July 19th, 2018

Is the NHL the best its ever been?

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on April 4, 2018.

A small disclaimer: This young writer has no memories and nostalgia tied to the National Hockey League of 30 years ago.

But are we witnessing the NHL in its prime?

From a scoring perspective, numbers may be down from Wayne Gretzky’s 200-plus point years, but players are still hitting around 100 points over 82 games in 2018, all while facing incredibly athletic (and well padded) goaltenders.

Looking at the top point scorers, there’s a number of players from a number of teams at the top.

Of course Edmonton’s Connor McDavid leads the way, with more than 100 points through 79 games, but Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux are not far behind.

Many of today’s top NHL scorers would have placed top-15 in the scoring race during the 1980s, despite regularly facing goaltenders with save percentages between 92-93 per cent.

To compare, 1985-86 saw Wayne Gretzky score a career-high 215 points — and incredible feat we will likely never see replicated, but the goaltender with the highest save percentage was Philly’s Bob Froese, with a .909.

Froese would currently be tied with New Jersey’s Cory Schneider for 32nd in the league of save percentage — roughly 20th when looking at goaltenders in 2018 who have played 41 games or more.

So it’s safe to say goaltenders are vastly improved from decades ago, but we’re still getting high levels of scoring in the modern game.

Another great aspect of today’s NHL is the storylines.

The obvious starting point is Crosby versus Ovechkin.

The two players are still in the prime of their careers, with Crosby going for his third consecutive Cup this season, while Ovi is still looking for his first trip past the second round of the playoffs.

Both were touted as generational players at their time of draft, and both have lived up to the title.

Ovi is pushing 50 goals while in his 30s, and Crosby has yet to finish a season under a point-per-game.

Auston Matthews versus Patrick Laine is another great story line in the making, with the players being the top two picks in the 2016 entry draft.

The Oilers being horrible is also something almost anyone can take interest in.

The team is finishing in the bottom five this season with the NHL’s top point-getter — it’s truly remarkable.

Of course hockey of decades ago had great stories, there’s no way to argue that, or quantify the weight of then versus now, but media coverage today sure makes things easier to read.

Every time a player says something, it’s on Twitter almost instantly — it really is a great time to be a die hard fan of the NHL.

(Mo Cranker is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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