“Used to” is the operative verb phrase.
How did things fall apart? It’s easy for me to blame the lockout, and that certainly had a hand in things—but the real reason is both simpler and more complicated:
Yes, I said hockey sucks. Shocking isn’t it? Especially from a 20-year fan of the Edmonton Oilers who's lived most of his life in Canada...but there it is.
The NHL powers-that-be staged the lockout to legislate the end of the offside trap.
They can claim it was about other things, but we all know the truth. The owners needed to break the Players Union to eliminate the offside trap—and they did just that.
And therein lies the deficiency of hockey as a sport.
European football, American football, and even baseball have adapted naturally to shifts in strategy by individual teams.
But when the New Jersey Devils became the kings of the offside trap, there was no adaptation—no discovery of how to overcome the über-boring Devils.
Teams threw themselves against the Devils’ wall and failed. Rather than adapting to win, other teams adapted to survive—and the NHL became a snore to watch, at least until the playoffs.
That doesn’t happen in other sports.
Consider soccer. When a team decides to bottle up the midfield against Manchester United with a 4-5-1 formation, the Red Devils shift to a long-ball game.
In American football, the very concept of special teams sprang from the sport’s ability to naturally adapt to game strategies and situations.
And what about baseball? Japan was able to win the World Baseball Classic by playing a fast, daring game perfectly suited to counteract the USA’s steroid monsters.
The NHL, on the other hand, legislates change.
And that, more than anything else, is why the current state of the game is so dire—and that, more than anything else, is why I never watch hockey anymore.
The game is incapable of natural advancement. Important tactical changes are a thing of the past. All hockey can be from this point forward is what it already is—a game of board room hacks, messing with past beauty to make a buck.