by Meaghan Cahill ’20
It has been 101 years since the National Hockey League has been established. However, while the game has fundamentally stayed the same, it has also undergone many changes, most of which have taken place over the past few years. And the changes are not subtle. Rather, the entire way that the game has been played has, in a sense, evolved into a new game.
I come from a very hockey-oriented family in Boston, so naturally, the Boston Bruins have always been, and will always be, my team. I grew up hearing stories of the “Big, Bad Bruins” and watching old films of some of the organization’s best games and fights. Compared to the pro games today, those films do not have many similarities but rather very obvious contrasts. One major difference is that the game no longer has that level of physicality that it used to. Hockey has transformed from a game of both toughness and skill to just a game of skill. Speed and talent have completely taken over the NHL, decreasing the need for the enforcer players.
“I don’t think [the game is] going to get back to where things used to be, when there were these hulking monsters whose role was just to fight,” former NHL player George Parros commented back in 2014 to ESPN after he was not offered a new contract. The reason being was that teams did not need the level of toughness he brought to the game anymore.
The enforcer players are on the brink of extinction, more so today than back in 2014. Of the 31 NHL teams today, there are only eight proclaimed enforcers left out of the hundreds of players within the league. Even the “Big, Bad Bruins,” who used to be known for their toughness and physical style of play, have done away with enforcers, as shown by their actions of trading Shawn Thornton after the 2013-14 season. Without the level of toughness that the enforcers are supposed to bring, there is more room for the young players on the teams to shine.
With the referees strictly monitoring every move on the ice, the game has become strictly about speed and skill. In the same interview as Parros, Columbus Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson stated, “The game is officiated differently now…You can’t intimidate teams. Intimidation doesn’t work.”
A direct result in this change is that goal productivity is at an all-time high, with an extra 1.02 goals per game, according to Hockey-Reference back in the beginning of October when the 2017-18 had just started. High-scoring games are becoming a norm, with 3+ goals scored per game. For example, in the past nine games, the Bruins have scored 40 goals, averaging 4.4 goals a game.
And yes, I will admit that it is most definitely satisfying to watch your favorite team score countless flashy goals, but the game without enforcer players is just not what it used to be, mainly because it lacks the entertainment. Fights are practically non-existent and checks are more of a shove into the boards instead of a nice, hard, clean hit. Gone are the days of players being hit so hard they actually went through the glass. Hockey fans all around are having to adjust to this change and personally, I wish that the physicality of the game would remain at the level that it used to be.