Tag:Tim Thomas
Posted on: January 26, 2012 2:17 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 2:29 pm
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What to look for in tonight's All-Star draft

Kessel was the last one left last year. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

I only speak for myself -- obviously -- but the draft has already become my favorite part about the All-Star weekend. It's entertaining, fun and even has some suspense. The game itself that finishes the weekend might not have any of those three features working for it.

Last year's inaugural draft in Carolina was clearly a success, that's why it's coming back this year. It's just like sitting at home plate waiting for the kickball on the mound to call your name in elementary school recess. Who doesn't look back at those days fondly (don't answer that)?

Unfortunately, some of the suspense of the event is taken away though as there are some predictable elements to the draft. You already know that captains will stick to their real-life teammates. For example, Daniel Alfredsson has already made it very clear that his first pick will no doubt be his defensive teammate with the Senators, Erik Karlsson.

The draft will take part on Thursday night at 8 ET on NBC Sports Network (here's a guide to the whole weekend courtesy of Puck the Media). It was moved up one day this year to take place on Thursday instead of Friday. Don't forget that.

With all that said, here's a guide of what to look for in the draft.

Sens will go fast: This one is a guarantee. One of them is a captain. Another one will go to Team Alfredsson likely on his first pick. The others (Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek) could very well be headed to Team Alfredsson early too. It's the hometown team with a hometown captain, he's not going to let those guys sit in the pool for very long.

Same goes for the Bruins: I'm going to take a stab in the dark here and say Tim Thomas will be the first goaltender picked, and he'll go to Team Chara. That's especially the case when you consider Team Alfredsson already has a goaltender in assistant captain Henrik Lundqvist. Tyler Seguin isn't going to last long with Chara picking either. You have to take care of your own, you know?

Kessel won't go last: There was a chance when the captains were named that you thought Phil Kessel could possibly fall to the bottom of the draft again and be Mr. Irrelevant even with the solid season he's having. But then Maple Leafs teammate Joffrey Lupul was named the assistant to Zdeno Chara and he'll likely lobby for Chara to forget some old feud and select Kessel for their team.

But one of these guys will: The pool for guys going last is pretty easy to narrow down. It's going to be a forward (rules require goalies and defensemen to go by a certain round) who is the lone representative from his team and is on the lower-profile side. That knocks out big scorers (Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry) and veterans (Jarome Iginla). That leaves five guys (not burgers and fries) to choose from -- placed in my order of least likely to go last to most likely.

John Tavares -- I think he's easiest to cross off seeing that he plays center. He's safe.

Logan Couture -- A couple weeks ago he was my pick when the teams were announced but some later additions make him safe in my mind.

Jason Pominville -- Some think he wasn't even the right Sabres player to pick, instead it should have been Thomas Vanek. Certainly good odds of going last.

Jamie Benn -- The only Stars player, the All-Star Game will actually be his first game in a couple of weeks after an appendectomy. That could actually garner him some sympathy. But he's a quiet guy, so we'll see.

Jordan Eberle -- The Oilers forward was one of the late additions because of injury. He's only 21 and in just his second season. There are ingredients for him to be the last one sitting. But as last year showed with Kessel, that can result in a nice parting package.

For the record, the oddsmakers at Bovada (formerly Bodog) have Scott Hartnell the favorite to go last at 6/1, but I think he's safer than the guys above.

Disinterested players: Of course there will be guys who look like this is one of the worst things they've had to do as a professional hockey player. That's pretty much inevitable. It's a distinct possibility the captains could look that way. Sorry, but Alfie and Chara don't exactly scream exuberance.

Boo birds: The battle of Ontario is regaining steam this season, so no doubt Lupul and Kessel will hear some boo birds (and cheers from those Leafs fans who snuck in). Poor Kessel, guy can't catch a break at this thing.

Sedin twins: Will Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin be split up again? Is it possible that Brian Burke was able to keep them together against 29 other teams but the captains can't do it against one other team? This is as good of a chance as any year ... would Chara actually pick a Canucks player?

Hazing: I'm not talking about anything serious here, but remember the things like Alex Ovechkin taking a picture of a lonely Kessel in the seats? Yea, there will be some fun being had among the players. I'm putting money down on Hartnell pulling a prank on somebody in some fashion.

Better yet, it would be better if Hartnell tripped himself after he is picked, like at least one kid does at every graduation ceremony ever hosted. It would add to the legend that is Hartnell Down.

