Top 10 NHL Stories from 2012
The NHL lockout has delivered a vicious beating to the sport of hockey.
At the moment, there is at least a glimmer of hope that the two sides will be able to work out an agreement before the 2012-13 season is lost entirely.
A shortened season is painful for most hockey fans, but it is far better than waiting for the puck to drop in 2013-14.
The lockout is clearly the biggest story of the year in the NHL, but it is not the only story.
Here's a look at the top 10 stories for 2012.
10. St. Louis Blues Emerge
The St. Louis Blues got off to a rocky start in 2011-12.
They were 6-7-0 under head coach Davis Payne after missing the playoffs for two consecutive years.
The Blues were not about to go quietly into the abyss. Payne was fired and replaced by Ken Hitchcock.
Philosophically, Hitchcock did not espouse a lot of new ideas. He wanted his team to emphasize defense and discipline, much like Payne wanted from his team.
The only difference was that the players responded fully to Hitchcock. The Blues played consistent hockey the rest of the season, went 49-22-11 for the year and finished with 109 points.
That was good for second place in the Western Conference.
The Blues turnaround could pay dividends for years to come in St. Louis.
9. Canadiens' Collapse
The Montreal Canadiens are the New York Yankees of the National Hockey League.
When it comes to winning Stanley Cup championships, the Canadiens are the league's gold standard. However, the Canadiens have not won a championship since 1993. They have regularly been a playoff team, but it all fell apart for them in 2011-12. The Canadiens finished in 15th place in the Eastern Conference.
That dead-last finish forced offseason changes in Montreal. The Canadiens hired Marc Bergevin as the team's new general manager and Michel Therrien as the team's new head coach.
Once the lockout ends, the new-look Canadiens will attempt to re-establish themselves as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
8. Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes had the most successful season during their run in the desert in 2011-12.
The Coyotes recorded 97 points during the regular season, and they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Coyotes had never won a postseason series in their history, but they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators in their first two rounds.
They lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals, but they played before sellout crowds and seemed to win the loyalty of their fans.
Then came a tumultuous offseason in which new ownership and support by the city of Glendale, Ariz. were at issue.
Nothing is finalized in those areas as the lockout lingers on.
7. Thomas Snubs Obama
Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Finals MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league.
Early in 2012, the Bruins were invited to the White House to celebrate their title with president Barack Obama.
Thomas used the occasion to protest Obama's policies. He did not show up as the president met with the rest of the team.
The incident embarrassed the Bruins and the NHL.
It may have also been indicative of a schism between Thomas and the rest of his teammates.
After the Bruins' season ended, Thomas said he was taking the 2012-13 season off from hockey.
6. Stamkos Scores 60
Steven Stamkos is on his way to a stellar career.
The 22-year-old has scored 179 goals in the first four years of his career, and he could become one of the league's greatest goal scorers if he can stay healthy throughout the next to 10 to 15 years.
Stamkos hit the 60-goal mark in 2011-12. He is one of the game's greatest superstars, and the league will depend on him to raise its profile once the lockout comes to an end.
5. Canucks' Playoff Misery
The Vancouver Canucks have arguably been the best regular season team in hockey over the last three seasons.
The franchise has never won the Stanley Cup, but they have overwhelming talent and have been one of the NHL's favorites to bring home a championship in recent years.
However, they have faced nothing but heartbreak in the playoffs.
They lost a first-round series to the Los Angeles Kings last year, even though they were the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The defeat marked the third straight season the Canucks lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winners in the postseason. They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.
4. Crosby Returns
Sidney Crosby is almost certainly the best player in the NHL.
He missed the half the 2010-11 season and the majority of the 2011-12 season with concussion-related issues after taking major head shots in consecutive games in early 2011.
After one aborted comeback early in the 2011-12 season, Crosby was forced to the sidelines again.
However, when he returned late in the year, he played 14 regular season games and two playoff series.
He appears to strong and in full health once again.
3. Nicklas Lidstrom Retires
He decided to call it a career after the Red Wings lost their first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators.
Lidstrom is arguably the second-best defenseman in hockey history behind Bobby Orr. Lidstrom was a dominant player who will be an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Lidstrom is a seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's best defenseman, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Finals MVP in 2001-02.
Lidstrom was a key member of four Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Red Wings.
2. Kings Win Stanley Cup
The Los Angeles Kings wrote one of the most unique stories in NHL history when they won their first Stanley Cup in their history last season.
The Kings had an uneven regular season, and they did not secure their spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs until the final week of the season.
They finished as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
The Kings and head coach Darryl Sutter did not let their unimpressive status deter them. They dominated the Vancouver Canucks by beating them in five games in the first round.
The Kings followed with victories over the St. Louis Blues and the Phoenix Coyotes to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils.
They jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Devils before they lost the next two games. Just when the Devils were starting to feel like they were back in the series, the Kings closed them out with a resounding 6-1 triumph in the sixth game to win the championship.
They lifted the Stanley Cup in front of their adoring home fans and became the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup.
1. NHL Lockout Threatens Season
Labor problems have once again become the dominant NHL story.
Commissioner Gary Bettman locked players out of training camp in September, and the lockout continues through late December.
The lockout threatens to wipe out the 2012-13 season.
If if does, it will be the second season lost to labor difficulties in Bettman's tenure. The 2004-05 season was canceled when the NHL and the NHL Players' Association could not come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The 1994-95 season was reduced to 48 games by a lockout.
The league has increased revenues significantly since the 2004-05 lockout (source: NHL.com), but the two sides have not been able to solve their differences.