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Gretzky: Stars were rarely targeted back in the day

Apr 19, 2012, 2:42 PM EDT

Over 30 years after it happened, there’s a reason people still talk about the time Wayne Gretzky got laid out by Bill McCreary.

You didn’t do this to the Great One.

Whether through fear of Dave Semenko or Kevin McLelland punching your lights out or simply respect, the NHL’s best players didn’t have a bull’s eye on them like they seem to do today.

Just ask Gretzky, who spoke to 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia about the on-ice violence that’s become the major storyline of the playoffs.

“They talk about the Flyers back in the ‘70s – guys like Bobby Kelly, Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz — but you never really saw those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil Esposito,” said Gretzky, as per

“It was just sort of honest, hard, rough-nosed hockey, and it’s changed — there’s no question — the players are bigger and faster and stronger today than they were when we played, and obviously there’s a lot at stake playing for a Stanley Cup, and emotions are definitely really high and subsequently you’re going to have issues.”

From Henrik Sedin to Marian Hossa to Claude Giroux to Henrik Zetterberg to Daniel Alfredsson to Mike Smith, the league’s stars have been on the receiving end of violent acts, both legal and illegal, this postseason.

And that’s just during the playoffs. Victims during the regular season included Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Miller, Kris Letang and Gabriel Landeskog. And those were just the ones that resulted in suspensions.

Not surprisingly, calls for the instigator penalty to be repealed have grown louder as more stars have been placed on the injured list.

In November, Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe said too much responsibility is being heaped on referees to protect players.

“I like the game a little better in our era, mostly because the players policed the game,” he told Hockey Night in Canada. “I think there’s so much onus put on the officials right now … I don’t mind the fighting in the game, I know they’re trying to take a lot of it out.

“The game in the old days got rid of the pretenders and the guys who do the whacking and the hacking, guys that are chirping back. That stuff got eliminated years ago. If somebody was taking a shot at your best player, somebody got rid of that right away.

“The reason I think there’s a lot more injuries now? Guys are bigger, stronger, better fit overall. But you can just take runs at people left and right and they’re coming at full speed. And in the old days, you eliminated that from the game.”

Well, not entirely.

  1. hairpie - Apr 19, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    Hairpie has been saying this for 3 years!!!! How many times did Yzerman and Gretzky get run at with Probert and Semenko and McSorley on the benches??? None!

    • kitshky - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:19 PM

      …did you really just get 6 thumbs up for talking in the 3rd person?

      • hairpie - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:23 PM

        Try it!!

      • kitshky - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:24 PM

        Ha ..ok I gotta thumb that one up.

      • hairpie - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:26 PM

        Hairpie will be watching. He wants to see some 3rd person out of you! :)

  2. baritone49 - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    That’s why I’m against the suspension of Duncan Keith. He was just standing up for himself after D. Sedin VICIOUSLY elbowed Keith’s head to the glass.

    • baritone49 - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:02 PM

      Where’s D. Sedin’s suspension? Oh, I guess the concussion will just have to do since the refs and the NHL didn’t penalize him for delivering the first dirty hit.

    • comeonnowguys - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      Sarcasm, trolling or serious? I can’t tell.

      • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:26 AM

        Obviously you didn’t see the much more vicious hit Sedin gave Keith. The word “instigator” is telling. Sedin INSTIGATED this exchange. As the word instigator means somebody who started something. Hockey uses the word BACKWARDS. The instigator rule is applied against the RETALIATOR, right? In this case, Keith. He was the retaliator. Sedin was the instigator. I guess the NHL has its head on backwards.

    • salmon90 - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      I can’t tell either. The word ‘viciously’ really threw me off. Also love how Duncan Keith ‘standing up for himself’ means cheapshotting with an elbow – what a stand up dude. He’s admitted to making a mistake – stop defending him.

      And I can’t believe fans would accuse him of lying since Duncan Keith vowed to Shanny that his actions had no retaliatory nature.

      • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:30 AM

        See response above and more importantly see the vicious hit Sedin gave Keith to INSTIGATE a situation that Keith retaliated for a few minutes later.
        If you don’t know what you’re talking about, then quit trash-talking Keith for settling a dirty score with Daniel.

      • comeonnowguys - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:33 AM

        He’s got to be trolling against Blackhawk fans.

        Sure, I still think at the time he should have been penalized and sat for 1 game (but if that same hit happened in these frigging playoffs there wouldn’t be even a back burner for it).

        But not even the biggest Chicago meatball would say Sedin’s was more vicious.

    • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM

      Here’s the video to those of you who are ignorant of the situation D. Sedin started and for which he paid, per official decision, not by penalty nor suspension, but by concussion.

