By Lyle Richardson
As 2013 draws to a close here’s a look back at the top-10 NHL stories of the year.
10. Mooseheads MacKinnon and Drouin among top 2013 draft picks
Weeks after leading the Halifax Mooseheads to the 2013 Memorial Cup championship, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin went first and third overall in the 2013 NHL draft. MacKinnon is currently playing with the Colorado Avalanche, while Drouin (selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning) is spending this season with the Mooseheads.
9. NHL signs new TV contract with Rogers Communications
The Canadian hockey viewing landscape will dramatically change next season, thanks to a new 12-year, $5 billion contract between the NHL and Rogers Communications. The league’s national broadcasts will appear exclusively on Sportsnet, which also controls the production and future of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. The deal puts Sportsnet in position to become Canada’s dominant sports network.
8. Maple Leafs make the playoffs
After a seven-year drought, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally returned to the playoffs. The Leafs were on the verge of upsetting the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series, but broke the hearts of Leafs Nation with a third period meltdown and were eliminated in overtime.
7. Ilya Kovalchuk’s NHL “retirement”
Being the New Jersey Devils highest-paid player wasn’t enough for superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, who announced his retirement from the NHL to play for SKA St. Petersburg in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Some pundits believe Kovalchuk’s departure would trigger a mass exodus of Russian talent to the KHL but that remains to be seen.
The Devils, meanwhile, signed Jaromir Jagr as a short-term replacement for Kovalchuk.
6. Alfredsson leaves the Senators
Unable to reach an agreement on a new contract, longtime Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson shocked his fans by joining the Detroit Red Wings in June as a free agent. Senators general manager Bryan Murray moved quickly to replace Alfredsson, acquiring winger Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks and naming Jason Spezza the new captain. “Alfie,” meanwhile, is on pace for a 65-point season with the Red Wings.
5. Luongo remains a Canuck
“Where will the Vancouver Canucks trade Roberto Luongo?” was last season’s favourite guessing game among NHL fans. Outplayed by backup Cory Schneider, it seemed only a matter of time until Luongo was dealt. Unable to find any takers for Luongo’s expensive contract, the Canucks stunned the hockey world by instead trading Schneider to the New Jersey Devils during the opening round of the 2013 NHL draft. With the threat of a trade now gone, Luongo seems happy again in Vancouver.
4. The Iginla trade
After 17 seasons as the face of the Calgary Flames, Jarome Iginla agreed to be dealt on March 27 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The move wasn’t without intrigue, for it appeared he was destined to join the Boston Bruins. Every NHL insider — as well as Bruins management — were caught by surprise when Iginla instead accepted a last-minute offer from the Penguins.
The Bruins got the last laugh, defeating Iglina and the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final, then signing him in the off-season as a free agent.
3. Ovechkin rediscovers his scoring touch
Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin struggled through a significant offensive decline in the two years leading up to last season. Some observers even suggested his best years were behind him. A shift to right wing midway through last season, however, helped Ovechkin regain his scoring punch. The talented Russian went on to win the Hart and Richard trophies last season, and is on a 70-goal pace this season.
2. Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup
Forced by salary cap constraints to dismantle his 2010 championship lineup, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman rebuilt around superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Bowman efforts paid off in 2013, as his club marched to their second title in four years. Kane, who scored the Cup-winning goal in 2010, was named this year’s playoff MVP.
1. NHL lockout ends
All of the aforementioned never would’ve happened if the NHL and NHLPA hadn’t hammered out a new, season-saving collective bargaining agreement on Jan. 6, 2013. The new deal — in which the league and its players agree to an equal division of revenue — ensures labour peace for 10 years. Fears over angry fans boycotting the league upon its return proved unfounded as attendance remains as strong as ever.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer
with The Hockey News and runs the
website Spector’s Hockey. His column
will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.