From the shootout to the changing of the guard to the surrender of the NHL Players' Association, here are the stories that changed hockey for good in 2005.
Rising from the ashes of a lost season, the NHL returns with a flourish in October, as the most radical makeover in history delivers a faster game, new freedom of movement and a startling increase in power play goals. Early reviews are glowing. Many of the changes - like the relaxed rules governing icing and offsides - should have been made years ago. Others, like the severe crackdown on hooking and holding, remain controversial. Speaking of controversy, that brings us to...
A standard feature of international and college hockey, the idea of ending tie games with a series of penalty shots is finally adopted by a league desperate to win back fans. Some still see it as a cheap gimmick
, and commissioner Gary Bettman promises the shootout will only be used in regular season games. But it's a huge hit with fans. Can the league resist when broadcasters and others start calling for shootouts in the Stanley Cup playoffs?
3. The NHL Players' Association Caves
"I think the biggest thing I learned is that I probably shouldn't use the word 'never' as much as I did," says Nashville forward Scott Walker in August. "Ultimately we have a (salary) cap and guys like me said we never would have one, so maybe we're eating our words in some sense." In the fallout from the new collective agreement, NHLPA head Bob Goodenow is sent packing
. Controversy erupts over the appointment of his replacement, Ted Saskin, and the year ends with union solidarity in tatters.
The NHL gets exactly what it wants after shutting the league down for an entire season: a hard, unforgiving salary cap. In 2005-06, each team can spend no more than $39 million on player salaries. Early in the new season, as injuries mount and some players slump, the cap begins to feel more like a straightjacket for some. From now on, just about every player decision made by an NHL team is dictated not only by what happens on the ice, but also by its implications for the payroll.
5. Gary Bettman Triumphant
When Bettman and the NHL owners locked out the players
in September of 2004, many called it professional suicide. The commissioner faced a wealthy, savvy collection of athletes united behind a bargaining expert in Bob Goodenow, and sports labor history showed that as long as the players hold fast, the owners always give in. Not this time. The league wins a unanimous decision at the bargaining table
, and Bettman comes out a huge winner, much to the chagrin of his many detractors.
The wildest, biggest, best, craziest, busiest, wackiest... hockey writers eventually run out of superlatives to describe an unprecedented summer of player movement. With teams struggling to get under the salary cap and so many roster spots left vacant after the lockout, over 100 players switch teams as unrestricted free agents, and many more are packaged in trades.
7. Goodbye Mark, Hello SidneyBrett Hull, Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis are among those who hang up the jockstrap in 2005. All five are headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame. But their replacements might represent the best rookie class in NHL history. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin bring fans to their feet within days of their arrival. The future of hockey is also on display in the images of Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards, Marek Svatos and more.
Ending a pattern of close calls and frustration stretching back over 20 years, Team USA finally wins its first ever World Women's Hockey Championship. The 2005 championship game produces 80 minutes of scoreless hockey before going to a shootout, where the United States defeats Canada on goals by Natalie Darwitz, Angela Ruggiero and Krissy Wendell.
With the NHL season cancelled, many young players who would otherwise be starting their professional careers are available for the World Junior (Under-20) Hockey Championship. That helps Canada assemble one of the best junior teams in history. Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Dion Phaneuf and friends outscore their opponents by a total of 35-7 before defeating Russia 6-1 in the gold medal game.
10. The NHL's Television Follies ResumeDespite a fresh start and an on-ice product earning rave reviews, the NHL still can't get any respect from American television. When ESPN declines to renew its cable deal with the league, the little-known OLN network takes over. But early broadcasts are blacked out in several cities because of a spitting match between cable carriers, and viewers complain that the OLN broadcasts look clumsy and amateurish.