Here is my picks for the top 10 hockey stories of 2010. Starting from 10th. This is part 1.
10TH NHL'ERS TAKING TO TWITTER EN MASS
Ever wanted to know what Bobby Ryan was doing right now? Have you really been wanting to tell Erik Johnson what you think of his play? Well, now you can do that thru twitter.
The fastest growing media/social networking tool on the internet is twitter. Its that place where you can post something, long as it fits into a 140 character frame. While not every NHL'er is on twitter, many of the games rising stars are.
If twitter were a team, they would have some pretty good talent to draw from. Alex Ovechkin, Martin Havlat, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, TJ Oshie, Wojtek Wolski, James Van Riemsdyk, Logan Couture, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Joffrey Lupul, Evander Kane, Maxim Talbot, Scottie Upshall, Steve Sullivan & Matt Duchene on offense. Dan Boyle, Mike Green, Mike Del Zotto, Mike Komisarek, Karl Alzner, Mike Commodore and Brent Sopel on defense. The only thing they are lacking is some goalies. Not 1 notable goaltender seems to be on twitter.....since Dan Ellis closed his up.
While some accounts are now very inactive (Ovechkin hasnt tweeted in over a year), others, such as Phoenix Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette are very active, and very entertaining, like his post from Christmas day "Going to adrian aucoin's house for dinner tonight. Ganna be tough to top D morris's party last night. Unless aucoin rented a circus midget?". In a business where ANY media is better than none, the raw, uncensored & usually entertaining posts of a fringe player like Bissonnette can make him a more attractive option for a team come free agency than another player of similar talents. With over 30,000 followers, a team could look at him as a free marketing tool & a source of a few more sold jerseys than if they signed the tough guy who doesnt have a twitter account.
Some players use it to just tweet about life, like Michael Rupp, while others use it more to promote business ventures they are a part of like Ryan Kesler, the reality is with close to a 100 NHLers on twitter, and dozens more former NHLers, it has become a place for the regular fans, media & other players, to interact & get an inside look at the lives of the NHLers.
The NHL, perhaps more than any of the other major sports has the most to gain from this free promotional tool. While the NBA, NFL & MLB also have tweeters in large numbers, its the NHL who can gain the most from it. Its free promotion for a sport that still in many sections of society hasnt recovered from the lockout, or had notable exposure at all. Everytime the NHL can squeeze their product into a tweet, especially one that makes the trending topics list, its getting its product out to a massive potential new clientel that they would never reac the conventional way or marketing. Even the AHL, CWHL, WWHL, WHL, OHL & various smaller leagues are using it to promote their leagues as well. Again, while other sports are doing the same, the sport of hockey might have more to gain per tweet than the other sports.
9TH CWHL HAS 1ST EVER DRAFT
The most notable women's hockey league in the world had their first ever draft this past summer.
On August 12th this year, the sport of women's hockey took a big step, they had the first official draft in a major women's league. While the previous NWHL & the current WWHL from out west have never had such an event, the fairly new CWHL did have one.
The league didnt have a full draft open to all teams though, as the league acknowledges some of the hardships a player in the league could face if they were selected by a team far from their home & family. So the draft was only to divide up the talent available to the 3 Greater Toronto region teams, Toronto Aeros, Burlington Barracudas & the Brampton Canadettes-Thunder. The other two teams in the league, Montreal Stars & the Boston Blades, both took to free agent signing to fill their rosters.
Toronto, Burlington & Brampton took part in the draft, that allowed the three teams to select any players from GTA region, or overseas. 22 players between the 5 teams were deemed "protected" & the 3 teams selected a total of 101 names were selected.
Tessa Bonhomme, a member of the 2010 Canadian Gold Medal winning Olympic team was the 1st selection in the draft for Toronto.
Burlington would pick 2nd, taking Ashley Riggs, a highly decorated Canadian College hockey player.
Brampton would pick 5th, taking former Canadian National team star, Delaney Collins.
A handful of Europeans were also selected. Most notably was Daniela Rundqvist from Sweden 13th overall by Burlington. Yekaterina Smolentseva selected 89th by Brampton was the only Russian selected in the draft. Finland had 3 picks, Anna Vanhatalo (Brampton) Marjo Voutilainen (Burlington) & Terhi Mertanen (Toronto). A German born player, Manuela Hebel also was selected, however she has played in North America for a bit. Gizela Blom, the final pick of the draft is another Swedish born pick.