Enjoy the show everyone. It only goes downhill from there this weekend.

More from Eye on Hockey

Full All-Star Game coverage
NHL.com: Full All-Star list

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 25, 2012 10:41 am
Edited on: January 25, 2012 3:30 pm
 

Report: Thomas called selfish; Speculation starts

Thomas had a chance to be heard and he took it. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The biggest non-news story of the hockey season -- the defending champions visiting the White House and meeting the President of the United States -- is mushrooming into one of the bigger stories this season. Sadly, that might not be hyperbole based on the latest reports out of Boston.

By now you surely know about Tim Thomas' decision to not join his teammates on their trip to the White House. He instead chose to skip it as a protest to what he later revealed in his Facebook statement is the ever-expanding reach of the federal government. It ignited a wildfire that's leading people to thinking some awfully irrational things.

First, here is what is being said from within the Bruins organization, outside of their public statements. From Fluto Shinzawa at the Boston Globe:

It was Timmy being Timmy.

“[Expletive] selfish [expletive]," one team source said.

But that's not the view from everybody. Milan Lucic was on the record saying it didn't bother him and Shinzawa reported two team sources didn't believe Thomas' decision would have any negative effects in the locker room, it's par for Timmy's course.

Sounds pretty similar to another player in Boston sports (Manny Ramirez, anyone?) In the case of Ramirez, the Red Sox put up with his antics for some time before he was eventually pushed out of town.

Could that actually be a possibility for Thomas? After all, as Shinzawa writes (and makes clear with Timmy being Timmy) he is a bit of a lone wolf. He's a goaltender, and you know it's OK to categorize every goalie out there as a wackjob.

The answer is maybe, according to Shinzawa.

Thomas’s decision, however, may be the first step in goalie and team parting ways. His no-movement clause expires at the conclusion of this season. Thomas has one more season remaining on his four-year, $20 million contract. Rask, a restricted free agent at year’s end, should be ready to assume the starting job in 2012-13.

Now you know this story is getting out of hand. Look, I'd understand trading Thomas from a hockey perspective. I think it would be a mistake and would be stupid, but I understand it. He's up there in age at 37, his value is still incredibly high and Tuukka Rask has proven to be more than capable. The hockey aspect makes sense ... except when you remember that Thomas is arguably still the best in the world and can lead the Bruins to back-to-back Stanley Cups this season. Don't forget that little aspect of the equation.

I haven't understood this whole soap opera at any point. I've seen people complaining that Thomas decided to politicize an event that wasn't about politics. The way I see it, this was the most political thing any of the Bruins players have done in their careers. It's certainly more political than all the time they spend playing games, practicing or traveling. Should he instead have had a grandstanding session after a November shutout in the locker room? He was presented with a chance to make a political statement and he took it.

Further, I'd argue that this didn't take away from the Bruins' day at the White House at all. What this Thomas story did is actually make people remember that the Bruins visited the White House period. It's an event that is a photo op where the honoring from the president lasts literally less than 10 minutes. A lot of people have no idea that the St. Louis Cardinals just had the same honor a week ago. It was hardly news.

But now? Oh, everybody knows the Bruins visited the White House as the reigning champions. This whole saga has only shined a brighter light on the visit.

There are others that don't care what Thomas has to say about politics, he's just a hockey player. I see that all the time and it irritates me to no end. So because somebody is an athlete they can't have their own ideologies? The difference between Thomas and that neighbor of yours who litters his yard with political signs is that Thomas has a bigger platform. He wanted to get a message across and he did it.

I don't know who the source was that so eloquently called Thomas selfish, obviously. But I'd bet that even that person wouldn't want Thomas off the team. I was in the locker room with the Bruins last night, we in the media saw Thomas walking around munching on a postgame snack and going into the changing area with the other players. He didn't appear to be in any kind of awkward state of avoidance.

I can't see how this becomes a seriously divisive issue as some make it out to be. Are the other guys going to be so upset that they stop playing in front of Thomas and hinder their own goal of repeating as champs? Or might it be a distraction with the team and Thomas being asked about it?

Doubtful. Thomas is a strong-willed person, that's evident. He said in his Facebook statement that this was the only thing he was going to say on the whole fiasco. That's it. When he is eventually asked by the media, you already know he is going to defiantly say he's not talking about it. That will be that.

