Rangers Cup Champ, Alex Kovalev on the Evolution of Hockey

Charles Darwin never theorized about sports and how it evolves, just things within nature. But it doesn’t take a scientist to notice the ever-evolving changes that the sports world undergoes. The style of play in the NHL has mutated multiple times throughout the past few decades.

Ten years ago, hockey was a physical smash-mouth sport. The Rangers had guys like Colton Orr and Ryan Hollweg hunkering down in their own zone and throwing fisticuffs as much as possible. The game was dominated by a “wear down the opponent” ideology. But times have changed, are still changing, and will continue to change. No one says that former NHL players have to be satisfied with the evolution of the sport they cherish so dearly, and surely some are not afraid to voice their sentiments.

Alex Kovalev is one of the best mid-range point scorers that the NHL has seen in its history. Over the course of Kovalev’s twenty-five year career, he consistently put up point totals in the 60’s, 70’s and sometimes even higher. He knows better than anyone what it is like watching the game change right before your eyes.

Lack of Creativity

Recently, Kovalev released some pretty scathing remarks about the current state of the NHL. He spoke about the dying creativity in hockey and how the game has become one of caution rather than aggression.  He was critical of the so called “handcuffs” that modern coaches place on their players, which discourage being creative and opening up the ice. In other words, the aggressive crash-the-net style of play has morphed into one of tentativeness and reluctance. Players are forced to dump pucks in and try to win a foot race, rather than use their sheer force and agility to get in the face of the defense.

It is a telling statement from one of the better players that the league has ever seen. Personally, I grew up watching the aggressive, hard-nosed style of the game. I grew up idolizing guys like Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, and watching guys Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, and Michael Nylander on the television. The game was amazing to watch. It was pure skill coupled with the fighting aggression and passion that guys like Orr and Hollweg brought brought to the rink.  

Many people feel otherwise, but I miss that NHL. I miss seeing the hatred between the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils encapsulated by an opening face-off tussle. Nowadays, we tune in every other night to watch our teams shoot a puck into the corner and usually lose the foot battle. Down the ice, dump in, clear out. Repeat. The game of hockey is exciting, it is passionate, it is intense. The league has drifted to a more finesse and skill based style. Coaches place more emphasis on speed and quick-footedness than they do size and aggression. Watching the speed and skill of modern NHL players is one of the best aspects of hockey, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the often stereotyped in-your-face style of hockey that was played in decades past.  That is what grew the sport of hockey and shaped it into the uber-popular pastime it is today.

Kovalev Criticizes AV and Dan Bylsma

Let’s look at this from a specifically Rangers point of view. Kovalev went on to complain about one of his former coaches and how he punished players for creativity, often forcing the sometimes ineffective dump-and-chase method. Who does that sound like? I’ll give you a hint, he was just fired by the Rangers a few months ago. You probably guessed Alain Vigneault, and you are right. Vigneault is notorious for stubbornly sticking to inefficient styles of play, and benching his vivacious young talents. Throughout the course of their time playing for Vigneault, players like Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey were benched for their skilled creativity, and were often relegated to playing on the third and fourth lines. That’s right, because Pavel Buchnevich is clearly at the same skill level as Cody McLeod. 

It’s time for the NHL to turn back the clock. It’s time for a return to the aggression, passion, and fearlessness that used to dominate the league. It’s time to ditch the dump-and-chase, and reteach players how to get under the skin of the defenders. It is time for the resurgence of smash-mouth, and time for hockey to be hockey once again.  

The full comment by Alex Kovalev is below.


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