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Thrills in NHL turn extinct

Watching an NHL game is like attending an archaeological dig.

"Whoa. Look what I found!"

"What is it?"

"It's called a scoring chance. They were abundant during the Gretzoean Era but began disappearing after the Lemairean Eruption."

"Done in by a natural disaster, eh?" asks a Canadian in the tour group.

"Done in by the neutral zone trap, the left wing lock and an evolution in equipment that saw goaltenders grow to the size of woolly mammoths," says the scientist. "Notice how pristine this one is. It looks to be the remnants of a player flying down the wing and firing a slap shot from the face-off circle with nothing but a downsized goaltender separating the puck from the net."

A little girl listens, wide-eyed, enthralled. She kicks at the dirt of history and musters the courage to speak.

"You mean this is a direct scoring chance? Like, it didn't hit three bodies and six skates before making it to the net? He just shot it at the goal and "

Her elders chuckle.

"Used to happen all the time," says a man with a striking resemblance to Guy Lafleur. "The game back then was about the players and their talents. The NHL was exciting, entertaining, everything pro sports is supposed to be. There were no elaborate defensive systems. Very little clutching and grabbing."

The little girl's anger boils. "I wish that Lemairean guy was never born."

"Jacques Lemaire? Don't hang it all on him," says the scientist. "By nature coaches do what they feel is necessary to make their teams competitive and protect their jobs. If there's a system in place it creates the illusion of coaching although, it most cases, it's nothing more than tedious repression."

"It's boring," says the little girl.

"Boring? Boring! Do you realize the NHL plays to 99 percent capacity," shouts a man who could pass for Gary Bettman. "The league gives its customers exactly what they want."

"Yo, dude," says a man in a New York Jets jersey. "League's so good how come you need a GPS to find it on TV? TV's where the money is and who wants to touch that game? I mean, you could replace the NHL Network with a test pattern and ain't nobody know the difference."

"Why . . . I . . ."

The scientist nods in agreement. "The NHL has been remarkably Neanderthal in its thinking. Baseball lowered the pitcher's mound and moved in the outfield fences to bring more offense to the sport. In football, rules were changed to promote the passing game because fans found passing more exciting than three yards and a cloud of dust. And basketball added a three-point shot and put in place defensive restrictions so the sport's stars could flourish and -- here's that word again -- entertain."

A woman pushes ahead from the back of the group. "I hear you. I'm a Sabres season ticket-holder and . . ."

"I'm sorry."

"My sympathies."

"Thank you," says the woman. "But it's not just the Sabres. The Wild have a winning record and they've scored no more than two goals in 24 of their games. Same with the Kings. No more than two goals 26 times. How do their fans stand it? Who cares if they win? If I want tedium I'll watch Fisher-Spassky replays. Or listen to Florence The Machine. No wonder Drew Stafford gets more enjoyment out of playing guitar."

"OMG OMG OMG," screams the little girl. "Is this ?!?!?"

The scientist brushes away a layer of dust.

"Take a good, long look everybody. "Who knows when we'll see another."

He chokes up, recovers.

"We've found a clean goal."