[The following collection of posts were originally published separately. For your convenience they are now together in one piece. No extra charge. GH]
The NHL has a ‘small’ problem PT 1
Headline: NHL tackles issue (i.e., concussions) head-on
“After a week that saw the NHL pounded on the public relations front, the league came out swinging Monday with a five-point plan to improve player safety.” (March 15, The London Free Press)
Concussions are a big problem (PR-wise; and otherwise as well, i.e., if one gives half a thought to players’ brainpans). And, in my humble opinion, the NHL’s five-point plan falls short of solving the problem.
The number of concussions related to legal hits (the cause of 44% of 80 concussions in the current season), fights (8%), and illegal hits (17%) will gradually continue to rise, even after the glass and boards are covered with sponge and repeat offenders are hung by their thumbs from the back of the team bus.
And why do I say concussions will rise?
Easy. Psych 20 easy. B.F. Skinner easy. There are too many rats in the box. Big rats. And they’re getting bigger all the time.
Let’s go back in time for a minute to the 1970 - 71 season. Normie Ullman played center for the Toronto Maple Leafs and tallied 34 goals and 51 assists. He stood 5’ 10” tall and weighed 185 pounds. The guy appeared huge among his fellow players.
[“Would Norm Ullman be a big guy today?”: photo GH]
Why, when he entered the Leaf dressing room for the first time during the 1967 - 68 season, Davie Keon welcomed him with a big hug (well, kind of a hug; more like a slap on the backside, completely illegal in the day) and said, “It’s nice to have you here, big guy.”
“Big guy.” At 5’ 10” and 185 pounds. Imagine that. He’d be considered kinda puny by today’s standards, wouldn’t he? You could actually lose Normie Ullman in a modern hockey dressing room. He’d be smaller than some kid’s triceps.
Go back farther in time and players were even smaller by today’s standards. I’ve heard it said that during the game’s infancy (e.g., in the 1860s, when the game was called “Smackafrozenhorseturd” - always expressed in one word), the average size of the players was 3’ 9” tall. The first player to surpass 4 feet was Moons Malone, aka Moons the Goon, or simply The Goon. He earned 3 cents per game, whittled his own sticks and signed his first contract with an X.
[“Paul Haynes, 5’ 10”, 161 lb., Montreal Maroons, 1924 - 1938”]
[“Babe Siebert - actual size!!”]
Well, times have changed. And having a five-point plan in the NHL isn’t going to cut it if concussions are to be reduced.
More hard hits to follow.
PT 2 - The NHL has a ‘small’ problem
Headline: (NHL) Rulebook re-emphasized
Boca Raton, FLA. - “... There was no appetite among NHL general managers for a sweeping ban on contact to players’ heads... they do, however, plan to put more teeth into charging and boarding penalties in an effort to cut down on injuries."
Ottawa Sens GM Bryan Murray said, “We want to apply the rules that are in the book more adamantly... the rule in the book is fine. We’ve just been more reluctant maybe to call it to the letter of the law the way we want to re-emphasize.” (Mar. 16, The London Free Press)
And in my humble opinion (how could it be otherwise), the number of concussions related to legal hits, fights, and illegal hits will gradually continue to rise, even after the glass and boards around rinks are covered in something very forgiving (bales of hay?), repeat offenders are forced to play in old rubber boots and the current NHL rule book re-emphasized.
Why? Too many rats in the box. Too many big players on the ice. And they’re getting bigger all the time.
In an earlier post I mentioned that the average size of a power forward in the 1860s (during hockey’s very early stages) was 3 ft. 9 in. tall, 94 pounds. In 1970 - 71, Normie “Big Guy” Ullman, a centerman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, stood 5 ft. 10 in. and weighed 185 pounds.
Many of today’s players are bigger than Eric Lindros (listed at 6 ft. 5 in. tall and 228 pounds in the early 1990s), are twice as fast and eat handfuls of raw meat between shifts. Inside an infantry division’s protective gear, a power forward at a typical NHL game would remind fans of a tank on the loose.
