By Ken Reed

Today’s National Hockey League (NHL) is built more on skill and speed than physical hits, and that’s a good thing. It’s a safer game for players. And it’s a more athletic game with a lot less fighting and cheap shots.

“The new-age player, definitely there’s more emphasis on the skill and the stick-handling and the shooting than it is on the body contact,” says Winnipeg Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon. “Guys that are coming into the league, there’s definitely less physical players.”

Part of the credit goes to the NHL for cracking down on fighting and unnecessary and dangerous checks, and part to youth and developmental hockey leagues who are placing more emphasis on athletic ability and less on hits.

“When kids are growing up now, they’re probably less talking about being physical and more about playing with the puck — skill and talent,” says Andrew Cogliano, a forward for the Colorado Avalanche.

In short, the NHL game has become more like Euro, Olympic and college hockey.

Younger NHL officials are more on the lookout for illegal checks to the head and hits from behind. Those type of hits are down significantly in the last decade. And given what we know today about brain trauma and CTE, that’s definitely a positive development.

The transition to more skill and less hitting hasn’t hurt the game’s popularity. Sure, there are still old school —typically older chronologically — fans that want to see more goons on the ice fighting instead of skating. But the younger generation of hockey fans is enjoying the speed and skill of today’s NHL games.

“I think they’ve looked at really dangerous situations where there can be significant injury, and tried to make penalties and put the emphasis on the person hitting to avoid those situations,” according to Dallas Stars coach Pete DeBoer. “I think that’s a good thing.”

It is a good thing Coach. Kudos to the NHL for making their game safer, albeit slowly. The trend is definitely in the right direction.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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