Ideally for the NHL, Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin would have been the league's biggest newsmaker in 2008.
A Stanley Cup win might have made it so for either, although Crosby was just two wins short while Ovechkin had a season for the ages and signed a record contract. Still, when it came to fodder for the water cooler, no one provided more material than someone whose future in the game is questionable.
|Sidney Crosby's game-winner wrapped the picturesque Winter Classic. (Getty Images)|
And none of it really mattered.
In fact, it paled in comparison to what was the most critical NHL story of the year, the impact of the current economic crisis. After more than three post-lockout seasons of growth, difficult times are ahead for the NHL, much of it caused by behavior this past year that now seems reckless.
The contracts for life and wild free-agent spending of the past few months were particularly poorly timed because these days, just about everyone associated with the NHL believes declining revenues will force the salary cap down. It could happen as early as next season and almost definitely in the one after that, and there will be a significant trickle-down effect on what teams spend, how much they charge and what players will be able to earn.
It's one story from 2008 that will reverberate in years to come, but not the only one worth noting. Here's a chronological look back at the top 50 of the past 12 months
Jan. 1: The Winter Classic in Buffalo . It wasn't an artistic masterpiece, but drew more than 70,000 and was an overall success. The novelty and the elements combined to create a great backdrop, and Crosby scored the shootout winner as NBC got unexpectedly impressive national ratings for its broadcast.
Jan. 13: Ovechkin signs a 13-year contract with Washington for a record $124 million. And he didn't even have to pay an agent's fee because his family does that work for him. Ovechkin wasn't the first young player teams had recently locked up for life, but hitting nine figures in a contract raised the bar.
Jan. 18: Crosby suffers a high ankle sprain in a game against Tampa Bay. He was sidelined for six weeks, an injury that could have been devastating to the Penguins, but Evgeni Malkin stepped up and carried the team in Crosby's absence.
Jan. 22: Toronto fires general manager John Ferguson. And the Leafs brought back Cliff Fletcher on an interim basis. Toronto let Ferguson twist in the wind long before dumping him and turning control of the rebuilding process to Fletcher, who did little because he found his hands tied as much as his predecessor.
|Teemu Selanne had a sweet semi-retirement. (Getty Images)|
Feb. 7: Rick Tocchet is reinstated as assistant coach in Phoenix. Tocchet was kept away from the NHL for two years for his role in a football betting operation that was busted by police, but he was given the chance to return after his legal issues were put behind him.
Feb. 10: Richard Zednik's throat is sliced by a skate. The Florida Panthers forward had his carotid artery accidentally cut by a teammate as he fell to the ice in Buffalo. His life was saved by the quick reactions of team trainers and local doctors on the scene.
Feb. 25: Peter Forsberg returns to the NHL. The Avs tried to turn back the clock with the late-season additions of Forsberg and Adam Foote. The old guard got Colorado through the first round of the playoffs, but the Avs end up embarrassed in a sweep by Detroit.
Feb. 26: The trade deadline. Frantic last-minute wheeling and dealing has become an NHL fixture in recent seasons, and this was no exception with more than two dozen deals made in the final hours. There were even some headline-grabbing names moved, with Brad Richards going to Dallas and Marian Hossa joining the Penguins.
Feb. 27: First-place Senators fire coach John Paddock. The timing seemed off, but Paddock's dismissal was inevitable. In his first season as coach, Paddock was thrown off balance by Ray Emery and never gained control of the room. The problems continue today.
|Welcome back, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. (Getty Images)|
March 22: Junior goalie goes berserk during a playoff game. And it just happened to be the son of his team's coach, Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy. Jonathan Roy became a YouTube sensation by skating the length of the ice to pound out his opposite number and then flip birds to the crowd. Father and son were both subsequently suspended.
March 28: Todd Bertuzzi sues Marc Crawford. Bertuzzi's criminal problems with regard to Steve Moore may be over, but the civil proceedings for damages are in full swing and that could cost some serious coin. Bertuzzi is looking for the responsibility to be shared by others allegedly involved.
April 3: Ovechkin breaks the single-season goals mark for a left winger. Ovechkin surpassed Luc Robitaille with his 64th goal and would finish with 65 goals and 112 points. That earned the NHL scoring title and later the MVP award for his efforts.
