25 Current NHL Players Who Would Have Struggled Playing in the Past

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor INovember 30, 2012

25 Current NHL Players Who Would Have Struggled Playing in the Past

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    The culture and style of the NHL is always changing. We've had the "Dead Puck" era in the late 1990s and 2000s after the wide open, high scoring '80s and the brawling '70s.

    This article analyzes current NHL players who would have had struggles playing in past eras. That is not to say they would not eventually be successful, but that a part of their game that makes them so successful now may not have been as successful in a particular era in the past.

    Feel free to disagree or to add some players that you feel would have struggled in a particular past era. As always, back up your argument with some facts, discussing these lists is always part of the fun.

Andy Sutton

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    Andy Sutton has been a successful NHL defenseman for more than a decade now.

    His big size (6'6", 245 lbs) was a big advantage, especially during the "Dead Puck" era when obstruction was a big part of the NHL game.

    Sutton would have definitely struggled in a more wide-open era like the 1980s where defense wasn't as physical or positional and fire wagon hockey was the dominant style of play.

Colton Orr

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    Forward Colton Orr saw his role reduced and eventually eliminated in the "new NHL" and he even spent most of last season in the AHL.

    Orr can do one thing well enough to stay in the NHL: fight. He has only 11 goals and 20 points in 379 career NHL games. That's a good month for a star player, not a career.

    A guy like Orr would have excelled in the mid-to-late '70s when the "Broad Street Bullies" were terrorizing the NHL. But in the days of the Original Six, when there were only 120 jobs available in the league, there was simply no room in the league for a guy who could only contribute to his team by dropping his gloves and fighting.

    There are fewer and fewer players who meet that description in today's NHL and Orr will have trouble keeping his job once the lockout ends.

Marc-Andre Bergeron

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    Tampa Bay's Marc-Andre Bergeron has played in the NHL for almost a decade, mostly on the strength of his booming slap shot and ability to contribute on the power play.

    Despite his obvious talent, Bergeron has been a journeyman in the NHL, playing for six different teams already

    Unfortunately, Bergeron does not play very well in his own zone. In fact, he is such a defensive liability that it is unlikely Bergeron would have been able to play in the NHL during the days of the Original Six or at best, would have been up and down from the minors and have received only limited ice time, mostly on the power play.

Nail Yakupov

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    Nail Yakupov was the first overall pick in this year's NHL Draft. If the lockout is settled and there is a 2012-13 season, there is little doubt Yakupov would be playing for the Oilers this year at the age of 19.

    This would not have taken place before the late 1970s when the WHA started using younger players. Prior to that, players were in their 20s before they were drafted and usually did not play in the NHL until they were 20 or 21.

    Yakupov almost certainly has the skills to play in the NHL now, as did many players in the 1960s and '70s, but because of the rules back then, Yakupov wouldn't even have a chance to be drafted or to suit up for an NHL team for another few years until he was considered "old enough."

J.S. Giguere

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    J.S. Giguere was one of the better goalies in the NHL in the early 2000s and by no means do I wish to take his fine performance away from him including the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy.

    But Giguere is one of many NHL goalies who became more effective in the late '90s and early 2000s when netminders started wearing huge padding and began to resemble the Michelin Man.

    I wonder how some modern goalies would fare if they had to wear similar padding to netminders from the '80s and earlier which didn't make them look so big and protect them so well.

    Again, I'm not saying Giguere wouldn't have been a good goalie without the big padding, but it's a question worth asking about him and a number of other goalies who played over the past 10-15 years.

Arron Asham

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    Arron Asham does not have a lot of offensive ability, but his ability to check, fight and play defense has kept him in the NHL for almost a dozen years.

    But how would a player like Asham have fared in the wide open '80s, when defenses were far less organized and speedy players were able to make end-to-end rushes up and down the ice.

    It is questionable that Asham would have been able to keep pace with players like Paul Coffey, Kent Nilsson or Mario Lemiuex in their primes and that he would have had a hard time keeping an NHL job in that era.

Erik Karlsson

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    Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy last season as the NHL's top defenseman.

    Some critics, including many readers here on Bleacher Report, complained that Karlsson didn't deserve the award because he doesn't really play defense very well.

    That lack of defense would certainly have hampered Karlsson's career prospects back in the day of the Original Six.

    Sure, a player of Karlsson's immense offensive abilities would have probably made an NHL roster, but he would have been a power play specialist and seen very limited ice time until he learned to play a more well-rounded game.

    This was not unusual back then. Even a future Hall of Famer like Yvan Cournoyer started his career as a power play specialist in the 1960s before finally earning more ice time later in his career.

Rick DiPietro

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    When he's been healthy, New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro has played at a fairly high level.

