Pro Hockey Talk Year In Review: Top hockey stories of 2021

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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best NHL goals, saves, stories, players and more as we remember 2021.

Kyle Beach reveals himself as ‘John Doe’

During an interview with TSN in October, Beach, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft,  identified himself as one of Brad Aldrich’s alleged sexual assault victims, one day after the Blackhawks’ internal investigation was released.

The Jenner & Block report led to the resignations of Stan Bowman as Blackhawks general manager and Joel Quenneville as Panthers head coach.

Earlier this month, the team and Beach reached a confidential settlement after meeting with a mediator.

COVID-19 continues to affect NHL

This year began with the 2020-21 NHL season dropping the puck in mid-January for a 56-game sprint to the Stanley Cup Playoffs featuring interdivisional play (plus a small realignment with an all-Canadian division). There were a number of postponed games, including an outbreak taking the Canucks off the ice for nearly a month.

But the league made it through, crowning a champion in early July.

As the NHL tried to get back on a normal October-June schedule, the 2021-22 season begin in mid-October with plans to end the regular season in late April. But the omicron COVID-19 variant has caused disruption to the schedule. Eighty games have been postponed this season alone, and while the league plans to make those games up in February, there’s no guarantee that number won’t continue rise.

Those dates in February are free because the NHL will not be sending players to participate in the Beijing Olympics. As part of the 2020 CBA, the league promised the NHLPA that it would attempt to work out a deal with the IOC and IIHF. An agreement was made, but the disruption of the regular season with the large number of postponed made it clear to all that gold medal dreams would have to wait for at least another four years.

The tragic deaths of Matīss Kivlenieks, Jimmy Hayes

Kivlenieks, 24, was coming into his own as a goaltender when a July 4 fireworks accident at the home of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace ended in tragedy.

An autopsy said that Kivlenieks died of chest trauma from an errant fireworks mortar blast while sitting in a hot tub. Fellow Columbus goaltender and countryman Elvis Merzlikins revealed that Kivlenieks saved his then-pregnant wife, Aleksandra, by taking the brunt of the blast. Merzlikins has since honored his “little brother” with a special mask for this season and by naming his newborn son Knox Matīss Merzlikins.

The hockey world suffered another tragedy in August when former NHLer Jimmy Hayes was found dead in his Massachusetts home. A toxicology report on the 31-year-old revealed that fentanyl and cocaine were found in his system.

Lightning make it back-to-back Stanley Cups

For the second time since the 1997-98 Red Wings, an NHL team won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. Four years after the Penguins won two in a row, the Lightning solidified their place in hockey history by topping the Canadiens in five games.

The celebrations began on the AMALIE Arena ice and continued into the press conferences — thank you, Nikita Kucherov — and through the Stanley Cup boat parade.

Jack Eichel saga ends with trade to Golden Knights

It took a while, and after a dispute over how to treat his neck injury, the Sabres finally dealt Jack Eichel. Buffalo was unwilling to allow Eichel to undergo his preferred artificial disk replacement surgery, and after an agreement could not be made it was clear his time with the franchise was over.

Days after the trade, Eichel had surgery and could be ready to return to the ice for the Golden Knights at some point in the second half of the season.

Boston Pride win 2021 NWHL Isobel Cup

The six-team NWHL attempted to pull off a season over a two-week period with all games played in Lake Placid, New York. Two teams were forced to withdraw and league paused its season in early February over COVID-19 issues.

Play resumed weeks later with the four-team Isobel Cup playoffs with the Pride coming out on top over the Minnesota Whitecaps.

The win meant the Pride became the first NWHL team to ever with the Isobel Cup twice.

NWHL rebrands to Premier Hockey Federation

As the NWHL entered its seventh season, changes were in order. The league rebranded to the Premier Hockey Federation, welcomed private ownership, and removed gender from its title.

“We felt it’s time for our players to be defined by their talent and skill,” PHF Commissioner Tyler Tumminia told the Associated Press. “It’s not like they’re female phenomenal. You’re just phenomenal.”

