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Monday, 2 January 2012

Top 10 hockey stories 2011

Hey everyone, hope you all had a great Christmas and Santa brought you guys everything you asked for. So with 2012 right around the corner, it's time to take a look back at the top stories from the last 12 months around the NHL.

ah, 2011 was quite the year for the NHL; from concussions to coaching changes, Stanley cup excitement to tragedy, star players not performing to rookies dominating the NHL. No matter what team you cheer for, it's near impossible to have not been amazed, stunned or puzzled by the NHL this past year, so let's take a look at the top 10 stories from 2011. Now my top 10 might be a little different then most top 10's you see, to crack my top 10 it has to be an event that changed or impacted the NHL, either for the better or worse.

10. This story got more focus on it then it probably deserved, but at the same time hasn't gotten nearly enough recognition for what it meant for the NHL. The 2011 Winter Classic featured arguably the two biggest faces in the NHL, Crosby vs. Ovechkin. This was a huge marketing tool for the NHL having the two biggest names in hockey square off in one of the most watched games before the playoffs. The NHL even partnered with HBO to start a documentary 4 part series leading up to the big game. This could have been a huge game for the NHL, the key word being could. The weather left something to be desired, We saw Crosby the headline for the event injured which lead to his 10 month lay off, and frankly the game didn't live up to the hype, I for one was extremely disappointed with the game. But this 1 game, had a huge impact on the NHL both in positive and negative ways.

Positives; The match up of Crosby vs. Ovechkin, Capitals vs. Pens brought a huge crowd and audience for the game, the 2011 winter classic was the most watched NHL regular season game in the USA since 1975.  The NHL was able to set up the special TV documentary with HBO, which likely raked in a ton of money for the league.

Negatives; Arguable the best, most popular player in the NHL was injured and missed 10 months. The hit to Crosby lit the little fire over, concussion issues in the NHL, and was arguably responsible for the rule change on head hits. The weather was horrible, which caused the game to be delayed 7 hours! When the game did eventually start, the ice was horrible due to it raining instead of snowing, which lead to sloppy play and a pretty weak game. Crosby and Ovechkin the main attractions, didn't even score or register a point!

Even though the 2011 Winter Classic is often over looked, it had a huge foot print in the NHL, unfortunately for the league from a fan stand point the negatives out weighed the positives. Another factor from the game, was the scheduling, the winter classic has always been played on January 1st, but due to competition with the NFL, the NHL has moved the 2012 Winter Classic to January 2nd.

9. The Boston Bruins winning the Stanley cup. Sorry Bruins fans, this story isn't as big of some of the top notch stories, so it fits in at number 9. Just the fact that the Bruins won the cup ending their 39 year Stanley cup drought. But there are two things that really stood out for me, with the Bruins winning the cup; they endured 3, sets of 7 game series. That is incredible, the will, determination and skill needed to accomplish winning just 1, 7 game series, is so draining for the players, but the fact the Bruins were able to do it 3 times, says something about not only the skill, but the heart and character of this team. They became the first team in NHL history to win 3, game 7's. Not only did they fight back from a 2-0 deficit against the Canucks, they shutout the Canucks in Vancouver in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. That is un heard off, Shutting out Vancouver in Vancouver is no easy task. The Bruins relied heavily on the Vezina and Conn Smythe winning goaltender Tim Thomas, during their run to the cup. Thomas was the backbone of this team, and out duelled Canucks goaltender Roberto Loungo. But let's take a moment to discuss what happened in the Stanley Cup finals; The Bruins lost star forward and fan favourite Nathan Horton, after a hit to the head from Canucks Aaron Rome, this hit was the turning point of the series; they Canucks lost Rome for the rest of the series and the Bruins got pissed off, and started playing their type of physical hockey again. Besides the frightening scene of Horton convulsing on the ice and being taken off on a stretcher, was the suspension handed down to Aaron Rome. Rome was given a 4 game suspension, the longest suspension in NHL playoff history. The hit turned the whole series around for the Bruins who were down 2-0 in the series, they all rallied together and "won for Horton". Then after a Canucks win, Loungo went and opened his big mouth and started a war for words between the two netminders; Loungo critiqued Thomas for a goal he had allowed, "saying that it was an easy save for a goalie who stays in his crease" Then when Loungo realised his mistake, instead of shutting up and focusing on the game he took it a step further by complaining that Thomas hadn't given any return compliments to Loungo; “I’ve been pumping his tires ever since the series started. I haven’t heard any one nice thing he’s had to say about me, so that’s the way it is.” Thomas took it all in stride and even had some fun with the situation; "I guess I didn't realise it was my job to pump his tires," Thomas said with a grin. "I guess I have to apologise for that." But Sadly for Loungo, when the trash talking stopped, he was not able to stop what really mattered, the puck.
But through all the drama, injuries and suspensions, the Bruins prevailed to become the 2011 Stanley Cup champions. Can they repeat? Or better yet will we see a Canuck vs. Bruins rematch?