Having a draft, even one that only included 3 teams was a large building block in developing the league into a full fledged league. With more than 20 current & past Olympians scattered around the 5 teams, this league has the best hope for women's hockey right now. If they can ever work out an agreement to merge with the WWHL (another 5 team league located in Western Canada & Minnesota), the start for a large league, with 2 U.S. situated teams can develop.
If the league prospers, having an annual draft will certainly be seen a notable building block down the road. People may look back at that first draft in 2010 as the start of a great ride. It gives women's players a goal now, a place to aim for. no longer is College & a possible Olympic spot the only hopes. Being drafted into a league, and winning a league championship against the best players in your sport is now a real option.
8TH DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN- FUTURE NORRIS TROPHY WINNER?
No, this is not a joke. Dustin Byfuglien, the super pest power forward for the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhaws might win a Norris Trophy for leagues best...defenseman??
Originally a defenseman when drafted, Byfuglien has played Right Wing for the past few seasons with the Blackhawks. A role he did so well, he was considered 1 of the most instrumental pieces on the Hawks 2010 Stanley Cup Championship winning team. However, the era of the salary cap would actually take his career in a different direction, one he was formerly familiar with.
The Hawks, strapped for salary cap room, traded Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers this past off season. With limited offense at the teams disposal, it was expected Buffy would slip in to the teams top 2 forward lines with ease. However, the Thrashers head coach, Craig Ramsay saw a different plan for the 6'5 265 lb Minnesotan. Ramsay, a former Selke winner for best defensive forward thought the defenseman turned elite power forward would be best as a defenseman for his offensively challenged team.
The experiment has been a raging success. Not only do the Thrashers have themselves a top end defenseman now, but even in the more limiting offensive position, Buffy has flourished perhaps even more than if he was a forward. Currently Dustin finds himself tied for 11th in league scoring & tied for 2nd in game winning goals, which is good enough for 1st in defenseman goals, Game winning goals & scoring.
The often dismissed Thrashers, a team who has missed the playoffs every year but once in their short history, find themselves 6th in the conference, only 2 pts out of the division lead, and 9 pts clear of the top non-playoff team. All this, despite not having a single player with more than 24 goals last season on the roster, and only 2 with a 30 goal seasons in their career (neither of which had 20 last season).
Although all of the success cant be given to Byfuglien, his pressence on the point has certainly elevated the play of the team around him & because of this, many are taking him seriously as a Norris Trophy winner, let alone contender. With more than 1/2 a season to go, the jury is still out some on whether Byfuglien will take a Norris, but the early indications, he has as good a chance as anyone else right now.
7TH WINDSOR SPITFIRES- BACK 2 BACK MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPIONS
The Windsor Spitfires became back to back Memorial Cup Champions, after beating the Brandon Wheat Kings 9-1 in the final.
It was only 3 seasons ago that the Windsor Spitfires club faces some of its most trying days. The team lost their captain Mickey Renaud to an undetected heart issue late in the OHL season. At the time, the team seemed lost without their leader, and although future NHLers like Michael Neuvirth, Josh Bailey & Taylor Hall gave the team hope, they would fall in the first round without their leader.
In the 2008-09 season, the Spitfires came back & had a mission, to win for Mickey. This team was a much stronger team than the year prior. It had 4 current or future 1st round picks (Hall, Ryan Ellis, Greg Nemisz, Austin Watson) & 12 other NHL draftees on the roster. They went on to win the Memorial Cup that year on an OT goal by Adam Henrique.
In 2009-10, expectations were high for the club, as many of the pieces that got them the teams 1st ever Memorial Cup, were back.
With the loss of 1 1st rounder (Watson) the Spitfires loaded up even more, by adding the likes of 1st rounder Cam Fowler & Zack Kassian to the mix, along with 2 more NHL draft pick to fill in the hole of a couple of the departees.
The club did not disappoint. Finishing 1st in their conference. When the playoffs started, the Spitfires seemed sure of themselves. After a sweep in the first round of the Erie Otters & a 2nd round sweep of the Plymouth Whalers, their confidence seemed warranted. In round 3 however, the Spitfires would open up to a 3-0 series deficit to the Kitchener Rangers. However, they would come back, becoming only the 3rd team in OHL history to win a series after being down 3-0. With that temprary scare firmly implanted in them, they made no more mistakes the rest of the way. Dispensing of the OHL regular season champion, Barrie Colts in 4 straight games, the Spitfires were headed back to the Memorial Cup tournament.
