. Maybe it's just because Orr made everyone else look bad, but honestly there seemed to be very little intensity. A lot of the skaters just seem to be floating around, and the goalies just kind of wave at slapshots from the blueline that go by them or right through their pads.

I didn't start watching hockey til the early 90s so I haven't seen any actual games from the era, but every time I see footage from the 70's and early 80's I have the same reaction. The forwards don't really look out of place, but most of the defensemen don't seem to have any idea how to cover their men effectively. And the goaltenders...don't get me started. Like I said, they just seem to wave at pucks and get regularly beaten by weak shots that pretty much any goalie in the league would have today. I don't think you can just blame it on the equipment either. I'm willing to bet that if you took pretty much any #1 goalie in the league and had him play in that era with the old equipment, he'd still shine just because his positioning and fundamentals would be so much more solid.

Anyways, am I completely out to lunch here? I can't help but think that my view might be jaundiced a bit just because the hilights I have seen have been of guys like Orr, Gretzky, whoever making most players on the other side look bad. Still, I'm interested in hearing from the posters here who were able to watch hockey in that era. Do you think it's fair to say that the level of intensity and skill in the NHL today is greater than it was 25 or 30 years ago? Does the footage from that era really accurately reflect what the game was like?

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06-04-2004, 11:45 AM
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Yeah and if Orr would play today, he would still be good..but there won't be as much open space in the neutral zone so he can bring it up without anybody touching him.

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06-04-2004, 11:54 AM
  #3
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I've been watching the NHL since 1974 or so. In that time the skill level of the players has risen, they've gotten bigger, faster, stronger. They keep in top shape year round.... the size of the ice has stayed the same, so naturally, if the players are better all around skaters and much bigger, then it's going to be that much more difficult to go end to end as Orr did with regularity back in the day.
In the 80's the game was wide open and you routinely saw guys putting up huge offensive numbers. This wasn't just Gretz but guys like Bernie Nichols, etc. It was as offense focused as today's game is defensive. IMO, the game as it was played in the 80's was the most exciting because it was in essence just a game of nearly pure skill.
The early 90's saw the end of the offensive powerhouses like Pittsburgh and the game changed to what we see today right around 1995 w/the rise of teams like the Devils who played a defensive system backed by a great goalie. Now that has been taken to the extreme in our current incarnation of the league.
So, in short, in some ways the answer to your question was, yeah, the players weren't as good. They couldn't skate as well, on average, they weren't in top shape and they didn't study the game and it's defensive schemes the way they do now. And yes, goalies didn't wear mattresses strapped to their legs, either, so that allowed more goals to be scored as opposed to today with the 6'3'' with huge shoulder and leg pads... it's a bit of a joke.

Even though the game has changed I've never stopped loving the sport and doubt I ever will. To much pleasure in playing the game and too much enjoyment out of watching it played by the best players in the world. I was reminded again last night of how much I love to watch hockey, so in conclusion to this post I'd like thank Calgary and Tampa for the show they put on last night. What a great sport.

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06-04-2004, 12:08 PM
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The biggest difference between now and even the mid to late 80's is the goaltending.

Current goaltenders use fundamentals and positioning.

Goaltenders then used reflexes.

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06-04-2004, 12:50 PM
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stich
The biggest difference between now and even the mid to late 80's is the goaltending.

Current goaltenders use fundamentals and positioning.

Goaltenders then used reflexes.
Goaltending in the 70's and early/mid 80's sucked. I can't believe that the butterfly style took so long to catch on. It just makes me laugh when I see some of the old highlights and the flopping and kicking moves that goalies used back then. It takes me back to the good old days when I was a kid watching Jiri Chra/Vince Tremblay/Tim Bernhardt etc. play net for the Leafs every Saturday night!

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06-04-2004, 01:16 PM
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I don't know if it was "better" but I enjoy watching the old free-wheeling game by a mile. The greats of yesterday would be greats today, I have no doubt.

My only other comment is: what was the point of that Orr montage anyway? it was totally out of place and he has shown it before. It won't be Cherry's last appearence b/c there was certain to be at least one more game.

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06-04-2004, 01:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stich
The biggest difference between now and even the mid to late 80's is the goaltending.

Current goaltenders use fundamentals and positioning.

Goaltenders then used reflexes.
Not entirely true. The old stand-up style of goaltender popularized by Ken Dryden was entirely based on position and angles. It was all fundamentals as far as movement in the crease was concerned.

Goaltenders now use their reflexes as much or MORE than goalies in the 80s did because they sit so much further back in the crease. What is CuJo if not a reflex goalie? Same with Luongo and Kiprusoff.

