Flyers radio color commentator Steve Coates labeled Thursday’s scoreless first period between the Flyers and Stars as “nondescript” hockey.
Welcome to the new NHL, the Nondescript Hockey League.
The NHL’s regular season is evolving into a product that looks more and more like an amplified version of an All-Star Game with a lot of skating and shooting and very little checking.
“Either with the puck or without the puck, I don’t know if there was a hit thrown by either team in that first period,” Stars head coach Jim Montgomery said, describing the first 20 minutes of the Flyers' 2-1 win.
Interestingly, according to the official stat keepers, somehow the Flyers and Stars managed to register 12 first-period hits between the two teams, which started with Travis Konecny bumping Esa Lindell just six seconds after the opening face-off.
As fighting has been almost entirely phased out of the game over the past ten years, one can only wonder if hitting and checking is following a similar trajectory. Apparently, we’ve now reached a point where just the definition of a hit, especially a clean one, isn’t so clear cut any longer.
“I don’t know what to say, that’s just the way the league is right now. Every hit, everybody thinks it’s dirty right now,” Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas said. “When I was coming into the league it was way different. Guys were hitting everywhere. That’s a really big change in the sport now.”
While the line for what constitutes a clean play from a dirty one has clearly moved toward the direction of making the game safer, Gudas discovered this week that those legal hits according to the rulebook are now no longer tolerable across the league.
Monday against the Blues, Gudas leveled Alex Steen, knocking him out of the game and leaving the benches to chirp back and forth about the physicality of Gudas’s play.
“I hit Steen at center ice and guys are going after me,” Gudas said. “There’s no hits in the center ice anymore.”
Alex Steen left Monday's game injured after this hit from Radko Gudas. pic.twitter.com/I0IF6uok88— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 8, 2019
The following night in Washington, Gudas executed a perfectly timed hip check against Capitals center Travis Boyd early in the third period. Moments later, Gudas was immediately jumped by Devante Smith-Pelly, and the two bruisers dropped the gloves and settled their differences.
Yes, we’ve entered an era in pro hockey where the tolerance level for physical play is now at a level that amounts to being grazed or nudged. Having spent the past nine-plus seasons in the American Hockey League, Flyers coach Scott Gordon believes the standard has been set years ago in the AHL, where guys once sacrificed everything to prove they were NHL-worthy.
“The way it is now, a hard hit is almost unacceptable by the opposition,” Gordon said. “Unfortunately, the way players are now, they don’t expect the big hits because they’re too far, few and in between. Because of the pace of the game, it’s nowhere near where it used to be. The game is so much faster. You can skate hard all the way and get there, and next thing you know, it’s now a late hit.”
Some believe it’s a 25-year evolution of the NHL’s instigator rule that was put into effect in the early 90s.
Others point to concussions to Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, and most notably Brandon Manning driving Connor McDavid into the boards in 2015 — which led to McDavid's broken collarbone — as the turning point to where we are now.
Either way, who initiates the hitting and who deserves to be hit seems to be a touchy subject in today’s touchy-feely game.
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