The past year has been almost unfathomably successful for hockey fans in the Seattle area and beyond, as we’ve experienced the ultimate spark that has been needed to finally ignite the new era in Pacific Northwest hockey culture. This new era is one that will—in the relatively near future—include an NHL franchise that calls the Emerald City its permanent home.
New Year’s is a time for revelry, a time for celebration, a time for excitement, a time for reflection, and it just so happens that as I’m sitting in a little cabin in the Cascade Mountains, preparing to ring in 2019 in style, I’ve done a LOT of reveling… and also a little reflecting… but mostly just reveling. Maybe it’s all that reveling, but I felt like this would be as good a moment as any to take a look back at a year that will be remembered as being pivotal in the development of Seattle hockey, and to recall some of the stories and moments that have captivated us in 2018.
Here are my top ten hockey stories of the year
10.) Willie Nylander’s Stupid Contract Holdout
This story is ONLY on the list because of the amount of coverage it received, which—by definition—makes it one of the biggest stories of the year. And trust me, this story, which involved some consistent intrigue and guessing as to what would be the outcome, got more than its fair share of coverage. After all, it did play out in the proverbial “Center of the Hockey Universe,” and right under the noses of the blood-thirsty Toronto media, so there was no way this thing would get under covered.
In the end, it truly did come down to the eleventh hour, as Nylander finally re-signed with the Maple Leafs at the very last possible moment before the deadline passed that would have eliminated the skilled youngster from eligibility this season. The irony of it all, though, is that Nylander—after skipping nearly three full months of regular season hockey while trying to squeeze every last penny out of new Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas—ultimately signed for exactly what everybody thought he would get, proving once and for all that this whole thing was a colossal waste of everyone’s time.
9.) The MANY Coach Firings
During the entire 2017-2018 campaign, not a single NHL coach was given his pink slip during the season, an extreme rarity for a league that normally sees benchbosses get chewed up and spat out faster than a piece of FruitStripe gum (seriously, remember how quickly that garbage lost its flavor?). But this season, a few squads got out to bad starts, and down came the fiery wrath of a thousand angry GM’s, as head coach after head coach was shown the door.
First it was John Stephens getting canned by the Kings, then Joel Quenneville in Chicago, Mike Yeo in St. Louis, Todd McLellan in Edmonton, and Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia
(soon after the GM that hired him was also relieved of his duties).
The Quenneville firing by Stan Bowman in Chicago still boggles my mind. Can we have him in Seattle somehow? Please?
8.) The Various Unmitigated Disasters of the Ottawa Senators
The many issues that have surrounded the Senators’ franchise off the ice over the past year could each probably earn individual spots on this list, but I didn’t want this to be a “Top Ten Senators Stories of 2018” post, so I lumped them all together.
Here are some of the things that have shocked and awed us from the Canadian capital:
- Mike Hoffman’s fiancee, Monika Caryk, getting accused of harassing and bullying Erik Karlsson’s wife, leading to:
- A restraining order filed against Caryk.
- An ugly and ongoing legal battle.
- Hoffman getting traded to the Sharks because GM Pierre Dorion didn’t want to trade him within the Atlantic Division, leading to:
- Hoffman immediately getting flipped to the Panthers, putting him back in the division.
- Karlsson—arguably the best defenseman in the NHL—being traded to the Sharks.
- Owner Eugene Melnyk participating in perhaps the most awkward promotional video of all time.
- Several Ottawa players, with Matt Duchene as the star of the show, unknowingly getting filmed while verbally dumping on their coaching staff in the back of an Uber, then having the video get released in a very viral fashion.
Oh, and by the way, Melnyk also threatened to move his team out of Ottawa during the lead-up to the Heritage Classic (but that happened at the very end of 2017, so we can’t technically include that), and he’s now suing his partner over the team’s arena situation.
What a year it’s been for the Ottawa Senators!
7.) Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites Publicly Calling His Team’s Best Players “Horse***t”
This one is very fresh (for lack of a better term), as this news just broke in the final week of 2018. So, in a way, it’s still playing out, as we have yet to see what the long-term implications of this situation will ultimately be.
So far, Lites has called out Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in one of the most public and jaw-dropping ways we’ve ever seen an NHL executive go after his players.
If you haven’t read the story from The Athletic, you should, because Lites essentially made the calculated decision to bring in a reporter, ensure that he was on the record, and then just hurl vulgar insults at his two superstars. That’s just a fascinating and bizarre way to try to get the attention of your top guys. Why not just… like… call them on the phone or something?
On the Sound of Hockey Podcast, we’ve discussed Gritty quite a bit. In the beginning, I believe I was one of few in the hockey world that was laughing with the Philadelphia Flyers, as everyone on the planet seemed to be dumping on the organization for coming up with such a grotesque orange monstrosity of a mascot to represent itself. But I got it. It was so bad it was good, so hideous it was beautiful, so poor it was brilliant.
Then other people started to get it. Gritty somehow caught on and went viral in every sense of the word. He was suddenly… EVERYWHERE!
It was akin to the off-the-radar and slightly eclectic indie band that you like and are proud to share with your friends, just to get them to say, “Hey, you have good taste in music!” But then a week later, you hear that same band on the radio… and then you hear them again… and then they’re huge, and now you’re no longer the one who “found” said band. Now, the band is mainstream, and you can’t stand the sound of that lead singer’s voice.
To be continued…