8. Number 8 on the list goes hand and hand with number 9, as it was a direct result of the Stanley Cup finals. Soon after the Canucks lost to the Bruins in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, the city of Vancouver went absolutely nuts. The infamous Vancouver riot, the sad thing about the whole riot situation was, half the people there weren't even upset by the outcome of the finals, many professional "trouble makers" came to Vancouver just in case their was a riot. Never the less, the city of Vancouver was absolutely destroyed, people who had just consumed higher amounts of beer than their IQ points, took to the street to burn/smash everything in sight. Cop cars were burned, stores were vandalised and broken into, people were injured and the city was a absolute mess. The Fine city of Vancouver was embarrassed by these riots and appalled at what so called "fans" were doing, thankfully a lot of the true fans turned up the next day to help clean up the ruckus. The cops should have been better prepared and aware of the situation considering, Canuck fans rioted when they lost in the 1994 Stanley cup finals. But it was still a shocking scene, that reminds us, sometimes Canadians can take hockey a little to seriously. But one of the most iconic pictures of the year did come from the riot; no not a picture of police cars on fire or smashed store fronts, rather a photo of a couple entangled in each other lieing in the middle of the riot making out. The results of the riot? 140 people injured, 4 people stabbed, 9 police officers injured and 101 people arrested not to mention the 4 million dollars worth of damage, theft and vandalism. On June 15th 2011 so many things went wrong for the city of Vancouver; Their team lost, the town let fans drink beer all day, the cops underestimated the power of the people and the people showed what happens when drunk people get really pissed off.

7. The much anticipated return of a hockey team to Winnipeg, no not the Phoenix Coyotes but instead the Atlanta Thrashers. It became official at the end of May, the Thrashers had been bought and were being moved north of the boarding marking the 7th Canadian NHL team. After months of speculation that the Coyotes would be heading back to their original hometown, the NHL changed direction and yanked the beloved Thrashers from Atlanta without any second thoughts. It was a extremely quick decision made by Gary Bettman, who was ultimately trying to buy more time for the Coyotes. But never the less, the city of Winnipeg was set a buzz with the news they were being given another chance to host  a NHL hockey team, the fans determined not to lose another NHL team, fled to buy tickets and meet all of Gary Bettman's demands. So there they had their hockey team back, but one thing remained; what would the Franchise be called, it really wasn't that hard to think of a name, and at the draft they announced the team would once again be called the Winnipeg Jets. The way the fans reacted you would have thought they gained their Independence day, fans took to the city and went crazy! thankfully they were much more civilised than the Canuck fans. The Atlanta Thrashers, er, I mean the Winnipeg Jets played their first game back in Winnipeg against the Montreal Canadians, a all Canadian battle. The game itself couldn't have gone much worse for the Jets, losing 4-1. But since their home opener the Jets have found their stride and are actually playing some decent hockey and are in the middle of the Playoff race, not bad for a team that is basically still the Thrashers, just with a different name and jerseys and home town. Around the NHL right now I don't think you could find a more excitable home crowd to play in front of, the rink is packed full night in and night out, with fans doing whatever it takes to keep their team this time around. So congrats to Winnipeg on getting the Thrashers er, I mean your Jets back!