Seattle Kraken becomes NHL’s 32nd team

The NHL welcomed its 32nd team at the start of the 2021-22 season when the Kraken arrived on the scene. After an Expansion Draft that featured flying fish, the team finally debuted in October with a 4-3 loss to the NHL’s last expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Two weeks later the Kraken opened Climate Pledge Arena with a 4-2 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks, and while they’ve struggled in their inaugural year, it’s clear how much the market missed NHL hockey.

NHL Outdoors At Lake Tahoe - Vegas Golden Knights v Colorado Avalanche
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Event-filled outdoor hockey at Lake Tahoe

It was one of the most picturesque settings in NHL outdoor game history. The 18th fairway of the golf course of the Edgewood Tahoe Resort featured Lake Tahoe and the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. 

The hockey was, well, obstacle-filled. The Avalanche and Golden Knights played the first game, which had to be delayed after the opening period until midnight eastern time due to ice issues. Sunday’s Boston Bruins-Philadelphia Flyers game went a little smoother after the start time was pushed back. David Pastrnak’s hat trick helped the Bruins close out an interesting weekend for the league in Lake Tahoe.

Henrik Lundqvist retires

The future Hall of Famer was forced to sit out the 2020 NHL season due to a heart condition. Lundqvist never got to play for the Capitals, but was set on returning for 2021-22 and playing again. Unfortunately, that never happened as he announced his retirement in August, ending a 15-year NHL career. He finished his career with a 459-310-96 regular season record along with a .918 save percentage and 64 shutouts.

Next stop: Hockey Hall of Fame?

Canadiens use first-round pick on Logan Mailloux

After telling NHL teams to not select him in the 2021 NHL Draft following news that he was convicted a year earlier in Sweden for taking and circulating a photo of a woman performing a sex act without her consent, the Canadiens used their first round pick to select Logan Mailloux. That led to an immediate backlash. The team defended the pick, releasing the statement the night of the draft that they were “making a commitment to accompany Logan on his journey by providing him with the tools to mature and the necessary support to guide him in his development.”

The Canadiens announced that Mailloux would not attend rookie camp or their main training camp and he was later suspended by the Ontario Hockey League, where played two seasons with the London Knights. He’s eligible to apply for reinstatement  into the OHL beginning on Jan. 1, 2022.

Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle sell majority shares of Penguins

Fenway Sports Sports completed the reported $900 million sale in December, adding another high-profile sports property. FSG can now tout the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC, and the Penguins in its portfolio.

Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle will still hold small ownership stakes, but their full control of the franchise is over after a 22-year run that saw three Stanley Cups and construction of PPG Paints Arena in 2010.

Ovechkin reaches 750 goals: Updated chase for Gretzky's 894
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Alex Ovechkin continues chasing Wayne Gretzky

As of Wednesday, Ovechkin is 142 goals away from Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894. Through 31 games this season the Capitals captain is second in the league with 22 goals and is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Islanders say goodbye to Nassau Coliseum, open UBS Arena

After calling Nassau Coliseum home for most of the last 40-plus years, the Islanders finally said goodbye to their old barn and moved into the $1.1 billion UBS Arena in November. Their final game at the Coliseum was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, which ended with Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime goal. They opened the new barn with a seven-game home losing streak, which they finally snapped on Dec. 11 with a win over New Jersey.

Sabres’ winless streak lasts 18 games

It was brutal. They fired a coach in between, but the winless streak finally ended on March 3 1 with a 6-1 win over the Flyers. Buffalo went 0-15-3 and avoided becoming just the second team in NHL history to ever play 16 games in one month without winning any of them. The win over Philadelphia was their first over a team that wasn’t New Jersey since Jan. 26.

NHL moves on from Tim Peel after hot mic incident

After being caught on a hot mic saying he “wanted to get a f—— penalty against Nashville early,” referee Tim Peel was pulled off games and did not work another NHL game. He was set to retire in April after officiating over 1,000 games.

Patrick Marleau sets NHL games played record

On April 19, the Sharks forward played in his 1,768th NHL game, passing Gordie Howe for the NHL record in regular-season games played. Howe had held the record since Nov. 1961.