The difference is equipment and coaching. In the old days a goalie was taught to make a save, it was a skill. You moved your hands and feet into the path of the shot. It took coordination and skill. Now? 80% of the shots just hit goaltenders. A lot of them play far back, they play the percentages, cover as much net as possible and let it hit them. Sure there are exceptions and even the most ardent butterfly goalie has to sometimes scramble to make an actual save, but by and large a lot of the skill has gone from the position.

As for the topic at hand, yes the game was better 15-20 years ago. It was played with far more skill at all positions and the rules rewarded creativity and skating. And until the NHL gets a backbone and calls each and every incident of hooking, holding and interference for the entire 60 minutes the NHL game will never get back the skill that has been coached out of it.

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06-04-2004, 01:20 PM
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malefic74

As for the topic at hand, yes the game was better 15-20 years ago. It was played with far more skill at all positions and the rules rewarded creativity and skating. And until the NHL gets a backbone and calls each and every incident of hooking, holding and interference for the entire 60 minutes the NHL game will never get back the skill that has been coached out of it.
Amen, brother. Testify!!

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06-04-2004, 02:02 PM
  #9
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To answer the thread title: Was the game really much better 25 years ago?

I'd say that the show was better 25 years ago: more fights, more goals, more end to end rushes.

I'd say that talent wise it was a lot poorer 25 years ago: play systems were much simpler, player coverage wasn't as good as today, players were slower, less mobile which means that there was a longer reaction time as well as more "available ice" for skaters. The goaltenders equipment wasn't even close to what it is now, the goaltender technique and mobility weren't really developed.

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06-04-2004, 02:04 PM
  #10
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I'd echo the thought that today's players have much better individual skill sets; skating, puck skills, etc. Yet, i'm not sure the overall hockey sense is as strong as what it once was. It's much harder to find that top line forward whose assist-goal ration is 2-1, but that's what I remember from the elite playmaking centers growing up.
As mentioned, today's game lacks the creativity of the past. One other factor to blame, outside of officiating, etc, is the amount of 'systems' being used at the youth levels. It is unbelievable how many PeeWee teams are using a passive forecheck, lock or trap type system. You'll hear the same teams stress the safe play, off the glass and out...put it in deep...don't turn the puck over. While I agree that players need to be taught the descipline it takes to win, I don't agree that it should limit the creativity- especially at PeeWee. Let the kids have fun, foster the passion for the game and the rest will follow.

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06-04-2004, 02:09 PM
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Molson v. Labatt
As mentioned, today's game lacks the creativity of the past.
I think the lack of creativity is the result of a game where making a bad play can easily cost you a goal, as well as the fact that you have less much ice available or time available to make a play. The fact that opponents can all skate with you and that they play the man much more than before will also mean you can't shrug off someone that catches with you like in the 80's.

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06-04-2004, 02:13 PM
  #12
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Don't forget back in the 50's there was like 6 teams, so there was less dilution.
The only person good enough to make the NHL at 18 was Gordie Howe.
No doubt todays players are bigger and they keep in shape year round. They also have better equipment.
If Bobby Orr was in his prime nowadays would he be the best defenceman in the league. Hell YES.

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06-04-2004, 02:23 PM
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A lot of old timers like to pretend the players were better and all. I think the quality overall is much better *from a competitive standpoint*. From a pure finesse skill point of view, things may be different.

The players who are recognized as the best ever deserve a great deal of respect but it must be acknowledged that you are always a product of your environment in part. Which means your performances are always due to who you are and what you are but also where and when you play, with whom and against whom.

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06-04-2004, 02:30 PM
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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the best scorers from this era (Forsberg, Jagr, Naslund, Iginla) would be 150+ point producers in the 80's.

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06-04-2004, 02:42 PM
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I will agree with the majority here that the game, while different, was more fun to watch 20 years ago. There was much more skill involved, although the players today have more all-around skills. They are better skaters, faster skaters, harder shooters, and think the game quicker. But they don't USE these skills the right way. In the 70's and 80's, if you had great soft hands, you USED them to handle the puck and make great, quick, creative passes. Today, you see players just flipping in into the middle, hoping someone is there.

Yes, the goalies of the 70's look bad on video compared to now. But look at the pads they were wearing! Craig Ludwig had shin pads bigger than most goalie pads of that era! And no masks? And the unlimited curve on the sticks? It's a wonder no one got killed, even though I don't think the players shot as hard then.

Special players like Orr and Lafleur would STILL be great stars, because they would STILL have grown up beating everyone every step of the way, so they would be used to the level of competition they would be facing, and would still find a way to rise above it. When you watch Bobby Orr, it's amazing to see that the moves he was making in 1968 would STILL work today against about 20 teams. All he would have to do is pick up the pace a bit.

But players back then were not is tip-top shape like today. And they drank beer after every practice and game, so it's no wonder! Gerry Cheevers said his off-season workout consisted of getting in his car dressed in a giant Glad garbage bag and driving around in his car with the heater on for about 2 weeks before training camp, to lose weight! That's it!

