The clock struck midnight, the calendar turned, and we finally put 2011 to bed. In many ways, 2011 was one of the most trying hockey years I've ever experienced, so I was a bit glad to see it go. Because, essentially, lots of bad stuff happened in the 365 days between January 1, 2011 and Saturday, December 31st, 2011. The new year symbolically gives a chance at a new beginning.
Starting from the very first day of the 2011, the hockey world seemed to reel from story to story--player safety, bad refereeing, failing franchises, relocation, realignment. The fighting question, the depression question, the steroid question, the concussion question. And deaths. Deaths from cancer, from overdoses, from suicides, from plane crashes. For much of 2011, hockey hurt.
Out of all of that, what do we take away? What's the most important story of the 2011 calendar year? I guess that depends on what you hope will get fixed. For me, I wish I could say that the Lightning's Cinderella run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final was the most important story. But it's not the one that affected my life the most.
The story that affected me the most was the death of Wade Belak. Because he was someone who had an impact on my life; because he died so tragically at a moment when everything seemed to be going his way; because we learned so much about the price he paid to do what he did only when it was too late to show our support; because he was funny and loving and smart and sweet and the universe made him feel alone when he wasn't.
Beeker's death affected me more than any other story and changed my relationship with hockey. I still love the game, but I love it with a more complex emotion than before. And I can't ever be innocent about it again. I miss that.
Tina Robinson - Staff Writer
To me, the most important story was not any particular game or happening, but the large number of concussions the hockey world has dealt with this season, and with the recent deaths of several "enforcer" types the renewed concerns about the long term impact of blows to the head. I know several of the deaths were ruled suicides and others were drug/alcohol related, but the debate continues about whether the job these guys did on the ice affected their health (both physical and mental) and were additional factors in their untimely deaths.
The league is trying to become more vigilant (with varying degrees of success) about policing dangerous or questionable hits with more suspensions being handed out this year and there have been renewed calls by some to ban fighting in hockey altogether, but I doubt that will ever happen.
All of this has caused teams to be a lot more cautious about how they handle a player with a confirmed (or even suspected) concussion, but it is ultimately going to be the players responsibility for reducing head injuries by staying away from the "dirty" (i.e. intentional) hits and being more aware of each other on the ice. This won't stop head injuries and concussions of course, but I think it would help to decrease the number.
John Fontana - Managing Editor /Raw Charge
The keyword here is "important". As we can say different things are the "biggest" news tsory of the past year (the multiple deaths of the summer of 2011, Sidney Crosby's concussion from January 2011, realignment, relocation, etc)...
Matt Amos - Staff Writer / Don't Trade Vinny
Unfortunately, I don't know that it can be narrowed down to just one.
The bottom line for me is that 2011 was probably the worst calendar year for hockey in my lifetime. And I guess that, is a story in and of itself in a way.
There just simply isn't anything positive going on in the league right now. The hockey community is still reeling from the summer tragedies, concussions and head injuries are rampant, discipline - both on the ice from inconsistent officiating and off the ice in the supplemental form - continue to be an absolute joke of a mess of a disaster of a train wreck, a few teams still haven't secured themselves financially, the opportunity to jump to the spotlight with other sports' labor issues was basically shrugged at by league brass, and now apparently racial and sexual preference bigotry is on the rise.
It's gut-check time, NHL. Figure it out.
Clark Brooks - Staff Writer / Ridiculously Inconsistent Trickle of Consciousness
I'd have to say the most important story of 2011 was the announcement of the re-alignment plan, as it will significantly impact every single team in the league. Some for better or for worse, but everybody is going to be affected one way or another. If the NFL were to undergo a similarly drastic change, certain cable channels would still be devoting around-the-clock coverage to it now.
Cassie McClellan - Managing Editor / Raw Charge
I thought about it for a long time, but I couldn't decide between any of the big stories. A lot happened this year, and a lot of it was very important. One thing didn't stand out to me above the five or so that dominated the year. So I think I'll take a pass on this.