Sarah Palin and the Flyers â€˜Hockey Momâ€˜ contest winner Kathy O'Connell drop the ceremonial first puck with Mike Richards of the Flyers and Scott Gomez of the Rangers on Oct. 11. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Unless you were a disaster capitalist or Britney Spears’ fired-then-re-hired business manager – which, come to think of it, may be two sides of the same coin after all – you’ll probably agree with me that 2008, in a word and for the most part, sucked. And sucked, in a word and for the most part, large.
I’m talking Opera-palooza-level atrocious. Oprah-palooza awful. I’m talking “18-hour-car-trip-with-only-your-mother-in-law-and-a-stack-of-Johnny-Mathis-CDs” excruciating.
George Carlin, Paul Newman and Jack Falla, each a noble and exemplary legend in his profession, died in 2008.
Luc Bourdon, Alexei Cherepanov, Mickey Renaud, each still blossoming as an athlete and a human being, also died this year, long before they had the chance to best manifest their talents.
But above and beyond those gut-wrenching goodbyes, there just seemed to be something inescapably melancholy in virtually every facet of the hockey world this year.
There was ‘Boots’ Del Biaggio’s expensive, heartbreaking charade in Nashville and the myriad of questions it raised about the NHL’s leadership group.
In Tampa Bay, new owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules rode to the team’s rescue and promised an adventure for Lightning fans. So far, they’ve done exactly that, only it’s been a Poseidon Adventure they’ve delivered; one featuring bodies flying over the bow with troubling regularity and a speedy sink to the bottom of the standings that could give Vincent Lecavalier pause to consider the 11-year, $85-million extension he signed in 2008.
There were devastating injuries this year to Richard Zednik, Kurtis Foster and an increasing group of NHLers who have been sideswiped by an epidemic of damage to players’ heads.
There were the jointly jinxed (and unrelated) Johnson defensemen (Erik with the Blues, Jack with the Kings), both betrayed by serious injuries that have halted their progression as elite NHL prospects; there was Joe Sakic, who served as a cautionary tale in regard to what happens when brain farts meet rich guys needlessly performing manual labor.
One of the most nauseating scourges 2008 threw at hockey fans were a pair of political sideshows put on by Ed Snider in Philadelphia and Dave Checketts in St. Louis. Each of those exceedingly wealthy NHL team owners arrogantly imposed his beliefs on unfortunate and unwelcoming crowds of paying customers; in doing so, both needlessly tarnished the sport, the league and the two franchises by associating them with a partisan, polarizing political movement while reaping zero benefits in the process.
Commissioner Gary Bettman stood by silently during the snake oil shows put on by Snider and Checketts, but managed to re-discover his voice when it came time to squash Sean Avery into dust or to stop Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe from providing some of the most entertaining GM-on-GM sniping in years.
Shows you what the priorities truly are in this league, doesn’t it?
Sure, there were flashes of light and sounds of star-making between the gurgles and grey that were far more common to 2008.
For instance, the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks emerged from extended stretches of failure and flexed their newfound on-ice muscle to the delight of long-stressed supporters; Alex Ovechkin staked firm claim on the title of “most electrifying NHLer”; and Detroit superstar Nick Lidstrom finally laid to rest one of the last vestiges of hockey xenophobia when the defenseman became the first European player to captain his team to a Stanley Cup championship.
But even Lidstrom’s Red Wings – a.k.a. the NHL franchise that can do no wrong – had its organizational britches singed by the catastrophic ramifications of the worldwide economic crisis.
This awful year won’t even depart with a modicum of grace, instead leaving behind only forebodings of gruesome financial futures for many a business, not least of which a good number of sparsely patronized, highly leveraged NHL franchises.
Of course, no year in the hockey world could be quite as bad as the last few months of 2004 and first few months of 2005, when owners and players collectively bungled up their own affairs, then made the fans and thousands of people who work in the industry pay for their mistakes. That period was ghastly on too many levels to discuss in this column.
That said, 2008 sure comes close.
2008 was the year the Phoenix Coyotes were all but designated a money-bleeding disaster zone by the league; the year amateur player Don Sanderson fell backwards in a fight and triggered an injury whose full toll has yet to be determined; the year Jonathan Roy emerged from his father Patrick’s shadow for all the wrong reasons.
2008 was when justice worked in David Frost’s favor, for heaven’s sake. That about sums up this snarling, boil-covered, dirty rotten mother of 365 straight days as well as anything.
So beat it, 2008. And keep your hands where we can see ’em, 2009.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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