NHL in 2012: More than just a lockout

You don’t want to read this.
You have had it with the Year 2012 as it relates to the National Hockey League. You’re sick of the players, the owners, their representatives, their greed and their lack of respect for you: the fan.
And that’s fair.
But regardless of where the ongoing lockout, which is gobbling up games in two- and four-week chunks, leaves us in 2013, the last 12 months have been about more than just Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr and Bill Daly dying on a hill formed by your hard-earned money.
NHL 2012 is also one of hockey’s most perfect defencemen, Nicklas Lidstrom, calling it a career. It’s Steven Stamkos scoring 60 at an age that leads us to believe he could score 70 one day. It’s tremendous parity throwing wrenches into our playoff pools. It’s free-agent bidding gone bonkers and offer sheets getting under people’s skin. It’s the eight-seed Los Angeles Kings winning their first Stanley Cup in 45 years and the owner-less Coyotes playing their best hockey ever.
It’s loud voices and louder play. It’s line brawls and shot blocks and surprise goaltending performances. It’s Evgeni Malkin making you question whether Sidney Crosby is the best player on the Penguins, and Claude Giroux making you wonder if he doesn’t want it more than both of them. It’s the Vancouver Canucks having one starting goaltender too many and suspensions (or no suspensions) coming at the worst possible times.
In short, hockey is still sweaty and frustrating and exhilarating and unpredictable.

Villain of the year: Jeremy Jacobs

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would be the no-brainer choice here, and if we gave the players’ union five days of Internet voting to determine the Villain of the Year, there would be enough X’s next to Gary’s image to fill a treasure map emporium – and probably a few devil’s horns Sharpied onto his forehead.
But Bettman’s villainy is nothing new, and it’s part of his job description to take the arrows.
The spreading acknowledgment of Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, however, as chief negotiating hawk is far more compelling.
While Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold’s twin signings of free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98-million deals remains the go-to reference for disingenuous deals, the Bruins’ throwing new money – over $70 million of it — at Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tyler Sequin just days before the old CBA expired and then resisting making those deals “whole” is suspicious, to put it politely.

Fans and players turned on Jacobs, who runs one of the most profitable NHL clubs and a talented team that could compete for another Cup if, you know, there was a 2012-13 season.
In a scathing piece by Joe Haggerty on CSSNE.com, Jacobs painted as a boardroom bully who wields an inordinate amount of influence over Bettman and should be held responsible for the lockout.

Honourable mention: Raffi Torres

Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres, he of the extensive discipline record, left his feet and hammered Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa in the teams’ tightly contested playoff series. After Hossa was stretchered off, the Coyotes won the series. Torres was dealt a 25-game suspension (later reduced to 21), and Hossa wasn’t cleared to play again until mid-December:

Team of the Year: The Players

We give this award to The Players not because the 750 or so locked-out NHLers will be able to claim victory in the labour spat that has occupied hockey headlines and robbed us of our highlights for a third of the 2012 calendar, nor because they have managed to stay essentially unified throughout this tedious process. We give this trophy to The Players because if it weren’t for the lockout, we wouldn’t have learned quite so much about the specific character and personality of the individual characters we are so accustomed to getting pucks in deep and playing for the team.
It’s difficult to cheer for, say, the Rangers when they’re practising in various North American locations or playing untelevised games for a variety of European clubs you don’t care about.
So the characters take centre ice. The good – the charity efforts of so many, including Operation Hat Trick and The Players’ tour through small-town Quebec. The bad – Winnipeg Jets blue-chippers Ondrej Pavelec and Evander Kane struggling to hold down jobs in European pro leagues. And the ugly – the petty name-calling and sense of entitlement some players have exhibited.
Given a choice, we’d take a full 82-game slate of NHL action, no questions asked.
But were it not for the lockout, would we know that Bobby Ryan is willing to take a job overseas after all? That pluggers George Parros and Kevin Westgarth and Chris Campoli are real leaders? That Henrik Lundqvist is willing to save all of his equipment to help the superstorm-stricken people of New York?

