Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ken Dryden's plans to save and change our game

Ken Dryden has produced a lengthy, well researched and weighty examination of our National Game, and strongly urges us to begin a comprehensive review of all facets of the game we love. Tracing the 125 year history of the Game, Dryden explains how the game today does not resemble the game of yesteryear, and why the game of tomorrow needs to move away from what we offer today.

He traces the modern era of Hockey with a fair amount of passion, explaining how the players have become bigger, faster and stronger over the last 25 years. Expansion increasing the need for bodies to fill rosters, adopting a style of hockey that will keep the games close, not particularly entertaining but close enough to keep the fans coming back.

His examination of the size factor is an interesting point to ponder, in 1952 the average player measured 5 foot 10 and ¾ inches, weighing in at 175 pounds, in 2003 that same player has grown to 6 foot one inch and 204 pounds, adding 29 pounds of force to a game moving a much faster pace. This he says is the main factor for the many serious injuries of late, the concussions and the season ending trips to the trainer’s room or hospitals.

He bemoans the increased hitting from behind, which he feels are leaving us dangerously close to a horrible situation where players will not get up after being hit. Finishing the check, long the holy grail of many a coach, comes in for criticism as well, Dryden pointing out that it wasn’t always part of the game, instead finishing your check would be considered interference in earlier days, the referees no longer inclined to call it or even advise the players that it could be considered a penalty. He offers the opinion that hitting from behind, finishing your check and hits to the head are all unneeded aspects of the game, ones which not only put the players in personal danger but detract from the flow and speed of the game.

His many comments will serve as an interesting starting point for the debate to come. There are many in the sport that will dismiss his opinions out right. The old guard that believes the game doesn’t need a major overhaul, perhaps a subtle tweaking but nothing more.

There is a certain portion of the league who will not agree with Dryden at all, Pat Quinn is on record as saying the game doesn’t need to be overhauled and he’s working under the same roof as Dryden. Brian Burke of the Canucks was quite vocal about the verbal wanderings of Dryden, in a recent hour long appearance on the Bill Good Show on CKNW in Vancouver, Burke stated that “Ken Dryden doesn’t speak for me” and Don Cherry will not have much time for Dryden’s thoughts on hitting and finishing checks. No doubt he’ll offer the counterpoint on Coach’s Corner. The always vociferous Toronto media already are compiling the us against them stories of the Maple Leaf offices; the essay provided by Dryden will most likely widen the differences at the Air Canada Centre even more.

But by speaking out as he has, at least Dryden has brought the topic of change in the game to a higher level. The debate will carry on through the playoffs and should the expected strike or lock out occur, we’ll all have lots of time to debate the merits of the current style of the game. The players, the owners, the managers and the fans, they all must have ideas on how to make the game safer and better, the key will be trying to find a consensus from so many different opinions.

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