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
John McCreary/NHLI via Getty Images

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.


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

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    Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

    And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

    Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

    The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

    “Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

    Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

    The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

    Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

    A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

    Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

    “I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

    Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

    Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

    Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

    The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

    The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

    Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

    Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

    Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

    Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

    The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

    Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

    Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

    Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.

    Nashville Predators hire Andrew Brunette after firing John Hynes

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The coaching shuffle in Nashville is complete, with Andrew Brunette officially hired as the Predators coach a little over 12 hours after the team announced that John Hynes was fired.

    The moves are the first being made by incoming general manager Barry Trotz and come about six weeks after the Predators missed the playoffs.

    The 49-year-old Brunette spent the past season as a New Jersey Devils associate coach under Lindy Ruff and has previous head-coaching experience.

    He was promoted to interim coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2021-22 season and oversaw a team that set franchise records for wins (58) and points (122) in claiming the Presidents’ Trophy before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Brunette finished second in the Jack Adams Award voting for the NHL’s coach of the year.

    He becomes just the fourth coach in the history of a Predators franchise and returns to Nashville, where Brunette played for the Trotz-coached team during its inaugural season in 1998-99. Their relationship goes back to 1993-94, when Brunette played under Trotz, who was head coach of the Washington Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine.

    “I feel like this is coming full circle for my career – from pulling on the jersey for the first time 25 years ago to returning now to take care of some unfinished business,” Brunette said in a statement. “It has been awesome to see how this city and its fanbase have grown since I played here and I look forward to continuing the legacy and the culture behind the bench that Barry cultivated that inaugural season.”

    Trotz, meantime, has an eye on building on the Predators’ youth and offensively skilled players as he takes over as GM for David Poile, who is retiring at the end of June after 26 years overseeing the franchise.

    “We want to become more of an offensive team and Andrew specializes on that side of the ice – he lived it as a player, and he coaches it as a coach, Trotz said. “He is as good of an offensive teacher and power-play coach as there is in the game today. He will be great with our young players, and I know, because of his background as a player, he will connect well with our top, skilled players.”

    In Florida, Brunette coached a Panthers team that led the NHL with 337 goals and had the league’s fourth-best power-play unit.

    The Predators missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and the first under Hynes, who took over as coach during the 2019-20 season after Peter Laviolette was fired.

    Brunette, who is from Sudbury, Ontario, spent 16 seasons playing in the NHL, ending with a one-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-12. He finished with 268 goals and 733 points in 1,110 career games split among six teams, including two separate stints in Minnesota. Brunette is one of 25 players selected in the seventh round or later to appear in more than 1,000 NHL games.

    Upon his retirement, Brunette spent seven seasons with the Wild in various off-ice roles, including assistant coach and assistant GM, before being hired by the Panthers as an assistant coach in 2019-2020.

    Spencer Carbery hired as Capitals coach after 2 seasons as Maple Leafs assistant

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    Spencer Carbery got his start in coaching in the minors with the Washington Capitals watching closely.

    They liked what they saw, and they brought him back to fill the job they envisioned he would get.

    The Capitals hired Carbery as their next coach, ending their search for Peter Laviolette‘s successor by landing on a favorite of the organization who in recent years had become one of the NHL’s most intriguing candidates. He now is tasked with getting Washington back in the playoffs with an aging roster and extending the organization’s run of success a few more years while Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky’s goals record.

    “Spencer is one of the best young coaches in the game who’s had success at every level at which he has coached,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel his leadership, communication skills, ability to develop players and familiarity with our organization will be a tremendous asset as he makes this next step in his coaching career.”

    Carbery spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, running the power play that ranked second in the league over that time. Before the Leafs hired him, he was considered the heir apparent to Laviolette because of his time with the Capitals’ top minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.

    When Hershey VP of hockey operations Bryan Helmer was interviewing candidates for his head-coaching gig in 2018, he asked Carbery how long until he saw himself in that kind of role in the NHL. Carbery gave himself five years and nailed that projection.

    “He did an incredible job for us when he was here, and I knew that he would be an NHL coach at one point down the road,” Helmer told The Associated Press by phone. “He wanted to make sure that he was ready to make that step. He went through the steps, and I think he’s ready for the NHL.”

    Carbery coached Hershey for three years before getting the NHL promotion to Sheldon Keefe’s staff in Toronto. At the time, there wasn’t an opening for an assistant in Washington.

    There is now, and Carbery at 41 usurps Keefe as the youngest coach in the league after going from a Capitals’ homegrown prospect who began with their ECHL team in South Carolina to one of the hottest names on the market. He interviewed with the San Jose Sharks for their vacancy last year and multiple others this spring.

