Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Moments from 2010

sidney crosby golden goal canada
It’s the end of the year and that means it’s fashionable to look back at the last 365 days and sum everything up in a neat and tidy list. Let’s hope the end of the year means the Leafs will magically transform from their current mess to something that actually resembles a competent hockey team.

For more year-end goodness check out the always hilarious Down Goes Brown.

Here are my top moments from the past year that stood out above the rest.

John Carlson Ends Canada’s Streak

Canada entered the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatchewan looking to win their sixth consecutive gold medal – breaking their own record in the process.

In the gold-medal match, the United States faced Canada in a thrilling game that will go down as one of the classic games in the history of the tournament. The U.S. broke and 3-3 tie and took a quick 5-3 lead early in the third period and things looked bleak for the Canadians. However, Jordan Eberle (who else) scored two goals in the final three minutes of play to force overtime. However, the comeback stopped there as U.S. defenceman John Carlson flew down the wing and sniped home his second goal of the game, winning the tournament for the Americans.

"With the number 2 pick, the Boston Bruins select, from the Plymouth Whalers, Tyler Seguin"

I might be biased in thinking this was a major moment of the past year because I’m a Leafs fan, but everyone else brings it up constantly, so it must have been a major moment for everyone else as well – if for nothing more than the jokes.

Before the start of the 2009 season, Brian Burke made the controversial decision to trade two first round picks and a second to the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel. Burke clearly thought the team was good enough that the picks he was giving wouldn’t be too high, unfortunately, the Leafs were horrible and sent the Bruins the second overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Boston ended up selecting Tyler Seguin, a potential franchise centreman, with the second overall pick, which also gave them the luxury of trading their own first round pick to the Florida Panthers for Nathan Horton.

To make matters worse, the Leafs could potentially give the Bruins another lottery pick this season. If that’s the case look for this to be on next year’s list as well. I also might become a monk.

Cooke on Savard

Head shots have been a major point of discussion for a few years now and the NHL finally decided to take action against them after this ugly incident. On March 7, Marc Savard was nailed by Matt Cooke and received a Grade 2 concussion that rendered him inactive until he was stupidly allowed to come back early for the playoffs. I say stupidly because Savard missed the first few months of this season with post-concussion symptoms. Cooke wasn’t penalized on the play and Colin Campbell (in his infinite wisdom) decided not to suspend Cooke either.

However, the hit forced the league to introduce a rule against blind-side hits. Specifically, the rule prohibits “"a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact." – via

Whenever I see replays of this hit all I can imagine is Gallagher smashing a watermelon with a sledgehammer.

Another good thing to come from this hit was the goodwill that Evander Kane received when he one-punched Cooke later in the year.

Boston Choke Job

The Bruins took a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Flyers in the second round of the playoffs. Immediately, my father, a lifelong Bruins fan (despite growing up in Montreal), began to worry they would blow the lead. I thought he was just being paranoid, but his paranoia eventually proved to be clairvoyance.

Not only did the Bruins choke away a 3-0 series lead (making them only the third team in NHL history to do so), but they even held a 3-0 lead after the first period of game 7! The Flyers scored four unanswered goals to rally from their early deficit and eventually made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

Being the good son I am I decided to comfort my father by saying “well, at least the Bruins have a high draft pick”. His response, “I’m just going to become a Leafs fan… at least I’ll know well before this that there’s no chance.” Olive branch destroyed. I have nothing but contempt for the Bruins.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s Ridiculous Contract: Part I and II

The Atlanta Thrashers and Ilya Kovalchuk could not agree on a contract extension during the final year of his deal, despite reportedly offering a 12-year, $101 million and 7-year, $70 million contract. Consequently, the Thrashers traded him to the Devils, the most unlikely suitor for the superstar.

