So that was … interesting.
One of the most common complaints about the modern NHL is that the league’s product is occasionally boring. And when it comes to the action on the ice, that’s often true. But in the bigger picture, 2016 couldn’t be accused of being dull. The year was a lot of things – ridiculous, controversial, head-scratching – but it was rarely boring.
Here are 10 of the biggest stories from an undeniably weird but entertaining year in the NHL.
1) The Penguins win it all
By the end of 2015, the Penguins were a mess. They’d just fired their coach, they were barely hanging in the playoff race, and they seemed more like a collection of aging, overpaid stars than an actual team.
By the end of 2016, they were the best team in hockey.
Nobody had a better 2016 than the Penguins, who close out the year near the top of the NHL standings and as defending Stanley Cup champions. They won that Cup thanks to a dominant performance by Sidney Crosby, now fully healthy and once again the undisputed best player in the world. He was supported by an unlikely hero in goal, as rookie Matt Murray took over the job despite having just 13 career starts heading into the playoffs.
And then there was Phil Kessel, the much-maligned winger who’d been acquired the previous summer. He went from league-wide punch line to the Penguins’ leading postseason scorer, not to mention one of the sport’s most lovable memes. By September, he was even throwing bombs on Twitter.
Phil Kessel is the best. In 2016, the Penguins were too.
2) The day the hockey world went nuts
June 29 seemed like it would be a relatively normal day in the NHL. The draft had just passed, and the start of unrestricted free agency was still two days away. The rumor mill was busy, as it always is this time of year, but nobody was expecting anything too crazy.
Then everyone lots their minds.
First came word that the Oilers had traded former first overall pick Taylor Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson, in a move that stood as easily the most stunning one-for-one deal in recent NHL history. It held that honor for all of a half hour or so, before we learned that Montreal had sent PK Subban to the Predators for Shea Weber. You could hear hockey fans’ heads exploding around the world.
By the time reports emerged that Steven Stamkos had re-signed in Tampa, the day seemed almost incomprehensible. The Stamkos free agency auction was the biggest story in the league when the day began; by the time it ended, fans barely noticed.
In a league where nobody makes big moves anymore, we got three within an hour. It was madness. Here’s hoping it happens again someday soon.