Of all the professional sports leagues in North America none has had a bigger effect on the game it governs more than the NHL. Hockey in North America has changed dramatically across all leagues. Whether it be recreational, amateur, junior, semi-professional or professional, the game of hockey has changed in recent years, following the footsteps of the NHL.
The NHL did a lot more than just change its logo in the aftermath of the 2004-05 lockout, it changed everything, including the game itself. New rules and new formats created a new game of hockey, a game that would house an environment in which faster and more skilled players could flourish. A game with stricter rules on stick related penalties including slashing and tripping. These changes also began what would become a slow death for another breed of hockey player. One which had been a vital and important part of the game since its early beginnings, the enforcer.
Before the 2004-05 NHL lockout, enforcers thrived in the game of hockey. The pace of the game was slower, referees let more calls go and concussions were not a major concern. The game was grittier. In today's post 2004-05 lockout NHL, enforcers are rarely playing. The only enforcers in today's game are players like Milan Lucic, a player who can add grit, hit, fight and more importantly, put up points. Lucic is a living, breathing example of the new NHL. One which has weeded out the enforcers of the past who could do nothing but hit and fight. The pre lockout NHL was a much grittier, tougher and rugged league.
The players listed below are the top players in the NHL today, who would not thrive in the pre 2004-05 lockout NHL. Some of these players are considered the best in the NHL today, but because of some factors like, attitude, physical strength and playing style, would not able to survive in the old NHL.
Here are the Top 20 NHL Players Who Wouldn't Make It In The Old NHL.
20 Alexander Semin
Semin is the perfect player to feature on this list. Why? He played one season in the NHL before the lockout, scored a measly 22 points in 52 games, fled to the KHL, then came back after the lockout and scored 73 points in 77 games. He's a seven time 20 goal scorer, and in his most productive season, he scored 40 goals and 84 points in 73 games. However, due to many issues, he was traded from team to team and lost his scoring touch. Many reports linked his decline to his bad attitude, negative locker room presence and greedy salary demands. None of which, would have been tolerated in the old NHL. Throughout his career he has been labeled as a diver and an instigator, which has given him a negative reputation. In a grittier, tougher and more violent NHL, Semin would never survive.
19 Mike Ribeiro
Ribeiro played 5 seasons in the NHL before the lockout. In that time, he had one productive season with the Montreal Canadiens. In 2003-04 Ribeiro put up 20 goals and 65 points in 81 games. However, in each of the four previous seasons, he failed to play more than 55 games or put up more than 20 points. Since the lockout Ribeiro has had nine, 15-plus goal seasons, as well as over 30 assists each season he's played. Ribeiro is also a frequent recipient of the NHL's diving penalty. He is not a physical player and has been frequently injured throughout his entire career, which has hindered his success.
18 Jeff Skinner
The Toronto native was a highly sought after pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft, going seventh to Carolina. Skinner put up 90 points in his last year of junior hockey before going pro. He was touted to become a prolific goal scorer in the NHL and revive the dismal Carolina Hurricanes franchise. He is a two time 30 goal scorer and is considered one of the best skaters in the NHL today. However, injuries have plagued him throughout his career and caused him to be less effective in the NHL. Skinner has suffered two concussions in his NHL career and due to the physical aspect of the game he has been deterred from performing to his full potential.
17 Alex Galchenyuk
The 22-year-old Canadiens' player was the third overall pick in 2012 and, like Skinner, was touted to become a goal scoring force in the NHL. Things are looking up for Galchenyuk, but it's doubtful he would have the same success 20 years ago. Galchenyuk had his first 30 goal season this past year while the team failed to make the playoffs and finished in the bottom half of the league. Like almost every player on this list, Galchenyuk has issues dealing with physical aspect of the game, as well as injury problems. The game in the old NHL was not suited for players like Galchenyuk to thrive in.
