The NHL lockout makes it hard to remember that there was really hockey outside of contract lengths, HRR and back-diving deals.
But there was. A whole bunch of it. And maybe remembering will help us envision a future where the game returns from the boardrooms and under the thumb of lawyers to the ice, where fans can enjoy it once again. Maybe.
At any rate, here's a look at 2012, the calendar year, in hockey as we remember it.
Jan. 2, 2012: We recall the Winter Classic 2012 -- held Jan. 2 to avoid conflicts with the NFL's final regular-season games -- for a couple of reasons, including the last-minute penalty shot by Danny Briere that gave the host Philadelphia Flyers a chance to tie their hated rivals, the New York Rangers. Briere was denied, though, by Henrik Lundqvist in a fitting end to a terrific 3-2 Ranger victory. Remember the Flyers' starter? That's right, not big-money, big-universe netminder Ilya Bryzgalov but Sergei Bobrovsky, who has since been dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Our other memory, not quite in 2012 but close enough, was seeing 48,000 show up for an alumni game that featured Bernie Parent, Bob Clarke and Eric Lindros. Yeah, tickets were bundled together but folks didn't have to show up. But they did. Just another reminder of the stupidity of the lockout as we consider what might have been this season and the canceled weekend featuring the Red Wings against the Maple Leafs and events scheduled for both Comerica Park in downtown Detroit and at Michigan Stadium.
A Winter of Discontent
Jan. 23: The Boston Bruins visited the White House, as is the custom with all Stanley Cup winners. All the team's active players were on hand -- and even some who were no longer with the team -- except defending Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who chose to politicize the normally apolitical moment by staying home. Thomas' stance created a media furor and infuriated many players and Bruins management. The event dogged Thomas throughout the season (he declined to answer questions about it at the All-Star Game in Ottawa shortly after). Thomas and the Bruins were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Capitals, the seventh seed, in a hotly contested seven-game series. Shortly after the Bruins' season ended, Thomas announced, via his Facebook page, that he would be sitting out the 2012-13 season. Little did he know that the NHL would sit out as well, as though in silent support of his views.
Wild Ride (Down)
Feb. 18: The Minnesota Wild lost 4-0 to the St. Louis Blues, marking the team's 15th loss of some sort in a 19-game span, dating to New Year's Eve 2011.The stretch crippled a Wild team that in mid-December had been atop the NHL standings and tumbled out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The collapse set the stage for what would be the most explosive offseason in team history. (See below.)
Karma Is a Female Dog
March 2: Coach Randy Carlyle, dispatched earlier in the season by the Anaheim Ducks, was reunited with old pal Brian Burke when Carlyle was named head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Carlyle, who won a Cup with Burke in Anaheim in 2007, replaced Ron Wilson. The firing shows that karma is indeed a, well, you know. Wilson enraged the large Toronto media contingent by announcing via Twitter on Christmas Day that his contract had been extended, a decision he knew would interrupt Christmas for those covering the team. Carlyle could not, however, get the Leafs over the hump, and they missed the playoffs for the seventh straight year. They are the only NHL team to have missed the postseason every season since the last lockout.
Sid the Kid Is Back
March 15: Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby returned to the ice after another prolonged absence because of concussion-related issues, collecting an assist in a victory over the Rangers in New York. Crosby had been sidelined since December, but managed to stay healthy for the duration of the regular season and playoffs, collecting 37 points in 22 regular-season games. In June 2012, he would sign a 12-year deal worth just over $104 million, which should keep him a Penguin for the balance of his career.
