With the end of 2014 approaching, the NHL and its fans can look back on a year filled with excitement and surprise as well as embarrassment and grief. With 30 teams sprinkled throughout the continent, storylines concerning superstars or simply superstar personalities can quickly grab headlines. It was not too long ago that fans of the NHL were suffering through prolonged work stoppages and player lockouts so a headline or story that does not include the phrases ‘collective bargaining agreement’, ‘salary cap’ or ‘revenue sharing’ should be received with glee by NHL fans. Before counting down the top 10 NHL stories of 2014, we would be remiss not to make note of a couple important stories that earned honorable mention status.
This year the NHL showed us just how important hockey and sports can be in helping people deal with tragedy. After the terrorist attack in Ottawa claimed the life of a Canadian soldier, the Pittsburgh Penguins organization showed a tremendous amount of class by playing the Canadian national anthem before a game that did not involve a Canadian team. This show of support to a conference rival was very much appreciated and celebrated as was evident by the many “thank you” comments the video received on many news websites throughout Canada.
NHL players also had fun with social media which has come to be expected in the Twitter era and the insatiable appetite that exists for access to players. NHL fans and the media are always eager to get a glimpse into the NHL lifestyle and learn more about the players’ personalities. P.K. Subban, the former Norris Trophy defenseman of the Montreal Canadians, seems to be one player whose flamboyant style on the ice perfectly mimics his off-ice personality. P.K. shared a picture of his Halloween costume this year on social media which showed him as a dead-ringer for Michael Jackson in Thriller. It is difficult to imagine P.K. not adding an award for best costume to his trophy case next to his Norris and Olympic gold medal.
Those two events just missed the cut, now here are the top 10 stories from the NHL for 2014,
10 Long live the Kings
A true list of the top stories from the past year in the NHL would not be complete without mentioning the latest Stanley Cup champion, after all it is still the greatest prize that hockey has to offer. In 2014 the Los Angela’s Kings won their second Cup in the past three years and with a strong core of returning players like Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and additions like Marian Gaborik. Their run included overcoming a 3-0 series deficit against San Jose, as well as seven-game series wins over Anaheim and Chicago. Finally, the Kings won the Cup on a double overtime goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final from Alec Martinez. The Kings could be the NHL’s first repeat Stanley Cup Champion since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997-98.
9 Viva Las Vegas
The NHL has been holding steady at 30 teams for well over a decade after the 1990’s and early 2000’s saw a wave of new teams enter the league. With NHL experiencing some long overdue financial stability and the report of record growth in overall league revenue thanks to global exposure through participation in the Olympics and the very popular Winter Classic, the NHL may be ready to accept a new franchise. The most often mentioned destination for an expansion franchise is Las Vegas and the added intrigue of seeing whether or not a city which has never been home to professional sports can compete with all the attractions that Vegas has to offer.
8 Marty’s roller coaster year
Martin St. Louis spent the start of 2014 recovering from the disappointment of not being named to the Canadian Olympic Team. The snub was even more poignant because it was his own General Manager in Tampa Bay (Steve Yzerman) who was the Executive Director of the Canada’s Olympic Team that made the ultimate decision to leave St. Louis at home. An injury to Lightening teammate Steven Stamkos opened the door for St. Louis’ late addition to the Team Canada where he helped them win gold. Later he was traded to the Rangers and in the midst of a deep playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals he had to deal with the sudden loss of his mother. No one experienced a more emotional 2014 than Martin St. Louis.
7 Patrick Roy succeeds behind the bench
The common belief is the better the hockey player the worse the coach. Gretzky did not fair all that well in Phoenix and Adam Oates disappointed in Washington, but Patrick Roy, in his first year at the helm of the Colorado Avalanche, guided a young and inexperienced team into the playoffs. Bucking the trend, Roy a fellow Hall of Famer like Oates and Gretzky cut his coaching teeth in the junior ranks as the head coach of the Quebec Remparts where he won a Memorial Cup. There is no doubt that his experience in Quebec helped prepare him for the NHL. For Roy’s effort in Colorado he was awarded the Jack Adams trophy as the NHL’s top coach in 2014.