["Eric Lindross - lookin' tough": photo GH]
Coincidentally, the increase in size of goaltenders and their equipment is almost no different.
I read somewhere that Tubby Mullard, all 4 ft. 5 in. and 98 pounds of him, the 1890 winner of the first Venison Trophy (a frozen hind-quarter, and the precursor of today’s Vezina Trophy), wore nothing more in net than his father’s plaid shirt, his older sister’s ball glove and Eaton’s Christmas catalogues strapped around each shin.
By the mid-1960s, goaltenders were a bit bigger.
Lorne “Gump” Worsley (1929 - 2007), a goalie of some renown (he shared the Vezina Trophy with Charlie Hodge in 1966, with Rogatien Vachon in 1968, and played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1965 and 1968), stood 5 ft. 7 in. tall (amazingly!), weighed 180 pounds soaking wet, and wore padded leather protective gear on all but two parts of his body, one being his head - the size of a ripe honeydew.
Today, the average goalkeeper is over 7 feet tall and weighs 400 pounds when fully dressed in protective gear.
This trend toward taller, heavier, faster, more-heavily protected players will likely continue for the rest of this century and culminate in more concussions per season than can be counted as players bounce off boards and one another with willful abandon. All H-E-Double hockey sticks will break loose after the introduction of jet-packs in 2030.
So, what can be done concerning all this inevitable damage to the brainpans of NHL players?
I’m glad you asked.
First Intermission: Equipment is not the NHL’s ‘small’ problem
While writing a couple of posts re a ‘small’ problem in the NHL (related to concussions), I came across an old photo that shows players getting ready for a game.
Look at their helmets. Two or three thin pieces of padded leather. Yikes.
I remember those days. I wore a similar helmet, and it now hangs in my workshop beside vintage hockey gloves and an old catcher’s mask.
Helmets and mask have improved greatly in 40 - 50 years, have they not?
PT 3 - The NHL has a ‘small’ problem
Today, in the new and improved NHL (the league is promoting a new five-point plan to improve player safety, don’t ya know) many players are bigger than Eric Lindros (6 ft. 5 in. tall and 228 pounds in the early 1990s), are twice as fast as Normie Ullman used to be in the 1970s and can devour a full hot meal in 60 seconds between shifts.
Inside his protective gear approved by the United States Marines, a power forward at a typical NHL game looks a lot like a military weapon.
As well, the average goalkeeper has grown from 4 ft. in height (e.g., Tubby Mullard, 4 ft. 5 in., the 1890 winner of the first Venison Trophy) to well over 7 feet tall, with a weight of 400 pounds when fully dressed in protective gear.
This trend toward taller, heavier, and faster players will likely continue for the rest of this century and produce more concussions per game than can be counted on two hands.
So, what can be done to accommodate modern-day NHL players and reduce injuries without slowing down the game?
I’m so glad you asked.
The NHL should continue to evolve their game in much the same way it evolved in the past and adopt the five-player game. One goalie, two forwards, two defenseman, or, a goalie, two forwards, one rover, one defenseman.
Students of the game will know the term ‘rover’ is not a new one. They will also know that reducing the number of players on the ice at one time has worked successfully in the past.
An interesting online article entitled The Evolution of the Game tells us how the number of players on the ice has changed over the years:
“The first recorded occurrence of organized indoor ice hockey took place in Montreal on March 3, 1875. It was played in Victoria Skating Rink, with nine-man sides on a surface that measured 80 by 204 feet.”
You might be thinking, how could so many players find space to maneuver or work their magic?
Remember, as I wrote earlier, the average player was under four feet tall.
The article continues:
“The popularity of the game began to spread, and in 1883 the annual Montreal Winter Carnival featured "the novel game of hockey". The rules for the series said the teams would carry seven men per side and play two 30-minute periods with ten minutes between periods.”