At the Memorial Cup tournament, the lesson of the Rangers series must still have been there, because they didnt take anyone for granted. In game 1 they drubbed the tournament host Brandon WheatKings 9-3. The next game, against the WHL champions from Calgary, they ran over the Hitment 6-2. With 2 wins already under their belt, they knew they would be guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup Finals. They didnt need a win against the Quebec league champion Moncton Wildcats, but they did anyways, with a 4-3 overtime win. Giving them the chance to win the Memorial Cup in a little different fashion than the year prior, where they became the first team to win the Cup after losing their first two games, this time, they had the chance to go indefeated.
In the final, the got the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team they pummeled 9-3 earlier in the tourney. The Spitfires didnt want to leave anything to chance. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. It was 3-0 before the Wheaties got their only goal from Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Matt Calvert. That was the end of the fight for the WheatKings though, as Windosr would pile on SIX more goals, for a dominating 9-1 Memorial Cup Finals win. It gave the Spitfires the most goals in a finals game & most lopsided victory distinctions since the 1973 Toronto Marlboros won by the same 9-1 score. Future Edmonton Oilers 1st overall pick Taylor Hall would win the tournament MVP for his 2nd time, making him the first ever player to do so.
The 2011 season will see the Spitfires start to rebuild. Besides losing Hall to the Oilers, their head coach Bob Boughner left for an NHL assistant coaching job, Cam Fowler has landed in Anaheim, and several other notable pieces have moved up to the minor pro leagues. But with the likes of Kassian & Ellis still on the team, they are not completely void of talent. Add in talented future star Russian rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, German NHL draft pick Tom Kuehnhackl, and Maple Leafs 2nd round pick Kenny Ryan getting a larger role, and their rebuilding stage is still pretty good. Add in NHL 1st round pick Jack Campbell, who opted to play in the OHL this year to the mix, and things look quite decent for the defending 2 time Memorial Cup Champions.
6TH ILYA KOVALCHUK SOAP OPERA
Looking back on how things ended, Los Angeles Kings fans are rejoicing & New Jersey Devils fans are on a constant suicide watch.
This past summer, arguably the largest fish to catch in unrestricted free agency was Ilya Kovalchuk. The Rocket Richard trophy winner in 2004, who in his 8 NHL seasons has passed 40 goals in a season 6 times.
While several teams showed interest, only 2 teams seemed to rise to the top as the serious contenders in the end. The Los Angeles Kings, desperate to get a marquee name to put on their team, and the New Jersey Devils, the team Kovalchuk played for last season.
Anyone following it on sports talk shows, the news or twitter, almost daily was hearing something different, and most of those things as it turned out...were wrong. Kovie seemed destined for the Kings in early rumours, and even on more than 1 occasion tweets & comments in the media suggested he was going to be signed imminently by the Kings. As it turned out, for the Kings sake, this was not true in the end.
The New Jersey Devils would sign the sniper....twice. Their first deal, an insane 102 Million dollar deal over 17 years (YES, 17 years) was denied by the league on the grounds that it was a clear attempt to circumvent the NHL Salary Cap, which is based on the average salary of the contract, NOT the individual season amount. The Devils had front loaded the deal, and added in 7 years at the end of the deal where they would pay Ilya the league minimum, which would bring down the average price down substantially. The league denied the outrageous deal, and in doing so, said they would investigate several other recent long term deals including the likes of Hawks star Marian Hossa and the Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
The Devils would re-work the deal and get the leagues approval on a 15 year, 100 million dollar deal (YES, 15 years). The Devils had finally got the man they coveted to keep. The saga was over, and the Devils, a team constantly in the mix as Cup contenders, could focus on that task.
As it turns out, so far, this deal has been a near nightmare for the Devils. Because of the Salary Cap, the Devils have had to adjust constantly their team to balance the cap issues that Kovalchuk's mosterous deal brings. On more than 1 occasion, the team has even iced an incomplete roster because they financially had to. Kovalchuk himself has been a near disaster, with only 8 goals, and 18 points in 33 games, and a team worst -25... make that a LEAGUE worst -25.
The Devils are the worst team in the league currently, with a 9-23-2 record. They are so brutal offensively, that they could win their next game with 11 goals, and still have the least goals in the league. Kovalchuk doesnt even lead his team in goals or points & is tied for 142 in league scoring, a spot that would barely keep him in the top 10 in rookie scoring.
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