6. There's a new sheriff in town, Colin Campbell stepped down after 13 years of being Bettman's wing man, NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety was his official title. After a season of controversy and criticism for Campbell he decided enough was enough and stepped aside, for long time NHL player Brendan Shanahan. Right from the start of the preseason there was a different sense of urgency with the NHL and their discipline; Shanahan decided to shake things up and send out snazzy videos following each hearing/suspension, explaining his ruling on the play. Although the videos are meant to provide clarity on the situations, there is anything but clarity in the NHL right now, everyone is confused including Shanahan. Hits that are perfectly legal are getting to much attention and hits that are illegal are going without punishment, Shanahan has been very inconstant with his suspensions. All in all Shanahan's hiring has been taken positively around the league, everyone seems happy to have a new eye watching the games and hits.

Buckle up and fasten your seat belts, the top 5 NHL stories from 2011 are right around the corner, 

5. Now anytime the police are called and have to open up an investigation on something, you know 

something big has happened. What does this have to do with hockey? Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara cross checked Habs player Max Pacioretty from behind into the stanchion between the benches, Habs fans were irate with the hit, and furious when they found out Chara would not be suspended. So what did the Habs fans do? They called the police! Seriously who calls the police after a hit in the NHL? Anyways Chara ended up not being charged, and Pacioretty eventually recovered from his concussion and broken vertebra, he even played in the playoffs. To be honest the incident got more publicity and attention than it should have, if the perfectly legal body check Chara layed on Pacioretty had happened in any other part of the ice, Pacioretty would be fine and the police would not have been called. It was more of a wrong place wrong time for Pacioretty. So why am I giving this story more attention, well it's not because of the hit, it's because of the innocent piece of glass that has had it in for many a player sent flying it's way, the stanchion. This hit prompted the NHL to change all the stanchion's in every hockey arena to prevent further situations like the Chara Paciorett one. Instead of being a straight piece of glass, the stanchions were curved into the shape of a J to help absorb the impact when players are hit into them. This one incident was able to immediately spark change in the NHL, something that is not easy to do. Even though it may not be in your immediate top 10 NHL plays, but it is an important event, because of the fact it had an impact on the game.

4. How about the Flyers off season? anyone see it coming? I know I didn't. Most GM's around the league, would be just fine making it to the Conference finals 2 years in a row, and having players like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards leading your team. Well apparently Flyers GM Paul Holmgren wasn't satisfied. 1 day, 2 trades and a completely different Flyers team is hitting the ice for 2011-2012; Holmgren was able to ship off Richards and Carter in separate deals, signed Ilya Bryzagalov to a massive 9 year 51 million dollar contract and then loured Jaromir Jagr away from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Wow talk about a intense off season makeover. The moving of Carter and Richards was mainly to free up cap space, and to change up the attitude in the dressing room. Not only did they dump "dead weight" the also picked up hot young prospects; Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The off season moves haven't affected the Flyers in a negative way, like many suspected, instead they Flyers are on fire! They are 4th in the eastern conference, have the leagues leading scorer and are playing in a Winter Classic match up in a couple of days. But can they do it all again next off season? It looks like they will be losing captain and long time veteran Chris Pronger. It would appear that the era for blockbuster trades in the NHL are still make able. So why is this on the list of top 10's? Because it changed the make up of an entire NHL team; You replace long time NHL proven veterans with young rookies, trying to make their way in the NHL and a goalie who is frankly over rated. But give Peter Holmgren credit, pulling off such big trades, at first I wasn't sure what he was smoking when he, traded Richards and Carter, but now I really like the deal. After a while things start to leak out, Carter and Richards were a problem in the dressing room and weren't playing their best night in and night out, and those players need to be moved before that attitude spreads. So kudos to Holmgren.