April 5: Capitals claim SE crown in season finale . Washington completed a remarkable turnaround that began when Bruce Boudreau took over as coach of the last-place club at Thanksgiving. The Caps won their last seven games and 11 of their final 12 to win the division and become its only playoff team.
April 6: Montreal Canadiens finish first overall in the East. It was the first conference title in two decades for the historic franchise, and it came in a season when most of the predictions surrounding Montreal had the team missing the playoffs.
April 13: Avery sets groundwork for a new rule. The NHL imposed a new dictate very quickly after Avery used his stick like a NASCAR flag man in front of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. The maneuver wasn't penalized at the time, but was added to the description of unsportsmanlike conduct by the following game.
May 4: Stars bounce Sharks in quadruple overtime. The Stars found a way to keep their Cinderella story alive when captain Brenden Morrow scored halfway through the fourth OT period, eliminating what was the NHL's best team over the final six weeks.
|Johan Franzen became Detroit's spring sensation. (Getty Images)|
May 17: Marty Turco beats demons to win at Joe Louis Arena. Turco finally earned some playoff stripes by taking the Stars to the Western Conference Finals, and his signature effort came in Game 5 when he won in Detroit for the first time since his college days at Michigan in the late '90s.
May 30: William (Boots) Del Biaggio scheme starts to unravel. Several investor lawsuits were launched against the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, who with commissioner Gary Bettman's encouragement, had been trying to gain control of an NHL team for years. Del Biaggio once had a small piece of the Sharks, but stepped up to a majority position with Nashville last year, only to be discovered to be using money that wasn't his. He has since been indicted on federal fraud charges.
June 2: Penguins stay alive with triple-overtime win. They were moving the champagne into Detroit's dressing room when the Red Wings led by a goal late in what seemed like the Stanley Cup-clinching game. But Pittsburgh's Maxim Talbot scored with 35 seconds remaining. The Penguins won in the third overtime, forcing a sixth game.
June 4: Red Wings win their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years. The NHL's model organization ended a dominant season with a hard-fought win, making Nicklas Lidstrom the first European to captain a Stanley Cup winner. Fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg wins the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
June 10: Ron Wilson hired to coach Leafs with Fletcher still in charge. Wilson couldn't get the talented Sharks over the hump, but he has more wins than any American coach and is a media-savvy veteran who fits into the rebuilding plan that Fletcher put into place.
June 19: Commissioner threatens to kick out Rangers. The league and the Rangers had been at odds for months over control of the team's website. New York had earlier filed an anti-trust lawsuit, prompting the countersuit response from the league that theoretically could terminate the Rangers membership in the league.
June 20-21: The NHL Draft. The class was a pretty good one, although top pick Steven Stamkos has struggled a bit as a rookie. But there were several key trades involving names like Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and Mike Cammalleri, and the weekend served to welcome new Tampa Bay Lightning owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie.
June 23: Ducks owner pleads guilty. The NHL had a history of corporate scandals involving owners when Anaheim's Henry Samueli was added to the list. He pleaded guilty to lying to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission during its investigation of a stock manipulation at his company and still faces jail time.
June 24: Barry Melrose is hired as Bolts coach. It was an open secret in hockey circles for about a month, but the general reaction to this move was still shock. It didn't take long to realize why.
July 1: Free agency begins. The market opened and a spending spree that reached some $400 million erupted. Brian Campbell's $56 million deal from Chicago highlighted the first day, but Jeff Finger's $14 million offer from Toronto raised the most eyebrows.
July 1: Mats Sundin is offered $10 million a season by Vancouver. Logically, that should have evoked a "Where do I sign?" kind of response, especially since Sundin had been contemplating his future since early April. But alas, he needed more time. Vancouver's patience, not to mention its singular ability to offer that kind of money, paid off when Sundin signed with the Canucks before Christmas.
|Marian Hossa made the champs even deeper. (Getty Images)|
July 9: Ray Emery signs with the Russian league. And the Ottawa Senators probably tripped over each other making sure he got to the airport. Emery had injury problems and didn't play well when he was healthy, which made antics that were previously tolerated a distraction and created a convenient scapegoat for the Senators. Makes you wonder what the excuse is this season.
July 10: Bill Daly and Paul Kelly find agreement area with KHL. This wasn't a full-fledged transfer protocol between the NHL and Russians, but what amounted to a gentleman's agreement that both sides would respect the other league's existing contracts. When convenient, that is.
