I'm very puzzled about the constant talk from hockey fans about how the NHL was better before the recent rule changes than it is today. Did you really enjoy watching clutch and grab, dead puck era hockey more than a skilled, fast game of today?
I, for one, have been a huge hockey fan since childhood and religiously followed the NHL after coming over to the United States from Europe, but I dropped out of following the league because I couldn't deal with whatever it was the NHL players were playing in the dead puck era. Barely any shots on goal, very few scoring chances, lots of low-scoring games filled with drudgery, grinding out results. That wasn't hockey to me.
I find it really sad so many North American fans perceive hockey simply as a goon sport in which highly-skilled players are constantly harassed, hooked, pulled, and grabbed by marginal players who are barely good enough to be in the league. I love hitting and physical play, but I also enjoy hockey for the lightning quick, highly skillful, end-to-end, incredibly exciting game it becomes when it's played right.
To me, today's brand of NHL hockey is infinitely better and more exciting to watch. The skilled players are allowed to do what they do best and there is much more flow to the game, many more scoring chances, great plays, and lots of extremely talented and skillful young stars (Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Kane, Toews, Semin and many others). I'm back to being a die-hard fan of the NHL.
The hitting and fighting is still there. It has not disappeared as many North American hockey fans seem to suggest. In fact, fighting is up significantly this year from the last few according to hockeyfights.com. In 2005-06, the first year after the NHL lockout, 276 NHL players dropped the gloves throughout the season. This season, 575 of 1230 games in, 272 players have already picked up a fighting major.
I would also argue the lack of hooking and interference has resulted in many more hard checks. Hence so many injuries to defensemen all around the league, for example.
The skilled players of yesteryear agree with my opinion, as well. I've seen countless interviews with the best players of the dead puck era who said that they'd love to play in today's NHL and that the game is now much improved. The most recent example of such an opinion being Mike Gartner, whose jersey was recently retired by the Washington Capitals.
However, it seems most of the so called "die-hard" North American fans of the game prefer goonery to skill with incessant talk of the "good old days" when constant hooking, holding, slashing, and interference with players not in the possession of the puck went unpunished. The days when to get a penalty you had to come dangerously close to practically raping someone.
I find that to be very sad.