When Gary Roberts recently announced his retirement, I began to wonder why there are no players like him any more.
Roberts was once the prototypical NHL winger. Rugged, he could knock you on the seat of your pants with either a demoralizing body check or a devastating punch. He played with his heart on his sleeve, yet he could still skate and actually play the game. Roberts would score 35 or more goals, despite spending a couple hundred minutes in the penalty box.
He was the prototypical North American hockey player.
In the 1990s Roberts had a lot of company, too. Cam Neely. Eric Lindros. Rick Tocchet. Kevin Dineen. Pat Verbeek. Owen Nolan. Gerard Gallant. Brendan Shanahan. Keith Tkachuk. Kevin Stevens. Even Chris Gratton and Adam Creighton scored 30 goals and 200 PIMs in a season, too.
How many times has someone scored that feat in this decade? Not even once.
Hockey has changed a lot in just 10 years. No longer is it the same grinding game where players like Roberts were the ultimate gladiators in an unforgiving physical game. Now the game is based much more on speed and skill. Not that is necessarily bad, but clean hits seem to be a disappearing species nowadays. If you don't believe me, ask Bobby Clarke, and even Bobby Orr.
With rare exceptions, long gone are the goal scoring warriors. Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, when healthy, are throw back players minus the high penalty minute totals. Milan Lucic looks ready to revive memories of Al Secord. David Backes has had rambunctious season this year.
Replacing physical warriors are super pests, now free to run rampant with no fear of getting pounded like back in the good ol' days.
Sean Avery. Steve Ott. Alex Burrows. Chris Neil. David Clarkson. They're all pretty good players, too. Their constant bickering is completely unsportsmanlike, but at least they a regular shift, on the special teams units and notch 20 goals.
Then there are the guys like Jordin Tootoo, Dan Carcillo, Jarkko Ruutu and Steve Downie, guys who probably could not survive in the NHL had the culture not grown to allow pests to be unaccountable. They are a detriment to the game, and it is rare that they answer the bell.
I'd love to see some of these pests play back in the days of Brian Sutter, Wendel Clark, Bob Probert and Clark Gillies. They would keep these nuisance players shaking in fear down in the minor leagues and score 30 goals, too.
Pests have always been a part of a hockey, but at least these dirty hockey players had to be very good players and accountable for their dirty actions. Dale Hunter, Ken Linsemen, Esa Tikkanen, Tiger Williams, Claude Lemieux, Theoren Fleury, and Bobby Clarke were all good and even great players as well as the best pests of all time.