Never A Dull Moment
March 29: The Montreal Canadiens ended a tawdry period of their remarkable history by firing GM Pierre Gauthier with less than two weeks to go in the regular season. The team had continued a period of decline on the ice under Gauthier, but the 2011-12 season was marked by decisions that made the team a laughingstock. Early in the season, the Habs fired assistant coach Perry Pearn, as if he was responsible for the team's poor play and not the overpaid, underachieving lineup Gauthier had assembled. Later, in December, head coach Jacques Martin was fired and replaced by the unilingual Randy Cunneyworth, prompting an outcry in the French-speaking province. In a shameful display of pandering to the fan base, owner Geoff Molson apologized for the move, making Cunneyworth a lame-duck coach, the term "lame" pretty much also summing up the Habs' play. The Habs missed the playoffs and Gauthier was replaced by Marc Bergevin, who hired former Montreal head coach Michel Therrien on June 5 to take over the coaching duties.
Lose to Get In
April 5: With a shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks in their 81st game of the season, the Los Angeles Kings clinched a playoff berth. After a season in which they fired head coach Terry Murray in December, the Kings would in two months' time go on to win their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Lose to Get In, Part II
April 5: Meanwhile, across the continent, the Florida Panthers were clinching their first playoff berth since 2000 in spite of a 4-2 loss to the Capitals. Two days later, they would clinch their first Southeast Division title with a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on the final day of the regular season. The Panthers would go on to a disappointing seven-game loss to the New Jersey Devils in the opening round of the playoffs, but after a decade of meandering in the NHL wilderness, it was hard not to feel enthusiastic about the team's future under GM Dale Tallon and head coach Kevin Dineen. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the lockout could not have come at a worse time for the Panthers.
60 Is the New 50
April 7: With a goal in the Tampa Bay Lightning's final regular-season game in Winnipeg, sniper Steven Stamkos reached the 60-goal plateau for the first time and earned him his first solo Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored in a season. Stamkos had shared the award with Sidney Crosby in 2010, when they each had 51 goals.
That's Using His Head
April 11: With time running out in Game 1 of the opening-round series between Central Division rivals Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators, Norris Trophy nominee Shea Weber grabbed Detroit star Henrik Zetterberg's head and rammed it not once but twice into the end boards. As per the NHL's bizarre system of punishment, Weber was assessed a $2,500 fine. The Predators would go on to defeat Detroit in five games. Karmic or not, the Predators would be defeated by the Phoenix Coyotes in the next round of the playoffs after the Preds were wracked by controversy following the news that Andrei Kostitsyn and recently repatriated Kontinental Hockey League star Alexander Radulov were whooping it up into the wee hours at a Scottsdale bar. For what it's worth, Weber was one of the players who lobbied GM David Poile to return Radulov to the team late in the regular season.
April 19: Mikkel Boedker scored the overtime winner for the second straight game against Chicago Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford to give the Coyotes a 3-1 series lead. Both goals were questionable; in fact, if they had not gone in, they would probably not even have counted as shots on goal. The Crawford muffs reinforced the longstanding belief that the Blackhawks, who have failed to make it past the first round after winning the Cup in 2010, have a gaping hole in their lineup that will continue to dog their efforts to return to contender status. This wild first-round series won in six games by Phoenix featured five one-goal games, four decided in overtime. It will likely be remember most, however, for the disgraceful hit by Raffi Torres on Chicago star Marian Hossa -- which resulted in a 25-game suspension for Torres. That suspension was later reduced to 21 games. Hossa did not play again in the playoffs.
Defend Ye Not
April 25: Joel Ward scored at 2:57 of overtime in Game 7 to give the Capitals an improbable 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins. That Mike Knuble was pretty much smothering Tim Thomas in the Boston goal went uncalled as the Caps, under new head coach Dale Hunter, pulled off one of the biggest playoff upsets in franchise history. Again we refer to karma, but in the next round against the Rangers it would be Ward who would take a late double minor for high sticking in Game 5 that would allow Ranger center Brad Richards to tie the game late in regulation, then set up the winner in overtime as the Caps would fall in seven games.
June 9: The Devils defeated the Kings 2-1 at the Prudential Center in Newark to end the Kings' 10-game road winning streak during the playoffs.
