Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center seems like it was many years ago, but believe it or not the game actually did happen earlier this year. A long break because of the offseason and a 100-day lockout might make most forget that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup back in June.
Yes, half of the year might have been devoid of hockey, but that doesn't mean there still wasn't a year's worth of memories/stories, even if they weren't all good. Yes, 2012 still had its moments.
So go grab your eggnog -- virgin or not is up to you, depending on your frustration level with the NHL at this point -- and look back at 2012 before turning your head to 2013 with the top stories of the year in hockey.
|Maybe the hockey photo of the year came with the thrilling finish in Philly. (Getty Images)|
10. Winter Classic a classic, fans make it ugly
This year's Winter Classic headed to Philadelphia and the home of the Phillies for a classic matchup between the Flyers and the Rangers. As far as Winter Classics go, it might have been the best actual game, at least since the first one between the Sabres and Penguins that went into overtime. The game even had a snow flurry.
The game started slowly, but the action picked up in the second half of the game as the Rangers took a one-goal lead. Ryan Callahan was sent to the box and, on the ensuing penalty kill, the Rangers were whistled for covering the puck in the crease -- a call that John Tortorella clearly didn't agree with. Regardless, the result was a penalty shot in the closing seconds. But Henrik Lundqvist turned aside Danny Briere's attempt, and the Rangers won the Classic.
It was later that night that things turned ugly when a Rangers fan and former U.S. Marine was attacked by some unruly Flyers fans outside Geno's Steaks in Philly. The response from the hockey community, including the teams, was good to see, but it was still an ugly ending to an otherwise great day of hockey.
|Shane Doan mulled it over and eventually decided to stay in Arizona. (Getty Images)|
The saga of the Coyotes in the desert has been an ongoing story for years now, but it added another layer this summer when team captain and career-long Jets/Coyotes forward Shane Doan hit free agency. His decision was all of a sudden lumped into the prospects of the team staying in Arizona.
While the city of Glendale worked on trying to reach a deal with possible new owner Greg Jamison -- who was identified by the league as the targeted buyer -- Doan was left to twist in the wind. He made it clear that he wanted to stay with the Coyotes if he could, but he wanted to know the team wouldn't be moving to, say, Quebec. He obviously got the answer that he was looking for eventually -- or decided he couldn't wait anymore -- and re-signed in Phoenix for four seasons.
Eventually, after a lot of posturing with Glendale and the opponents of any proposed Coyotes lease, the city approved a lease for the arena that appeared to clear the way for Jamison to buy the club and put an end to the three-year saga. Considering it hasn't happened yet, though, it looks like it will bleed into another year before anything becomes concrete.
Oh, yeah. There was also the matter of the Coyotes having their most successful season ever. They won the Pacific Division and reached the Western Conference finals, the first time since moving to Arizona they had even won a playoff series.
|Tim Thomas returned to D.C. for the playoffs and heard (and saw) it from Caps fans. (Getty Images)|
8. Tim Thomas goes off, goes away
When the Boston Bruins visited the White House, it was supposed to be a feel-good day where their brief meeting with the president and photo op was the story of the day. That was until people started to realize there was one prominent player from the Bruins missing; Tim Thomas. Questions about his absence were flying until he released a statement on Facebook explaining his decision:
Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
This was the start of the politically aware Thomas (at least in the public's eyes) and something that caused a huge stir and distraction for the Bruins. Thomas opined later on such things as the Chick-fil-A/same-sex marriage stir, further upsetting some fans while gaining new ones in other quarters. Thomas' status as a lightning rod was complete.
The saga for the year came to a close when Thomas announced he was going to take a sabbatical for a year and his exit from Boston seemed like it was soon to be a foregone conclusion.
7. Steven Stamkos hits 60-goal mark
Many thought the days of 60-goal scorers in the NHL were gone. Only one player had reached that plateau since 1996 (Alex Ovechkin in 2008), and it seemed that the game was headed in a direction where 60 goals was going to be but a dream.
Then the 22-year-old Stamkos came along and gave it a chase. The Tampa Bay Lightning weren't in the playoff race, but Stamkos kept things interesting with his chase for 60, a milestone that he reached in Game 82 in Winnipeg. It was enough to keep Stamkos' name in the Hart conversation despite the fact that the Lightning were not a factor in terms of the playoffs.
The scary part is that Stamkos is just 22. There's a lot more where that came from, surely. Equally scary? Of those 60 goals, 48 came at even strength. Just imagine if Stamkos can find the success on the power play that he had a few years ago, when he scored 24 with the man advantage.
|Nicklas Lidstrom said goodbye to the Wings with his family in May. (US Presswire)|
6. Nicklas Lidstrom hangs 'em up
For years, we had heard the talk about Lidstrom retiring. And for years, he had come back to the Red Wings and played at a Norris Trophy level. He was still near the top of his game, so nobody thought we wouldn't have Lidstrom back for another season.
That was until May 31, when he announced his retirement after the Red Wings' season concluded with a first-round loss to the Predators. With that, one of the game's all-time great defensemen was done with his NHL career, gone to the record books. The career-long Red Wing finished with four Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe Trophy, seven Norris Trophies and 11 All-Star Game appearances.
When the time comes in a couple of years, there is no doubt that Lidstrom will be a first-ballot entry to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He finished with 1,142 points in 1,564 games -- may we remind you he was a defenseman? -- and, on top of it all, he was one of the nicest and most well-respected players the game has seen.
