How the game has changed
Part 2: Youth is Served
This is the second entry in a series of posts on how the NHL's on-ice product has evolved from before the lockout to 2007-08. Part 1 on how penalty calls have changed can be found here.
If I was pressed to pick one player who defines how the game has changed since 2003-04, it would be Patrick Kane.
After all, I can't think of a single example in the Dead Puck Era of a frail 19-year-old sniper sitting among the scoring leaders at the 50-game mark. At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Kane is certainly undersized by any definition, but that hasn't held him back from leading the Blackhawks in scoring.
Whether its the result of the crackdown on obstruction or a sudden, inexplicable influx of new young talent, one of the defining characteristics of the league postlockout is just how youthful it is.
And especially among the scoring leaders.
Now that's a trend.
Looking through the names of the scoring leaders from 2000-01, there are all kinds of old-timers: Luc Robitaille, Adam Oates, Peter Bondra, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mark Recchi and Mario Lemieux were all over 33 and among the top 30.
Only Daniel Alfredsson and Mats Sundin fit into that category this season.
Instead, what we've got is all sorts of youth, and 10 of the top 30 (as of last week when I put this together) are 25 or under: Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Jason Spezza, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Richards, Paul Stastny, Eric Staal and Corey Perry.
In 2000-01, there were three: Patrick Elias, Petr Sykora and Alex Tanguay (who was then the only player under 24 among the top 30 scorers).
In fact, the majority of the top scorers that season were over 30 (17); this year, 23 are under 30 years old, with Jarome Iginla, Marc Savard and Danny Briere just barely over.
Given it has only been seven years, that's quite a swing. And while you can't pin this change down to just one factor, a few come to mind right away:
(a) The new rules favour speed and creativity over power and experience. Robitaille and Oates wouldn't fare nearly as well under these conditions, but they got by just fine when passing, shooting and hockey sense were better attributes to have than skating ability.
(b) The new rules also allow younger players, who might not be as physically developed, to contribute in a big way at a younger age. Kane likely wouldn't have even contributed as a 19-year-old even three years ago in the NHL. Ditto for someone like Kris Russell in Columbus.
(c) The new CBA necessitates that teams have to get more out of their young stars. There really just isn't as much room for passengers, especially on teams that are up against the cap, and the old-timers are frequently being pushed out earlier than they were previously. Big-ticket unrestricted free agents are younger than ever now.
(d) This is one freaky golden age for young hockey stars. It could all just be one big statistical blip.
I'm not sure that there's any one answer here, but I'm inclined to point to (a) and (b) as having a quantifiable effect. Being older, bigger and more experienced was simply more beneficial before the lockout.
|NHL's top 30 scorers|
The Art Ross winners
2001: Jaromir Jagr (age 29.1)
2002: Jarome Iginla (24.8)
2003: Peter Forsberg (29.7)
2004: Martin St. Louis (28.8)
2006: Joe Thornton (26.8)
2007: Sidney Crosby (19.7)
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