The first hockey team I ever even pretended to like was the Montreal Canadiens. I never formed a real connection to them, but in the late 80s, they still seemed almost royal. Today they focus on the glories of the past, like Italians or Brits.
Throughout the century they dominated hockey, winning 25% of all the Stanley Cup championships that team played a significant role in the evolution of hockey from 24 guys skating around a frozen pond to half that many skating armor-clad in multi-million dollar arenas. But there is no Canadien player that I can name that ever decided that he should be the de facto commissioner of the league and put forth proposals on how to run the game.
I can’t say the same for the Oiler’s dynasty of the 80s. Gretzky, who even a detractor like me will grant is the best offensive player of his era, became part of the program to expand the league by agreeing to play that role in Los Angeles, and he also vigorously argued for the removal or reduction of fighting from the game, purportedly to bring out the “skill” in the game. These are the two worst things ever to happen to hockey.
The the casual American fan, who can probably only name one hockey player if asked (Gretzky), the multi-pass and shoot, high scoring games have the same flat brain-wave appeal that most of what they enjoy does. But aficionados of the game enjoy all aspects, including the physical, grinding, intangible part of the game where players seem to practically will the puck into the net to win a game, even if they haven’t scored in months. A true hockey fan gets more pleasure out of a 1-0 game than out of a 7-6 slop-fest.
I think Gretzky isn’t succeeding as a coach because the game is too easy for him, and the average NHL player just can’t replicate what he thinks is easy. I think he fails to realize that it’s not a matter of changing rules or snapping fingers and having 30 teams today that play like the 1985 Oilers. Na ga hap pen. And it shouldn’t. The Canadiens of the 70s or the Devils of the 90s both won multiple championships playing defense–but that’s not “exciting” according to John Q. Nascar fan.
The arrogance is astounding. And today, I’m reading that Mark Messier is trying to annoint himself GM of the Rangers, as if he has done anything in his life to qualify him for that position. 6 cups? all those goals? That qualifies him for the player hall of fame–and it barely even commends him as a scout, let alone a GM.
Then again, he couldn’t do much worse than the clown parade that’s been running that team for decades…. could he?