  3. wingz101 - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Interestingly enough, Gretzy also had a teammate, Messier his name was, who regularly ran people over and into the boards. He did not respect anyone! There was another guy out there … Esa Tikkanen. He did not respect anyone. The Oilers also traded for Kenny Linseman, the “Rat” as he was known in those days. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but essentially Gretzky and Messier’s Oilers scored a lot and won a lot because they played fast, they played nasty and they did not get pushed around at all. They took care of their own business.

    In today’s NHL, teams play nasty, but hide behind referees and the instigator. Tough guys really don’t protect anyone, they just seem to fight on cue with each other. Teams play fast but many of them really don’t produce many goals or offense. Many teams make the playoff because they are good in the shoot out.

    The players may be better physically but I don’t think the game is better.

  4. zabala81 - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Wasn’t gretzky crossed checked badly in the Canada cup? Didnt McSorely try to injure Doug Gilmour?

  5. heyzeus143 - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    ummm….Adam Graves anybody? ’92 playoffs

  6. nobandwagoners - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    Removing the instigator isn’t the only option. Another option would simply be to let Shanahan throw the book at players with long suspensions for dirty stuff. That will get the attention of players who start seeing them sit for 5-10+ games for relatively “minor” stuff (and losing the corresponding proportion of salary). Attitudes will change. It’s a question whether the league wants to continue to (a) allow fighting or not, and (b) to really get serious about removing the dirty stuff. Is there any political will to do so? Among the league or its owners? That’s the real crux, IMO.

    Look, Shanahan started off the season doling out some hefty suspensions – some thought too severe given what the previous regime had done. And, in particular, the GMs didn’t like that so they leaned on him (or the league) and told Shanahan to tone it down. Now these same GMs are mightly po’d when one of their players gets taken out. Well, you can’t have it both ways.

    • themohel - Apr 19, 2012 at 5:40 PM

      I’m not sure about this, but I don’t think there is any salary to lose with a playoff suspension. If not, they should multiply the playoff suspension by 3 and add that to the start of the next year. You have to go over the top to change of culture; if you don’t, you don’t really want the change. The NFL has gone big against the Saints – I’m guessing that will be the last organized bounty in the history of the league. Does the NHL REALLY want to change the culture of headshots?

    • HawaiiHockey - Apr 19, 2012 at 6:35 PM

      I think this is a great point.

      The only problem with this is that targeting star players is not illegal. So how would you suspend someone for doing something legal.

      The issues with Shanahan are separate from this, I think. In my opinion, there is no reason to bring Torres back into the game. Period. Doing so is risking another player’s career. When will he be permanently banned? When his illegal moves paralyze someone?

      • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:41 AM

        EXACTLY! It’s just a matter of time until Torres is banned permanently!

        WHY NOT NOW?

  7. sippindasyzurp - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    I am on the fence with this insigator rule… On one hand I think you should be able to take care of a guy who lays out a cheap shot on another player… But what is driving me bananas is when there is a clean body check and someone always still has to fight someone.. Why should the player who makes the clean hit have to “pay the price”? Everyone wants hitting in the game but when a guy gets blown up on a clean hit he always has to defend himself, what’s up with that?

    In the NFL when the star quarterback or wide receiver gets blown up and injured you just keep playing because that’s just part of the risks of the sport…

    If this is the case why doesn’t the NHL just go to no contact and we can see a game of shinny or rec hockey every night…

    • michiganhockey11 - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:24 PM

      I agree. Too many times, we see guys go after those who lay a clean hit. Maybe teams need to be freaking educated on what a legal hit is. You see a guy get rocked, and then 3-4 guys come running over to get justice.

      Learn the rules. Brutal hits can be legal.

      • bloggersarenotjournalists - Apr 19, 2012 at 6:11 PM

        I don’t care if it’s legal or not, hit my star player hard and the response should always be the same.

        Get ready to fight, multiple times until we’re satisfied.

        Leave my Captain or talent laid out on the ice….legal or not, someone should be coming.
        So ya, sure, go ahead, hitting our star players is legal, but it comes with consequences.
        This is the message that used to be sent and needs to be sent again, and getting rid of the instigator helps achieve it.

    • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      The instigator rule is dumb on its face. Its name is BASS ACKWARDS. The instigator starts a fight. The rule applies to Retaliators (like Keith) not Instigators (like D. Sedin)

  8. feva4theflava - Apr 19, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    I totally agree with gretzky. Let the players police the game

    • lostpuppysyndrome - Apr 19, 2012 at 10:59 PM

      This is why spankings work much better than trying to “reason” with your 4 year old, which is what many of these players essentially are. I know it would be a much bigger deterrent for me to know I’d have a giant target on my back and my keester would get destroyed if I took out any team’s top player, instead of what basically amounts to a time-out.