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06-04-2004, 04:48 PM
  #16
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To be fair, those clips of Orr are 35 years ago, not 25.

It's the hooking, holding, and interference that's missing. Nowadays, you can't rush like that, because they start interfering with you at your own blue line. The d-man will just grab a hold of you and not let go. In those days, you just waved at them as they went by you.

How many people say the game was "better" then anyways? There have been so many advancements in technology, diet, training, transportation, coaching, you name it, that you just can't say that. The players were just as skilled of course.

Some say it was more enjoyable (mostly late 80's early 90's for that though). But that's not the same thing as saying the game was better.

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06-04-2004, 05:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PecaFan
Some say it was more enjoyable (mostly late 80's early 90's for that though). But that's not the same thing as saying the game was better.
I'll say it. It WAS better. Scorers scored. Defencemen hit and played angles and used body position instead of hooking and holding. Goalies made saves instead of letting the puck hit them. There was passing all over the ice, nowadays it's a miracle to see 3 consecutive tape to tape passes. It used to be on every second shift. The stadiums were loud raucous places that each had their own personalities and weren't named for a corporation. Fans filled the places. Nobody complained about who made what kind of money and whether or not he was worth it.

There is only one facet of the game of hockey that is better now than it was then. Television coverage. Better camerawork and clearer picture. Other than that, blow it up and bring it back to what it was and you wouldn't find a happier fan than me.

Because quite frankly I don't care about how well conditioned a player is, I could care less if he works out like a dog in the offseason. The media and the fans used to love the hockey guys. They drank and smoked; often between periods, but they were fun guys. They were the blue collar guys of pro sports. They are also long, long gone. Now hockey guys are like any other pro athlete: an automaton spouting cliches. There's a few throwbacks but not many.

The money is out of the bottle, and no power on Earth can put it back in. THe other night as the Flames and Lightning played Game 4, I watched a Classic game 1 from the Bruins-Oilers series in 88. And I don't feel like I missed anything.

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06-04-2004, 08:15 PM
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Personally have never bought into either argument. Older fans typically revel in the "good old days," while younger fans understandably see "their era" as the best. Into my second generation of hockey now, I will suggest that neither category of fan is correct nor wrong.

It's human nature to romanticize the "here and now" of one's youth and place more emphasis on current players. Likewise, it's human nature (unfortunately) to lose a bit of that excitement/exuberance over "stars" as one gets older. We cling to the glory of our times.

Guess the ideal would be to gain appreciation for the past in one's youth, and not to grow bitter and disinterested over time.

Put another way: Yes, there will eventually be a player to break into hockey's "icon" category currently occupied by #99, #4, #66, #9 and perhaps a very, very few others. Heck, that player may be drafted in the next year or so, for all we know. But it is prudent - and frankly respectful - to wait before EVER even considering the notion of "The next Gretzky," "The Next Orr", "The Next Mario", etc., lest we diminish in any way whatsoever the accomplishments of the very rarest of players, the indisputable giants of the game.

Dare anyone prematurely proclaim the "next Michael Jordan", "the next Babe Ruth"? Only the misguided, IMO. Same applies here.


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06-04-2004, 09:48 PM
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malefic74
I'll say it. It WAS better.
Almost everything you've said is still "I enjoyed it more", not "the players were better" though.

Just because goalies don't need to make glove saves very often doesn't mean they can't. Not being able to string three passes together now isn't because of talent. Give modern players the time and space like the old guys had, and they'd be just as good. The modern player can shoot, skate, pass, you name it, just as well as the old guys. If not better, which was the original question.

As an old fart, I agree that the game was far more enjoyable in the past, for many of the reasons you mentioned. The late 80's were the sweet spot for me. The 60's I found fairly boring, in that I was young and there were so few teams. And none of them were "mine", living on Vancouver Island. The 70's too violent, the early 80's too dynasty oriented. But right around when Gretz got traded to LA, until '94 or so, the game was pretty much perfect. Though the Gretzky trade was pretty much our first indication of how the mighty buck was going to be ruling the roost in the future.

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06-05-2004, 12:16 AM
  #20
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Its hard to say if Hockey was better back then. If you ask some old timers they'll say the strongest player ever was Tim Horton. He had weights in his basement that Dave Keon said he couldnt even roll. But you have to say how strong was he in today's standards? He was 5'11" 180lbs. Could he handle Todd Bertuzzi in front of the net? I think so, cause he was one strong SOB but he's the exception. Other d-man from those days couldnt I dont think. But its funny how players are bigger stronger and faster yet the majority of games are trap happy games. I think it comes down to coaching. If coaches let teams play the way the Flames and Lightning did in Game 5 then no one would complain. I'll tell you if you dont like that game the other night you'll never like Hockey. That was Hockey. And it was as good as any game from any era.

