2008 has been another great year for hockey, and since we are only a day away from closing out the year, I figured it would be an appropriate time to count down the top 10 hockey stories of 2008. This collection of stories represents what everyone was talking about in the sport of hockey during 2008, and while a healthy number took place on the ice, nearly as many took place off the ice. Want to see which stories made the cut as the top 10 hockey stories of 2008? Read on:
10 – Canada Defeats Sweden 3-2 In OT To Claim 4th Straight Gold Medal At World Junior Championships – Though this is technically an NHL hockey blog I figured I should give a nod to our Canadian lads for making it 4 gold medals in a row back in January at last season’s World Junior Hockey Championships. Goalie Steve Mason was named the top goaltender and tournament MVP, and that experience certainly gave him some confidence. Mason is currently leading the league in GAA with a stingy 1.78 allowed per game.
9 – Patrick Roy’s Jersey Retired By The Montreal Canadiens – It was a bitter divorce between Roy and the Canadiens more than a decade ago when an embarrassed Roy told Canadiens’ president Ronald Corey that he would never play in Montreal again. However, time has once again proven that it can heal all wounds, as the ever-arrogant Roy swallowed his pride enough to allow the Canadiens to raise his jersey to the rafters of the Bell Centre. Habs faithful showed their forgiveness to Saint Patrick in an emotional ceremony this past November 22nd.
8 – Montreal Canadiens Celebrate 100th Season – Many speculate that the only reason the Canadiens retired Patrick Roy’s jersey this season was because they wanted to honor a legendary Hab in their 100th season and Patrick Roy was the only real option they had. Yes, the days when they had 6 or 7 future Hall of Famers on their roster at the same time are long gone, but the Montreal Canadiens continue to be the class of the NHL, and they celebrated another incredible milestone the other night when they became the first team in NHL history to record 3000 victories.
7 – Detroit Beats Pittsburgh To Win Stanley Cup – The Stanley Cup only makes 7th spot on the list of the top 10 hockey stories of 2008? What gives? Well, the fact that Detroit won the cup (again) wasn’t really much of a surprise to anyone. Pittsburgh, with league poster boy Sidney Crosby, making the Stanley Cup Finals was actually the bigger news. Too bad Philly squeaked by Washington in the first round of last spring’s playoffs. A Crosby/Ovechkin showdown would have made for one of the best hockey series in recent memory. Let’s hope they collide in this season’s playoffs.
6 – Chicago Blackhawks Emerge As A Potential Stanley Cup Contender – It has not been very long since I wrote about the Blackhawks and their potential as a Stanley Cup contender. In my article I wrote that I thought they needed at least one playoff run to season them before they could be considered a legitimate contender. Since then they’ve done nothing but win, and though I’m sticking to what I wrote in my original article I’ve got to admit they are making a compelling argument to the contrary. They currently sit 4th in the Western Conference and have been steadily gaining on the Detroit Red Wings for the Central Division lead. With young superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continuing to play with a maturity beyond their years Chicago is poised to become a league superpower, if they are not already there.
5 – The Amazing Boston Bruins – Everybody saw the emergence of the Chicago Blackhawks as an inevitability, but nobody predicted the Boston Bruins would be the Beast of the East this season. After a season that saw them barely squeak into the playoffs, the Bruins almost played spoilers last spring, taking last season’s conference leading Montreal Canadiens to 7 games in round one before finally bowing out. The confidence they gained in those 7 games has spilled over into this season as the Bruins have been an unstoppable juggernaut in the Eastern Conference so far.
The planets seem to have aligned in Boston as goaltender Tim Thomas is an early Vezina Trophy candidate for his spectacular play thus far in the season. However, Thomas is merely a small part of the story. Phil Kessel has come into his own this year, and is among the league leaders in goals, hulking winger Milan Lucic continues to dominate physically while putting up respectable offensive numbers, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler are scoring on a consistent basis, helping give Boston some of the best offensive depth in the league, and the always ignored Marc Savard currently sits 4th in league scoring. Back on defense the NHL’s biggest player, Zdeno Chara is putting together a Norris Trophy worthy season, and Dennis Wideman has been almost as good. Everything is going right for the Boston Bruins, and if they can keep up the pace it is hard to see anyone in the Eastern Conference stopping them in this spring’s playoffs.
4 – Alexander Ovechkin Scores 65 Goals And Wins The Hart, Art Ross, And Rocket Richard Trophies – What a year it was for Alexander Ovechkin is 2007-08. Not only is he the most exciting player in the game, but his incredible talent nabbed him three major awards. Ovechkin was a nearly unstoppable force last year, and became the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1996 to score more than 60 goals in a season. This year Ovechkin will have his work cut out for him if he wants the Art Ross again. Countryman Evgeni Malkin is currently enjoying a 10 point lead in the scoring race, but Ovechkin has been on a tear, piling up 17 goals in his past 17 games. He has pulled into a tie with Sidney Crosby, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. It should be an interesting battle for the Hart and the Art Ross going down the stretch. Though Ovechkin currently trails Jeff Carter in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy don’t believe for an instant that anyone but Ovie is going to take home that particular piece of hardware this year. Barring injury Ovechkin will lead the NHL in goals by a wide margin once we hit game 82.
3 – Brian Burke Becomes General Manager Of The Toronto Maple Leafs – It was called the worst kept secret in hockey, and many hockey writers claimed it was a question of when, not if, Brian Burke would leave the Anaheim Ducks and sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs as their General Manager. Well, the event everyone predicted came to pass, and Brian Burke is now at the helm of the biggest hockey market in the NHL. It is a good fit for Burke. His blustery, no-nonsense style is perfect for dealing with the intense media scrutiny of Toronto, and his history of patience with prospects should see this franchise in good stead in the years to come. Can he bring the Leafs the Stanley Cup for the first time in 40 years? If he does he will be worshiped in the city of Toronto as a god, but with the parity in this new NHL it is a tall order, and not one that is likely to be filled anytime soon.
2 – Sean Avery Suspended By NHL And Cut Loose By Dallas For Sloppy Seconds Comments – As much as I hate giving Sean Avery any more attention than he has already had I cannot deny that the firestorm that occurred in the wake of his now legendary “Sloppy Seconds” comment earlier this year has been one of the biggest hockey stories of 2008. Avery was suspended six games by the NHL is an unprecedented disciplinary move by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Avery’s team, the Dallas Stars, went a step further, cutting ties with Avery completely in a move that was surprising to no one. Whether Avery emerges in the NHL again one day remains to be seen. He is currently staying under the radar as he undergoes anger management counseling. Avery could still be a valuable on-ice addition to any team in the league, but I can’t see any General Manager or NHL owner being willing to take a chance on Avery after all his juvenile antics to this point in his career.
1 – Vancouver Canucks Sign Mats Sundin – It was the free agent saga that just wouldn’t end. For the better part of 7 months fans and media around the league waited to see where Swedish superstar Mats Sundin would eventually decide to play. The speculation continued right up until just before Christmas, when Mats surprised everyone and signed with the Vancouver Canucks, just when everyone in the hockey world had come to the conclusion that Mats had committed to sign with the New York Rangers. The signing came as a huge relief for hockey writers everywhere as the whole saga was starting to get rather tiring. Now we get to see if all the hype is worthwhile. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Mats Sundin can make when he steps on the ice for the Canucks this January.
Well, there you have it – The top 10 hockey stories of 2008. Disagree with any of my selections? Have I made a glaring omission? Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments. I always welcome a little controversy.