Would the young, exciting Edmonton Oilers get a chance to grow their bond and develop their on-ice chemistry in the hockey shadows of Oklahoma? Would the respect for Sidney Crosby the man have elevated so quickly had he not been so mature and forthright during these tedious months? Would the people of Russia been treated to stuff like this?

Honourable mention: Los Angeles Kings

The eighth-seeded club sneaked into the playoffs after a coaching change and made knocking off the best teams in the West look relatively easy en route to the franchise first championship.

Tweet of the Year: Paul Bissonnette

At its best, Twitter is concise, funny, insightful and only self-promotional in the vague sense of flexing a little wit.
NHL Twitter star nonpareil Paul “BizNasty” Bissonnette, a fourth-line player who could win a social-media skills competition blindfolded, tapped send on nine-word tweet that spoke volumes about the NHL in 2012. And, better, made us laugh out loud:

The message has more than 3,500 retweets and 940 favourites at last check.
Honourable mention: L.A. Kings

Sent from a team that had just eliminated the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, this p.r. missive couln’t have been better timed, nor more cheeky.
The tweet captures @LAKings at its clever-arrogant peak, and garnered no fewer than 14,300 retweets, 3,000 favourites, and salted the wound of countless angry ‘Nucks fans.

Surprise of the Year: Braden Holtby

With the first two goaltending options on the Capitals’ depth chart, Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, out with injury, third-stringer Braden Holtby was summoned from the AHL’s Hershey Bears to face the big, bad Boston Bruins in their first-round playoff defence of the 2011 Cup championship.
A long shot to outduel the defending Conn Smythe and Vezina winner at the opposite end of the rink, the 22-year-old Holtby (.940 save percentage) was equal parts spectacular and unflappable, besting Tim Thomas in the closest NHL playoff series ever contested. All seven Bruins-Caps games were decided by a single goal, a league first; four of them needed overtime, one needed double.
“He’s in beast mode,” Joel Ward, the Capitals’ Game 7 overtime hero, said of his teammate, who had twice as many NHL playoff games (14) than regular-season contests (seven) this year.
But our favourite Holtby highlight isn’t even a save (or one of the many crowd shots of his cheering mom). Like a poker shark calling some dead money’s bluff, Holtby glares at opponent Rich Peverley who threatens to bash the young goalie with a two-hander.
Love it:

Honourable mention: Shea Weber’s offer sheet

When the Philadelphia Flyers boldly inked RFA defenceman Shea Weber to a rare offer sheet this summer, the Nashville Predators needed to pony up $110 million over 14 years or become irrelevant.

Rant of the Year: Krys Barch

Could this category be more crowded this year?
Missed paycheques and missed opportunities tend to yank the rant out of hockey folk. Typically mild-mannered Fin Teemu Selanne flashed his anger in blog that ripped Gary Bettman and the owners. New Jersey Devils enforcer Cam Jansen got all homophobic explaining the role of an enforcer. And consummate captain Shane “No Cuss” Doan sounded off on the referees, after his Phoenix Coyotes were ousted from the conference finals:

These are just a few nominees, and we’re not even privy to some of the NSFW inspiration New York Rangers coach John Tortorella yelled at his shot-blockers between periods.
But the NHL rant to end all rants belongs to another Devils tough guy, one who put pen to heart and OV to lips:

And so it began in late September: a 12-part Twitter confession from a “blue-collar” locked-out NHL player with 12 career goals, trying to make sense of his role in the owners’ decision to cut him off.

Barch’s public diary gave some reason to bash the cry-poor players (Barch made US$850,000 last season) and inspired others to consider how the lockout affects the game’s middle class. It gave all of us a handy excuse the morning after: “My bad. I was eight OV deep.”

Honourable mention: Ranch hand Jimmy Devellano’s cattle analogy

The Detroit Red Wings exec was slapped with a $250,000 fine from the NHL when he broke lockout protocol and gave an interview during the lockout. Devellano used a ranch analogy in which he referred to players as cattle. Needless to say, his comments were not well-received.