So Thomas has a bit of a selfish side and this let it be seen to the rest of the world. So what? Chalk it up to goalies being goalies (or Timmy being Timmy, in this case) and move on, I have little doubt the players will.

In the meantime, I'm left wondering how many write-in votes Thomas will get in this year's presidential election because you just know he'll get some.

More from Eye on Hockey

B's hit break on slump by their standards
Thomas explains decision to skip White House
Bruins honored in visit to White House

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:27 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 9:28 pm
 

Thomas explains decision to not visit White House

Thomas elected not to visit the White House with teammates (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The Boston Bruins were at the White House on Monday to meet President Barack Obama. Well, almost all of them.

There was one very notable absence as the Bruins were honored in the East Room of the White House. Nobody could seem to find Tim Thomas among the crowd of players in the background. Soon enough, word got out that he elected to skip the event.

"He chose not to come. The reasons behind it I think he'll make the media aware through his Facebook," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said after the ceremony.

Sure enough, the reasons were made clear. Here is the message Thomas posted a little after 6 ET on his Facebook page.

I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

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 is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT

There was a lot of anger across the hockey world on Monday because of Thomas' decision not to show up. I don't understand it one bit.

Let me say that I, myself, would never turn down an opportunity to be honored by the President of the United States, no matter how much I dislike him. It's about the office, the individual.

With that said, I have zero problem with Thomas passing on it. None at all. He has his beliefs and convictions and has every right to stand up for them. To the people who are complaining that he is being selfish and taking away from the team's spotlight, I say mission: accomplished. Look how much attention he is getting because of this and thus getting his political views shared with everybody.

"Everybody has their own opinions and political beliefs. He chose not to join us," team president Cam Neely told the media after the ceremony. "We certainly would have liked to have him come and join us but that's his choice. All the guys came except for Tim. It's his decision and his choice."

Neely would later release another statement on the matter, this time a little more officially than his after-ceremony comments to the media.

"As an organization we were honored by President Obama's invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team's achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject."

Nobody should be upset about this, it's just not a big deal. He declined to go, so be it. What's the big deal?

My only issue with it is that it added a more newsy element to an otherwise light-hearted day for the Bruins. Well that and the mixing of hockey and politics. That's never a good idea.

There are so many mixed feelings on all of this, and I'm not talking about the politics themselves. Of course people won't agree on that. But sometimes you have athletes who are chided for not caring enough, not using their positions of power to make an impact. Then when players do just that, they get ripped for sharing their political views; why do we care what a goaltender thinks about big government?

I say anything that leads to discussion can't hurt. And after seeing some of the players and team officials after the ceremony, I don't think it detracted much from their experiences either. Really, this is a case of no harm, no foul for me. The man had a choice to make and he made it.

More from Eye on Hockey

Bruins honored at the White House

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:02 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 8:11 pm
 

B's honored at White House while Thomas declines

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- The Boston Bruins had the honor and privilege to visit the White House and President Barack Obama on Monday, continuing a long tradition of sports champions being honored by the POTUS.

Not everybody was there -- the whole nation is looking at you Tim Thomas -- but the majority of the Bruins were. Heck, even old friend Tomas Kaberle made the trip in to visit the White House and take in his vetting of the Bruins for their Stanley Cup championship.

Here is video (apologies for the shakiness, a guy can only do so much holding a camera over his head) of the president addressing the Bruins and congratulating them.

Lord Stanley's Cup was there, so was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Former presidential candidate and Massachusetts senator John Kerry was there, parked out in the front row. The throng of media members surrounded all of the family members and people of the Bruins organization for the vetting. It was a special day for all the Bruins.

It also had the obligatory Zdeno Chara is tall talk and presidential jokes. Although his first one of the short ceremony was a bit more candid.

"The Bruins, the Sox, the Celtics, now the Patriots. Enough already, Boston," Obama said. "What's going on, huh?"

The only downside to the afternoon was the absence of Thomas, who elected to skip the event on his own merit.

"He chose not to come. The reasons behind it I think he'll make the media aware through his Facebook," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said after the ceremony.

It put a damper on the day for the Bruins, the story of Thomas being a no-show, but not too much. For the players it was still a treat. I had the chance to catch up with Brad Marchand afterward in the Diplomatic Room and the excitement of the day was still very evident, even after the president gave Marchand a little ribbing, noting one of his many nicknames of the "Little Ball of Hate."