    DiPietro was selected to the All-Star Game in 2008 but injured himself there and has rarely been healthy since.

    A pattern of injury like DP's would have meant he would never have lasted in the days of the Original Six. Back then, most NHL teams did not carry backup goalies. Another goalie would have almost certainly taken over for DiPietro and if he did well, that change would have likely been permanent.

    Of course, nobody had 15-year, multimillion dollar contracts back then either, but that's another issue for another article.

P.K. Subban

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    Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban is talented enough to have played in any era. The question surrounding Subban is his attitude, not his ability.

    Back in the days of the Original Six, Subban's immature attitude would not have been tolerated by his teammates, let alone by opposing players. He would have been a target for opposing players and his teammates may not have come to his defense all that quickly in order to teach him a lesson and change his attitude.

    Subban is only 23 and he may very well show more maturity as he gets older and gains experience, but as of right now, his attitude would have been a big problem for him if he played years ago.

J.F. Jacques

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    Winger J.F. Jacques is now under contract with the Florida Panthers but his his skating, hands and hockey sense are not strong enough for him to be a full-time NHL player in most eras.

    Jacques may have done better in the late '70s or the '90s when teams often had a designated enforcer who could play three or four minutes per game and drop the gloves to defend a teammate.

    In most other eras, Jacques would have struggled, especially in the wide open '80s or Original Six era when players needed to be more well rounded to keep a roster spot.

Wade Redden

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    Wade Redden is stuck in the AHL due mostly to his low production and high cap number.

    In the days of the Original Six, a player like Redden would have difficulty getting back to the NHL once that happened because of the fierce competition for a small number of jobs.

    Redden also had alleged off-ice issues while with the Senators and there were rumors of excessive partying. Redden denied these rumors, but they would have been more damaging in the past when teams did not have as much money invested in player salaries.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic

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    Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic's biggest problem is a lack of physical play.

    A player like Vlasic would face a huge challenge trying to play in the '70s against the "Big Bad Bruins" and the "Broad Street Bullies."

    At 6'1", 190 pounds, Vlasic isn't tiny by NHL standards, he just doesn't use his body to play physical hockey. Forty years ago, teams would have intimidated a player like Vlasic until he showed he could take a pounding and still be effective. It would have been tougher for him to play in the NHL back then than it is right now.

George Parros

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    While George Parros is one of the better fighters in the NHL and may have the league's best mustache, he is the type of player who would struggle in other eras.

    Parros lacks the overall skills to compete in the Original Six days. Enforcers back then were more like John Ferguson, a guy who was one of the most feared fighters in hockey but could also put the puck in the net with regularity.

    In the '80s, Parros may have had trouble keeping up with the more wide open style of play and quicker pace of play.

Nathan Gerbe

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    Gerbe's big issue is his size. The Oxford, Mich. native is listed at 5'5" and 173 pounds.

    In a more physical decade like the '70s, where all players had to be ready to drop the gloves at a moment's notice and bench clearing brawls were more common, a player with Gerbe's size would face more challenges than he does in today's NHL.

    Gerbe may also have struggled more in the "Dead Puck Era" when obstruction through the neutral zone was common and smaller forwards had trouble finding room to roam.

Evgeni Malkin

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    OK, there's a catch to this one. Just like Nail Yakupov wouldn't be eligible to play in the NHL at his age if he were playing 30 years ago, Malkin would have had a huge obstacle as well: he would not have been able to escape from behind the Iron Curtain to play in the NHL.

    Until the fall of Communism in the early 1990s, players born in Eastern European countries had to defect to either the United States or Canada if they wanted to play in the NHL. Peter Stastny and his brothers Marian and Anton pulled off this risky move in 1980 but it was rare and difficult.

    Had Malkin and other Russian-born players been playing while the Soviet Union still existed, they would likely be playing for the Red Army and would not have been able to compete in the NHL.

    There's little about Malkin's game that would have been a problem for him in the past, but the world political situation may have prevented him from playing in the greatest league in the world.

Tim Thomas

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    Tim Thomas' abilities are not in question but the controversy he has courted off the ice may have caused him trouble if he played 20 or more years ago.

    Hockey players were rarely political back then and to refuse a non-political team function held at the White House would have been considered a slap in the face to his team, his teammates and to the office of the president.

    Of course, there were no invitations to the White House for Stanley Cup winners back then, but Thomas' decision to put himself before the team would not have played well with ownership, teammates or the league office back in the day.

Brad Staubitz

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    Staubitz, who has now signed with the Anaheim Ducks, is one of those one-dimensional fighters who brings little else to the table at the NHL level.

    In the days of the Original Six, players needed to have more than just fighting skills to keep an NHL job. Those who could only fight would be riding a bus in the Eastern League or one of the other lower level minor leagues.