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06-05-2004, 12:20 AM
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PecaFan
Almost everything you've said is still "I enjoyed it more", not "the players were better" though.
That's the point though. The original question of the thread was the game of hockey better 25 years ago. My argument is that as a game yes, it was. Not whether the players were better. The game is bigger than any one player and I include Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr in their primes in that statement. No player, no matter his influence is bigger than the game of hockey. I can enjoy watching hockey between two junior teams I have no allegiance to for the sake of the game, not the players.

But because of coaching, poorly thought out rule changes, poor officiating, and the improvement of both equipment and the physical aspect of today's players the game isn't what it once was. From the NHL all the way down to PeeWee it's "make the safe play" and "just put it off the glass." I'll say it again: that is in no way an improvement over the way the game was played in the 70's and 80's. Give me the mistakes and turnovers, that's what made the game great. Just have the courage to try and win; not try not to lose.

Did I ever say that the players now weren't as good or better than the stars of another era? No. Because no comparison can be made. Different eras and different styles simply can't be compared. Would the players of today be anywhere close to being in the physical condition had they played in the 70s? Unlikely. Offseason training was unheard of. Nutrition was pretty laughable and even the way injuries were treated were different. By the same token however I believe that the stars of yesterday would still be stars today because they would be on those same fitness regimens, and it is the talent, the talent the gods granted them that made them special, and still would whether they smoked a pack of DuMauriers before the game or drank a protein shake.

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06-05-2004, 12:44 AM
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malefic74
I'll say it. It WAS better. THe other night as the Flames and Lightning played Game 4, I watched a Classic game 1 from the Bruins-Oilers series in 88. And I don't feel like I missed anything.
I was watching games from this series as well on ESPN classic and what stood out to me was the amount of interference that teams ran to limit the forecheck. The reason the game was more open was the fitness of the players- it was not as good as they did not prepare as hard in the off season for the long grind. There was certainly less emphasis on defensive play amongst the Bruins and Oilers but there was a hell of alot more interference and i'm glad we've taken steps to clean up that part of the game. Leagues like the NFL and even the NBA are proactive in counter balancing the parts of the game that become too strong. The NHL have cleaned up the interference problems but it will be far trickier to counter the technological advances that lead to top notch preparation. The NHL has to decide what it wants. We've got the talent, which is on the contrary to popular belief- now they need to decide the next step. if its to increase scoring then you must limit the size of goalies mid and upper gear. No more fishing nets for gloves as well. A slight increase in net size may be needed as there are just so very few goalies under 6 feet. I just don't buy that the game was so much better back then, it was different- more scoring but the quality was not special other than a few teams. I have always been a fan and pining for the good old days does very little good, its what we do with the here and now that is important.

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06-05-2004, 01:05 AM
  #23
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Phil Esposito said recently something to the effect of "Today's players are better athletes but we were better players." The conditioning skills of today's players are certainly better in every facet.

IMHO, goalies are much better athletes today and defensemen are much bigger and generally more mobile than say the mid to late 70's. As far as excitment, I think the game was better when there was more scoring and rivalries were developed more frequently in the regular season than they do now (with obvious exceptions). The NHL should have some sort of schedule where divisions in one conference meet divisions in the other conference on a rotating basis by year. That way, rivalries are built up.

In addition, coaching techniques have become more systematic and the influx of technology such as video-taping, satellite dishes etc, allows the coaches to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of opposing players through constant viewing and reviewing. Players aren't allowed to be creative as much as they can be.



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06-05-2004, 07:21 AM
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malefic74
That's the point though. The original question of the thread was the game of hockey better 25 years ago. My argument is that as a game yes, it was. Not whether the players were better.
We're reading the original post differently then. The original post repeatedly talks about the poor skill levels of the players, they just float around, there's no intensity, the goalies can't stop anything, the defencemen can't cover their men, etc.

Seems to be directly questioning the talent, not the entertainment to me. Guess only Korn knows for sure.

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06-05-2004, 10:04 AM
  #25
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I saw an interview with Bobby Orr about the difference between the players then and now. He says the creativity is lost because as little kids the players don't spend their saturdays out on the pond all day, or playing road hockey in the summer. they spend them at power skating or summer hockey camps. so these systems are ingrained in the players a lot younger than they ever were before. Basically, hockey has moved from an art to a science.

also, the goal pads and positioning are a huge difference. i can't imagine Guy Lafleur streaking down the wing and consistantly scoring with slapshots from inside the blueline on todays goalies. and it's because of a fundamental change in thinking about equiptment: originally, the goal pads were meant to protect the goalie, now they're made to stop the puck

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