It was a day fit for champions, and almost all of them were there. Almost.

More from Eye on Hockey

Thomas explains his decision to not visit White House

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 22, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 3:56 pm
 

Weekend Wrap: Halak, Elliott duo dominating

Halak and Elliott have nine shutouts combined(Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

When it comes to the awards season, not many people pay much attention to the Jennings Trophy. The goaltender hardware that matters is the Vezina, going to the top individual goaltender. But this year the Jennings race could be almost as compelling and debateable.

In case you need a refresher on one of the lesser-known NHL awards, the Jennings goes to the best goaltending tandem for one team. It's a way to recognize the best backups as well as starters in the league.

Now I'm starting to wonder just which duo is going to take the trophy home. It seems to me to be a two-horse race and will likely remain that way through the rest of the season: The Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.

Everybody knows about the Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask pairing in Boston. As great as Thomas is, it's Rask that's having the better season of the two with a 1.69 goals against average and a league-high .943 save percentage. To be honest, they are probably still the favorites.

But don't dismiss Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. The only thing putting them in second place right now is the slow start to the season for Halak. I think it's safe to say he has rebounded just fine.

On Saturday night Halak grabbed another win when the Blues gave the Sabres their 12th straight road loss, 4-2. For Halak it meant a 14-game unbeaten (in regulation) streak. In that time he's an astonishing 11-0-3 and he has three shutouts now in his last five starts.

Let me put it this way to tell you how good this duo has become: On the season Elliott has five shutouts and Halak has four. That means they have shut out opponents in more than 19 percent of their games this season. Just how Ken Hitchcock likes it.

In all, it's part of the crazy trend that we're seeing under Hitchcock in St. Louis and the success of the Blues. In the month of January they are 8-0-1. At home now the Blues are 21-3-3. And check out this one from NHL.com's Brian Compton: With David Perron in the lineup (so stretching back two years), the Blues are 25-1-2 in their last 28 games. Unbelievable.

The return of Halak, though, is the most interesting aspect to me. The Blues brought him in from Montreal after that spectacular close to the season and playoff push with the Canadiens with the hope that he was going to be their feature goalie. It didn't start out that well. Last season was not good up to any starter's standards for Halak and you were left to wonder if this was another example of a playoff cinderella falling back to normalcy.

It was continuing this season, too. Remember back to the beginning of the year when Elliott was the only one winning in St. Louis. It seemed like the backup was on his way to becoming the starter for the Blues. Elliott is the one who earned an All-Star berth and turned a two-way contract into a three-year extension. Halak was becoming an afterthought.

So much for that theory. Apparently all it took was Hitchcock to come to town and bring a system to help Halak succeed. Usually I subscribe to the theory that if you have two starting goaltenders you really have none. That doesn't work in St. Louis, not this year.

It has all led to another unbelievable fact: the Bruins are no shoe-in for the Jennings this season.

All-time Canuck

Speaking of the Jennings Trophy, one of last season's winners, Roberto Luongo (along with his teammate Cory Schneider) took a rare honor home on Saturday after the Canucks' 4-3 win over the Sharks. With it he passed Kirk MacLean to become the franchise's all-time leader in wins with 212.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

The rare honor? He currently holds that record for two franchises as he is still the all-time leader in wins for the Florida Panthers as well.

Not too shabby for a guy who has been treated awfully harshly over the years in Vancouver, particularly in the last year. It's been tough to keep the perspective on things that, yea, Luongo is a pretty damn good goalie.

Of course, he has been blessed enough to play in front of some good teams that can, for example, help him get a win against one of the best teams in the league despite giving up three goals, as was the case against San Jose.

Luongo won't be in the conversation this season for any of the regular-season awards, Vezina or Jennings. But don't mistake that for a goalie that isn't still one og the better netminders in the game.

Wings keep rollin', rollin', rollin'

Seriously, all due apologies for the Limp Bizkit reference a decade after the fact.

But the point stands: If the Detroit Red Wings are playing at home, they are going to win the game. The snuck past the Columbus Blue Jackets in the shootout on Saturday to extend their franchise-record home-winning streak to 16 games.

Imagine that, the Wings have been plowing through the rest of the league this season but need a shootout to get by the NHL-worst Blue Jackets.

