Ever hear an announcer or analyst criticize a hockey player by saying that he is good but isn’t the greatest skater? Greatest skater?! There are quite a few things that you have to do well to be an NHL hockey player, but skating should definitely be right at the top. It's fair to say that there cannot be a league filled with Paul Coffey type skaters, but can it be that some guys make it based purely on other skills? Does scoring prowess supersede skating ability? Mark Stone sure thought it might, but where is he now? Oh right? No one knows. Bad example perhaps, but he is a recent one that comes to mind right away. The guy had a nose for the net and an uncanny knack for scoring big goals. His strides however, were full of choppiness and effort. No one wants to see that.
There are, of course, examples of players who have made a place for themselves in this league despite their lack of Coffey-esque effortlessness. Other skills that these men bring to the game are worth more than the ability to skate. Often seen in tough guys and fighters, poor skaters can be found all over the league, and surprisingly, not all of them are purely known for their ability to chuck the knuckles.
Each player that has ever played the game has a skating stride that is his and his alone, and almost none can be duplicated. However, if the game keeps going in the direction it is heading in, then who knows? At some point it just might end up being robots playing very predictable games, but that is for another time. The styles that will be examined in this list are not the most graceful a la Sidney Crosby, nor the most powerful like Taylor Hall and not the most effectively strange like Mark Recchi back in the day. They range from the almost falling on your face and wobbly to the hilarity of pumping the legs to get you no where to the downright odd but effective.
5 George Parros, $935,000
At less than one million dollars on the Montreal Canadiens salary cap, the Canadiens were not looking for someone who can fly down the right wing like Guy Lafleur used to do. He did however come with the same flowing hair plus a big moustache, his signature really. His hair does flow alright, however, unlike Lafleur, the only time Parros is not sporting the bucket is when he is doing what the Canadiens brought him in to do, Fight. Anyone looks awkward on skates when they are fighting, because it is a very difficult skill, but when he is not fighting and skating, is what puts this Violent Gentleman on this list. Parros has a bizarre, very upright skating stance. His choppy and short strides do not give him the speed he needs to keep up with the ever increasing speed of the game. He is a massive body at 6 foot 5 inches and it just seems that his legs cannot provide the dexterity needed to glide that Mario Lemieux sized body gracefully around the rink.
4 Bobby Ryan, $5.1 Million
Five million dollars is a lot to pay someone who isn't the best skater. Getting drafted number two overall after none other than Sidney Crosby is also high for someone who cannot skate. So what is it about Bobby Ryan? Oh yes, he has mad skill. Not enough intensity for some members of the USA Olympic team, but that's not the point here. He is a proven NHL goal scorer with a Stanley Cup to put on his resume, no less.
He does sometimes look awkward out there. His huge body and his awkward stance of standing straight up makes it quite a spectacle when you see him get that puck and not give it up. Simply his size helps him with that of course, as at 6’2” and 220 lbs, its tough to move him, but his insane ability to control the puck makes people forget that you are watching a lumbering giant just straddling the line between staying vertical and falling over… An exaggeration no doubt. There is no time that Ryan is not in control of his balance but perhaps his size makes it appear that he isn’t. Regardless, sick mitts and scoring ability will take you far when combined with incredible size and the game to back up that size. Bobby Ryan does not play a flashy, leave it all up to talent kind of game. He will run you into the boards if he can, he will dig and he will stand in front of the net. All these characteristics combined are what keep a not so great skater in the NHL. Just having a nose for the net is not enough to get by in this league anymore.
3 Douglas Murray, $1.5 Million
Oddly enough, you would think that one player on a team who didn’t know how to skate would be enough. The Canadiens however find themselves with two. Douglas Murray is a punishing defender who has carved himself a little niche in the fast paced NHL. His monstrous strides seem to take so much effort, but do not really get him where he needs to go and definitely not in the time he needs to get there. How does a player like that stay in this league with the greatest players in the world? Quite simply by clobbering people. As well as a few other things this behemoth does better than a lot of people, he will clear his goalies crease of anything that is in his goalies path. He will fearlessly block shots that are coming in at over 90 MPH! These are the types of credentials that are valued in a league where everyone should skate well. Crash enough bodies and block enough shots, and skating will take a back seat.
Teams need players whom opposing players do not want to play against. Murray can be one of those guys. Earning only $1.5 million this season, Murray may not glide around effortlessly, but is a player who is not scared to go into his corner and come out fighting.
2 Colton Orr, 925,000$
It does not seem to cost much to keep a fighter on the roster these days in the NHL. Less than a million dollars for what Colton Orr brings to the Leafs is actually a steal. He plays more minutes than Parros does for the Canadiens, due partly in thanks to having a coach like Randy Carlyle who loves the physical aspect of the game. His skill is no where near the skill of Bobby Ryan, but that does not stop him from playing close to 8-9 minutes a game. That is a lot for a fighter. His skating, like the skating of most gladiators on ice, leaves something to be desired. He seems to never be able to keep his center of gravity low enough to get the right balance needed for his 6’3” frame. Almost like a child when learning to skate, the pylon or chair he used to first stand up was way too high for him and he never learned to compensate.
He is a big man, but when on the ice he seems bigger because he is standing so erect, just jabbing at pucks instead of controlling them. Not to say he is being paid to control the puck but regardless, at some point in his career he must have had a puck on his stick for long periods of time. even if only during a practice. The fact remains, that Orr is a valuable member of his team. The tough guys are needed and they don’t have to be flying around like Pavel Bure to do their job properly and effectively. Orr managed to stick around in this game because he is a team guy who fights the fights that the other guys do not have to worry about, which is something that every player and coach loves to see. It is why fighting is not going away soon and it is why if you cannot skate, start working on your jabs, there may be a place in the NHL for you someday!
1 Jaromir Jagr, $2 Million
This list has had everything form fighters to goal scorers so why not a future Hall-of-Famer? Jaromir Jagr has 700 career goals, two Stanley Cups and a long list of accolades that goes on and on. The guy really has got the job done and continues to get it done in the NHL. His skating style, however, is not what anyone would call smooth or graceful. The most common thread among the players on this list is their size. Jagr is no exception, and perhaps there is something to that. Big men can’t skate? Not true of course, because there are many examples of big men with beautiful strides. Jagr’s however, is a mix of total effort with just enough dexterity to keep up with his hands that seem to be going a mile a minute. It is a funny sight to behold but how can anyone argue what he has done with it? It is impossible. He clearly knows what he is doing in this league and will continue to do it until his body is no longer able to keep up. That is admirable and no matter how funny it may look, coaches, fans and anyone watching cannot say a word because well…He’s Jaromir Jagr, he does what he wants.