Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nothing Wrong With The NHL That Better Players Can't Solve, Lindsay Says

The question was direct, point blank, and appropriate for a man who never pulled punches -- on the ice or off.

"How many players that you coached," I asked Ted Lindsay, "could have made the Red Wings teams you played on in the 1950's?"

"None of them. Those were minor league players compared to the guys I played with," Lindsay said.

And what does the game need today that's missing?

"Better players," Terrible Ted said flatly.

I wasn't about to argue. Lindsay, 81, still looks like he could rough you up a little bit.

Former Red Wings Lindsay, Johnny Wilson, Shawn Burr and I sat down in the Alumni Room at Joe Louis Arena yesterday for the MCS Magazine Roundtable discussion, November issue. And we'd still be there talking hockey, past and present, if I didn't turn the microphones off and give our transcriber, Penny Sidick, a respite.

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that each of them agreed that the NHL seems to subscribe to the "If it ain't broke, FIX IT" mentality.

"Why can't they just let them play hockey?," Burr -- a Red Wing from 1985-95 -- wondered. "If I was commissioner, I'd send a survey out to all the fans, instead of All-Star ballots, asking them various questions about the game: Do you want fighting? Yes or No. Do you like the way the game is officiated? Yes or No."

"We had the greatest game in the world and we changed it. We change it all the time," Burr said.

"Why can't I just give you a little tug with my stick?," Lindsay said, demonstrating on my arm. "Guys today, they couldn't knock a fly off your arm, yet they get whistled for a penalty."

"Hockey is an aggressive, physical game," Wilson said. "Nowadays, players are thinking too much out there. You have videotape and assistant coaches and spotters and all these systems, and they can't just play. They can't hit. They can't fight."

"Terrible Ted"

Lindsay, as usual, put it all into perspective.

"All I know is, when I played hockey, if my team had the puck, I was on offense (oh-fence), and when we didn't, I was on defense," he said. "I still don't understand this Left Wing Lock, for example."

Lindsay coached the Red Wings in 1980, and Wilson from 1971-73. Both of them indicated that few of the players they coached could have been their teammates back in the day.

Johnny Wilson, the Original NHL Iron Man, played in 580 consecutive games

I reminded Wilson that I thought he got the shaft when he was fired in 1973, after the team had missed the playoffs by just two points. The GM who fired him was Ned Harkness.

"Darkness with Harkness," Wilson said.

That's another Roundtable entirely.

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