The first hockey I recall came to me in black and white. Gordie Howe was a Red Wing, Dave Keon a Leaf, and everyone on the ice could take and make a pass. When we talk about the ‘olden days’ it’s usually with an eye to nostalgia—the good old days—but I’m absolutely certain we could learn something from those passing teams of the past. Why were they better at passing and control? A few reasons. First, teams employed policeman or enforcers, but they could play the game.
1970-71 PIM LEADERS
These are the pim leaders in 1971. Among forwards, Dennis Hextall (78, 21-31-52), Pete Mahovlich (78, 35-26-61), Dan Maloney (74, 12-14-26), John Ferguson (60, 16-14-30) and Reg Fleming (78, 6-10-16) all had enough skill to play on the top 3 lines (although Fleming and Ferguson were in their final seasons, Ferguson was carried around by rookie Reggie Houle that spring).
2012-13 PIM LEADERS
The 1970-71 list had five defensemen, those men have been replaced by 4th line forwards. Colton Orr (44, 1-3-4), Mike Brown (39, 1-1-2), Zenon Konopka (37, 0-0-0), Richard Clune (47, 4-5-9), BJ Crombeen (44, 1-7-8), Frazer McLaren (36, 3-2-5), Jared Boll (43, 2-4-6)—seven men on the list—are guys who would not have played a regular shift in 1971 (back then they had three forward line and two spares, mostly penalty-killers and young players).
The Hextall’s and Mahovlich’s aren’t here now, but there are four guys with enough skill for top 9F’s: Chris Neil (48, 4-8-12), Brandon Prust (38, 5-9-14), Ryane Clowe (40, 3-16-19) and Steve Ott (48, 9-15-24). I’m maybe stretching a little with Prust, but you can argue he meets the Fleming-Ferguson-Maloney edge of the comparable.
Bottom line: the days of Dennis Hextall and Pete Mahovlich having enormous pims and point totals over 50 are rare indeed, and defensemen are all deemed too damn valuable to spend their lives in the penalty box.
That doesn’t mean they can take and make a pass, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean they can make a play under pressure when they possess the puck.
Ryan Stimson and the folks over at In Lou We Trust did a brilliant thing with passing during the recent Oilers-Devils game and reminded me about the evils of bad passing. Among the conclusions Mr. Stimson reached:
- If this game was any indication of the Oilers season, it’s no wonder they are so terrible. The Oilers defensemen attempted 104 passes in their own zone, and a mere thirty-two passes elsewhere on the ice
- Of the twenty total shot attempts generated and nine total shots generated for the forwards, the top line of number one overall draft picks generated twelve of those shot attempts and eight of those shots.
- Of all the passes attempted in the offensive zones of both teams, the Devils controlled 63% of them. That is territorial dominance.
I’m not going to steal any more of the work from the blog, but strongly encourage you to read it. Man this is the good stuff! My conclusion is that the Oilers lack enough actual NHL players and lack enough players who can take and make a pass. They could also use an upgrade on decision-making in several areas.
New Jersey has been a strong contender for the Stanley in the past 25 years, the Oilers have been experts in picking the puck out of their net. There are lots of reasons, but puck possession and passing are huge items.
Hey, I’m on the radio today. Paul Almeida and I will be on TSN 1260 at noon for two hours of sports talk. We’ll be talking Olympics, trade deadline, Oilers in the last 22 games and some soccer too! I hope you can tune in to Saturday Sports Extra with Lowetide and Almeida at noon. It’ll be fun!