The damage to the sport in lost prestige, alienated fans, an entire season lost and jobs shed was dramatic, but the NHL emerged better positioned as an entertainment entity. Several teams still struggle, but the cap ensured a parity-inducing distribution of talent and influx of younger, cheaper prospects. Rules changes to free up skill players (no red line; a strict reinterpretation of obstruction) achieved their goals. The shootout, derided by purists, added excitement that won fans and created highlight material for TV. The NHLPA, though, has yet to fully recover.
Their second-round 2009 playoff matchup was a seven-game thriller that captivated more than the usual fan base. Both were magnificent (each had eight goals; Ovechkin edged out Crosby in assists, 6-5), but in the decisive Game 7, it was A.O. who blinked, failing to convert on a second period breakaway that might have turned the tide in Washington's favor. Crosby's Penguins took this round, but both players left fans hoping that this was only the first of many such showdowns.
After nearly five months of wrangling that aired loads of dirty laundry, Judge
The cost: dramatically diminished exposure just as the league was introducing a stunning array of new stars. Versus recently reported a 16 percent increase in viewers compared to the same time last season. And while the network doesn't offer a nightly highlights show, all games are in high definition and there is wall-to-wall playoff coverage. Rumors suggest ESPN will reenter when the Versus deal ends in 2011.
Reacting to the brutality and outcry, the NHL suspended Bertuzzi for a record 17 months, including the duration of the 2004-05 lockout, when he was prevented from joining other NHLers playing overseas. Criminal charges filed in British Columbia resulted in a guilty plea and sentence of one year's probation plus 80 hours of community service. A civil suit filed in Denver was dismissed, but a $38 million suit filed in Ontario remains before the courts.
With a record 71,127 on hand and the largest TV audience for a hockey game in 10 years, the NHL's bold gamble to play outdoors on Jan. 1, 2008, paid off. It was a closely contested match that managed, for the most part, to survive the elements and come down to one shot. Slicing through the driving snow, Crosby went straight at Sabres goalie
So far, it's primarily an attractive retirement home for fading stars like
At times it seemed the weight of expectations would overwhelm the assembled talent. But an us-against-them diatribe from GM Gretzy reset their focus and a centered squad found itself in the finale everyone wanted: against Miracle maestro
From the puck drop, the match was a thrilling blend of NHL-style physicality and Olympian speed, the tide threatening to turn on every shift. In the end, it was