Some people criticize when good teams sneak past bad teams. Me? I often take the other approach: Good teams find ways to win games when they aren't at their best. I'd put the shootout win for the Wings over the Jackets in that category. Still, a win is a win and now Detroit is only a couple of games from the NHL record.

One-sided rivalry

That describes the battle of Alberta at the moment.

Nobody is going to confused the Calgary Flames for juggernauts right now, except maybe their rivals in Edmonton.

The Flames continued their dominance over their provincial neighbors on Saturday with a 6-2 beating of the Oilers. You know it's one-sided in the series when Lee Stempniak is recording hat tricks.

For those keeping track at home, that makes nine consecutive wins in the series for the Flames. Man, that really has to sting the fans in Edmonton. They have to be dying for the team to return to respectability, getting dominated by the Flames isn't a sign you're there.

Quote of the weekend

“It’s hard to get shots when you don’t have everyone playing the right way, I guess. It’s going to take 20 guys. Tonight, I don’t think we had 20. It’s hard to say [how many they did have] right after a game. I’m sure it will be clear on video, but we need more. You need four lines if you want to win games in this league, bottom line.

“We’ve got to find more ways to score goals. There’s maybe some guys gripping the stick, but at the end of the day, guys have got to find the back of the net. It can’t just be one or two guys. That’s what it feels like it’s been, at least lately. We need more goals from lots of people." -- L.A. Kings captain Dustin Brown (from L.A. Kings Insider).

Well I know one of those 20 that didn't help in the Kings' 3-1 loss to the Avalanche on Saturday, backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Lame jokes aside, it's a season-long issue that isn't getting much better under Darryl Sutter. The Kings just can't score and it's a massive testament to Jonathan Quick that the Kings are still in the thick of things in the Pacific Division.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 21, 2012 4:08 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2012 10:41 pm
 

Ference charging penalty proves costly for Bruins

By: Adam Gretz

The Boston Bruins are a physical team. An extremely physical team. It's what they do, and it's a large part of why they won the Stanley Cup last season (Tim Thomas had a lot to do with it, too, of course) and why they've been one of best teams, if not the best team, in the NHL over the first half of this season.

Sometimes, however, they can take it a bit too far, as was the case in overtime of their 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, a game that did not fail to live up to the expectations that existed heading into it.

Just a little over a minute into the extra period, with the game even at two, Boston's Andrew Ference was guilty of a costly charging penalty when he sent Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh flying face-first into the boards.

This is the play that resulted in a five-minute major penalty, as well as a game misconduct, and will most likely earn a second look from the NHL  with the possibility for some supplemental discipline:



Said Rangers coach John Tortorella after the game: "One of the most dangerous hits I've seen in a while. It's an easy call to make"

Not only did it leave the Bruins shorthanded for the remainder of the overtime period, and without the services of Ference, it also led to the game-winning goal off the stick of Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik with just three seconds remaining in overtime.

It was Gaborik's second tally of the game and his 25th of the season, moving him into a three-way tie (along with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel) for third place in the goal-scoring race.

Now we wait to see how many (if any) games Ference has to sit for the Bruins.

Update: Ference is scheduled to have a phone hearing on Sunday, meaning that if he is suspended it will be no more than five games.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:26 am
 

Four Sens part of six voted into All-Star Game

By Brian Stubits

Like other sports, the NHL allows fans to vote players into the All-Star Game. Like other sports, the fans get it horribly wrong.

The NHL announced the "starters" for this month's All-Star Game in Ottawa, and not surprisingly it is very Senators friendly. While they aren't really starters for the game, they are all voted in for six guaranteed spots. The vote-ins are as follows:

Forward: Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, all from the Senators.
Defense: Erik Karlsson (Senators) and Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Goaltender: Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins).

That's some impressive ballot-stuffing by the fine folks of Ottawa.

In all honesty, none of the four Sens voted in are completely undeserving of their place in the game. Karlsson has a legit claim to being a vote-in, he leads all defensemen in points and is second in the NHL with 32 assists. Michalek (19 goals) and Spezza (40 points) are both having quality seasons and Alfredsson, well, let's say he sort of deserves a spot at this point when the game is played in Ottawa. But the guaranteed spots? I'm not so sure about that.

Look at it this way: None of the league's top seven goal scorers or top 10 in points was voted in.