“By 1898 the rules had further standardized. Ice hockey by this time was a seven man game: the goalie, three forwards, a rover (who switched from defense to offense, as the play required), and the point and cover point (the defense included the cover point in front of the point, rather than side by side as they are today).”
Readers may well ask, did anyone wear a helmet?
As far as I know, three players wore small metal pails over their heads (with holes cut out for their eyes) but soon discovered the pails did more harm than good when they got to spinning around. Pails were retired until someone invented leather.
Sorry, I digress.
“In 1911-12 the position of rover was finally eliminated, making hockey a six-man game per side, and it was decided that players would wear numbers on their sweaters.”
As you can see, the NHL has kept the number of players on the ice unchanged for 100 years, even though during that time the players have almost doubled in size, weight and speed.
Maybe it’s time for the five-player game as I suggested earlier.
Don’t like that idea?
I’ve got another one. Stay tuned.
Second Intermission: Five-man hockey one way to go
Per team - One goalie, two forwards, a rover, a defenseman.
Five-man hockey makes sense. In the last 100 years, NHL players have doubled their size, weight and speed. And concussions, on the rise, are an ugly part of the game.
Each player would have more room on the ice in which to maneuver. More reaction time to a charging rover. Fewer head injuries. Fewer penalties. A faster game.
Nazem Kadri, former London Knight, said the following about his biggest adjustment to the NHL game after returning to the Toronto Maple Leafs from 30 games with the Marlies:
“Just being able to recognize danger.” (Mar. 16, London Free Press)
[“Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs”]
“When you’re playing against such good hockey players they can close gaps real fast.”
What do you think about four on four hockey in the NHL?
First Overtime: Concerning ‘The NHL has a small problem’ Series
As you already know, Tubby Mullard, 4 ft. 5 in. tall, and winner of the first Venison Trophy (circa 1890), typified the average goaltender in the early years of the game.
Over 75 years past before goalies were the size of Lorne “Gump” Worsley (5 ft. 7 in. tall, 180 pounds soaking wet), though, as I seem to recall, when he accepted the Vezina Trophy with Charlie Hodge in 1966, he stood on an old Coke crate in order to be seen.
Today the average goaltender stands well over 7 feet tall and weighs about 400 pounds when fully dressed in protective gear.
But, I ask you, has the size of the NHL ice surface grown to accommodate the larger, heavier and faster breed of player?
To find out, tune in for PT 4 in the exciting series “The NHL has a ‘small’ problem.”
Or, do all the research yourself. Really, I won’t mind.
Bits and Pieces: PT 4 - The NHL has a ‘small’ problem
“Most North American rinks follow the National Hockey League (NHL) specifications of 200 feet (61 m) × 85 feet (26 m).” [Wikipedia]
Word is, Tubby Mullard, a 4 ft. 5 in. tall goaltender, and winner of the first Venison Trophy (circa 1890), was near-sighted.
That little-known fact affected his answer when asked what his favourite rink was, by Din O’Danny O’Doyle, a seasoned reporter for Le Gazette du Montreal in 1895.
“I loved playing indoors at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal. It was so well-lit I could see the puck past center ice, even though the pad was over 200 feet long.”
[“The Victoria Skating Rink”: Link to photo]
“Why, some of the barns I played in were just that. Barns. Lit with gas lanterns. And though many of the rinks were shorter than The Grand Victoria - I always call it The Grand - I couldn’t see the d--- puck until it was almost in my face.”
“And it did get in my face. Look here. I lost this tooth just last week. Look at this big gap now up here inside my mouth. Look it. Makes me cry, it does.”
Tubby was always one for pointing out his battle wounds and went on to show O’Danny O’Doyle fresh stitches behind his left ear and a scar on his buttock from a high stick he caught late into the 1894 season.
