There was no time more depressing for hockey fans than the lost 2004-05 season. As millionaires argued over who gets what share of your hard-earned money, you went home after a long day at work and watched Seinfeld reruns or—heaven forbid—had real conversations with your family. What a nightmare.
When the NHL returned in 2005-06, it brought with it a whole new set of rules. The rules were largely designed to increase the entertainment value of the game, and it seemed to work off the bat. There were more power plays, which pretty much directly resulted in more goals. And who doesn’t like goals, right?
This is all true and fans welcomed the NHL back with open arms, despite many butt-hurt fans claiming they were done with the league and all its greedy players. However, fan appreciation for the game skyrocketed in 2005-06 mostly because they hadn’t seen an NHL game in 16 months. We were starved for NHL hockey.
Despite the “new NHL” being an overall improvement for the league and game as a whole, there are still some things we miss about the pre-lockout NHL. There were players and coaches who we never saw again after the lockout, which was a shame. There were some aspects of the game that were more fun in the simpler times of the 1990s and early-2000s, and it could be argued some of the rule changes actually harmed the quality of the game.
Today we’ve compiled a list of the top 15 things we miss about the old NHL. Some of them are players, some of them are culture-related and some are directly related to the post-lockout rule changes. They all have one thing in common, though: we miss them all dearly.
15 Scotty Bowman
Scotty Bowman coached his first game in the NHL in 1967, and he coached his final game in 2002. Aside from a few brief periods of unemployment, Bowman behind a bench was the one constant the league had since its first expansion in 1967 until the turn of the millennium.
Bowman’s track record speaks for itself. He’s the winningest coach in NHL history and in 30 seasons as a head coach his team only missed the playoffs once (1985-86 Buffalo Sabres). He won nine Stanley Cups and lost in the Final four other times. Having Bowman around as an ambassador for the game was great for the league, and he’s been greatly missed league-wide ever since his retirement.
14 Better All-Star Games
Maybe it’s because I was still a kid in the 1990s, but do you guys remember when the NHL All-Star game was actually fun? Neither do I, really, but I swear that it was sort of fun in the 1990s. The NHL actually abandoned the classic East vs. West (or Campbell vs. Wales) for the first time in 1998. They went with North America vs. the World in that one, hoping to drum up excitement for the upcoming Olympic Games in Nagano.
Whatever the case, the NHL All-Star Game has lacked something for many years, and it’s hard to pinpoint just what that is. The league is exhausting itself trying to figure it out, with last season’s Team Toews vs. Team Foligno (what kind of B.S. is that???) being the low point thus far.
Finally, it was reported Wednesday that this year’s game will be played 3-on-3. They’re getting desperate.
13 A Cap-free NHL
The salary cap was implemented as a result of the 2004-05 lockout, and its goal was admirable: to create more parity league-wide. If more teams are forced to spend within a certain limit, the league should be more competitive, right? Well, no, not really.
While it does make sense in theory, that’s not exactly how it’s worked out in many cases. Let’s look at two teams: the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers. The Edmonton Oilers were owned by a cash-strapped ownership group of 38 people from 1998 until 2008 and they simply couldn’t spend the money it would have cost them to keep their stars. From 1999 to 2004, the average NHL team salary total went from just under $30 million to almost $45 million; Edmonton’s jumped from about $22 million to about $33 million. The Rangers, conversely, spent between $40 and $76 million from 1999 to 2004.
Over that time span, the Rangers qualified for the playoffs zero times, whereas the Oilers qualified four times out of six. Since the salary cap has been implemented (and Edmonton got a new, filthy rich owner with the ability to spend to the cap), the Rangers have only missed the playoffs once in 10 seasons, and the Oilers have only made it once. Figure that one out, please.
12 A (slightly) More Sensible Don Cherry
Don Cherry is now sort of a joke here in Canada. It’s well-documented that he’s a little bit racist from time to time (seriously, google “Don Cherry racist” and you’ll find many examples), but he’s also simply losing his mind in his old age. Today, his rants are incoherent and nonsensical. They’re tough to watch.
