Rule changes enacted after the 2005 lockout, including removing the red line, helped transform NHL games into nightly track meets. Today’s game is faster than ever, and features a lot less clutching and grabbing.
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ESPN.com asked a handful of retired stars — including a couple of newly minted Hall of Famers — how they believe they’d fare if they laced up their skates for the 2017-18 season. Here’s what they said:
Paul Kariya (1994-2010): People have asked me, “Without the clutching and grabbing, would you have done better now?” The truth of the matter is, every player in the league is better now. Everyone skates well. When we were playing, we knew defensemen didn’t turn a certain way that well, and now we don’t see that. Now there really isn’t a guy in the league now who isn’t an excellent skater, [or at least] an above-average skater. And the goaltenders are just so much better than when we played. The athleticism and abilities of today’s goaltenders — that’s who I wouldn’t want to play against.
Dave Andreychuk (1982-2006): If I played today, I’d get called on a lot of penalties, I’d say that much. Still, at the same time, nobody moves you out in front of the net [now], they all crunch in. So I think I might have done OK.
Patrik Elias (1995-2016): I think actually this style of hockey suits me better. I had a harder time when I came in. I was playing against guys who were 250 pounds and 6-feet-5, and there were no rules. You were just getting abused. Grabbing, slashing, cross-checking, you could get away with anything, pretty much!
Jari Kurri (1978-1998): The game has changed a lot, but I think I would do OK. The rules have changed. The red line is not there. There is so much speed out there, it’s scary. I sometimes worry [about injuries]. I don’t think today’s hockey players, with the speed that they have, have enough room to showcase their skill. I think they should have bigger ice.
Scott Stevens (1982-2004): I think you always find a way how, even with changes, to [adjust and] play the game. I think that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s a faster game. The red line being out is a little tougher for the defensemen, because you have guys behind you so you have to be a little careful. It’s a faster game, the skill level and the speed of the game is pretty amazing. There’s not as much hitting, obviously; they’ve had to curb that a bit, because of injuries — and that’s important, much like in football. [Hockey is] a great game still; it’s the best game out there in the world, and I think I’d adapt if I was playing now.
Martin St. Louis (1998-2015): The NHL evolves almost every two to three years. As a player, you have to adapt and evolve yourself or you’ll get left behind. Players are coming in, younger and younger, and there’s a deeper pool every year. It’s a fast game now, and I think that probably fits my style.
Mark Recchi (1998-2011): I think I’d fit in fine. I think I skated well enough, and obviously my hockey sense was good enough. I really believe I could have played in any year, in any style.
Steve Yzerman (1983-2006): It’s a different game. I’ve watched the players adjust. But, with each era, players figure it out. I enjoy watching the game, for the most part. I think most of the changes that have been made in the 10, 15 years have been outstanding. I have my own opinion on some things — some good, some bad — but most nights I walk out of the rink pretty happy.
Lanny McDonald (1974-1989): I would like to think that good players find a way to adapt to whatever era they play in. Whether it was back in the 1970s and ’80s when I played, good players just adapt to their surroundings. If you look at a guy with longevity, whether it’s guys in this Hall of Fame class like Recchi or Teemu Selanne or Andreychuk, they played in different eras and adjusted.