Readers have probably heard stories like Tubby’s many times over, but it is worth repeating here a few details related to the size of hockey rinks in the National Hockey Rinks, because I feel the size of the ice pad is connected to the rise of head injuries, heat-shots, high elbows and concussions that we hear so much about today.
From Wikipedia, as stated earlier:
“Most North American rinks follow the National Hockey League (NHL) specifications of 200 feet (61 m) × 85 feet (26 m).”
Nowhere could I find the area of the ice surface, and after several complicated mathematical calculations I discovered it to be 17,000 sq. ft. That works out to 1,700 sq. ft. per player (not including goalies), which seems like a fair amount of space per player to skate around upon - perfectly safe, unhindered - but a lot of them seem to bunch up in the corners with elbows flying at ear level, and as we all know, ears live just outside the brainpan.
Wikipedia supplies an answer to the obvious question, why are NHL rinks 200 by 85 feet?
“Origins - The rink specifications originate from the ice surface of the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, constructed in 1862, where the first indoor game was played in 1875. Its ice surface measured 204 feet (62 m) × 80 feet (24 m).”
For those who must know (and I think you must), the area of the The Grand Victoria was 16,320 sq.ft.
Admittedly, the regulation NHL ice surface is larger than that at the Victoria, but... is it large enough for today’s giants?
Stay tuned for more of my brilliant ideas.
Second Overtime: More concerning ‘The NHL has a small problem’ Series
Modern day NHL players have increased in height, weight and speed by huge amounts compared to players from the 1880s.
Remember Moons Malone, aka Moons the Goon, or simply The Goon?
Moons played during the game’s infancy (e.g., in the 1860s, when the game was called “Smackafrozenhorseturd” - always expressed in one word), and when the average size of the players was 3’ 9” tall.
Moons earned 3 cents per game, whittled his own sticks, signed his first contract with an X and stood out because he was, or so I’ve heard, the first player to surpass 4 feet in height.
He’d still stand out today if he was alive. And why?
Because most NHL players are 60 - 70% taller than Moons, three times as heavy and could eat Moons’ weight in burgers between shifts.
However, in spite of the huge increase in size and weight and speed of today’s players, they blast around on an ice surface only 4.2% larger than their predecessors.
Is that enough ice for today’s game?
PT 5 - The NHL has a ‘small’ problem
I ended PT 4 with a brilliant question, prompted by the regulation size of modern-day NHL rinks and their predecessor, the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal (also called ‘The Grand’ by Tubby Mullard, a 4 ft. 5 in. tall goaltender, and winner of the first Venison Trophy).
The regulation size of NHL rinks is 200 feet (61 m) × 85 feet (26 m) and an area of 17,000 sq. ft.
The Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, constructed in 1862, measured 204 feet (62 m) × 80 feet (24 m), with an area of 16,320 sq.ft.
My brilliant question was, and still is, the following:
Is the regulation NHL ice surface large enough for today’s giant-sized players?
[Photo link - Ray Bourque]
Some will answer, “Of course it is. It’s a fantastic game. The hits, the speed, the shots and incredible goals.”
I also say, it is a fantastic game. But because of the rising number of head injuries, let’s look at a few more numbers.
Since the game began in 1862 on the Victoria Skating Rink, the ice surface has increased in size by 4.2%
The increase, however, in players’ heights and weights far exceeds 4.2%.
For illustrative purposes only, note the following:
Trevor Linden, at 6 ft. 4 in. and 205 pounds in 1990 - 91, was 8.6% taller and 11% heavier than Normie Ullman when he played in 1970 - 71.
Eric Lindros, at 6 ft. 5 in. and 228 pounds in 1990 - 91, was 8.5% taller and 30% heavier than Pierre Larouche when he played in 1976 - 77.
