Dustin Byfuglien and the Chicago Blackhawks finished fourth in the West with 104 points and then surprised everyone by advancing to the Western Conference final. (Getty Images)
In mid-July, most NHL people get themselves as far from an ice rink as possible. For them and those who report and comment on them, the summertime is all about decompression, rejuvenation and reflection.
We can’t help you unwind or juvenate, but we have all kinds of reflecting going on up in this hizzy – whatever a hizzy might be. And what better way to reflect on the 2008-09 season than by handing out a few of our own honors that may or may not be named The Proteau’s Types Awards for years to come.
PROTEAU’S TYPE FOR FEEL-BEST STORY OF THE YEAR:
Runners-up: The St. Louis Blues’ late-season run; Tim Thomas’ career year; The Columbus Blue Jackets’ first-ever playoff appearance; Steve Sullivan’s long-shot comeback.
Winner: The Renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks.
From the hugely successful 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field to the increased talent level that powered them to an appearance in the Western Conference final, there was little that didn’t go better than planned for the Hawks last year.
Some interesting management decisions to end the season – i.e. a massive contract for Marian Hossa and restricted free agent offers that were disputed by the NHLPA – could put a crimp in Chicago’s ’09-10 campaign. Yet for a fan base that had been needlessly punished for too many years, the Hawks’ return to relevance must feel as close to hockey heaven gets without a Stanley Cup victory parade.
PROTEAU’S TYPE FOR FEEL-WORST STORY OF THE YEAR:
Runners-Up: NHL GMs refusing to make immediate changes – or even experiment at the minor league level – to address the mushrooming epidemic of head injuries in hockey; Ed Snider and Dave Checketts hijacking the NHL and their fan bases for their own political ends; the Montreal Canadiens’ 100th season swirls down the dumper as the team implodes.
The Phoenix Coyotes. When they weren’t blowing a solid start to their on-ice season, the Coyotes were digging a money pit in the desert that may never be out-excavated.
Watching their business in Arizona slowly die off is painful enough, but when you factor in the agony of loyal Coyotes fans trying desperately to keep their team in town and combine it with the despair of hockey obsessives in Hamilton, Ont. – who once again got teased, but not pleased with the prospect of relocating the Coyotes there – you have more than enough misery to go around.
The Upside-Down World Of NHL Supplementary Discipline. If I told you I covered a league where one player was suspended – and very nearly blackballed out of the game – for some classless remark he made, while a player in the same league who cold-cocked an opponent whose hands were below his waist had his suspension rescinded, you would probably think I cover a game governed by 10-year-olds jacked up after playing Grand Theft Auto for 24 straight hours.
If only that were true, we could punish such juvenile behavior by sending the NHL’s 30 team owners and league administrators to their rooms with no dessert.
Alas, the reality of the situation is far more discouraging and inexplicable.
PROTEAU’S TYPE FOR BIGGEST NON-STORY OF THE YEAR:
Runners-up: Ninety-five percent of all complaints about NHL officiating; The Kostitsyn Bros.’ off-ice activities; Mats Sundin’s impact after his half-year sabbatical; the furor over Alex Ovechkin’s “hot stick” celebration.
Winner: Sidney Crosby’s HandshakeGate.
The Penguins captain and NHL wunderkind has been ripped without reason on many a previous occasion, but never for something so unpreventable than the Keystone Kops-style lunacy that gripped ice level at Joe Louis Arena after Pittsburgh’s Game 7 Cup victory.
Part of the reason behind the interest in Crosby’s hand-to-hand combat is the Internet-era urge to Zapruder the dickens out of every facet of every story.
But you know what would’ve guaranteed Crosby shaking hands with Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom? This handy suggestion. Until the league wises up and adopts that concept – or until it becomes a little more conservative in regards to the number of media it allows on the ice – a little bit of empathy would go a long way toward lowering the blood pressure levels of hyper-sensitive, easily outraged fans.
PROTEAU’S TYPE FOR WORST ACTOR IN A DRAMA:
Runners-Up: Jose Theodore as the No. 1 goalie in Washington; Dany Heatley as a Devoted Team Player in Ottawa; Glen Sather as The Man With A Plan in Manhattan; Marian Gaborik as Someone Willing To Honestly Consider Re-Signing with Minnesota.
Winner: Gary Bettman as The Chief Pooh-Pooher Of Negative Coyotes Reporting. When you shrug off a story that, months later, proved to be factually correct by calling the reporting of that story “irresponsible,” aren’t you acting irresponsibly?
I believe it would be irresponsible to suggest otherwise.
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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