Ray Emery

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    Ray Emery would have faced a few extra obstacles if he were playing in the Original Six days.

    First, while with Ottawa, Emery developed a bit of a reputation as a party guy with rumors of possible drug use. When there were only six jobs for goaltenders in the league, Emery may not have gotten many more chances after he partied his way out of the NHL.

    Emery returned to the NHL after a stint in Russia and then faced a second obstacle: a serious and career threatening hip injury. Again, in the Original Six days, Emery could have easily been buried in the minor leagues after missing so much time due to surgery.

    If any goalie took command of the position, Emery could have become a career AHL or IHL goalie. It happened to some very good goalies in the 1950s and '60s.

Patrick Marleau

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    Sharks forward Patrick Marleau has his share of critics. While Marleau has six NHL seasons with 30 or more goals scored, many people feel he is capable of playing at a much higher level.

    Count former teammate Jeremy Roenick among those who say Marleau doesn't play a physical enough game and put forth enough effort. In his book, Roenick explained his feelings about Marleau:

    "He needed to play with more of an edge. He needed to show some bigger balls when the game was on the line."

    Refusing to play a physical style and without enough "balls" would have been very costly to Marleau in the '50s, '60s and '70s when every player had to defend themselves and the game was much more physical. It is likely he would have struggled more in those eras than he does today.

Sean Avery

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    Sean Avery's approach to the game made him few friends on the ice and his personality and attitude off the ice probably helped speed up his exit from the game.

    Avery's infamous "sloppy seconds" quote caused him to be suspended by the league back in 2008.

    His tendency to instigate confrontations on the ice but his refusal to follow through and fight when challenged also caused opposing players not to respect him.

    Those kinds of tactics would have been even less popular in the era of bench clearing brawls, the "Big Bad Bruins" and "Broad Street Bullies."

    Avery would have struggled back then to earn the respect of hockey players in a tougher, more physical era.

Scott Gomez

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    It would have been tough for a player like Scott Gomez to stick in the NHL back in the days of the Original Six.

    His sudden and severe drop in production would have almost certainly resulted in a demotion to the minor leagues with only a few opportunities to get his job back. There were only 120 jobs for players back then and the competition for jobs was fierce.

    Gomez is now 32 and it is very possible that he would have spent the rest of his career in the minor leagues if he were playing in the Original Six era.

Sergei Kostitsyn

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    Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn has a maturity/attitude issue that may have been a bigger issue for him if he played in earlier eras.

    The native of Belarus was quoted as saying he hoped the lockout would last the entire season and that he couldn't get used to life in America.

    Earlier in his career, when the Canadiens tried to demote him to the AHL, he refused to go and demanded a trade.

    His attitude and immaturity could have easily cost him a job back in the day and made him rather unpopular with his teammates.

Steve MacIntyre

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    Defenseman Steve MacIntyre is big and he can throw punches but he lacks skills in other areas to make him a full-time NHL player. As a result, he has had difficulty establishing himself as a full-time NHL player.

    MacIntyre may have found a job in the mid-70s going up against guys like Dave Schultz and Willi Plett but he would have struggled in the '80s because he couldn't skate well enough to keep pace with the game and his lack of other skills would have kept him in the minors during the days of the Original Six.

Alex Ovechkin

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    Alex Ovechkin is talented enough to have played in any era but his attitude and lifestyle off the ice may have caused him problems in an earlier era.

    Olie Kolzig, an assistant coach with the Capitals, criticized Ovechkin for living a "rock star lifestyle" and said that this explained why his production was dropping.

    Ovechkin has also been highly critical of the NHL during the lockout and has indicated he may stay in the KHL all season and almost seemed pleased with the prospect.

    While much of this may be just talk, the fact that many are questioning Ovechkin's attitude toward the game and fame is not in dispute. Such an attitude may have caused him to struggle even more back in the days of the Original Six.

Sidney Crosby

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    The biggest issue Sidney Crosby would have faced if he played in the '60s or earlier would be that he would have had to actively drop the gloves and defend himself.

    All players in the NHL were tested back then, especially rookies and veteran opponents would have challenged Crosby to fight until he proved he belonged in the NHL, not just skill-wise but physically as well.

    Back then, superstars fought and played the body. Bobby Orr dropped the gloves fairly often, as did Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard. Eddie Shore was certainly no stranger to the physical end of the game.

    Crosby's lack of a physical game (despite his fight with Matt Niskanen) would have cost him in the old days when the game simply had a tougher and more physical culture.

    Could Crosby have made adjustments and been successful? Probably. But he would certainly have to play a different style of hockey that was less attuned to his strengths than he does today.