6 Torts loses it….again
One of the low points for the year came in the behavior of former Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella. After a game against division rival Calgary, Tortorella wandered over to the area outside the Flames' dressing room. Footage from the incident shows Flames players forming a shield preventing Tortorella from entering Calgary’s dressing room and getting a hold of his presumed target, Flames head coach Bob Hartley. This all came in a year in which Tortorella vowed to be better behaved towards the media. To his credit, John never did mention anything about curbing his behavior towards opposing coaches.
5 Goodbye Goon
For years now, the debate over fighting in the NHL and the so-called “goon” has raged among fans and analysts. Many believe that an enforcer is necessary to protect smaller, skilled players from intimidating tactics used by other teams. It was customary for as long as anyone could remember that every team (save the Detroit Red Wings) had at least one player on their roster who could do little else but fight. At the start of the current season most teams have tough players who are willing to fight, but the presence of the one undisputed fighter who plays a measly two minutes a game and only fights, is noticeably lacking from NHL lineups. Is the one man enforcer gone from the NHL for good or is this a temporary fad? Maybe 2015 will tell us more.
4 From Russia with Love
NHL owners seem to be the only people on the planet who are against NHL participation in the Olympics. Their players are at risk for injury playing for someone else and the NHL is shut down for two weeks, closing down the business of the NHL. On the other side, the best players in the world, playing in a short tournament, with classic single game elimination moments, on sports grandest stage is undeniably thrilling. This installment of NHL players participating in Olympic Hockey saw Canada defend its gold medal in hostile Russian territory. We saw T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues and U.S. Olympic Team become a household name with his shootout prowess and post-game humility. It was truly a magical two weeks of hockey and it has fans eagerly anticipating 2018 in South Korea.
3 Lucic’s handshake faux pas
The year 2014 saw a storied rivalry renew itself once more between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. The players have changed over the decades, but the ferocity and desperation that is seen when these two teams meet in the playoffs has remained a constant. This latest installment of the battle between the Bruins and Habs was no different with furious action ending with a seven-game Montreal series victory.
The added twist came in a most unexpected form when during the traditional handshake line between the two teams at the conclusion of the series, Boston Bruin forward Milan Lucic made a point to continue the battle with Canadians players Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin. During the handshake, Lucic was seen violently shaking the other players hands and it is believed he made threats of retribution for the following year. Needless to say, Milan Lucic will likely be an unwelcome guest in Montreal for years to come.
2 Red Wings reach 23 in a row
There are a few teams in every sport that seem to represent excellence and winning more than any other. Over the past 23 years and counting, that team in the NHL has been the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit has made the postseason for 23 straight years. In a league where roughly half of the teams don’t make the postseason and the next closest streak is the San Jose Sharks at 10 years, what the Red Wings have done is remarkable. During that streak the Red Wings have won four Stanley cups and been the home to names like Yzerman, Fedorov, Lidstrom and Zetterberg. They are one of the model franchises in the NHL and with young emerging talents like Gus Nyquist and the continued excellence of players like Pavel Datsyuk, it is likely that the Red Wings will continue their playoff appearance streak for many years to come.
1 Passing of a Legend
The NHL and hockey world suffered a great loss in 2014 with the passing of the great Montreal Canadien forward Jean Beliveau. It's never easy to see a great player leave the game knowing you will never see them on the ice again, but with the passing of Jean Beliveau this year there was a deeper heartache felt throughout the NHL.
It is difficult to describe just how important and special Jean Beliveau was to those who never saw him play, but a glimpse of it can be found in the voices and faces of those who did see him and the lucky few who got to know him. They called him “Gentleman Jean” and a gentleman is what he was. Opponents, teammates and fans alike admired him for the skill he possessed and the grace in which he played the game. There have been many great players in the NHL but there has never been another player who was as elegant and noble as Jean Beliveau and he will be missed.