Of course, this isn't a big deal. It's the fans voting in six of 42 spots on the team and the hometown fans putting their players in the game. If that's their prerogative, then so be it. They're going to be the ones buying the tickets to the game. If they want to see guys they can watch at home 41 times a season for one more game, that's their right.

At least the fans got it right on Thomas. Craig Anderson was just too tough to vote in to the game, even if he tends for the Sens.

But have no fear. Claude Giroux, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Steven Stamkos, Phil Kessel, Marian Gaborik, Jonathan Toews, Jimmy Howard, Evgeni Malkin ... they'll all get put in the game if they want to play. They'll be in the draft that will be held once again as captains will pick sides like a schoolyard kickball game.

However the first thought I had when I heard the list (OK, second after remembering to not get all hot and bothered by the hometown players getting in) was to remember the Project Mayhem and how well that worked. Remember the idea where fans were going to vote in all the former Senators tearing it up in the NHL to show Ottawa what they've been missing? Guys like Zdeno Chara -- who should still make it regardless -- and Dany Heatley? How'd that work out?

I don't think these vote-in results will have much of an impact on the All-Star Game viewership. It's hard to find people who actually like it to begin with.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 4:33 pm
 

Top NHL stories and moments in 2011

By Brian Stubits

There was a lot of good in 2011, but also a lot of bad. By bad, I really mean tragedy. It was an unforgettable yet forgettable year all at the same time.

As we hit the heart of the holiday season, here is a look back at the year that was in hockey with the top 10 moments/storylines of 2011.

10. Summer acquisitions -- This is when the magic happens in the NHL's salary cap world and franchises are made or destroyed.

It was over the summer that two teams in particular built the nucleus for their surprising starts this season, the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. Minnesota was the host for this year's NHL Entry Draft and really did leave an impression. Not only did they come away from the draft with a few new prospects in their system but they also swung a deal to land Devin Setoguchi from the San Jose Sharks for Brent Burns. The Wild swung another deal with the Sharks that landed them Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. Of course their biggest summer acquisition might have been the hiring of head coach Mike Yeo.

The Panthers meanwhile continued to use the draft to make their system better and also swung a big trade, taking on Brian Campbell's big salary from the Blackhawks in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. That kicked off a wild spending spree that lasted through free agency and the core of the team that's in first in the Southeast was built just like that. Like the Wild, they also found themselves a new coach who has returned big dividends early in Kevin Dineen.

The unrestricted free-agent class was led by the pursuit of Brad Richards, who eventually signed with the New York Rangers after a day of courting, including from the Maple Leafs while GM Brian Burke was in Afghanistan. But the most intrigue was on the restricted front where Steven Stamkos' future was wildly speculated before re-signing with the Lightning and Shea Weber stayed with the Predators after the biggest arbitration award ever.

A couple weeks in the middle of the year set up the last couple of months in the year and even with what was perceived as a weak free-agent class, this year was no different.

Look back: Free-agency tracker

9. Winter Classic -- As sad as it is to think about, games hardly ever are the top stories in sports any more. But in hockey, the Winter Classic will always matter, it's that big of a showcase and spectacle for the NHL.

As is the case with every Winter Classic -- as fans of all the less-fortunate teams will remind you -- it was a marquee matchup of two high-profile teams from the East with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps eventually prevailed in a game that might be the most memorable Winter Classic thus far for a variety of reasons, one of them makes an appearance later on this list.

But first of all the lead up to the game featured the first 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic series on HBO and it was riveting. While technically most of it aired in 2010, it is tied in with the Winter Classic so it counts. It left fans anticipating the next version like a kid awaits Christmas, this year's version featuring the Flyers and Rangers.

Mother Nature also left her mark on the game. It was the first Winter Classic thus far that the weather was so uncooperative that they had to delay the start of the game. Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain in Pittsburgh led to the game being pushed to the night and it did provide a pretty memorable setting at Heinz Field. 

Look back: Caps win Winter Classic 3-1

8. Realignment -- While the fruit of this labor will be seen starting in 2012, it was a large conversation for the entire second half of the year, spurred by a development that appears further up this list.

I don't know if there was a person in hockey -- both within the game and covering it -- that didn't have their own idea for how the realignment should be done. In the end the six-division format was blown up, an effort that was from all accounts led by Gary Bettman himself.

The biggest drama in the whole saga revolved around the Detroit Red Wings' desire to move to the Eastern Conference. Well, without an Eastern Conference to move to any more, I guess you could say that was taken care of.