  9. bloggersarenotjournalists - Apr 19, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    “The game in the old days got rid of the pretenders and the guys who do the whacking and the hacking, guys that are chirping back. That stuff got eliminated years ago. If somebody was taking a shot at your best player, somebody got rid of that right away.”

    Said it before I’ll say it again. Yzerman got to play for years untouched and do his thing. Probert and Kocur let it be known that ANY type of stick-work or check that made Yzerman hit the ice would have the same response. A bee-line to you with gloves off and the intent to remove teeth.

    Futhermore these guys like Nilan, Kordic, Grimson and many others did not take runs at star players. They didn’t touch yours and god help you if you touched theirs.

    And somewhere along the way some idiots got it in their collective heads to try to remove fighting from hockey and create an instigator make me wanna puke rule.
    And it sucks

    • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      Look what happened to the Hawks this year. They had the best record in the NHL. Toews and Hossa were forcing their will on the puck and Stallberg was flying around people. Then teams whack at Toews’ wrists and then his head (including an unsolicited, unpenalized right cross from Joe Thornton of San Jose). Next thing you know, he’s out like Sydney Crosby. Ryane Clowe went bezerk on Hossa for no reason at the end of a game last year – TOTALLY UNPENALIZED. Now the Turdball Torres sends Hossa to the hospital. And what happens? The ONLY penalty on the ice goes against the wrong team!!!! Bollig for trying to set the POS straight.

      John Scott should have been sending Clowe and Thornton and Torres and anybody else that touched those guys to the hospital, since the refs and the NHL couldn’t seem to get it done.

  10. sgtr0c - Apr 19, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    I kinda remember, back in the later 1970’s, by the third period of games, the ice was pink. Maybe from “policing themselves”. Still the players are bigger and faster, trying to make a name for themselves($$$$). There needs to be some balance, and that is a very fine line in this day and age.

    If you were like me then, black and white tv, you would not see pink ice unless you went to a game, lol

  11. bloggersarenotjournalists - Apr 19, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    In case there is any doubt in how well hockey players can police themselves just look at how well they police the public

    • baritone49 - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:52 AM

      Wow, an NBA player would never play again if he did that.

  12. thehighcountrybear - Apr 19, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    To put this into a historical perspective as it relates to the notion of an enforcer and fighting in the game of hockey: the enforcer was a product of Toe Blake’s Canadien’s need to protect smaller skill players like Dicky Duff and Ralph Backstrom from the ravages of bigger meaner teams in the late fifties and early sixties. Les Canadiens were the first to employ therefore, a designated enforcer in Lou Fontinato, a bruiser whose only real fall from grace was being one punch KOd by Gordie Howe, a fight I saw on television. Other teams followed suit and it was game on! Still, other teams countered by attacking star players with pests who simply tracked and harassed the star at every turn and in so doing, diminished the star’s effectiveness. Bryan ‘Bugsy or Super Pest’ Watson absolutely wore Bobby Hull out in two or three series with Detroit when Hull was otherwise unstoppable [ you have to laugh when people blather-on about big shots in today’s game: both Bobby and Dennis Hull had slap-shots that could maim and kill with both being clocked at over 126 MPH on conventional radar, and this with lumber versus carbon fibre ]! So, notions that enforcers or fighting are historic and traditional parts of hockey are simply ill-informed as both only became prevalent in the game from the late fifties onward with the evolution of both roughly parallel with the advent of national TV coverage of NHL hockey in Canada [ bigger audience, bigger show, more theatrics ]! Sorry, fighting and goonery are not part of the game of hockey as it was meant to be played as proponents of both would like to have you believe, they’re the product of television and the electronic media age, end of…

  13. ray2013 - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:07 AM

    I’m from Canada. I have played and watched hockey a long time. Listening to Gretzky on this makes me think of two things:

    1) the “chicken wing” elbow – If you ever played, you know how unlikely that you will ever accidentally be in a position where you hit someone elbow first the way Keith did on Sedin. It is the easiest thing in the world to say, any hits using the elbow to the face like D. Keith is an automatic 10-game suspension.

    2) I love what Gretzky did for the game, but you can’t talk about the 1970s without mentioning the pivotal hockey series of that generation: the 1972 Summit Series, Canada vs. the Soviet Union. When Canada was getting the butts handed to them, how did Canada respond? Bobby Clarke two-handed Kharlamov, the Soviets’ best player, across the ankle and broke it. There’s been nothing I’ve seen since the McSorley cheapshot that even compares to that level of dirty play.

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