Biggest hockey stories of 2011
Start with the, cough, Winter Classic. This is the NHL's annual ode to the game, but, other than TV ratings and commercial bonanza, it had neither reason nor rhyme on New Year's Day 2011. The scheduled afternoon game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh was switched to night because of a rainstorm. The downpour eased to a steady drizzle after dark, but the NHL still allowed its marquee talent to play in conditions you wouldn't send your daughter's peewee team out in. Late during the second period, in a drive-by -- and purportedly accidental -- collision, Washington's David Steckel bumped into Crosby, dazing him. Crosby played in the third period even though HBO's 24/7 cameras would vividly show a few days later that he certainly didn't look like himself after the hit. Crosby, who complained only of neck pain, was back Jan. 5 in Tampa Bay when a solid although hardly thumping check into the end boards by defenseman Victor Hedman resulted in, or perhaps compounded, a concussion.
Crosby did not come back until Nov. 10, when he re-entered with a four-point flourish against the Islanders, including a pair of goals scored on the backhand. There was a wave of magical thinking in the aftermath that he would be good as new. It lasted seven-plus games. In a Dec. 5 match against Boston, Crosby took an elbow in the face from David Krejci and also collided with linemate Chris Kunitz. He subsequently was held out of two games for precautionary reasons but is now on injured reserve, the marquee victim of the NHL's ongoing concussion epidemic. The league tried to address the problem in June by enhancing its Rule 48 on headshots, which now includes all targeted hits to the head instead of just the ones from the lateral or blind side. But as the year neared its conclusion, Crosby was among the more than 20 players, including stars such as Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger of the Flyers, Mike Richards of the Kings, and Jeff Skinner of the Hurricanes, who had been sidelined by head injuries.
Shanahan's brief time on the job has been generally, if not universally, well received, at least after some of his preseason ardor -- a collective $700,000 in lost salaries through suspensions -- cooled. His most controversial decision involved a non-suspension. Shanahan gave the Bruins' Milan Lucic a pass after the winger had wallpapered Sabres goalie Ryan Miller at the face-off circle, which touched off a foofaraw, especially with Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff.