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My favorite hockey stories of 2012

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Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

One year after a tragic plane crash decimated the KHL team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl returned to the ice. Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov (left, greeting former Capitals teammate Alex Ovechkin after a game) has been tending goal. (Photo by Yury Kuzmin/KHL Photo Agency via Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

A big dark storm cloud lingers over any celebration of hockey in 2012. It’s the NHL lockout and it has been showering grief on the game and its fans for over three months. Now, it also makes my job here a bit easier compared to my colleagues who are covering other sports because so little has happened between June and December that the range of choices for my favorite stories of the year has been sliced dramatically. Still, I’d rather be burdened by having to choose from a full plate.

That said, here are my 10 highlights. (You can read other SI.com writers’ picks here and view a gallery of the 112 most amazing sports moments of 2012 here.)

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  • Published On Dec 20, 2012
  • Don’t expect tougher suspensions from the CBA

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    Veteran Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey and others deserve credit for keeping their comments about the negotiations rather upbeat. (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The headline for the wire service story on Friday’s CBA talks read, “NHL, union reps express optimism after three-hour session.” It was quite a contrast from the prior day and Gary Bettman’s thinly veiled warning of a lockout. The mood Thursday was bleak, the mood emerging from Friday’s talks was less contentious and more hopeful of an agreement being reached.

    Really, however, nothing changed from one day to the next. It was just that more progress is being made in the discussions on the non-economic issues than those focusing on the game’s business. The dollars and sense talk — which cause the most consternation — continues on Tuesday, when the NHLPA presents their counter-offer to the NHL’s views on a reduction in the salary cap and rollbacks on individual player contract matters. That’s when we’ll have our first concrete understanding of how far apart the sides are.

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  • Published On Aug 13, 2012
  • Historic first round a contrast of excitement and hockey’s dark side

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    Coyotes winger Mikkel Boedker is one of the poster boys for this postseason’s exceptional spate of close games: he’s scored two OT goals, one shy of the single year record. (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    It’s been a remarkable first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, historic in many ways. Some of that history is worth celebrating and some is not, but the fact that we’re not even through it yet could make this year’s tournament one we’ll all remember for a long time.

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  • Published On Apr 23, 2012
  • NHL tries to restore order

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    Refs seem to have rediscovered the idea that sending a player to the box and leaving his team in a potentially costly penalty-kill is one of the best ways to curb on-ice mayhem. (Mark Goldman/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Perhaps Wednesday will go down as the day the NHL regained some control over the Stanley Cup playoffs and did it in the most logical manner – having the referees call penalties rather than “let the boys play.”

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  • Published On Apr 19, 2012
  • Will NHL’s Spring of Shame continue?

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    Blackhawks star Marian Hossa was hospitalized by a dangerous illegal headshot of the kind the NHL has been trying to eliminate, not a fight or a clean, hard check. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    What threatens to become the NHL’s Spring of Shame continued on Day 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs when Marian Hossa was stretchered off in the first period of the Coyotes-Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, the result of a clearly illegal but unpenalized hit by multiple offender Raffi Torres. It was the lasting image on another compelling night of playoff hockey and it overshadowed all else, just as each daily episode of brutal play has done.

    This has to be viewed as a crisis for the NHL. The league was prepared to make this its greatest playoffs ever, especially in the U.S., with NBC and its family of channels pumping every game of every series into homes for the first time. But what will likely be remembered by its growing audience is not the best hockey of the year, but perhaps the most barbaric. Who knows what that will mean in the long run? More on that later.

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  • Published On Apr 18, 2012
  • Fiery Blackhawks stand on Canucks’ path to the promised land

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    The reeling Canucks sorely need some of the fire the Blackhawks caught from a devastating hit on Brent Seabrook (left) and the leadership of captain Jonathan Toews. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    With decades of disappointments behind them, the Vancouver Canucks and their fans had reason to believe that the team’s 40th season would be the one in which it would shake off its voodooed past like a dog shakes off water. They could point to the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular season record – a first in franchise history — as a sign that their luck had changed, and a deep roster that any GM would admire. Then the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 series lead against the defending champion Blackhawks, the team that eliminated them in each of the last two seasons. They were on the train to glory.

    That was eight days ago.

    Tonight, the Canucks will fight for their playoff lives, having not won since as they flirt with the ignominious achievement of choking on a three-game lead in a best-of-seven series. (SI.com gallery: Epic playoff collapses.)  Their offensive motor has stalled, their defensive posture has been exposed, their special teams have not been very special and their goaltending appears to be in chaos.
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  • Published On Apr 26, 2011
  • Skating around: Better strike first, playoff mustaches and more notes

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    The Canucks, one of the few teams that has allowed the first goal in a game and lived to tell about it in these playoffs, came back in Game 3 to put the Blackhawks on the brink. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Every year in the playoffs, a strange little trend emerges in the first round. One year it might be shorthanded goals, another year,  road teams winning or an abundance of 5-on-3s.

    This year, after the first five days of Stanley Cup play, we’ll be watching two things: Players growing playoff mustaches instead of beards and how often the team that scores the first goal wins the game.
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  • Published On Apr 18, 2011
  • Torres keeps Headshot Theatre rolling

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    By Stu Hackel

    Headshot Theatre is staying open late this season, maybe all the way into the playoffs, as Raffi Torres of the Canucks clobbered the Oilers’ Jordan Eberle in the video above during Tuesday night’s 2-0 Edmonton victory. The blow earned Torres a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. We’ll learn sometime before Thursday, when the Canucks host the Wild, if Torres will be suspended.

    Looking repeatedly at all three angles on the replay, it’s not clear that Torres actually led with his elbow. In fact, it looks more like contact was made with his shoulder. And if Hockey Ops sees it that way, too, Torres might not get any time off. Or he might, since Eberle’s head was targeted. Or he might not, because he was traveling north-south, which removes the blindside element. Hey, you never know.
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  • Published On Apr 06, 2011
  • Vancouver’s main Manny hard to replace

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    Manny Malhotra’s career-threatening injury will likely renew calls for making helmet visors mandatory in the NHL. It could also cost the Canucks a key player for the postseason. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The initial concern for Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra, who suffered a serious eye injury on Wednesday, is not for this season or even his career, but for his future. Damage to one’s eyesight can be a life-altering experience.

    The second concern is for all NHL players, because risking their careers and their eyesight by not wearing visors seems foolhardy.

    As for the first-overall-in-the-NHL Canucks, losing Malhotra may force their biggest injury test of the season — and they’ve had a few. Third line center being out indefinitely will rob them of their top face-off man and one of the best in the game. Malhotra’s 61.7 percent success rate currently ranks second in face-off winning percentage to the Devils ‘David Steckel (63). Blocking shots and breaking up plays, Malhotra also a main Manny on the Canucks’ penalty-kill, which also ranks second in the league. Last season, the Canucks’ PK ranked 18th. Special teams play is a key to success in the playoffs and Malhotra’s expertise would be greatly missed if he cannot return.
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  • Published On Mar 18, 2011


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