The year began on Jan. 1 in the enchantingly snowy setting of Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium with the NHL's first outdoor game in the U.S. A sellout crowd of 71,217 and a national TV audience saw the league's biggest star, Sidney Crosby, seize the spotlight with an assist and the shootout game-winner as the retro jersey-wearing Penguins downed the Sabres, 2-1.
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Teemu Selanne and Peter Forsberg return
Continuing a trend started by Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer the previous December, the two veteran stars put off retirement and returned to their teams in mid-season. Selanne, 37, got a one-year deal worth $1.7 million and was on the ice with the Ducks by Jan. 28, going on to score 23 points in 26 games. Forsberg, 34, got $5 million and scored 14 points in 16 regular season games before chipping in another five in seven playoff games as the surprising Avs reached the second round. After the season, his chronic foot problem started his retire-or-return debate again.
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Coaching carousel begins to turn
With the Senators slumping and coming off consecutive shutouts, John Paddock on Feb. 27 became the first of nine coaches who would be replaced by mid-summer. Paul Maurice (Leafs), Joel Quenneville (Avs), Ron Wilson (Sharks), John Tortorella (Lightning), Ted Nolan (Islanders), Jacques Martin (Panthers), Don Waddell (Thrashers) and Marc Crawford (Kings) were booted or re-assigned. Paddock was replaced by GM Bryan Murray.
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Rick Tocchet returns
Suspended for two years for his involvement in a New Jersey gambling ring that dragged the names of Wayne Gretzky and his wife Janet Jones into the mud, Tocchet returned to his post as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 7. By December, he was the bench boss of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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Richard Zednik injured
In the most horrifying injury of the year, the Panthers forward was slashed on the right side of his neck by teammate Olli Jokinen's skate during a game in Buffalo on Feb. 10. Quick action got Zednik to a local hospital and into surgery where his life was saved by reattaching his carotid artery. After some discussion, the game resumed. Zednik recovered and returned to the ice in September.
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The Feb. 26 trade deadline created big buzz with the high-powered Penguins acquiring sniper Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick. Hossa developed a productive chemistry with Sidney Crosby as the Pens reached the Stanley Cup Final. Other notable deadline acquisitions were Brian Campbell (Sharks), Brad Richards (Stars) and Cristobal Huet (Capitals).
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The head shots issue
On March 9 , Steve Ott of the Stars was suspended for three games for leaving his feet to deliver a hit to the head of Avs defenseman Jordan Leopold. The incident continued to fuel a debate about how best to punish such incidents even when they are not penalized by refs. Earlier in the season, Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Philadelphia's Simon Gagne had been sidelined by similar shots. The issue continued to boil into the 2008-09 season, with the NHL issuing a warning memo to players on Nov. 18.
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Alex Ovechkin scores his 60th goal
On March 21 against Atlanta, the flamboyant Capitals sniper became the first NHL player to score 60 goals since Mario Lemieux bagged 69 while his Penguins teammate Jaromir Jagr potted 62 during the 1995-96 season. Ovechkin tallied twice in a 5-3 win and went on to finish with a league-leading 65 goals and 112 points.
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The Avery Rule
During Game 3 of their Eastern quarter-final series, notorious Rangers pot-stirrer Sean Avery tried to disrupt Martin Brodeur by waving his stick in front of the Devils netminder's face. While not technically illegal, the spirit of the tactic moved the NHL to hastily ban it, thereby creating the Avery Rule. Pleasantries between the two players continued when Brodeur snubbed Avery in the handshake line after the Rangers won the series in five games. "I guess Fatso forgot to shake my hand," Avery said.
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Owners of a reputation for playoff flameouts, the Stars were one of the biggest postseason stories after upsetting the favored Ducks and Sharks before falling in six games to the Red Wings in the Western Conference Final. Much-maligned goaltender Marty Turco redeemed himself by playing brilliantly, particularly by making 61 saves in a 4-OT thriller that eliminated the Sharks.