Detroit will undoubtedly miss Lidstrom, both off the ice and on it, where he was still a force.
|Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were happy to don their new sweaters. (US Presswire)|
5. Wild go wild in free-agency frenzy
Minnesota wasn't the only team to sign a player (or players) to a massive contract in free agency, but the Wild certainly stole the show when they inked Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million deals on July 4. They were undoubtedly the biggest two fish, and they popped up in the same ice hole in Minnesota.
The rumors had flown for weeks on where the two might end up, but it wasn't until just before they signed that it appeared they would be a tandem signing with the Wild. Many thought Parise was headed to Pittsburgh and Suter was going to Detroit, only for both of them to surprise. It was a franchise-changing moment for the Wild, who needed a spark and some pizazz.
The free-agency period also saw big deals handed out to Jason Garrison by the Canucks, Matt Carle by the Lightning, P.A. Parenteau courtesy of the Avalanche, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney by the Stars and Alexander Semin by the Hurricanes. It was typical of every free-agency period; big contracts were given to players that might prove to be mistakes.
Some also say it kicked off the CBA showdown that was to come as teams like the Wild immediately seemed intent on not paying those players the full value of the contracts that they just signed.
4. Devils take out Rangers in ECF
It was a matchup that harkened memories back to 1994, when the Rangers took down the Devils in Game 7 after Mark Messier's guarantee. It was the East's No. 1 seed in the Rangers against the very under-the-radar Devils.
Yes, New Jersey finished with 102 points last season but ended up fourth in its own division. They landed the sixth seed in the playoffs and drew the team that everybody wanted to face -- the Florida Panthers. Only Florida gave them a fight; the Devils needed an OT win in Game 6 and a double OT win in Game 7 to advance. After that, they breezed right on by the Flyers to face the Rangers. It wasn't until Game 6 at home, only 1:03 into overtime, that Adam Henrique ended the Rangers' season and sent the Devils back to the Final only a year after missing out on the playoffs entirely.
It might have been Martin Brodeur's last deep playoff run considering his age and the fact that the Devils lost a player like Parise over the summer. Even with the loss in the Final, it was still a fun stroll down memory lane.
3. Brendan Shanahan rulings/Raffi Torres hit
This was a conversation that started in 2011, when the season began and Brendan Shanahan brought the NHL's discipline to a whole new level of both scrutiny and openness -- for any sport. His videos broke down the play and explained exactly why the player was being punished. It didn't stop the debates over whether it was a bad hit in the first place, but they were very helpful.
And they seemed to be working. By the time 2012 came around, it felt like the videos were coming less often -- whether that was players cleaning it up or pressure from above. That was until the playoffs started when the punishment came back in full force, no example greater than the massive suspension laid on Raffi Torres for his hit on Marian Hossa in the opening round of the playoffs.
Torres had been in Shanahan's doghouse a few times already. So when he delivered a punishing and undoubtedly bad hit on Hossa that resulted in Hossa having to leave the ice on a stretcher and his playoffs being over, Torres was given a 25-game suspension. He appealed and had it brought down to 21 games, but the message sent was very clear. Some wanted Shanahan to get tough, and he did just that. Whenever the season starts, Torres will still have to sit out some games to finish the suspension.
2. Kings wear the crown
It was quite a year in L.A. The Kings felt the need to upgrade the offense, so they went out and acquired Jeff Carter at the trade deadline in return for Jack Johnson and brought him into the fold that also featured a new coach in Darryl Sutter. The Kings snuck into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the West before becoming one of the best playoff teams that we've seen in a long, long time.
It began with three straight wins over the Presidents' Trophy winners and defending conference champion Vancouver Canucks before winning that series in five. They treated the Blues and Coyotes in similar fashion, cruising to the Stanley Cup Final for just the second in team history. This time, it ended a little better as the Kings again won the first three games against the Devils before closing out the series in emphatic fashion at home in Game 6, the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
When all was said and done, the Kings went 16-4 in the playoffs, including an amazing 10-1 on the road, and L.A. became a hockey town, at least for a few weeks. It also led to what was my favorite moment of the hockey year.
|The NHL's Bill Daly and the NHLPA's Steve Fehr with a sight that has been too common. (Getty Images)|
1. The lockout
By far the worst story of the year. Also by far the biggest story of the year.
Think about it this way: The lockout has technically only been going since Sept. 15. But after the feeding frenzy of free agency was done, the lockout was more or less in place. It seems like we've been talking about negotiations, offers, hockey-related revenue and the like forever. It's the last thing that any of us want to talk about anymore, but unfortunately without the legalese we just have a deep freeze. It's a classic case of nothing being something, in this case the lack of games is the story.
If you aren't convinced this was the top story of the hockey year, just look at the fan reaction. It has been mostly a reaction of disgust, but there has been a ton of it shared. One of the things that has made the lockout at least somewhat bearable has been the plethora of fan videos, songs and other anti-lockout rhetoric.
This is certainly one story that we won't mind saying goodbye to in the new year ... I hope.
Also in consideration: Panthers, rats return to postseason; Trade winds blow Rick Nash to Rangers; Oilers get top pick for third consecutive year; Roberto Luongo sitting on trade block (and we're sure many others you will mention below).