NHL’s biggest stories of 2021 carry over into the New Year

best of the nhl 2021
Jul 7, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) hoists the Stanley Cup as he walks off the ice after the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in game five to win the 2021 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL will be ringing in the New Year with its annual Winter Classic. As fans get ready to watch the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues play outdoors in freezing temperatures, we look back on the biggest stories of 2021.

What amazed me putting this list together was that many of the big events of last year will have carry over impact into 2022.

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Tampa Bay Lightning win Cup, right back at it again

When the 2020-21 NHL season ended, the date on the calendar was different but the Stanley Cup Champions remained the same.

Ross Colton scored a second-period goal and Andrei Vasilevskiy concluded another series with a shutout win as the Tampa Bay Lightning clinched their second consecutive Stanley Cup title, beating the visiting Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in July.

Despite losing an entire line (Goodrow, Coleman, Gourde), dealing with key injuries, and now COVID-19, Tampa still sits atop the NHL standings. Is a three-peat in the cards? If they can do it, they would the first team to accomplish the feat since the Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983.

Seattle Kraken become 32nd NHL franchise

seattle kraken
Dec 3, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Kraken including (L-R) defenseman Haydn Fleury (4) defenseman Jeremy Lauzon (55) goalie Philipp Grubauer (31) and defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (24) celebrate after a game against the Edmonton Oilersat Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Kraken officially became the NHL’s 32nd franchise when they made their final payment on April 30.

“On behalf of the Board of Governors, I am delighted to officially welcome the Seattle Kraken to the NHL as our 32nd Member Club,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

The Kraken may not be a huge success on the ice, but they are smashing success off it. Seattle merchandise was flying off the shelves before they ever played a game.

“Vegas set a pretty high bar,” Brian Jennings, NHL chief brand officer, told ESPN in September. “The Kraken are blowing through it, hourly. It’s a hot market right now.”

COVID issues aren’t going away

COVID-19 was THE STORY in 2020 by halting a season that had to be cut short and finished in a bubble. That did not change in 2021 as it continues into 2022.

As a new variant proves to be highly contagious, the spike in positive cases led to 9 teams being forced to shutdown prior to an extended holiday break. It also caused the NHL and NHLPA to opt-out of the Olympics in order to use the February break to reschedule over 70 games.

The league has now rescheduled games in Canada due to capacity limits and more postponements are expected.

Blackhawks Scandal

In late October, the results of an independent investigation were released that backed up former Blackhawk Kyle Beach’s account and said the team failed to take action following a May 23, 2010, meeting to discuss the allegations of sexual assault.

Among the members of the organization who were present during that meeting were Stan Bowman, general manager at the time; then-president John McDonough; then-senior vice president Jay Blunk; and then-coach Joel Quenneville.

On the day the report was released, Bowman and vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac left the organization. Quenneville resigned days later as coach of the Florida Panthers.

The club was fined $2 million by the NHL.

The Chicago Blackhawks reached a settlement Wednesday with Kyle Beach in December over its handling of sexual-assault allegations he made against former video coach Brad Aldrich.

Beach’s bravery to come forward has set the wheels in motion for major changes league-wide. At the Board of Governors meeting in December the NHL announced partnerships with the Respect Group, an anti-harassment organization co-founded by former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, and Jopwell, an industry pacesetter in recruiting from diverse communities.

Jack Eichel trade leads to medical changes

Jack Eichel
Eichel talks to media (Zak Krill/Vegas Golden Knights)

Eichel, 25, was captain of the Sabres, for whom he played six years, before clashing with Buffalo management over his health care. He was adamant that he needed an artificial disk replacement while the Sabres wanted him to have fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk.

After a lengthy holdout, Eichel was traded to Vegas, which agreed to let him undergo his preferred surgical option.

The operation was done on November 12th at a spine clinic in the Denver area.

One thing Eichel made clear after his trade is that he wanted his stance on getting his preferred surgery to shed more light on the CBA. “I don’t necessarily agree with the team having full say in medical decisions,” he said. “I think it should be a collaboration.”

It looks like Eichel’s stance has already had a profound impact because weeks after his procedure, Blackhawks forward Tyler Johnson had the same surgery.

Asked about the nature of Johnson’s surgery, Blackhawks interim coach Derek King said, “I’m not a doctor, believe me, but they tried different procedures. It wasn’t getting what they want out of them, so this was the next step. And they decided this is what was best for him and his career.”