December 19, 2011
(Ed. Note: Thus begins our two weeks of Year in Hockey 2011 coverage, featuring lists and jokes and more lists and occasional forays into serious topics and also jokes. And lists. Enjoy.)
In 2011, there were some very smart decisions made.
The St. Louis Blues hiring Ken Hitchcock. The Edmonton Oilers drafting the Nuge and then keeping him in the NHL. HBO finding a way to get Ilya Bryzgalov and Ryan Callahan's Grandmother on the first episode of "24/7."
The New York Islanders' black third jerseys are the opposite of everything we just mentioned. They stink.
How badly? You're just going to have to read on for our list of the 10 worst hockey decisions of 2011.
And here … we … go.
10. Real Housewives on the NHL Awards
Camille Grammer and Adrienne Maloof are among the drama queens that populated Bravo's "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills", the original affront to human decency that later spread its demon seed everywhere from Atlanta to New Jersey.
Maloof is part owner of The Palms Las Vegas, where the NHL Awards where held in June, nullifying any delicate explanation as to why she and her transvestite friend — what, what do you mean "Fraser Crane's ex-wife"? — aren't exactly the right fit for a hockey awards show.
So Grammer and Maloof went onstage, as The Stir recapped:
The presentation starts with an introduction of the Housewives (not captured) slunking onstage in their black leather sausage casings, matching noses and hair, and a really bad joke. If they had actually been able to read the joke without stumbling over their lines, it might have at least been tolerable. "It's a good thing the rest of the cast isn't here, or we'd all be in the penalty box," Camille says [emphasis on the word penalty, in case nobody in the room got that clever wordplay]. Then they turn and give each other a high-five.
Then, as you can see in the video about, they announce the winner of the Lady Byng as "Martin St. Louis"; not "San Lou-ee" but "Saint Louis," like the city. Why couldn't it have been Guillaume Latendresse, just to watch their heads explode?
9. Drew Doughty's Holdout
Restricted free-agent defenseman Drew Doughty had a prolonged and public "holdout" with the Los Angeles Kings that ended on Sept. 29, with Doughty receiving an 8-year deal with $56 million. GM Dean Lombardi went $200,000 above the annual salary he sought to give Doughty; but Doughty and his agent accepted the kind of long-term deal they had resisted signing, one that eats up four years of unrestricted free agency and doesn't carry a no-trade clause in its UFA years.
Many gave the win in the negotiation to Lombardi.
Meanwhile, the lack of a proper training camp (and an early season concussion) has Doughty off to a frustrating start: nine points in 27 games and a minus-6, with the Kings' worst-in-the-NHL offense hampered by his ineffectiveness. He said he didn't want to hurt his teammates with the holdout. In the end, he might have.
Close runner-up: Kyle Turris. Although he did get his wish to play in a better hockey market ...
8. Ville Leino Signs With Pegula
This move has been Vilified (BECAUSE HIS NAME IS VILLE) as the worst free-agent signing of last summer, which is only underscored by the number of "I told you so's" that have accompanied it.
Leino, a complementary player for the Philadelphia Flyers, got a star-level contract from the Buffalo Sabres for 6 years deal and 27 million of Terry Pegula's dollars. The theory was that he could be moved back to the center spot he played as a younger player, filling a need as the Sabres' second-line center.
Soon, he was playing down on the fourth line. In his first 22 games, he had five points. Leino's season looked like it was turning around after five points in seven games, but then a lower body injury put him on the shelf.
The reason this isn't higher on the list? Because he could still turn it around. Hell, he's got five more years to try …
7. Pierre-Marc Bouchard Suspended for … Something
For the most part, new Department of Player Safety chief Brendan Shanahan has gotten suspensions right — if not in duration than at least in identifying the guilty parties.
On Oct. 8, Matt Calvert of the Columbus Blue Jackets initiated contact with Bouchard off the faceoff. Bouchard "chops across his body" while facing Calvert, and Calvert's stick lifted Bouchard's lumber from its intended target (the hands) to his face, knocking out teeth and earning Bouchard a 4-minute penalty.