3. How about the news that, the NHL was going to change up the two divisions and split 30 teams into 4 conferences. Don't believe it? well start believing it, once it was official that the Jets were back in Winnipeg, there was no question that teams had to change conferences in able to keep costs, and travel time down. Considering the Jets are in the conference as Carolina and Florida, that's not going to work long time. There were a lot of opions and discussions about maintaining rivals and regional battles; what came out of all this discussion; drastic changes, 4 conferences and a whole new playoff format, that could ultimately make a east vs. east Stanley cup showdown. So here's how it all breaks down for playoffs; top 4 teams from each conference make the playoffs, then the 4 teams in those conferences will battle it out, to make the top 2 from each conference, then some how the teams will be re seeded and then playoff some how. I love the new realignment, I think it will be exciting and add new meaning to the battle of Ontario and other important rivalries. So I'm excited to see how this will all work out and possibly even see an Ovechkin vs. Crosby Stanley cup final, or Loungo vs. Toews cup final. This is a big story for sure as it's changing the entire make up of the NHL.  I believe the conferences consist of 2, 7 team conferenes and 2, 6 team conference.

Some of the negatives to this new system; 2 teams wont make the post season, teams may be out of the playoff race by Christmas, we will lose the battle of the West vs. East teams which kind of sucks.

Some positives; every team will get to play every other team in a home and home showdown. So Leafs will play the Oilers more often. The possible east vs. east Stanley cup showdown, More importance on the conference rivals, like Ottawa vs. Toronto as likely only 1 of them will make the playoffs.

I can not wait to see this new system implemented, could make for a more interesting league and match ups, as teams will play other teams in their conferences 7 times each, putting more importance on those games.

2. Summer of Tragedy; this was quite the off season for the NHL and not in a positive way, we saw 3 former enforces kick the can and an entire hockey team dead after a plane crash in Russia. First player we lost was Derek Boogard, who accidentally over dosed, before he went to sleep, and did not awake in the morning, Next was Rick Rypien was the second death that shocked the hockey world, Rypien took his own life after battling depression for several years, due to his many concussion after his career full of fighting. Then when the hockey world was still reeling and trying to figure out and recover from these two deaths, we lost yet another player to accidental death; Wade Belak former enforcer was found dead in his apartment. All three players were enforces for their respective teams; the life of an enforcer is a lonely life, beat the crap out of other guys, or get your butt kicked. All three suffered from depression. Many are trying to link their deaths due to their careers and concussions, but ultimately it is wrong to do sure. It was a horrifying sad summer after hearing of the deaths of these players, the brotherhood of hockey players, united to honour these fallen players. Not long after, a plane carrying a KHL hockey team crashed in Russia, whipping out the whole KHL team. The entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team was killed after the plane hit a tower upon take off, 43 of 45 people on board were killed including ever player, many who had played in the NHL and all team officials. An entire elite KHL hockey team was whipped from existence, families were devastated, it was an absolute nightmare. 2011 had to be the worst summer for hockey, if this wasn't the worst I don't know what was. Tragedy after tragedy, we lost too many players, but most importantly too many people who were lost before their time, it has to be a reminder to everyone that hockey is just a game and there is more to life than hockey.

1. This number 1 story is pretty easy to guess if you've read some of my previous blog.... Concussions.

Whether the league want's to admit it or not, there is a concussion epidemic right now.  It all started with the first Crosby head injury, and has come to the point where, almost every night someone has been concussed. Crosby missed a whopping 11 months with his first concussion, then after his return in November, he was then put on injured reserve after a handful of games. More and more attention has been given to the concussions, and more and more big names are going down with concussions; names like Crosby, Miller, Pronger, Richards, Giroux, Weber. This has sparked some massive debates over what if anything the NHL can and should be doing to protect the players. The concussion epidemic, has sparked many changes throughout the league. There are now 30 players sitting out with concussions. 2011 was suppossed to be Crosby's year to solidify imself as the best player to play the game, instead 2011 was the year of the concussions.

Anyways hope you all enjoyed all my list of 2011 stories that have impacted the NHL and maybe even changed the game we love forever! One thing is for sure, hockey fans ever where should be happy to see 2011 coming to an end. We are starting a new year, a fresh slate a chance to make everything good again. Sorry for making this blog so long guys!

Happy New Years everyone! hope 2012 is everything you want it to be and that 2011 was good to you!
see you guys in 2012!

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