Ten or 15 years ago though, families across Canada would gather around their television sets on Saturday night for Coach’s Corner just to see Don take down the lazy Russian of the week or the Swedish defender who missed his assignment in front of the net because of a soft play.
Okay, now that I say it out loud it sounds like we were all a little prejudice back then. But the times have changed, and Cherry hasn’t evolved with them.
11 No Trapezoid
One of the new rules the NHL brought in after the 2004-05 lockout was the trapezoid behind the nets. If a goalie goes behind the red line to play the puck, he must stay within the trapezoid or it will result in a two minute penalty. The idea was to increase scoring, and maybe it worked right off the hop, but with scoring down again in the league in recent years, it’s fairly safe to assume that teams have adjusted.
What we miss most about the trapezoid-less ice sruface is that the chance for a player/goaltender collision in a corner was there. When a forward collides with an opposing team’s goalie, a melee almost certainly ensues. Who doesn’t love a good melee?
10 The Dawn of the 3rd Jersey
I feel like this was the NHL’s attempt at marketing its game to Americans, akin to the glowing puck that Fox tried out for a brief period of time in the 90s. Several teams rolled out third jerseys in 1995-96, and soon after most of the other teams followed in droves.
It was exciting at the time, and some teams even hired professional artists to design their new logos. Third jerseys flew off the shelves at NHL stores across the continent. The concept of the third jersey was fresh and exciting in the decade leading up to the 2004-05 lockout, but since then they’ve become dull and distracting. Sometimes, I’ll watch a game and I won’t know who’s playing because team X’s third jerseys look the same as Team Y’s original jerseys.
Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky.
9 Head Shots Not Being Criminal
I’m not a monster. I do realize that there is simply no room for head shots in today’s game, especially with what science (stupid science!) has told us about the lingering effects of brain injuries. Still, though, I miss the days when Scott Stevens caught someone cutting through the middle of the ice with his chin in his chest.
Today (again, rightfully so) a player who targets opponents’ heads is vilified worse than a war criminal. Just look at Raffi Torres, currently serving a 41-game suspension. However, when that same Torres caught the San Jose Sharks’ Milan Michalek cutting though the middle in the 2006 playoffs (I know, that was after the lockout, but it was immediately after so the culture around head shots hadn’t fully changed yet), he was lauded for changing the course of the series. The times, they are-a-changin'.
8 Pavel Bure
Pavel Bure was an electrifying hockey player to watch throughout the 1990s and spilling into the 2000s. He wasn’t called “The Russian Rocket” for nothing; he’d blow by defenders as if they were standing still on a regular basis. It was fun to watch, whether you were a fan of his team or not.
Bure was forced to retire in 2003 because of his bad knees, with 2000-01 being the last full season he played. He scored 59 goals that year, so it’s safe to say Bure still had the hands to play another five or 10 seasons. Unfortunately for hockey fans, his knees had other plans, and the post-lockout NHL never saw the talents of Bure.
One of the objectives the NHL had coming out of the 2004-05 lockout was to increase scoring league-wide. They introduced the “obstruction” penalty calls, got rid of the red line (for the purposes of the two-line pass), and of course introduced the aforementioned trapezoid. These methods all worked for about one season, and then scoring again began to steeply decline. Last season, Jamie Benn won the scoring race with 87 points, the fewest for an Art Ross winner since the 1960s.
Obviously, immediately prior to the lockout scoring was at an all-time low, so when I say I miss the days of more scoring I’m more referring to the high-flying 1980s and early 1990s. In 1992-93, Mario Lemieux won the Art Ross with 160 points in 60 games, and there were 3.63 goals per game, per team. In 2014-15, that number dropped to 2.68.
6 Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux
There's no question that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the two best players of their generation. It just so happened that neither of them played after the 2004-05 lockout, so hockey fans haven't been treated to their prowess ever since. Just think not only the greatest of their generation, but arguably the two greatest players in the history of the game playing at the same time.
