As we approach the end of 2011, it is time to reflect on the past 12 months. Everyone is doing it. You’ve probably read a thousand “best of 2011” lists.
So here is one more.
A lot of big, great, sad and important things have occurred in the hockey world during 2011. A great deal of these things will go on to shape the sport for years to come.
This list includes the biggest moments in hockey in 2011. It is not necessarily a list of great things that happened, but rather, things that were impactful.
So here’s to an interesting 2011 and an even better 2012.
What do you think the most important events in 2011 were?
The 2011 Winter Classic featured the league’s two most marketable players facing off in what should have been a glorious show case of the game. What was supposed to be Sidney Crosby versus Alexander Ovechkin turned into a weather mess.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate, and the game had to be delayed due to warm temperatures. With those warm temperatures, we got rain instead of snow and soft ice, which caused a lot of bouncing pucks and sloppy play.
We also saw superstar Crosby get whacked in the head, which triggered his growing concussion concerns. Crosby played a few games after that, but has struggled to get back on the ice since and now has many people questioning his ability to ever be what he was.
There also was a proliferation of outdoor games. Montreal and Calgary played in the Heritage Classic, there were college outdoor games and even one in the Western Hockey League between Spokane and Kootney.
When is too much enough?
At the end of May, it was officially announced that True North Entertainment had purchased the struggling Atlanta Thrashers and would be moving them to Winnipeg. This sent fans in hockey-starved Winnipeg to the streets in droves to celebrate.
After that announcement, there was much discussion and debate about what the franchise would be named. Finally, on draft day, it was announced that they would be the Jets.
The Winnipeg Jets were reborn and took the ice in front of a pumped up MTS Centre crowd in October. They lost that night to the Canadiens, but since have been playing well, and there may not be a better home crowd in hockey.
The return of the Jets got fans in Quebec and Hartford excited about the possible return of their long-lost franchises.
The Boston Bruins ended a long Cup drought with an incredible playoff run that saw them outlast three seven-game series.
After dropping the two opening finals games in Vancouver, the Bruins got physical and managed to dominate the Canucks at home. Despite that, they still found themselves down three games to two before storming back and winning the final games and the Cup.
Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe and turned in one of the greatest goalie performances in the finals. For the most part, he was unbeatable. His only losses were by scores of 1-0, 2-1 and 1-0.
The Finals saw a lot of physical play, biting and back-and-forth quotes, and in the end, the Bruins were victorious.
The image of Thomas holding up the cup should warm the hearts of Bruins fans for generations.
What happens when you feed hyped up, mostly young, hockey fans booze all day long and then have their team lose? Things burn.
Enough bad eggs amongst the huge crowds that swarmed around Rogers Arena for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals decided to go crazy after the game and smashed and burned everything they could.
The riots were embarrassing to the fine city of Vancouver and not indicative of the great fans there. The next day, hundreds of fans returned to help clean up the mess, and the police have finally begun to make arrests.
The riots did bring us one of the most iconic pictures of the year, with the couple embracing on the ground as the riot swirled around them.
Hopefully whichever city hosts the Finals this season will learn that allowing thousands of people to get drunk all day is asking for trouble.
As the league’s free agency period began, Dallas’ Brad Richards became the most sought after player. Finally, he was landed by the Rangers. New York shelled out 58 million clams to land the star player.
So far, that move is looking good for the Rangers, as they are off to a great start.
Other teams made splashes as well, such as the Washington Capitals bringing in Tomas Vokoun to solidify their goaltending. Sadly for them, they have had much bigger problems.
There were other, more questionable moves, as some of the teams that were under the cap needed to sign players to get to the cap floor. It will remain to be seen if these contracts end up further strapping these teams. We’re looking in your direction, Florida.
As the NHL’s television contracts were set to expire, there was a great deal of scrutiny as to what was going to happen with the NHL’s television presence.
There was talk that the league might go back to ESPN, even though that network has pretty much ignored the league for the past decade. Some thought that going back would be better for hockey’s exposure despite the lack of coverage in the past.
The end result was that the NHL struck a huge deal with NBC Sports. NBC bought out Versus and will be launching a new 24-hour sports network in January with the NHL as its main product.
This should get the NHL some great dedicated coverage with more games and more shows talking about the sport.
NBC will also be airing a nationally-televised game the day after Thanksgiving featuring some of the league’s most popular teams. This year, it featured Detroit and Boston in an Original 6 match up.
The network has some work to do, as NBC Today talking head Matt Lauer referred to Boston as the “Boston Brewers” while promoting the Thanksgiving game.
Probably the biggest, and saddest, hockey story this year was the terrible losses the hockey world suffered this summer.
Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak were all lost to either suicide or drugs, which sparked great discussion about the role of the enforcer in hockey and what impact it has on guys in those roles.
As if that wasn’t sad enough, in September, a private jet carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team from the KHL crashed while taking off, killing 43 people. This included almost all of the players, several of which had played in the NHL, along with team officials.
The hockey world was stunned by these tragedies, and these players' impacts on fans' lives will never be forgotten.
Brendan Shanahan took over as the league’s discipline czar. He started handing out suspensions in the preseason, along with slick explanation videos.
While the videos were meant to give the league’s followers clear explanations, they have also led to some controversy. Many people were outraged that Boston’s Milan Lucic wasn’t suspended for blasting Ryan Miller, while other player-goalie incidents did result in suspensions.
Shanahan’s consistency has been questioned.
We also have now seen every questionable hit result in people wondering whether the “Shanahammer” or “Shanaban” is coming.
This extra attention to hits is something the league is doing to try and cut down on the number of head injuries. So far, though, it doesn’t seem to be having that effect.
Beginning with Crosby’s injury, it seemed that concussions in the NHL have become an epidemic. Are there suddenly more head injuries, or are the league, teams and media just now paying more attention to it?
This year, it seems that every night, someone is out with a concussion. There have been some notable players who have missed time. Guys like Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, Ryan Miller and Shea Weber have all missed time due to concussions.
This has sparked some fierce debate over whether or not the league is doing enough to protect players, or even what they can do.
So far, nothing seems to be working, as we are still dealing with the issue.
With Atlanta moving to Winnipeg, the league needed to look at realignment. After all, they were in a division with Florida and Carolina, and that wouldn’t work in the long term.
There was a lot of back and forth from franchises who wanted to maintain regional games and long-standing rivalries.
What we got was some pretty drastic changes and an entirely new playoff format.
Starting next year, the NHL will feature four conferences and the top four teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs. The playoffs will consist of conference rivals to start with before being re-seeded.
This brings about the possibility of interesting finals matchups. It is entirely possible you could see Boston and Philadelphia in the finals, or Chicago and Vancouver.
There have been mixed reviews of this so far, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.