16 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The buzz around Nugent-Hopkins leading up his draft year was quite understandable. He scored 106 points in 69 games during his last season of junior hockey. However, once he made the jump to the pros, his production, as well as what was expected of him, has slowly been in a downward spiral ever since he stepped on this ice for his first NHL game. Nugent-Hopkins did not live up to expectations. He has struggled throughout his career to battle injuries, put up points, and help his team make it to the playoffs. Needless to say, he has so far only had one 20 goal season, and missed just under 30 games this past season due to injury. In a tougher, more physical game, his speed would not help him much.
15 Bobby Ryan
Labeled as a future superstar, Bobby Ryan had big expectations coming into the NHL. He scored at least 88 points in each of his last three seasons of junior hockey. However, his transition to professional hockey took a little bit more time than most predicted. In his first four NHL seasons, he bounced back and forth between the NHL and the Anaheim Ducks' farm system. Afterwards, he had four straight seasons in which he scored 30 goals, before being traded to Ottawa. Since, he has failed to register a 25 goal season in three years.
Being 6'2 and weighing 209 pounds, his physical stature suggests he could handle the physicality of the NHL, but his production says otherwise. Ryan has been stifled in his NHL career, unable to live up to the expectations set for him. His lack of mental and physical toughness are the most prominent reasons as to why he would not make it in the old NHL.
14 Nazem Kadri
Kadri was drafted 7th overall in the 2009 draft. He was supposed to help revive an almost lifeless Leafs organization and breathe new life into the team. Kadri has spent most of his career going back and forth between the Leafs and the Marlies in the AHL. Going along with his less than satisfactory point production, reports of attitude problems and lack of commitment have followed him throughout his career. Reports of his bad commitment levels and dietary habits came into the spotlight following failed fitness tests at a Toronto Marlies training camp. Kadri is also one of the most frequent recipients of the diving penalty in the NHL, exaggerating the effect of physical contact with contact with opposing players.
13 Henrik Sedin
Another perfect candidate for this list, Henrik Sedin. He played four seasons in the NHL before the lockout and failed to score more than 20 goals a season or more than 45 points. The slower pace, more stoppages and more physical NHL was not a suitable league for Henrik, or his brother. Since the lockout, Sedin has had three 80 point seasons, one 90 point season and one 110 point seaon. In the first seven seasons after the lockout, he put up more than 55 assists each year. Just to add to his post-lockout credibility, he also was the recipient of the Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy in 2010.
12 Daniel Sedin
Along his brother, Daniel also played four seasons in the NHL before the lockout. Again, like his brother, his production in the old NHL is dismal in comparison to his production in the years that followed the lockout. In his four seasons before the lockout, Daniel had one, somewhat productive season, in which he scored 18 goals and 55 points. In each of his other three seasons, he failed to put up more than 35 points. In the first six seasons after the lockout, he put up 70 points in each season. This includes three 80 point seasons and one 100 point season, as well as one 40 goal season.
Like his brother, he also won two very sought after NHL awards, post-lockout. Daniel won the Art Ross Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award in 2011.
11 Taylor Hall
The number one overall pick in the 2010 draft has been riddled with injuries his entire NHL career. He was supposed to be a major part of the Edmonton Oilers rebuild in 2010-11 and help the franchise rise from the grave. Well... that never happened. In his six season career he has only played more than 65 games twice (not including the 2012-13 half season). He has also only scored more than 65 points twice in his career. As talented as he may be, injuries and his lack of physical toughness have prevented him from becoming a dominant player in today's NHL. These factors would hold him back even more in the old NHL.
10 Carl Hagelin
He is one of the fastest players in the NHL today and in a game of speed and skill, he thrives. However, the physical aspect of hockey is not in his wheelhouse. Hagelin has struggled in his professional career dealing with the physicality of todays NHL. The old NHL was built more on physical ability and toughness, two aspects of the game Hagelin struggles with.
9 Jordan Eberle
The third Oiler on this list, Jordan Eberle, has been a productive NHL player, but has failed to help his team succeed. In his six season NHL career he has put up four 22-plus goal seasons. However, Eberle has failed to reach his expected potential. His size and and ability to deal with physicality have hindered him from making a bigger impact in the NHL. The increased physicality in the old NHL would leave Eberle more susceptible to injuries and make him less productive.