The Last Game We Saw
June 11: Two days later, the Kings would avenge that loss with a 6-1 pummeling of the Devils to secure their first-ever Stanley Cup championship. The deciding game was marked by an early major boarding penalty to Steve Bernier after the Devils forward rammed L.A. defenseman Rob Scuderi face-first into the end boards. The Kings scored three times on the ensuing power play. To no one's surprise, Jonathan Quick was awarded the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
One Staal, Two Staal
June 22: Jordan Staal, one of the best two-way centers in the game, was dealt by Pittsburgh to Carolina, where he will join older brother Eric Staal, who happens to be the team captain. The Penguins received Brandon Sutter, a first-round draft pick and a prospect in exchange for Staal, who signed a 10-year, $60 million extension nine days later.
Oilers Are on a Roll
June 22: The Edmonton Oilers selected Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick in the annual draft in Pittsburgh. It marked the third straight year the Oilers have selected first overall. Although the Blue Jackets are generally considered the worst-run franchise in the NHL, the Oilers have to be considered, given that they have yet to appear in a playoff game since advancing to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. Throw in the three straight No. 1 picks and that's as telling a symbol of dysfunction as any.
Wild and Wacky Stuff
July 4: After days of rumors and reams of stories about their possible destinations, free-agent gems Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed identical 13-year deals with Minnesota worth $98 million each. The signings vaulted the Wild to the top of the pack in the most-improved team discussion and put the team back on the radar in the State of Hockey and beyond. That owner Craig Leipold would later be part of the NHL owners' bargaining committee complaining about the need to change the current economic system didn't go unnoticed by anyone with even a modest sense of the definition of hypocrisy.
Taking A Flyer
July 19: The Flyers presented Shea Weber with an offer sheet worth $110 million over 14 years. The offer sheet accepted by the restricted free agent included $27 million in payments in the first season of the deal. The Predators breathed deeply and matched the offer. One of the curious parts of the lucrative contract is that Weber's deal does not include a no-trade or no-move clause.
Nashing Your Teeth
July 23: After months of speculation, Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash was traded to the Rangers for Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, defensive prospect Tim Erixon and a first-round draft pick. Defensive prospect Steven Delisle also went to the Rangers, whose Stanley Cup stock rose immediately after securing the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner. For the Blue Jackets, it is the end of another sad chapter in the franchise's wholly sad history. Erixon is the wild card in the deal, and if Dubinsky reverts to the 25- to 30-goal promise he showed earlier in his career, then maybe the hole in the lineup created by Nash's departure won't seem as great. Still, optically, is there anything worse than having your franchise player throw up his hands in disgust? No. We didn't think so.
Morons, More or Less
Sept. 15: The third lockout under commissioner Gary Bettman begins. Fans and media begin a protracted period of coming up with innovative ways to say "morons."
Nov. 12: Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin and Adam Oates entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as the Class of 2012. And for a moment at least, it was fun to think about real hockey played by some of the game's greatest players.
They'll Be Back
Nov. 17: Flyers star Claude Giroux injured his neck while playing for Berlin in the German elite league. Giroux saw a neck/back specialist in Atlanta before returning to Ottawa to continue working out and rehabbing. Giroux is among dozens of NHLers who flooded European pro leagues after the lockout began Sept. 15. In spite of petulant threats by players like Alex Ovechkin that they would not return to the NHL when the lockout ended, international rules dictate that all players with valid NHL contracts must return to the NHL or face international sanctions.
Charity Starts at Home
Nov. 24: Close to 30 NHLers took to the ice at an Atlantic City arena on Thanksgiving weekend to raise money for victims of Superstorm Sandy. Led by the Rangers' Brad Richards, who has been active in post-storm relief efforts, the players raised more than $500,000. The event was just one of a number of games in which locked-out players have participated, including well-attended charity events in Minneapolis, Toronto and Windsor, Ontario.