While he was chasing Mr. Hockey, Marleau was also on another impressive run. Between April 2009 and May 2021 he played 910 consecutive NHL games. That streak is currently the fifth-longest in league history, 54 games away from Doug Jarvis, the all-time leader.

The then-41-year-old Marleau has played for three teams — San Jose, Toronto, Pittsburgh — during his NHL career. He currently remains unsigned and has not announced his retirement from hockey.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Predators-Avalanche postponed due to water main break

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Friday’s game between the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche has been postponed because of a water main break that has soaked the downtown arena.

    The NHL said the water main break has “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store.

    The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    A makeup date for the  game will be announced later.

    Also, a decision on whether to postpone the Predators’ home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be made later.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue in Nashville for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.

    Carrier, Pietrangelo rally Golden Knights past Canucks 5-4

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Pietrangelo scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period and had two assists as the Vegas Golden Knights rallied past the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Monday night.

    William Carrier scored twice and Mark Stone had a goal and an assist for the Golden Knights (15-4-1), who overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third. Reilly Smith also scored, while Jack Eichel and Alec Martinez each had two assists.

    Logan Thompson made 25 saves for Vegas, which had a go-ahead goal wiped out in the third but still kept pushing.

    “I don’t think that’s really how we drew it up,” Pietrangelo said. “A lot of emotions. Obviously we score and then it gets taken back. But I’ll tell you what, it’s not easy to win on the road and you’ve got to give credit to our group – we were resilient no matter what happened.”

    Vancouver (6-10-3) got a goal and an assist from Andrei Kuzmenko. Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn and Elias Pettersson also scored, and Quinn Hughes had two assists.

    Thatcher Demko stopped 33 shots for the Canucks, who gave up a multi-goal lead in a loss for the seventh time this season.

    “Inexcusable,” defenseman Luke Schenn said.

    “That’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. That comes down to battle and compete and, we’re getting outmuscled and outbattled in front of the net and in the blue paint,” he added. “Everyone just needs to be better in front of (Demko) there and that’s where games are won and lost.”

    Vegas appeared to take the lead midway through the third period, but the goal was disallowed because of a bizarre bounce.

    A clearing attempt by the Canucks hit the lens of a camera sticking through one of the media holes in the glass, knocking a piece of it onto the ice. Play continued at that end and Stone put the puck in the net. But after a video review, the goal was overturned and an official said the whistle should have been blown to stop play.

    About four minutes later, Pietrangelo did give the Golden Knights a 5-4 advantage when he collected a puck from Stone and sent a backhand past Demko from the low slot at 14:14.

    Vancouver scored three straight goals early in the third to go up 4-2 before Vegas roared back.

    “We let them score one, kind of changed the momentum quick and then they scored another one. So I don’t know,” Pettersson said. “We just can’t let that happen. It’s been happening way too many times this season.”

    Carrier made it 4-3 with his second of the night at 6:54, sending in a rebound from the top of the crease for his sixth of the season.

    “Once they scored one it was like, `Uh oh, here we go again.’ And we’re back on our heels and they came at us, and then they got three,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    Smith shoveled a puck into the Vancouver net at 8:57 to tie it.

    “We just win some pucks below their goal line and get it to the front of the net and force them to defend an area they haven’t done as good a job as they’d probably like this year there,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We didn’t do a very good job to start a third there, and then it snowballs a little bit. You have a little life and you get a couple more pucks to the net and a second chance.”

    ON A ROLL

    Horvat drew the Canucks even 1:47 into the third with a wrist shot from the hash marks. Vancouver’s captain has 15 goals, second-most in the NHL behind Connor McDavid (16). … Brock Boeser‘s assist on the first goal of the game extended his point streak to seven games (two goals, six assists).

    MARKING MILESTONES

    Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault played his 500th regular-season NHL game. Now in his 10th season, the 31-year-old center suited up for Columbus, Tampa Bay and Florida before Vegas selected him in the 2017 expansion draft. … Vancouver defenseman Ethan Bear made his 200th regular-season appearance.

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday in the opener of a three-game homestand.

    Canucks: Begin a three-game trip Wednesday at Colorado.