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Nicklas Lidstrom hoists the Cup
The Stanley Cup Final was made for the marquee with the storied Red Wings battling Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the powerful young Penguins. After a thrilling six-game series, Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom became the first European captain to lead an NHL team to the championship. Fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg was named the Conn Smythe Trophy-winner as Playoff MVP.
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Alex Ovechkin dominated the postseason awards by winning the Art Ross (scoring), Rocket Richard (goals), Hart (MVP), and Pearson (MVP as chosen by the players) trophies. Other notable winners: Nicklas Lidstrom (Norris), Patick Kane (Calder), Martin Brodeur (Vezina), and Pavel Datsyuk (Selke, Lady Byng). Bruce Boudreau won the Adams as coach of the year for a dramatic turnaround by the Capitals that took them from the Southeast basement to first place and a gritty seven-game playoff battle with the Flyers.
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Hasek and Linden retire
Notable departures included the retirements of six-time Vezina-winner and two-time MVP Dominik Hasek, who concluded his 16th NHL season with a first-round playoff benching by Detroit and decided he no longer had the dedication to continue. Linden hung up his skates after 19 seasons and would later be honored by the Canucks, who retired his number 16 in a ceremony on Dec. 17. Linden spent 16 seasons with Vancouver.
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As expected, forward Steven Stamkos went first overall to Tampa Bay in the NHL Draft on June 21 in Ottawa. Defensemen Drew Doughty (Kings) and Zach Bogosian (Thrashers) were the next two picks. Immediately billed by the Bolts as a marquee attraction, Stamkos struggled early in the 2008-09 season while Doughty quickly established himself as a favorite for the Calder Trophy.
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Barry Melrose hired
On June 23, the ESPN analyst returned to coaching after 13 years in the TV studio when he was hired by Lightning owner Oren Koules, a personal friend. Melrose was the highest-profile hire among a new crop of coaches for 2008-09 that included Craig Hartsburg (Senators), Terry Murray (Kings), Tony Granato (Avs), Ron Wilson (Leafs) and Todd McLellan (Sharks) as well as NHL first-timers Scott Gordon (Islanders), John Anderson (Thrashers), and Pete DeBoer (Panthers).
16 of 30Peter Gregoire/SI, David E. Klutho/SI
Marian Hossa's decision to take less money and defect to the Red Wings for one year at $7.45 million and a shot at the Cup was the biggest story, but the Blackhawks made news by signing defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal worth $7.14 million. The Lightning went wild with a big hodgepodge of signings and trades, but the most head-scratching deal was nondescript blueliner Jeff Finger getting $14 million for four years from the Maple Leafs.
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Jaromir Jagr leaves for Russia
As rumored, Jagr parted with the Rangers and ended his 17-year NHL career by signing with Omsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League for two seasons and $25 million. The deep-pocketed KHL challenged the NHL for talent and world supremacy, throwing down the gauntlet by signing Alex Radulov, who was under contract to the Predators. The KHL was embroiled in another controversy when Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov, 19, died during a game on Oct. 13. The KHL was accused of overlooking his heart condition.
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Nashville's precarious situation became more murky when it was revealed that new minority owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio had received $17 million in undisclosed loans from former Preds owner Craig Leipold, who had purchased the Wild, and Kings owner Phil Anschutz. Del Biaggio was under indictment for business fraud, as was Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. On June 24, Ducks owner Henry Samueli was suspended indefinitely after pleading guilty to lying in a stock-option investigation.
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Bowman joins the Blackhawks
On July 31, Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, 74, left a special consultant gig with Detroit after 15 years to join his son, assistant GM Stan, as a senior adviser for hockey operations in Chicago. Bowman signed a three-year deal as the Blackhawks continued their impressive revival from longtime doormat with the efforts of progressive new ownership headed by Rocky Wirtz, the son of late owner Bill Wirtz.
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Season opens in Europe
The 2008-09 season faced-off in Europe on Oct. 4, with the Rangers beating Barry Melrose's Lightning 2-1 in Prague while Sidney Crosby and the Penguins knocked off the Senators 4-3 in Stockholm. The teams played two-game weekend series before returning to North America.
