If you’re looking for the biggest stories in the hockey world over the past decade, you’ll have to look beyond the ice. Far beyond it. While the 2010s produced some of the most eye-popping and dynamic talent the game has ever seen, much of what we’ll remember about it the most happened away from the rink. Here are the top stories of the past 10 years:
10. 2012-13 Lockout
For the third time in NHL history, a season was disrupted when the owners locked the players out after failing to reach a collective bargaining agreement. The NHL, as always, was the big winner in the standoff, reducing the players’ share of revenues from 57 to 50 percent, and eliminated the ridiculously front-loaded contracts. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said five-year term limits was, “the hill we will die on,” and didn’t get it. The players failed to enshrine Olympic participation as part of the deal, which paved the way for the league to pull out of the 2018 Games against the players’ wishes.
9. Return of the Winnipeg Jets
When the NHL needed an NHL-ready landing spot for the Atlanta Thrashers in the summer of 2011, it chose Winnipeg, a market without an NHL team since the original Jets left for Phoenix 15 years prior. Since then, the Jets have built a model franchise, accumulating assets through the draft and doing a good job of convincing them to stay on the Prairies. There has not been a ton of on-ice success and, despite being picked by The Hockey News to win the Stanley Cup in 2019, lost in the first round of the playoffs.
8. Alex Ovechkin
No player has even come within the same area code of the 425 goals (through games of Dec. 21) scored in the decade. He scored 50 goals four times – and could be on his way to another 50-goal campaign this season – and picked up six Rocket Richard Trophies to go along with his Hart Trophy in 2012-13 and his Ted Lindsay Award in 2010. But it was in 2017-18 that Ovechkin finally realized his dream and proved to the hockey world that he could win when it mattered. Not only did the Capitals win the Cup in 2018, but they did it behind the inspired play of Ovechkin, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Could Ovechkin passing Wayne Gretzky for all-time goals be the story of the 2020s? It’s still a longshot, but it’s remarkable we’re even having the conversation.
7. The NHL’s gamble pays off
Aided by the most generous rules in expansion draft history, the Vegas Golden Knights put together the best first season of any team in professional sports. Five days before the Golden Knights played their first-ever game, a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a music festival, killing 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The franchise responded by reaching out to the victims and their families as well as the first responders. The ‘Golden Misfits’ won six of their first seven home games and crafted an unbelievable season that culminated in a berth in the Stanley Cup final.
6. Blackhawks Up
After decades of languishing as one of the league’s most moribund and neglected franchises, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010, starting a run that qualifies them as a modern-day dynasty. They followed that up with Cups in 2013 and 2015 and sold out every one of their home games in the decade (as of Dec. 22). The end of the decade brought the predictable ebb in fortunes that comes after a team has a run of success, but there more than two dozen franchises in the NHL that would trade this decade with the Blackhawks in a heartbeat.
5. Connor McSavior
He first entered the consciousness of the hockey world while playing minor hockey in Toronto and even before he played a game with the Erie Otters as an exceptional player, Connor McDavid was being labeled a generational talent. And so far in his NHL career he has done nothing to suggest the label was overhyped. If anything, perhaps the hype wasn’t even large enough. The NHL has never, ever seen a player with the gifts McDavid has. By the end of the decade, McDavid had established himself as the best player in the world. The only thing that has eluded him is playoff success. That should come in the next decade as the Edmonton Oilers, after so many attempts, finally look as though they’re starting to get it right.
4. Sid’s golden goal
Prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the game had never been played at a higher level than the 1987 Canada Cup when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux performed their magic. From start to finish, the 2010 tournament was a spectacular display of the game at its best, on the biggest stage in the world. And it was capped off by an overtime goal by a 22-year-old Sidney Crosby at 7:40 of the extra frame. Down by two goals in the second period, Team USA fought back, tying the score with just 24.4 seconds remaining. It was the most-watched hockey game in the U.S. since the Miracle on Ice in 1980 and half of Canada watched the game in its entirety.
3. Matt Cooke and Rule 48
In a game on March 7, 2010 in a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, Cooke delivered a blow to the head of Marc Savard that knocked Savard out of the lineup for two months. And the hit was perfectly legal at the time. Responding to outrage that Cooke had not been suspended, within 17 days the league did something almost unprecedented, invoking an in-season rule. This one was Rule 48, and while it came short of invoking a complete ban on blows to the head, it did begin to seriously penalize hits such as the one Cooke put on Savard.
2. Concussions, premature deaths and CTE
The NHL lost former enforcers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Todd Ewen, all of whom took their own lives. The deaths brought to light the role of enforcers in the game and how the league dealt with the health problems brought on by repeated concussions. It ultimately led to a concussion lawsuit on behalf of more than 300 former players. The two sides settled six years after the lawsuit was launched, with plaintiffs receiving up to $22,000 and up to $75,000 worth of treatment. To this day, commissioner Gary Bettman has dismissed a direct link between concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a disorder that can only be diagnosed after death.
1. Humboldt Broncos bus crash
On the afternoon of April 6, 2018, 13 people were killed and another 16 injured when a semi-trailer truck collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos to a playoff game in nearby Nipawin. The worst tragedy in Canadian sports history rocked the hockey world to its core. A GoFundMe campaign raised a record $15 million for the families of the dead and injured. The driver of the truck was charged with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and received concurrent sentences of eight years. The families have lobbied for stricter guidelines around training and governing truck drivers and installing seatbelts on buses, but change has been slow.
Over the next two weeks, The Hockey News will be wrapping up the 2010s with a look back at the best – and worst – of the decade. Find more here.
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