Lemieux may have played 25 games in 2005-06, but he quickly chose to retire, citing the fact that the “new” NHL was more of a youngsters game and he was having trouble keeping up. Apparently 22 points in 25 games just wasn't goo enough for Lemieux. It just shows the high standards he set for himself.
The only comparable duo we've had since the lockout is Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. While both are remarkable players, they really can't hold a candle to the Lemieux/Gretzky dynamic. They've been missed.
5 Whalers/Nordiques/Jets (original)/North Stars
We can all appreciate a nice, retro-style jersey, so we obviously all miss the classic jerseys of the Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, the original Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota North Stars. All these jerseys were better than the Hurricanes, Avalanche, the new Jets and today's Dallas Stars. Heck, the North Stars one is way superior than any jersey the Minnesota Wild have thrown at us.
I wasn’t a fan of any of these teams in any way, really, but I was always a fan of their jerseys. Now that they’re all defunct, their jerseys hold an even more special place in all of our hearts. No matter which team you cheer for, if you run into someone wearing a sweet retro-T with any one of these teams’ logos on it, you give that person a respectful head nod.
4 More Fighting
Again, to reiterate, I’m not a monster. I realize that fighting is becoming less relevant to the game of hockey as the years fly by, and over the next 10 seasons it will likely be eradicated completely. The fact that a handful of retired players who were best known for their fighting prowess have tragically taken their own lives in recent years means that this is a good thing.
However, if you’ve been a hockey fan since the 1980s like I have, then you fondly remember a time when fighting was fully embraced by the hockey community. We’d all tune in when Bob Probert’s team was facing off against Tie Domi’s team, because we all were hooked on that David vs. Goliath match-up. Before we knew how damaging it was to the combatants, it was simply unfettered fun for the fans. Maybe ignorance really is bliss.
3 Strong, Bloody, Hate-filled Rivalries
The NHL today is constantly trying to find ways to build strong rivalries between teams. That’s what the new playoff format is designed to do, and that was also partially the idea behind the divisional realignment that came into effect two seasons ago. So far, it hasn’t really had the desired effect, but I'm willing to give it a little more time.
Prior to the 2004-05 lockout, however, playoff rivalries seemed to be at an all-time high. We all remember how brutal and cutthroat the Colorado Avalanche/Detroit Red Wings series would end up being in the late 1990s-early 2000s. The Bruins and Canadiens rivalry, which is still going strong today, started regaining momentum when the teams met in the first rounds of the 2002 and 2004 NHL playoffs with the underdog Montreal Canadiens winning both match-ups.
2 The Golden Age of Hockey Hair
Jaromir Jagr. Ziggy Palffy. Al Iafrate. Darian Hatcher. Ryan Smyth. These are all players who became just as well-known for their glorious mullets as they were for their hockey playing abilities. Seriously, even today, if you type “Jaromir Jagr” into a Google search engine, “mullet” is the third option offered, after “stats” and "model" (he recently got caught in bed with a Czech model, so that's probably a recent addition).
There are still some absolutely beautiful heads of hair peppered throughout the league today, but it’s safe to say that the hockey mullet is a dying breed. Jagr has recently announced his plans to regrow his mullet, to the delight of fans everywhere. The 20 years that preceded the 2004-05 lockout were the golden years of hockey hair, though, and that will never change.
Ties. Everybody pretty much hates ties, which is why the NHL introduced the shootout post-lockout. That way, every game would have a winner and fans would go home with the feeling that they’ve at least watched something of meaning.
The shootout was well-received immediately following the lockout, but over time fans and the league started to turn on the concept, and this season the league introduced 3-on-3 overtime to help reduce the amount of games decided in the shootout. There’s no question that the 3-on-3 format has yielded some fantastic and entertaining hockey, but there’s still no denying that it’s not real hockey.
Also, when games simply ended in ties, there were fewer “loser” points awarded. Each team was given the single point they earned and were sent on their way. Now, because of the loser point, the standings are more crowded than a mall on Black Friday and it’s next to impossible for a team to catch up once they fall behind, thanks to the loser points being distributed like candy to all the teams they're chasing.