Ten biggest hockey stories of the decade

As this decade draws to a close here’s a look back at the 10

most notable NHL stories of the past 10 years.

1.The Lockout. The NHL locked out the players in

September 2004 claiming it needed cost certainty — in other

words, a salary cap — to control the rapid rise of players

salaries, help struggling teams build competitive rosters and make

the game more affordable to its fans. After shutting down for the

entire 2004-05 season, the league returned to action in the fall of

2005 with a salary cap and the NHL Players Association in disarray.

It was, however, a Pyrrhic victory as today the average player

salary and ticket prices are at all-time highs, the league is still

trying to rebuild its visibility in the U.S. sports market and the

cap failed to help struggling teams in Phoenix, Nashville, Miami,

Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

2. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Drafted

within a year of each other the two wunderkinds not only saved the

Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals but helped revive

interest in the NHL in the United States. Hockey fans today debate

over which is better, just as another generation did with Wayne

Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. By decade’s end Ovechkin had won

more individual awards, but Crosby helped carry the Penguins to a

Stanley Cup championship, becoming the youngest captain in league

history to do so. Heading into a new decade, Crosby and Ovechkin

will remain the NHL’s standard bearers.

3. Todd Bertuzzi attacks Steve Moore. Late in a

March 8, 2004 game between the Vancouver Canucks and Colorado

Avalanche, then-Canucks forward Bertuzzi attempted to get revenge

upon Moore for a borderline hit on linemate Markus Naslund earlier

in the season. When Moore failed to be provoked, Bertuzzi knocked

him out with a sucker punch from behind then jumped Moore, driving

his head into the ice. The incident was trumpeted by the mainstream

media as a prime example of mindless violence in pro hockey and

irrevocably changed the lives of the two players. Bertuzzi received

a lengthy suspension and continued his career but is no longer a

star forward, while Moore’s career was ended by the incident,

resulting in his filing lawsuits against Bertuzzi and the Canucks.

4. Red Wings and Devils dominate. Dynasties

— teams which win consecutive championships — are

rarities in the modern game but the Detroit Red Wings and New

Jersey Devils were the closest thing to dynasties during this

decade. Both teams advanced to the Stanley Cup final three times

and both won two championships; the Red Wings in 2002 and 2008, the

Devils in 2000 and 2003. Numerous players have passed through their

ranks during this decade but shrewd management and talented depth

made the Wings and Devils perennial Cup contenders.

5. Farewell to the Greats. Several superstars

retired during this decade, having left their mark upon the league

during their long careers. Mark Messier, Raymond Bourque, Patrick

Roy, Ron Francis, Brian Leetch, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Scott

Stevens, Al MacInnis and Luc Robitaille retired and were inducted

into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Joe Sakic was the latest to retire

and his induction is a foregone conclusion. They were among the

greatest of their era and their achievements won’t be

forgotten by hockey fans.

6. Mixed Results for Southern NHL teams. The Tampa

Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks won Stanley

Cup championships between 2004 and 2007 but have recently struggled

to ice competitive clubs while revenue concerns plague the

Lightning and Hurricanes. The Nashville Predators have been

competitive for several seasons but have struggled at the gate. The

San Jose Sharks emerged as a league powerhouse in recent years

while the L.A. Kings struggled for most of the decade. The Dallas

Stars were a dominant team earlier in the decade but

ownership’s financial woes now have them operating on a tight

budget. As for the continually struggling Phoenix Coyotes, Florida

Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers, it’s been a decade best

forgotten.

7. Rebirth of the Blackhawks. For most of the

decade the Chicago Blackhawks were considered a joke as crusty

owner William Wirtz nearly ran the franchise into the ground and

drove away legions of fans. Over the past three seasons, however,

the Blackhawks have gone through significant change. Rocky Wirtz

took over the franchise following his father’s death and

embraced modern marketing techniques. Rebuilding mainly around

young players — notably Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

— the Blackhawks by decade’s end are considered a

Stanley Cup contender and lead the league in attendance.

8. The Winter Classic. Initially considered a lame

novelty attempt to compete with college football on New

Year’s Day, the Winter Classic instead turned into a

successful marketing gimmick for the NHL. Based on the Heritage

Classic outdoor game between Montreal and Edmonton in 2003, the

Winter Classic — an outdoor game featuring well-known

American-based teams — became a popular annual event, earning

solid television ratings. The NHL has received criticism over the

years for some of its marketing attempts but by returning the game

to its roots on New Year’s Day the league got it right.

9. The Blackberry Billionaire. Canadian

billionaire Jim Balsillie had the league’s blessing in 2006

to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins but backed out when the league

demanded a promise not to move the franchise. A year later he made

a pitch to purchase the Nashville Predators and move the team to

Hamilton, Ontario but was thwarted when the league opted to sell to

local investors. In 2009 he tried to purchase the bankrupt Phoenix

Coyotes for far above their estimated value, resulting in months of

litigation with the league until the court ultimately ruled against

his bid when he insisted on being allowed to move the franchise. It

remains to be seen if Balsillie will try again in the next decade

but with several NHL teams rumored to be in financial trouble, one

shouldn’t rule out the possibility.

10. The KHL. Formed in 2008, the Kontinental

Hockey League was established by several influential Russian

businessmen and sports figures providing an alternative to the NHL

for their country’s top talent. Several KHL teams also tried

to pry away Russian and European NHL stars with big contracts but

had limited success, becoming thus far an alternative destination

for fading veterans. Still, the KHL has shown no sign of going away

and its organizers remain intent on becoming a significant rival to

the NHL.