8 Joffrey Lupul
With a career littered with injuries and unfulfilled expectations, Joffrey Lupul would not survive in the old NHL. Lupul has had more than 10 different kinds injuries throughout his career. In his past eight seasons, he has failed to play more than 66 games in one season, due to injury. Like many players on this list, Lupul has issues dealing with the physical aspect of game. Lupul did play one season in the NHL before the lockout and he recorded 13 goals and 34 points. The first season after the lockout, he put up 28 goals and 53 points. In a more physical game, Lupul was not nearly as effective.
7 David Perron
Like most of the other players on this list, Perron has been plagued with injuries his entire career, which have held him back from becoming a more prolific goal scorer in the NHL. In the past six seasons he has played more than 50+ games in a season, once. Throughout his career he has been dealing with shoulder injuries which have caused him to be weary in the physical aspects of the game. His mental and physical toughness hold him back from excelling in the NHL. Based on his play, in the old NHL he would be ineffective.
6 Alexander Steen
Injuries have held Alexander Steen back in his professional career. In the past four seasons, he's only played more than 70 games once (not including the 2012-13 half season). He has a difficult time adjusting to the physical parts of the game, and in the old NHL, when games where more physical, more often, Steen would have trouble thriving as a goal scorer. Thankfully Steen finds himself on a very big and physical Blues team.
5 Nail Yakupov
The fourth and final Oiler on this list, Yakupov is another player who had sky high expectations, only to slowly slide downwards. His frustration with his production led to attitude and commitment problems which have also hindered his success. Injuries have also effected Yakupov throughout his NHL career. In the past three seasons, he has only played in more than 65 games once. He has never scored more than 20 goals or put up more than 40 points. Yakupov is held back by his inability to adjust to the physicality of todays NHL.
4 James Neal
Without the help of Sidney Crosby, James Neal has struggled to strive and dominate in his pro career. He has been an effective player throughout his career, but has been hindered by his lack of toughness. In each of the past four seasons he has scored 20+ goals, including one 40 goal season. However, his size and physical attributes have not helped him deal with the physicality of todays NHL. His inability to deal with adversity and the physical aspect of the game hold him back. Also, like many other players on this list, he is a frequent recipient of the diving penalty. His toughness would keep him from being the player his in todays NHL, in the old NHL.
3 Evander Kane
With a career riddled with injuries, inconsistency, commitment issues, attitude problems and unreached expectations, Evander Kane has had a troubling NHL career. He has struggled with injuries which have hindered him from playing more than 65 games in each of his past three seasons. Off ice issues, his lack of commitment and his lack of physical toughness have prevented him from become a prominent goal scorer in todays NHL. In the old NHL, the slower pace and more physical environment would create and even worse atmosphere for Evander Kane.
2 Evgeni Malkin
One of the most prolific point scorers in the NHL in the past nine seasons, Evgeni Malkin has been a top player in the NHL since his first season. He's had three 100 point seasons and four 30 goal seasons in his NHL career. He has won numerous awards and a Stanley Cup. However, his injury history and his style of play make him inconsistent and often raise questions of his toughness and commitment. In his last six seasons, he has not played more than 70 games in one season due to injury (excluding the 2012-13 lockout season).
1 Steven Stamkos
There have been few better goal scorers in the last 20 years in the NHL than Steven Stamkos. He has four 40 goal seasons including one 60 goal season as well as three 90-point seasons. However, Stamkos has never embraced the physical aspect of hockey. He relies on his speed, his skill and his shot, which are his strengths. The slower pace and the more frequent physicality would have a big effect on his game and his playing style. The past three seasons of his career have been consumed injury, criticism and drama, all of which have effected his on ice production.
In each of his past three seasons he has failed to put up more than 75 points or 30 assists, which affects his credibility of being an NHL superstar.