[P. Larouche, 5’ 11”, 175 lb., 1976 - 77”: photo GH]
For an exact measure, of course, one would have to examine all stats for all players from the beginning of the NHL to today, and for that job I do not have the records, time or energy. But I bet the overall increase from 1862 to today is far greater than 4.2% in the height, weight, speed and aggressive tendencies departments.
One has to look no farther than current day team rosters to be left with the impression that the players have grown too big for the old sandbox.
For example, here are current stats related to defensemen playing for the Boston Bruins:
Boychuk, Johnny - 6'2" 225 lbs
Chara, Zdeno - 6'9" 255 lbs
Ference, Andrew - 5'11" 189 lbs
Hnidy, Shane - 6'2" 204 lbs
Kaberle, Tomas - 6'1" 214 lbs
Kampfer, Steven - 5'11" 197 lbs
McQuaid, Adam - 6'4" 197 lbs
Seidenberg, Dennis - 6'1" 210 lbs
[Link and learn here.]
Average height is a touch over 6 ft. 2 in. and ave. weight is 211 lb.
Go back 20 years to 1990 - 91 (Ray Bourque guarded the blue line) and you’ll discover the players weren’t much smaller. The average height of a Boston Bruin defenseman was slightly under 6 ft. 2 in. and average weight was 203 lb. Over 20 years, they grew by only 0.54% in height and 3.94% in overall beefiness.
However, go back to the 1960 - 61 season (Doug Mohns and Leo Boivin were stalwarts) and you’ll see a remarkable difference. The average height of a Bruin defenseman was just under 5 ft. 11 in. and average weight was 182 lb.
[Photo link - Dougie Mohns]
Today, a defenseman is 4.6% taller and 16% heavier than those in the 1960s. The increase, I’m certain, would be far greater if we went even farther back in time, to the very days when the modern size of the rink surface was born.
So, where’s the beef related to concussions? On the bones of NHL hockey players, and they are using their additional size (and speed and aggressiveness) to rattle more brainpans than ever before.
Though I still think the NHL should consider five-man hockey (one goalie, two forwards, one rover and one defenseman per team) in order to give players more space and more reaction time, perhaps it’s time to grow the ice surface to accommodate the growth of the players.
Larger ice surfaces are commonly played on all over the world. Why not in the NHL?
More excitement to follow.
PT 6 - The NHL has a ‘small’ problem
“Hockey rinks in most of the world follow the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) specifications, which is 61 metres (200 ft) × 30 metres (98 ft) with a corner radius of 4.2 metres (14 ft).” (Ice hockey rink - Wikipedia)
I’m going to come to my main point quickly today. The NHL has a ‘small’ problem related to concussions and other injuries. And the problem is... its ice surface is too small for the size and speed of the modern player.
[Pat LaFontaine: “Early in the ’93 - ’94 season he suffered a serious knee injury that kept him off the ice for a year and a half.” Celebrating the Game, A. Podnieks]
The game of organized hockey was born on the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal in 1875. The ice rink was 204 ft. x 80 ft. It had an area of 16,320 sq. ft. for nine-man teams, each player being no more than 3 ft. 9 in. tall (so I’ve heard).
The game of modern-day NHL hockey is played on an ice surface 200 ft. x 85 ft. (regulation size) with an area of 17,000 sq. ft. (a small 4.2% increase in size from 1875) for six-man teams. However, the players have grown so big and fast over the years that more concussions and injuries will be the order of the day until the puck is dropped on larger ice surfaces.
I suggested earlier that playing with five-man teams would also reduce the risk of injury. Larger rinks, however, would be my primary solution.
[Pat LaFontaine: “A worse injury befell him though, on October 17,1996, another date he won’t soon forget.”]
Yesterday I wrote the following:
“Today, a defenseman is 4.6% taller and 16% heavier than those in the 1960s. The increase, I’m certain, would be far greater if we went even farther back in time, to the very days when the modern size of the rink surface was born.”