July 11. Alexander Radulov ignores contract with Predators to sign with Russian team. The Russian league president argued that the agreement of the day before hadn't actually been signed, so was not in force. Radulov, a young offensive star, had one more season left on his three-year deal with Nashville.
July 15: Jaromir Jagr signs in Russia. His marquee name represented a major P.R. coup for Russia's upstart and aggressive new Kontinental Hockey League, even if Jagr is in the twilight of his career. But it didn't, and likely won't cause a rush overseas among star players in their primes.
July 16: Winter Classic set for Wrigley Field. After getting the city excited about hockey again last season, the Blackhawks managed a coup by getting this year's outdoor game and announcing it in time for a successful summer fan festival in Chicago.
Aug. 27: Joe Sakic returns. These days he might be wondering why, but after taking the summer to think about his future, Sakic announced he would be back with Colorado for another season. The veteran put up good numbers last season despite missing significant time with injuries, but he was hurt again earlier this season, and now is on the shelf for an extended period because of a snow-blowing accident.
Aug. 28: NHLPA boss calls for moving teams. Paul Kelly's union is mandated to help grow league revenues for the players as partners with the owners, which is why he started dropping hints about relocating hopeless franchises in various interviews during the playoffs. But Kelly heated things up by talking about it with an influential industry trade magazine, the Hockey News.
|Alexei Cherepanov's death was controversial. (Getty Images)|
Oct. 16: First coach fired after four games. This may be the only sour note for the Blackhawks in the last year, but dumping Denis Savard so early in the season has worked out well for them. Veteran Joel Quenneville has really molded Chicago's young talent and now has the 'Hawks challenging for the conference title.
Nov. 1: Martin Brodeur suffers serious injury. The veteran Devils goalie's march toward career records for wins and shutouts was interrupted when Brodeur tore a biceps muscle on an innocent-looking play. The injury required surgery and will sideline Brodeur until after the All-Star break
Nov. 10: Hall of Fame inductions. After being shunned by voters for nearly a decade, former Edmonton Oilers big-game star Glenn Anderson gets the call along with Igor Larionov, one of the greatest Russian players ever.
Nov. 12: Anaheim lets Brian Burke out of contract. Burke had been eyeing the Toronto job he eventually got since Ferguson was fired, but respected his obligation to the Ducks. That would have ended in July, and since Burke wouldn't sign an extension, Anaheim decided it might as well move forward. Burke joined the Leafs two weeks later.
Nov. 14: Barry Melrose is fired as Lightning coach. The controversial experiment lasted only six weeks because Melrose couldn't or wouldn't adapt to the changes in coaching that took place since his last job 13 years earlier.
Nov. 22: Montreal retires Patrick's Roy's number. The storied organization and one of its greatest players officially buried the hatchet after an ugly divorce a dozen years earlier.
Nov. 23: Blackhawks attend a funeral. The heartwarming story of the year, hands down. Chicago should have been on the first of a few days off after a long road trip, but instead decided to support GM Dale Tallon, who was burying his dad a few hours outside Toronto. The team voted to charter buses and surprised Tallon at the funeral. On the way back to the Toronto airport, they stopped at a small-town McDonald's, entering en masse to a restaurant that had several of their pictures on the wall.
Dec. 2: Avery loses control of his mouth. The assembled media in Calgary were hoping the Dallas player would say something stupid, and they weren't disappointed. At first Avery wouldn't talk to anyone, then decided to gather all around and make a tasteless remark about ex-girlfriends. It jeopardized his season and maybe his career.
Dec. 13: Sharks bite hard. The great start by San Jose added an exclamation mark when the Sharks beat St. Louis 5-4 to hit the 50-point mark faster than any team since 1929.
Dec. 21: Kessel extends streak. The third-year Bruins forward had a point for the 18th consecutive game, the longest streak in the NHL this season. More important, Boston won 15 of them as it took control of the Eastern Conference lead.
Dec. 25: Coyotes seek a bailout. Reports about how bad things were in Phoenix started circulating around the Board of Governors meeting in early December, and reached a head when Canadian media outlets learned the Coyotes needed league funds to meet payroll. The NHL might have to take over the team as it looks for a buyer.