SUN Hockey Pool

Apples and oranges

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

Although hockey has changed dramatically over the years, debating which era produced the best hockey players is a non-starter.

As Wayne Gretzky himself has long said, medical, nutritional, coaching and technological advancements have made today's player far superior to any of those before him.

That said, the truly special players would have been able to play in any era. And would have played much longer, too. Just ask Steve Yzerman or Chris Chelios.

"Bobby Orr was great on one leg -- imagine how much better he could have been on two with today's medical advan-ces," said Flames doctor Jim Thorne. "The surgeries and the training guys do to prevent injuries have made a big difference."

Racking up eight Norris Trophies in his first nine years before chronic knee problems essentially ended his reign as the game's best, Orr suffered a fate similar to that of Mike Bossy whose injury woes ended nine straight 50-goal seasons. While staying healthy is part of the game, it's much easier now.

"The helmets are better, there's new glass and springy boards, the nets coming off have extended careers, the ice is better and so is the equipment including the sticks and goalie gear," said Thorne, pointing out players also eat better and are more dedicated.

Teams also charter planes, as opposed to flying commercial as they did until the early '90s.

"I remember Mario (Lemieux0 having a middle seat on his way to a playoff game and his back was so bad -- we used to ask for a free upgrade so he could stretch out but he didn't want to show up his teammates," said TSN analyst Pierre McGuire.


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