Preamble: I'm sitting in Pearson Airport right now waiting to fly home for Easter, so I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring. I don't actually prefer "hard" hockey or "soft" hockey. Maybe it's my years of reffing speaking but I'm pretty unbiased; I just want to watch "good" hockey. That said, I also have a pretty significant background in science, biology and anthropology, so sit back, relax, and let me dazzle you with my analysis of the evolution of hockey.
I've just finished reading through the other entries for the Soft Hockey Competition, and while my esteemed competitors all raise valid points, I believe that "soft" hockey, as it's so often known represents not merely the "best" nor the "worst" style of hockey. For me there is no question, soft hockey is the future, the next evolutionary step in the fastest sport on ice.
First, let's start with a quick run through of commonly accepted principals of evolution. According to evolution, selective pressures drive change, those who adapt survive. Those who don't, fade away into extinction. Survival of the fittest. Although hockey may not represent a battle for survival of a species, the same principles apply. Selective pressures drive the evolution of the game and have moulded it into the game we all love today. Over the course of this FanPost, I intend to explain how hockey is truly evolving, and how that evolution will favour fast, skilled, intelligent players (soft players) over the proverbial dinosaurs who rely on sheer size, bulk, and predatory instincts to survive.
I believe that some of the selective pressures that will force hockey to eventually favour the soft players over the dinosaurs are: securing a greater share of the professional sports market (and secondary to that pressure from the league and broadcasting agencies); pressure from a medical standpoint to reduce traumatic injuries; and the rapid advance of the skill level of youth hockey players who will soon challenge for their own NHL careers. I hope that my reasoning behind these selective pressures will convince you (read: Adnan) that soft hockey is the best, most evolutionarily viable type of hockey.
Hockey has always been somewhat of a niche sport in the North American professional sports scene. Regardless, the league, and NHL franchise owners work tirelessly to make their game more marketable and to attract a greater share of the viewership and fandom. In addition to traditional marketing strategies, in recent memory there have been multiple rule changes to the game. From the removal of the red line, to the smaller size regulations for goalie equipment, and the good in principle, average in execution removal of the clutch and grab style, there have been several key changes to the rules of the game and not coincidentally they all favour the soft player. As Yahong eloquently expressed, many of us watch hockey for the goals, and soft players are directly involved, if not responsible for a great proportion of goals that are scored. The rule changes I have mentioned were intended to increase the number of goals in hockey today, but they inherently favour the soft player.
Traumatic injuries, especially concussions have only recently come to the forefront of the medical and hockey communities. These injuries are causing not only games lost for players and teams, but present long-term, life altering affects on the sufferers. The current pressure from fans, medical professionals, and high-profile names to curb these injuries will only continue to rise until the league is forced to make changes in an effort to prevent such injuries. It is beyond me to speculate as to what changes the league will eventually make, but I will suggest that once again, these changes will favour soft players. Soft players, being the types to attempt to gain the attacking zone through puck possession rather than a dump and chase game; or to make a defensive play with an expertly timed stick check rather than a bone rattling hit will need to make very few changes to their game in order to conform to whatever sanctions are imposed. Many hard players will have significantly larger changes to their game in order to continue to play. For many this will greatly reduce their effectiveness in the game. For many more this will render them completely obsolete.
The final selective pressure that I will present, that will eventually lead to the ascension of soft hockey players will likely some day be soft hockey players themselves. For fans like Balnagowan and metalfoot, it's the Wayne Gretzkys that shaped their youth and their love of hockey. For today's children, the Erik Karlssons and the Pavel Datsyuks provide that same structure and set of ideals. Additionally, in today's technology saturated world, the most mind-bending, physics defying feats of puck control, speed, and skill are available as quickly as one can click a link. No 12-year old hopes to one day take Colton Orr's job, or to chuck mitts with George Parros. The goals of today's grass-roots hockey players are to dangle like Patrick Kane or dominate an entire team like Jason Spezza against Winnipeg. Combine those desires with the ability to watch, re-watch, and practice the exact moves they saw and liked the most, and you have a generation of hockey players who by the age of 12 can routinely perform Robbie Schremp's shootout lacrosse moves. These kids surely agree with me that soft hockey is the way of the future.
In conclusion, I hope that I have convinced you (now I'm speaking to all of you, even you soft hockey-haters) that soft hockey, whether you love it or hate it, is not only the best hope for survival and flourishing of the sport, but also the logical next step in the evolution of the game. On that note, I hope you're all enjoying the Sens-Rangers game right now, I've got a plane to catch.
GO SENS GO