Once Kovalchuk became a free agent on July 1st it was clear there were only two major suitors for the talented Russian: the Kings and the Devils. Jersey eventually signed him to a massive 17-year, $102 million contract after weeks of will-he, won’t-he garbage. The contract was understandably rejected by the league for circumventing the salary cap because it’s more than unreasonable to assume that Kovalchuk will still be playing in his mid-40s. The league ended up fining the Devils $3 million, next year’s third round draft choice, and a first round draft choice within the next four seasons (I bet the Devils don’t choose this year).

Eventually, the league approved a 15-year, $100 million deal and the two sides are blissfully happy with each other… Well, actually Kovalchuk has been terrible and the Devils are the worst team in the league.

Note that both the Thrashers and the Kings, the two teams that wanted Kovalchuk the most, are doing far better than the Devils.

Crosby Hits 50

Crosby has always been primarily known as a playmaker – this despite consistently scoring 30 goals – yet changed his game last season with Evgeni Malkin injured for large portions of the season. Crosby turned sniper and scored a career high 51 goals, tied with Steven Stamkos for the league lead.

This season Crosby has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke – already scoring 32 goals in 39 games – putting him on pace for 67 goals.

Crosby has been so dominant this year that he recorded a 25-game streak of at least a point – tied for the 11th longest streak in league history.

Jaro Halak: From Giant Killer to Ex-Hab

The Montreal Canadiens entered the playoffs as the eight seed and massive underdogs against the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals. The Capitals took a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Habs, but were stonewalled by Jaroslav Halak who almost single-handedly defeated the Capitals.

After their stunning upset the Canadiens faced the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Once again, everyone thought the Canadiens had no chance (yes, even Montreal fans thought they had no chance in round one and you can’t spin it differently now). And once again, the Canadiens pulled out an improbable seven game victory, largely on the strength of Jaroslav Halak.

The Canadiens fell short to the Flyers in the Conference Final, but provided fans in Montreal with a good run and much optimism for the following year. However, they also faced a dilemma; which goalie would they keep – playoff hero Halak or former golden boy Carey Price. The choice seemed easy: Halak. But Pierre Gauthier decided to keep Price, which was widely panned at the time, but is looking like the smart move now that Price is having a Vezina quality year.

Chicago Ends the Drought and Immediately Dismantles Team

After waiting for 49 years Chicago ended the league’s longest Stanley Cup drought. It happened on a weird Patrick Kane goal that most people didn’t even see go in without the aid of replays.

The goal capped off a memorable Stanley Cup Final that generated positive TV ratings in both the U.S. and Canada (obviously).

The Blackhawks management allowed themselves a night of celebration and then almost immediately began dismantling the team due to salary cap constrictions. The Hawks quickly shipped Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Andrew Ladd to Atlanta; Kris Versteeg to Toronto; and Colin Fraser to Edmonton. They almost lost Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet and eventually walked away from the contract awarded to Antti Niemi in arbitration.

The trade with the Thrashers has made them a surprisingly competitive team and could catapult them into the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s history. The trades have left the Hawks considerably weaker this season (injuries certainly playing a role), but they have their ring and that’s all that matters.

Winter Olympics (Canada-USA)

This was easily the story of the year. The Vancouver Olympics housed the best hockey I have ever watched and possibly the best, most exciting hockey ever played. Even the games between lightweights Switzerland and Norway were exciting (5-4 Swiss win in OT!).

There was drama along the way, with the United States stunning the Canadians with a 5-3 win that meant the Canadians had to go through the Russians in the Quarterfinals, which proved a surprisingly easy task (7-3 Canada win, although even that lead over the Russians felt tentative).

Canada barely beat a competitive Slovakia in the Semifinals, whereas the U.S. blasted the Fins 6-0 to set up a re-match from the 2002 Olympic Gold Medal game between the two long-time rivals. The game was so fast, so exciting, and ended with Crosby’s “Golden Goal”, one of the most memorable goals in hockey history.

Plus, due to the Olympics we didn’t have to suffer through a meaningless All-Star Game. Good times all around!

There you have it - 2010! Done. Some other things happened (we learned Alex Ovechkin has weird lower back tattoos) and other things didn't happen (Kaberle is still a Leaf). It was fun and it wasn't.

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