Tim Thomas, Sidney Crosby and the NHL's 10 Most Intriguing People of 2011
As 2011 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on the many people and moments that kept fans enthralled.
The year began with the game's biggest star sustaining a head injury that still threatens his career. Player safety became the NHL's biggest concern as a new sheriff was appointed to help clean up the game.
We saw a 37-year-old goaltender, once thought of as a career minor leaguer, steal the show on the games biggest stage. A Hart Trophy candidate emerged out of the Golden State, and sadly in the offseason, three players lost their lives.
It was a year that left players, management and fans asking questions about the game's future. All in all, it was an amazing ride.
Let's take a look at the people that contributed mightily to the year that was.
On New Year's Day, Sidney Crosby took his first of two head shots that ultimately ended his season. For the rest of 2011, the spotlight was on No. 87 and not for reasons we like.
After hanging up his skates halfway through the season, the hockey world was waiting and hoping for a safe return for Sidney Crosby.
Fans rejoiced when Crosby came back on November 21, with a four-point night in a win over the New York Islanders.
Biggest fears were then realized on December 5, when Crosby was sidelined again following a pedestrian collision with David Krejci of the Boston Bruins.
Nobody knows what is to become of Sidney Crosby's career or if he will ever be the same player again. It is a shame that all of this surfaced in 2011 and we did not get a chance to celebrate the many talents Crosby possesses.
A four-year letterman at the University of Vermont, Tim Thomas did not make his first NHL start until he was 28 years old. He has since become the best goalie in the NHL.
What Thomas did in the 2011 playoffs may never again be achieved. The stalwart led the Boston Bruins to three Game 7 victories during their Stanley Cup run.
Before Game 7 of the finals, Thomas had already locked up the Conn Smythe Trophy. He capped off his epic run by shutting out the Vancouver Canucks and the Cup headed back to Boston for the first time since 1972.
Though the Bruins were a complete team, it was Thomas that was the catalyst and provided one of the best story lines of the year.
When Brendan Shanahan was appointed to instill discipline, all eyes were on him. The former player was brought in to clean up the league and and emphasis was on stiffer punishment.
To Shanahan's credit, he wasted little time doling out suspensions and explaining his logic. His first penalty was dished out to the Philadelphia Flyers Jody Shelly, who received 10 games for a dirty hit during the preseason.
Though notice has been served and Shanahan has been busy, has his presence really changed anything? It's hard to think so.
Shanahan will continue to be busy until the NHL finds better methods to deal with safety issues.
With 50 goals and 98 points, Corey Perry won the "Rocket" Richard and Hart Trophies in 2011. Few could have predicted his rise to superstardom last season and few will believe he can ever have a season like that again.
Perry has always been a very talented hockey player. Prior to his 50-goal output in the 2010-11 season, his career high was 32. This seems to be a more reasonable pace for Perry this year, as he has 14 goals in 32 games for the "not so mighty" Ducks.
Perry will continue to be a productive hockey player, but in 2011, he had a year he'll never forget.
Mike 'Doc' Emrick
There may not be a better broadcaster in all of sports than "Doc" Emrick.
Emerick's NHL career began with New Jersey Devils in their first season, 1982-83, and he ultimately left the Devils on July 21, 2011.
He continues to be the voice of hockey on NBC, and takes control of the mic for the NHL's biggest games.
This past month, Emrick was the first broadcaster elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
A true professional with originality, the game is lucky to have a voice like "Doc."
Whether you love him or hate him, believe in him or not, wait for him to collapse or cringe at the thought, everybody pays attention to Roberto Luongo.
Luongo's play never came into question more than in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. He played well at home and got destroyed in Boston. He made a comment about Tim Thomas' playing style that Thomas took as an insult.
Did Luongo mean it that way? Of course not, but he is "Bobby Lou" and in the eyes of many; he cannot do anything right.
It is interesting the fascination with Roberto Luongo and what it is about him that keeps people wondering. The fact of the matter is, he is a good goaltender, but would you want him as your starter?
Either way, the curious case of Roberto Luongo is fuel for the hockey community.
On May 13, 2011 Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers passed away due to an accidental drug and alcohol overdose.
The hockey world was shocked at the news and what followed was even more concerning. Soon, hockey would also lose players Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.
Due to their lifestyles and roles as players, many questions have arisen about enforcers in the NHL.
Recently the New York Times has released a series of articles exploring the life of Derek Boogaard, and the brutal reality of life in the NHL as an enforcer.
In the year of player safety, Boogaard's untimely death instigated a closer look at fighting in hockey. We still do not know what Derek Boogaard's legacy will ultimately be, but the hockey community lost a good man in May.
Claude Giroux has always been an asset, but from October of 2011 to present, he has elevated his game to MVP status.
Giroux currently leads the NHL with 43 points. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, can be physical, has a pill of a shot and gets to the net with purpose.
You can make arguments for Phil Kessel or others, but right now Claude Giroux may be the most exciting player in hockey.
When the Washington Capitals were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, questions arose about the leadership of head coach, Bruce Boudreau.
When the Caps recorded a mere four wins in 13 contests in November, Boudreau was fired. It seemed like the right time and with the talent that he had in Washington, management had to do something.
In a shocking turn of events, the Anaheim Ducks appointed Boudreau as their head coach two days later.
This completed a very strange year for the 2008 Jack Adams winner.
It is absolutely remarkable how Nicklas Lidstrom has not missed a beat. In 2011, the ageless wonder won his seventh Norris Trophy shortly after turning 41 years young.
So far this season, Lidstrom has 22 points in 34 games and in plus-16. If this continues, and there is no reason it shouldn't, he will be in the mix again for some hardware.
Who knows if this is Lidstrom's final season? While the Wings have some good prospects in their system, it is hard to imagine replacing a player like this.