BY ADAM KIRSHENBLATT
Here are the Top 10 stories of 2016:
10. Dennis Wideman
After taking a hit to the head in his own zone, Wideman inexplicably hit linesman Don Henderson on his way to the bench from behind, injuring him. Since then it’s been a legal kerfuffle involving the seizing of texts and an appeal process that went all the way up to the independent arbitrator for the first time since it was added to the CBA. Initially, Wideman was suspended for 20 games but was reduced to 10 by arbitrator James Oldham. Since then the NHL have dismissed Oldham and are in the process of suing the NHLPA over the result.
9. Penguins Road to the Cup
There were many storylines in Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup victory. Both the Penguins and Sidney Crosby had middling starts and were on the verge of missing the playoffs; Phil Kessel’s rise from zero in Toronto to hero in Pittsburgh; and the emergence of young Matt Murray as the Penguins' starting goalie. After a coaching change in December the Penguins went on a roll and Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy to further cement his place as a future Hall of Famer.
8. World Cup of Hockey
After some concerns about the competitiveness of the newly created Team Europe and Team North America, both squads performed beyond expectations. Team North America captured the hearts of hockey fans with their speed and skill, while Team Europe, despite a slow start, made it all the way to the final against Canada and gave them as much as they could handle. In the end, the finish was expected with Canada the victor?
7. The return of Carey Price
When Carey Price got hurt in November of 2015, there were questions about whether he would return as the dominant goaltender he was prior to the injury. The 2015 Vezina and Hart Trophy winner put those questions to bed going 5-0-0 in the World Cup of Hockey and starting his 2016-17 season winning his first 10 games. Price is still on a different level than any other goalie and is up there as the best player in the league.
6. Auston Matthews' debut
Matthews was the prize for the Maple Leafs finishing in last place in the 2015-16 season. The pain coach Mike Babcock spoke of immediately paid off when the 19-year-old rookie scored four goals in his NHL debut against the Senators. His play has made him a story not only in Toronto, but around the United States as Maple Leaf games are now being picked up by NBCSN to showcase the Arizona native.
5. Connor McDavid’s emergence
When McDavid went down with an injury in November of 2015, no one thought he could make a push for the Calder Trophy. Those people ended up being dead wrong as from February to the end of the season he scored 11 goals and 36 points in 32 games to finish third in Calder Trophy voting. This year, he is tied with Sidney Crosby for the league in points with 42. McDavid is the main reason the Oilers are among the Pacific Division leaders.
4. John Scott: All-Star
What started as a joke ended up as the best feel good story of the year. Fans voted in droves for John Scott to make the little used enforcer the leading vote getter for the All-Star Game. The whirlwind that ensued afterward saw him traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens, who then sent him to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, which led to the question of if he was eligible to participate. After the NHL tried to convince him to step down, they eventually welcomed him with open arms. Adding more lore to his legend, he scored two goals in the three-on-three tournament to earn MVP honors. This is now the stuff of movies, which they’re making.
3. Mr. Hockey
In June, the hockey world lost a member of the game’s royalty. After a series of strokes in the last couple of years, Gordie Howe passed away at the age of 88. The NHL all-time leader in games played competed professionally in five different decades and is known as one of the most physical and skillful players to ever play the game. On top of his play on the ice, the efforts that he made to grow hockey in the United States go above and beyond what was asked of him. He will be greatly missed.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
It will have been 17 years since the league last expanded when the Las Vegas Golden Knights open the 2017-18 season. In a process that saw Quebec City’s bid deferred, and Vegas awarded a franchise, the new team helps the NHL with their alignment issues. This will be the first expansion draft in the salary cap era, which will continue to be a story going into 2017.
1. 23 Minutes of Madness
We already knew the 2016 NHL off-season was going to be crazy, with 26-year-old superstar Steven Stamkos on the verge of unrestricted free agency, but no one could have expected the events of June 29. In roughly 23 minutes, four star players made headline news, in turn, making hockey fan’s heads spin. First, at 3:34 p.m., the Edmonton Oilers shocked everyone by trading Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. 20 minutes later, P.K. Subban was traded from Montreal to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. While hockey fans were pining on those two deals, three minutes after that, it was announced Stamkos would stay in Tampa Bay, just two days before he was to hit the open market. Oilers, Canadiens, and fans of Stamkos suitors were left in shock and effects still haven’t worn off.