Thomas Vanek believes the NHL was a much rougher league earlier in his career.
"The last four-to-five years, besides (Zdeno) Chara, the league isn't that tough anymore. I think we can all agree on that," Vanek said on "The Instigators" podcast recently. "I think early on when we all played together and you got the (Chris) Prongers, the (Derian) Hatchers, that was tough.
"Standing in front of the net, there was no penalties back then. The ref would say, 'Hey, loosen up Pronger' and Pronger would look at the ref and was like 'Don't ever talk to me again.'"
The 36-year-old skipped out on the 2019-20 season, but he hasn't officially retired yet. A veteran of over 1,000 NHL games, Vanek began his career in 2005 and last played during the 2018-19 campaign.
Known for his goal-scoring abilities and net-front presence, Vanek has spent plenty of time battling in the crease. After playing throughout the last two decades, Vanek says he's seen a shift in how defensemen approach the game.
"I don't know if it was really dirty (in the past), that's the way it was - if you go in front of the net, you're taking a punishment," Vanek said. "Now the game has changed. You've got a lot of smaller defensemen who are more mobile. They cross-check a little bit, but those guys are nonexistent really anymore."
The Austrian native has amassed 373 goals and 416 assists over 1,029 career games. He's also been given his fair share of penalties, totaling 547 penalty minutes.