It's not the same as it used to be.
Building your team, that is.
I remember stories of NHL teams stacked with All-Star players going on to win more Stanley Cups rings than they had room for on their dressers at home. A time when the NHL was more simple, more competitive, and more skilled.
Now, don't get me wrong—the NHL today is very competitive and there are many skilled players out there. Yet, with 30 teams in the modern, "Bettman Age" NHL, the talent pool is larger than it has ever been—and players who don't make the cut are hard-pressed to find another place to lace them up.
Back in the days of the Original Six, all of the teams then were fairly competitive and there was always a good game on the ice. Every team had more than one player to build their team around.
In Detroit, there was Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio. In Chicago, there was Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Pierre Pilote. In Boston, there was Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Brad Park, and Gerry Cheevers. In Toronto, there was George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich, and Johnny Bower. In Montreal, there was Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, and Doug Harvey.
Players whose names became synonymous with the game played together—on the same team, for the most part, their entire careers. They immortalized the teams, not only in the hockey world, but also in the sports world in general.
Many cannot picture the Montreal Canadiens without invoking thoughts about "The Rocket," or think about the Boston Bruins without thinking about Bobby Orr flying through the air as he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
These players were the foundation for many NHL dynasties through those years. Arguably, the first true NHL dynasty was the Toronto Maple Leafs of the early 1940s, who won six Stanley Cups in ten years. Among those championships, the Leafs became the first NHL team to capture three consecutive Stanley Cups, from 1947-1949.
During the 1950s, there was an emergence of two NHL powerhouses—the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens. The Red Wings would win four Stanley Cups between 1950-1955. The Canadiens, on the other hand, began their long dynastic reign immediately afterward, capturing five consecutive Stanley Cups to complete the decade.
In the 1960s, the Leafs and Canadiens were the usual combatants for the Stanley Cup. Aside from the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup win in 1961, the two rivals would win the Cup every year from 1962 to 1969.
Despite expansion, the Canadiens continued to be a strong team. The dynasties of the Original Six era were long gone, yet some of the Original Six teams still flourished. The Boston Bruins, with Orr and Esposito won, Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972, while the Canadiens would win six Stanley Cups during the 1970s.
Another dynasty appeared in the 1970s, with the Philadelphia Flyers winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
With the emergence of the 1980s, the New York Islanders' successful franchise building of the 70s paid off, as a team laden with superstars such as Mike Bossy, Dennis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, and Billy Smith went on to Stanley Cup glory, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83. The Islanders became the only other team besides the Montreal Canadiens to win four consecutive Stanley Cups.
The Islanders' dynasty ended with the emergence of the Edmonton Oilers led by Wayne Gretky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, and Jari Kurri, the Oilers dominated the latter part of the decade with five Stanley Cup championships in seven years.
As we entered the 1990s, the last true NHL dynasties appeared fewer and far between. The Pittsburgh Penguins claimed back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, while the Detroit Red Wings captured back-to-back championships later on in the decade in 1997 and 1998. Since the Red Wings, no team has recorded consecutive championships.
From the end of the 1960s, the talent pool became more diluted. Only the teams that came prepared to the expansion draft could survive the stripping of their own rosters by expansion teams and be able to still get viable draft picks.
Through the constant expansion, relocation, amalgamations, and further expansion of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, some teams were able to keep dynasties together. Meanwhile, other franchises floundered in obscurity, waiting for a All-Star draft pick to help them become a viable NHL franchise on and off the ice.
In the "Bettman Age" NHL, it seems to be more about the money than tradition. Somehow, the fans—and especially, the players—seem to have lost sight of what the game really means.
NHL hockey has become more of a business and less of a pasttime. For some, the game has died a little bit since the salaries started to skyrocket. For others, the sheer fact that a team can't be together for more than three to five years makes cheering so much harder.
Yearing for a Stanley Cup is more frustrating.
The wait seems longer.
Franchises are pulled apart by owners who can't pay the big dollars, while players leave small markets due to a higher salary elsewhere.
It's happened all over the league, from the dismantling of the Oilers dynasty of the '80s, to the demise of the Penguins dynasty of the early '90s.
Fast-forward to today's top teams. It is still a struggle to keep key players in the same uniform. In Pittsburgh, power forward Ryan Malone was dealt to Tampa Bay because Pittsburgh needed to sign Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Brooks Orpik to large contracts.
No room for Malone and he's gone.
This offseason, more than any other in recent memory, have players changed addresses on such a frequent basis.
Campbell to Chicago.
Naslund to New York.
Hossa to Detroit.
Blake to San Jose.
Rolston to New Jersey.
Commodore to Columbus.
The list goes on.
In an age of perceived NHL prosperity, there seems to be a lot of disparity and loss of tradition among the teams.
Back to the Original Six? Too late, and it wouldn't work.
But it is something to chew on.
How much longer will it be until the next true NHL dynasty comes through?