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The great Cup gaffe
The regular season opened in North America on Oct. 9 with Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott dissing the Cup by standing it upside down during the NHL Face-Off Rocks concert at Detroit's Fox Theatre. The defending champion Red Wings later raised their banner at Joe Louis Arena before being stood on their heads by the lowly Maple Leafs, 3-2.
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Denis Savard fired
It took four games for the coaching carousel to start whirling again as the Blackhawks fired Denis Savard, only hours after the team beat Phoenix for its first win of the season. Savard, who was in the final year of his contract, had been told he had to start fast the young, promising Hawks. He was replaced by former Avs coach Joel Quenneville, but remained with the organization as an ambassador.
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Brodeur goes down
With the Devils netminder closing in on Patrick Roy's career wins record (551) and Terry Sawchuk's shutouts mark (103), one of the season's biggest milestone celebrations was put on hold for three-to-four months when Martin Brodeur tore a tendon in his left elbow during a game on Nov. 1. The Devils were forced to turn to backups Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes, but continued to contend in the Atlantic Division.
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Hall of Fame's Class of 2008
On Nov. 10, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto welcomed legendary Russian forward Igor Larionov, clutch winger Glenn Anderson of the dynastic 80's Oilers and '94 Cup champion Rangers, linesman Ray Scapinello and late junior hockey builder Ed Chynoweth.
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Brian Burke leaves the Ducks
On Nov. 13, blustery Brian Burke stepped down as GM of the Ducks and shortly thereafter accepted a long-rumored gig with the Maple Leafs. Burke, who presided over the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup, was replaced by Bob Murray, his top assistant for three-plus seasons.
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Barry Melrose fired
The mullet's honeymoon in Tampa Bay didn't last long. Almost from the start, rumors flew that his players had tuned out the former ESPN analyst and team ownership was getting antsy at his sparing use of rookie Steven Stamkos. Co-owner Len Barrie reportedly visited the dressing room to diagram plays. With the Lightning fizzling at 5-7-4, Melrose was fired on Nov. 15, later lambasting his players as lazy and overpaid during a radio interview in Toronto. Barrie fired back with, "The team had quit on him. The only NHL coach to lose a team more quickly [in the dressing room] was Bill LaForge [fired after 22 games with Vancouver at the start of 1983-84]."
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Canadiens honor Patrick Roy's number
Their split in 1995 was bitter, but the Hall of Fame goaltender returned to Montreal on Nov. 22 to have his number 33 retired as part of the Canadiens' year-long Centennial celebration. Roy, a three-time Vezina Trophy winner, led the Habs to Stanley Cups as a rookie in 1986 and in 1993. "Tonight, I am coming home," he told the sold-out crowd at the Bell Centre.
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Sean Avery suspended
On Dec. 13, the NHL's ultimate loose cannon shot himself in the foot with an off-color remark about former girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert to a TV crew in Calgary. Avery was suspended indefinitely by the NHL, which later gave him six games but ordered him into anger management counseling before he can return. Meanwhile, the Stars used the incident to rid themselves of a player they signed for four years at $15.5 million only to see him become such a divisive presence that longtime icon Mike Modano said he'd rather retire than play with him.
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Sharks get off to record start
With a 3-2 win over the Kings on Dec. 15, the Sharks broke an NHL set by the Bruins in 1929-30 for the best start after 30 games: 52 of a possible 60 points. "I've never been a part of something like this," said captain Patrick Marleau. "We push each other in this room. The guys hold each other accountable. I mean, we're a fun group -- but at the same time, we demand a lot from each other. And I think that's why we've had the start that we've had."
30 of 30Claudio Bresciani/AFP/Getty Images
Canucks sign Sundin
Nine months of speculation ended on December when nine-time All-Star Mats Sundin, 37, signed a one-year deal with Vancouver for a reported $6 million. Sundin left Toronto after 13 years when his contract expired after last season and pondered retiring as well as signing with the Canucks, Rangers, Canadiens, Senators, Flyers and others cited in the daily rumor mill. He was expected to join the Canucks on Dec. 27, when the NHL's holiday roster freeze expires.
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