Look back: NHL announces realignment

7. Lokomotiv plane crash -- The KHL is to the NHL as the NHL is to ESPN. That is to say the only time we ever seem to hear about the KHL is when something bad happens.

Unfortunately, that was the case this summer when the airplane carrying the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team barely got airborne before it crashed, killing everybody on board except a member of the flight crew.

The tragedy was already tough enough for the hockey community in North America simply for the fact sheer sadness of the lethal error. But what made it really hit home in the NHL was the number of former NHL players who died in the crash.

Among those who died in the crash were Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and head coach Brad McCrimmon, all of who were in the NHL at some point in their careers. In the case of McCrimmon he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff as recently as last season before he took the chance to be a head coach in Russia.

Nothing from the ordeal was more chilling than the sad, sad story from a professional driver in Dallas who was tasked with picking up the family of Skrastins to drive them to the airport hours after the tragedy. Honestly, I'm getting emotional just thinking about it again. It was truly a horrible day for hockey.

Look back: Lokomovit team plane crashes

6. Vancouver riot -- For the second time in as many Stanley Cup trips for the Vancouver Canucks, the hockey-crazed city erupted into a violent storm following its team's loss in the decisive Game 7. A similar eruption happened in 1994 after the Canucks fell to the New York Rangers.

The night began with a massive gathering in the streets of Vancouver for the fans to all watch the game together on a big screen. Many saw that as an ill-fated moment from the start and boy were they right. Soon after the game and season were finished, the hooligans of Vancouver were just getting started.

Looters took to the streets to cause mayhem, and cause mayhem they did. The result was a night full of rioting embarrassing to the city, a lot of videos to live on in YouTube glory (like this classic), at least 25 people being charged (including Miss Congeniality) and the romance, sports and maybe general photo of the year, the "riot kiss" seen up above.

The unfortunate part (OK, one of them) was the fact that the riot completely overshadowed what was really a great postseason and season for the Canucks. Vancouver was the best team all regular season long and as fine of a year as they ever have.

Look back: Riot erupts after Stanley Cup Finals

5. Brendan Shanahan takes over -- There has been no bigger overarching story in the second half of the year than what Shanahan has been doing as the new head of player safety having replaced Colin Campbell. His arrival on the job has coincided with the attempt to expand and clarify Rule 48.1, the one dealing with headshots. The focus has also been ramped up on boarding.

His impact has been felt from the get-go. In the preseason he was very busy and then really sent some shock waves through the league when he suspended Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski for eight games.

It's at the point now that every questionable hit is immediately scrutinized and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. Obviously the good is that it continues to put a microscope on bad hits in an attempt to rid the game of them. On the bad side, some clean hits get more attention than they should and the consistency of punishment applications has been a bit bedeviling, just ask the Sabres fans.

However Shanahan has done something that I've yet to find a person complain about and that's making videos for each and every suspension wherein he explains exactly what the thought process was that led to the decision. The first one he made in the preseason was a breath of fresh air and welcome transparency. All season he's been a busy, busy man.

You know you've watched a lot of Shanahan suspension videos when you can recall that he has done videos in front of three different backdrops and you can tell when he gets a haircut.

Look back: A look at Shanahan's handy work

4. Winnipeg Jets return -- At one point, it looked like the old Jets -- the Phoenix Coyotes -- were going to be the team to move to Winnipeg. Fans were elated as it seemed that with a clear potential ownership group and new, albeit small, arena, the NHL would be coming back to the 'Peg after 15 years.

Then they pulled a little switcheroo on everybody when the Coyotes announced they were staying in Phoenix for another year, so attention turned to the Atlanta Thrashers. A few transactions later and hockey was back in Manitoba (and the NHL had to realign -- Winnipeg in the Southeast?).

The push was one to rename the team the Jets like the old franchise in town and after much debate, the fans won out, although a new logo would be introduced. Not lacking in flair, the Jets showed off their new uniforms in an unveiling at a military base with the players wearing the new duds walking out of a cargo plane.

The first game of the Jets. 2.0 came in their new home at the MTS Centre and they fell in defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, but you couldn't tell. The great hockey city that is Winnipeg was happier than a pig in you-know-what just to have the NHL back. When Nik Antropov became the first player to score for the new Jets, the roar was deafening. Maybe the best way to measure the city's appreciation and love for having hockey back would have been with decibels.