Surprisingly, I proved myself wrong when I compared the height and weight of the 1930 - 31 Boston Bruins to that of today’s team. The early Bruins were a tall bunch of boys and today’s defense is only 3.3% taller. However, they are 17.8% heavier. More beef between the buns of the modern burger has something to do with that, I suppose.
Because I had the complete roster in hand for both teams, I decided to look at the overall change in height and weight over the course of 80 years, bearing in mind that the Bruins played at The Boston Gardens in the ‘30s (191 x 83 ft., or 15, 853 sq. ft., one of the smaller NHL ice surfaces) and now play at the Fleet Center on NHL regulation size ice (7.24% bigger in area).
[Pat LaFontaine: “He took an elbow to the head and suffered a serious concussion, so serious that not only did he miss almost another year but the Sabres didn’t want him back for fear of contributing to a more serious injury.” Celebrating the Game, A. Podnieks]
The average height and weight of the entire Bruin team (excluding goalies) in 1930 - 31 was 5 ft. 10.6 in. and 172.6 lb. Today’s team stands at (on average, excl. goalies) 6 ft. 1 in. and weighs in at 202.5 lb.
The Fleet Center can certainly accommodate the 3.33% increase in height of players (sure, Zdeno Chara, at 6 ft. 9 in. and 255 lb. has been known to bump into the odd door frame), but, in my opinion, the current ice size cannot easily accommodate the 17.3% increase in their overall weight. (I’m certain other NHL teams have also seen the same increases in growth. What are they eating for supper these days?)
In addition, couple the obvious increase in player size with a clear increase in the speed of the game (shifts have decreased from 2 - 3 minutes to 30 - 45 seconds in length since the 1960s) and a perfect environment has been created to see an increase in aggression, violent contact, concussions and several other injuries.
[Pat Lafontaine: “He started fresh with the New York Rangers, in ’97 - ’98, but just when things looked like everything would be fine, they weren’t.”]
The international rink has an area of 19,600 sq. ft. (15.3% bigger than an NHL regulation pad) and I propose that the NHL adopt the international rink size, as soon as possible, or go one better and build rinks of 220 ft. x 100 ft., producing a playing surface of 22,000 sq. ft., because the way players are growing and shifts are shrinking, the NHL will require the added space by 2020 or 2030.
Players with brainpans take notice. Modern NHL rinks are too small. You’ll live longer on bigger ice!
[Pat LaFontaine: “LaFontaine played 67 games (w the Rangers) and scored 23 goals, but in the 67th game he suffered another concussion. This time he called it quits...]
In my opinion, if player safety is in fact a priority with players, coaches, general managers and the league commissioner, simple tinkering with the rule book or adding a five-point plan will not be enough.
Third Overtime: ‘The NHL has a ‘small’ problem’ is quite the series, eh!
I learned quite a bit about the heights and weights of NHL hockey players over the years while putting together this series of posts.
Not enough to say my brain is encyclopedic, mind. More like it feels as heavy as a pail of pucks.
For example, I learned the following:
Team: Boston Bruins
Position: Right Wing
Birthdate: Sep 13, 1902
Weight: 145 (in 1930 - 31)
Team: Boston Bruins
Birthdate: Mar. 18, 1977
Weight: 255 (in 2010 - 11)
I calculated the following:
Chara is 17.4% taller, 69% heavier than Darragh but plays on a rink only 7.24% bigger than the one Darragh played on in 1930.
I thought about the following:
Junior age players in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), e.g., The London Knights, are all smaller (on average) than their NHL counterparts but play on the same size ice, i.e., 200 x 85 ft. When an OHL player makes it to the bigs he steps onto the same size pad to oppose players who, in the main, are taller, much heavier and faster.
[“The Knights have Rob Drummond out with a concussion, Kevin Montgomery out with a leg injury and a variety of bumps and bruises.” Mar. 27, 2007, The London Free Press]
I concluded the following:
No wonder brainpans are getting rung every other day.
NHL ice is too small.