As we said at the time: "This was an errant high stick off a slash that caused an injury, and the NHL has now deemed that a player, no matter his previous record, should be given a 2-game suspension for it. Bad precedents beget bad laws, and this is a bad precedent."
6. The New York Islanders Black Jerseys
When these sweaters first leaked, the immediate response was disbelief. The New York Islanders weren't going down the same road as the Knicks and Mets by adding black to their otherwise pristine and traditional color scheme.
For this alternate jersey … yep, they went there.
Just a brutal NHL jersey; or, conversely, one hell of an indoor lacrosse jersey. Remember kids, the number on the front is more important than the logo on the sleeve. Or something like that.
5. Tomas Kaberle Signs with the Hurricanes
After an average at best performance with the Boston Bruins during their Stanley Cup run — the best that could be said about him was that he wasn't a liability — Kaberle inked a three-year, $12.75 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes to quarterback their power play and build on the Kaberle legacy with the franchise.
On Dec. 9, he was treaded to the Montreal Canadiens for Jaroslav Spacek, just 29 games into his deal with the Hurricanes. GM Jim Rutherford was willing to call it a bad decision — "I should've known what it's like for guys after they win the Stanley Cup. Based on where the team was at, it wasn't the direction that I should've gone in" — so that's good enough to land it on this list.
4. Rather Lopsided Trades
In 2011, we saw some outright fleecings by general managers on the trade market.
On Feb. 9, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded the expendable Francois Beauchemin back to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Jake Gardiner and a conditional fourth-round draft pick in the 2013 Entry Draft. The results are in: Lupul's had a career revival playing with Phil Kessel this season and Gardiner continue to look like the puck-moving defenseman of the future. Beauchemin has been fine for the Ducks, but the return was lopsided.
On March 1, the Los Angeles Kings thought they had the final piece of their playoff puzzle in Edmonton Oilers winger Dustin Penner, for whom they traded defenseman Colten Teubert, drafted No. 13 overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft; a first-round pick in 2011 and a conditional third-round pick in 2012. Yeah, fat chance of that; Penner has two goals in 21 games this season and four goals in 40 games with the Kings.
On July 2, the Washington Capitals traded the rights to RFA goalie Semyon Varlamov for the Avalanche's first-round pick in 2012 and a second-rounder in 2012 or 2013. Varly has been as feast or famine as he's been in his career. That pick, however, keeps looking more and more like a lottery selection.
3. Evgeni Nabokov Intercepted
Evgeni Nabokov left the NHL for the KHL after the San Jose Sharks severed ties with him as a free agent and no one was willing to meet his asking price. He decided to return to the NHL in January, signing a contract with the Detroit Red Wings.
He still needed to clear waivers; the New York Islanders, one of the worst teams in hockey last season, didn't allow him to, claiming him despite having other options in goal.
Nabokov refused to report and was suspended; he's 1-5 in eight games with the Islanders this season, making $570,000 after making $6 million for the Sharks n 2010.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Howard is a contender for the Vezina for the Wings.
2. Sidney Crosby playing on Jan. 5
No matter who was at fault, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby should have never played against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 5, the game in which Victor Hedman's hit from behind knocked Crosby out of the season.
Crosby "felt a little off" after taking a hit to the head in the Winter Classic from David Steckel, and the condition worsened even before the Hedman hit. His concussion recovery stretched until late November.
There were many things that emerged after Crosby's injury, from player safety debates to rules changes. The extra care in his recovery after a relapse in December shows that the reaction to hits to the head has been affected, too.
Wow, that's No. 2?
What could be so tremendously terrible that actually trumped a Sidney Crosby concussion protocol debacle?
1. The NHL Guardian Project
The NHL Guardians Project wasn't necessarily doomed from the start; there was probably a segment of young hockey fans that would dig superheroes themed to their favorite teams. But once the characters were revealed to be … uh, a bit derivative of existing superheroes, that was strike one. Strike two occurred at the NHL All-Star Game:
To be honest, we're still waiting for strike three. The various appearances by Guardians in NHL arenas never happened, and their various TV and film projects haven't either. NBC/Comcast said last summer that some will be on the way; but for now, the Guardian Project stinks like The Bruin's neck fur funk.