After a slow start (again, they were the Thrashers) the Jets have really come to find a comfort on home ice, as many thought they would. With a 12-6-1 record at home this season, the Jets have the best home mark in the Eastern Conference next to Boston's 13-6-1. It seems that a little excitement really can go a long way.

Look back: Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg

3. Sidney Crosby's concussions -- This was the biggest development to come out of the aforementioned Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby caught an elbow to the head from the Capitals' David Steckel that rocked the game's best player pretty good. He certainly appeared out of sorts but was back in the lineup a few days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A check from Victor Hedman led to Crosby experiencing another concussion and he didn't play again for the rest of the season. He finally did return to game action in November, playing eight games before being shut down again for post-concussion symptoms.

Before he went down, Crosby was on pace for one mammoth season. To illustrate how good he was playing before the injury, he still finished the season as the Penguins' leading scorer by a whopping 16 points despite playing only 41 games.

For literally almost a year, the hockey world sat and waited for word on Crosby returning. There was speculation he could come back for the Penguins' playoffs games. There was talk that he might retire. None of that happened, but what did do was bring another reminder of the seriousness that are concussions.

It's not good business for the NHL when the top players aren't on the ice, let alone the best player. I'd like to think it isn't the case, but you have to wonder if Crosby's absence didn't go a long way in facilitating the NHL's actions on trying to remove bad hits as well as enacting strong concussion protocols.

The way the Penguins have handled the Crosby situation has been one of the best parts of all -- or maybe the only good part, depending on your point of view. They have been incredibly patient the entire time, insisting they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize Crosby's health and future.

But because of his most recent setback, Crosby Watch 2011 will move on into Crosby Watch 2012.

Look back: Crosby's recovery efforts

2. Deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak -- The NHL's summer of sorrow began in late spring when the tragic news came down of New York Rangers and former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard's death. The autopsy concluded he died of a lethal mix of alcohol and Oxycodone.

Later in the offseason the NHL was then shook by the news of deaths of Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, separated by only two weeks. Both players were fighters themselves, each suffered from depression and both apparently committed suicide (Rypien's was classified as such, Belak's death treated as such by Toronto PD).

The news of their deaths was sad and shocking in their own right. These were all players 35 or younger who all shared a role in their hockey careers. It was also a catalyst for the discussion of fighting in hockey. No tie can be drawn between each of their deaths and fighting, but it at least begged the question.

Since the three players died, the conversation has picked up. It was really spurred along by the New York Times' in-depth piece that looked at the life of Boogaard and the study of his brain. The findings of the Boston University lab found Boogaard's brain was already showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a deterioration of the brain due to repeated blows to the head.

Look back: Boogaard | Rypien | Belak

1. Bruins win Stanley Cup -- If he didn't already have the designation by all before, Tim Thomas certainly earned it in the playoffs. He is the best goalie in the world.

Thomas pretty much put the Bruins on his shoulders and carried them past the Vancouver Canucks in a great seven-game series that led to the Bruins hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Of course Thomas topped it off with a shutout in Game 7 and took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP, an incredibly well-deserved award.

But in addition to Thomas, it was one heck of a series. The first six games were won by the home team. We had one game ending a few seconds into overtime. Who can forget the man that scored that goal, Alex Burrows, was caught biting Patrice Bergeron in a scrum and the resulting taunts at Burrows from the Bruins later on.

There was Nathan Horton getting leveled and concussed in Boston in a moment that some feel changed the series. The Bruins responded to that by running the Canucks out of their building in Games 3 and 4. Horton made another impression when he was seen pouring TD Garden ice on the rink in Vancouver before Game 7, a superstitious move that will live in Bruins lore.

We had Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo pumping Thomas' tires after critiquing his aggressive style in net. Then of course item No. 6 on this list, the post-series riot in Vancouver.

The series was about as memorable as it gets. The ratings were as good as they have been in decades, too. And the Bruins' post-championship romp back in New England became a legend with a reported $156,679.74 bar tab that included one Amstel Light. It kicked off a great summer tour with the Cup for the Bruins, Michael Ryder's Cup mishap included.

There is no disputing the Bruins earned the right to lift Lord Stanley's Cup after one great Final.

Look back: Bruins win Stanley Cup

Photo: Getty Images

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com