Top 10 NHL stories of 2013

Rory Boylen
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2013 could have been a dark year for the NHL had the lockout cost the league its second full season in less than a decade, but instead it was chock full of excitement, both on and off the ice.

So, from the end of the lockout, to the end of an era in Calgary and Ottawa, we turn the page by counting down the top NHL stories from 2013.

10. Jarome Iginla trade
The long-time Flames great wasn’t with the franchise from Day 1 (he was drafted by Dallas in 1995), but until 2013 every NHL game he had played was with Calgary. The way his time ended in Calgary wasn’t as abrupt or unexpected as Alfredsson in Ottawa (listed later), but it was still a tough pill to swallow. After initial reports stated Iginla was traded to Boston, it later turned out he picked to be moved to the Penguins instead. But it was Boston that made it out of the East to the Stanley Cup final, so Iginla signed with the Bruins for 2013-14.

9. Phoenix Coyotes get new owners
When Jerry Moyes put the Phoenix Coyotes into bankruptcy in 2009 few foresaw the messy situation that would unfold over the next four years. From the threat of being moved to Hamilton, to having to be owned by the NHL, to the much-publicized decision of the league to not pay out Coyotes ex-coach and all-time great Wayne Gretzky, the Phoenix storyline was the NHL’s version of a running joke. So when the team was finally sold to IceArizona Acquisition Co. for $170 million in October, it was the end of ownership uncertainty in the desert. Still, this storyline won’t be considered completely closed for another five years, then the Coyotes owners have an out-clause with Glendale. It’s up to the fans now.

8. The Cory Schneider trade
In Vancouver, so much of the drama in recent years had been focused around Roberto Luongo. From the failed captaincy experiment, to uninspired play at the biggest moments in the playoffs and finally to the rise of Schneider, it was conventional wisdom that the Canucks would eventually trade Luongo for whatever they could get to shed his contract from their books. The situation came to a head in 2013 when Luongo wasn’t dealt by the in-season trade deadline and held an emotional press conference in which he said his contract “sucks.” So it was widely assumed the goalie would be dealt in the off-season, but when a package of Vancouver’s liking didn’t come along, the team threw a curveball and traded Schneider instead. The American goalie was sent to New Jersey for a first round pick that became Bo Horvat.

7. Josh Harding’s exceptional play
There have been plenty of unlikely goaltending performances so far this season, from Ben Scrivens, to Martin Jones, to Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier and more, but the play of Minnesota’s Josh Harding is the most awe-inspiring. When Niklas Backstrom went down early, Harding took the net and dominated the NHL immediately. Today he stands with a .934 SP (fifth in the league) and 1.64 GAA (first), but the most amazing thing about Harding is he’s also battling multiple sclerosis off the ice. It’s a story a fan of any team can root for.

6. Daniel Alfredsson leaves Ottawa
When Alffy hit unrestricted free agency in July it was considered a foregone conclusion he’d be back with Ottawa in 2013-14 and would be there the rest of his career. But when negotiations went sour, the Swede packed up after 17 seasons with the Senators and signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Red Wings, where he said he had a better chance to win an elusive Stanley Cup. It’s rare to see a player remain with one franchise his entire career these days, but Alfredsson was supposed to be one of the few. But today he has 29 points in 35 games for Detroit – and still looks strange in a Red Wings uniform.

5. Ovechkin vs. Crosby, Part 2
When Ovechkin and Crosby entered the league they were immediately two of the most dynamic players in the league and battled to be the face of the NHL. But as Crosby dealt with concussion issues, Ovechkin dealt with an inevitable slow down from a frenetic pace in his early career that resulted in three straight 50-goal seasons. The two weren’t as influential from 2011 to 2012, but returned with a flurry in 2013. Ovechkin did it by scoring 62 goals in 86 games (all told in 2013) and Crosby did it by being mostly healthy. So far this season, Crosby’s 58 points in 41 games is good enough for a five-point lead in league scoring, while Ovechkin’s 30 goals is good enough for a six-goal lead over any one else in the NHL. The two are back with a flourish – and that’s a great thing for the NHL and its fans.

4. Ilya Kovalchuk retires
In news that sent shockwaves through the NHL and cast a shadow of uncertainty on the long-term value of many Russians playing in North America, Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk retired from the NHL to return to the KHL. It was shocking not only because he was the best player in his prime to ever make a move like this, but because he was only in the third year of a 17-year, $102 million contract he signed with the Devils. It was a major investment from the Devils that also cost them a first round draft pick when it was ruled they had circumvented the salary cap and had to restructure the original deal Kovalchuk signed. The Russian then signed a four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg.

3. New Canadian TV deal with Rogers
A new $5.2 billion TV deal changed the landscape of NHL coverage in Canada when Rogers signed on with the NHL. The move basically cuts out TSN from NHL game coverage, despite the fact most fans north of the border considered Canada’s Sports Leader to be the authoritative TV voice on hockey. The deal will completely change the way the NHL is showcased in Canada for the next 12 years.

2. Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship (and 24-game winning streak)
Just a few years ago Chicago was one of those cursed franchises along with the Maple Leafs, having not won a Stanley Cup since 1961. Then, of course, 2010 happened and while the salary cap forced that team to shed some of its quality depth players, the base was there for the Hawks to win it all again in 2013. Not only did the Hawks win their second championship in four years, but they also started the season by earning a point in each of their first 24 games to set a new NHL record.

1. Lockout ends
The biggest story in hockey in 2013 is an easy one because it involves the return of hockey. After months of being left in the dark, fans were ecstatic to learn on Jan. 6 that the NHL and NHLPA had come to an agreement on a new CBA that would salvage a 48-game season. In the years leading up to these negotiations, the situation didn’t seem dire and it appeared only minor adjustments needed to be made. But the way Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman volleyed back and forth put another full season in serious doubt. It wasn’t as bad as 2004-05, but the 2012 lockout was another black eye on the sport.