Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Wayne Gretzky ruined the NHL

I'm being facetious of course when I suggest Gretzky ruined the NHL. But there was a time when everyone in the NHL did their own fighting. Even small players like Dave Keon and Yvan Cournoyer fought their own battles. Sure there were tough guys in every era like Reggie Fleming, Tiger Williams, John Ferguson, Keith Magnuson, Terry O'Reilly, and Brian Sutter but they all could play hockey.

Today things have changed. Teams carry players who cannot play the game and in fact are a liability on the ice so they only see 4 to 6 minutes of ice time per game. Their job is to fight and only fight. I'm talking about guys like Daniel Carcillo, Colton Orr, Riley Cote and Eric Godard. These 4 players have only scored 6 goals this season but accumulated about 675 minutes in penalties and been in 73 fights.

So when did the designated fighter first appear or better yet when did star players stop fighting their own battles? Many people think it started with the Broad Street Bullies. But on the old Flyer teams even stars like Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber would fight. The Flyers were built to intimidate opponents and they had no soft players. It was when Wayne Gretzky entered the league that the enforcers first appeared to protect The Great One. Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley would often warn opposition benches to stay clear of Gretzky or they would have to deal with them.

Bill McCreary a minor leaguer called up by the Maple Leafs is most remembered for his open ice hit on Gretzky on January 14, 1981. The hit was remarkable because it was the first time that Gretzky had been hit hard in his young career and it left Gretzky on the ice for several minutes. The incident received considerable press and it was widely publicized the next day in the newspapers. After the hit McCreary was shuffled off back to the minors. Some say it was to protect him from being seriously injured. Others believe he was somewhat "black listed" and never did find another team that he could play for.

So if you hate goons in hockey well blame Wayne Gretzky.