    The Capitals got him back before a rival team could scoop him up. They chose Carbery from a pool of candidates that also included former captain-turned-Tampa Bay assistant Jeff Halpern, Philadelphia associate coach Brad Shaw and others with more experience.

    “I would like to thank the Capitals organization for affording me the opportunity to lead this team,” Carbery said. “I look forward to working with this group of talented players and building upon the winning culture in place. I would also like to thank the Toronto Maple Leafs organization for all their support over the past two years.”

    Carbery’s job won’t be an easy one. Five years removed from Washington winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, the team is coming off missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade and could be on the verge of changes beyond coaching.

    MacLellan must decide how much to shuffle the roster, but in no way is he beginning the process of rebuilding. With Ovechkin, the 2018 playoff MVP and longtime face of the franchise, about to turn 38 and sitting 73 goals away from breaking Gretzky’s career record, the organization from owner Ted Leonsis down has set a goal of continuing to contend while the Russian star is under contract for three more seasons.

    Helmer, who played with Ovechkin briefly in 2008-09, said Carbery’s relationships with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and other Leafs stars will only help him moving forward.

    “It’s going to be a great mix,” Helmer said. “Spencer really stays on top of it. He expects a lot out of his players and he holds them accountable, which is a great thing. I see big things coming from Spencer and what he can do with the Caps.”

    Golden Knights reach second Stanley Cup Final after Game 6 win over Stars

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    DALLAS — William Karlsson scored two goals and had an assist as the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to their second Stanley Cup Final with a 6-0 rout over the Dallas Stars, who had extended the Western Conference Final to six games after losing the first three.

    William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Michael Amadio each had a goal and an assist for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had a goal. Carrier, Marschessault and Karlsson were all part of the inaugural 2017-18 Knights season that ended in their Cup Final.

    Adin Hill stopped 23 shots for his second career playoff shutout – both against the Stars. The other was 4-0 in Game 3 last Tuesday, when the Knights were already within one win of clinching the series before Dallas overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits in both Games 4 and 5.

    Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Florida will be Saturday night in Las Vegas.

    Vegas led the Western Conference in the regular season with 51 wins and 111 points. The Panthers completed a four-game sweep of Carolina in the East final last Wednesday, but their 40 wins and 92 points in the regular season were the fewest among the 16 teams that began these NHL playoffs.

    Instead of having to face a do-or-die Game 7 at home against the Stars, coach Bruce Cassidy and the Knights got off to another fast start and never left any doubt about the outcome of this series that included three overtime games.

    It was the most lopsided playoff loss for the Stars since the franchise moved south from Minnesota before the 1993-94 season.

    “You just expect more from yourself in a game like this,” said Stars forward Joe Pavelski, the 38-year-old veteran still without a Stanley Cup after 17 seasons.

    The Stars got captain Jamie Benn back after his two-game suspension for a cross-check to the neck area of Vegas captain Mark Stone early in Game 3. But Benn already had a minus-2 rating without a shot after playing only 3:46 in the first period, and finished minus-2 with only one shot his 12 1/2 minutes on the ice.

    Vegas led for good when Carrier scored 3:41 into the game after a puck poked from behind the net in the vicinity of three Dallas players. Carrier skated across the front of the crease and put a backhander in the net, the ninth time this postseason the Knights scored in the first five minutes of a game.

    Karlsson’s power-play goal came midway through the first period made it 2-0, and after a penalty that likely had prevented him from scoring.

    Nicolas Roy took a shot that deflected off Jake Oettinger’s glove and popped up in the air behind the goalie. Karlsson was charging into the crease when Stars defenseman Esa Lindell raised his stick and swatted the puck out of play, drawing a delay of game penalty.

    With the man advantage, Reilly Smith took a shot from the circle to the left, which was deflected in front by Roy and then off Oettinger’s extended skate before Karlsson knocked in the rebound.

    After Kolesar made it 3-0 in the first, and Marchessault scored his ninth goal in the second, Karlsson’s franchise record 10th goal for a playoff series extended the lead to 5-0 only two minutes into the third period.

    Oettinger had been 3-0 when the Stars were facing elimination this postseason, including Game 7 in the second round against Seattle before stopping 64 of 68 shots the past two games against the Knights.

    That was after Vegas had scored three goals on five shots in the first 7:10 to chase him from Game 3, which was the only lopsided game in the series until the finale. Two of their three regular season game went to shootouts.

    Dallas was only the fifth team to force a Game 6 in an conference final or NHL semifinal after being down 0-3, and the first since the Stars lost to Detroit in a sixth game in 2008. Only two teams got to a Game 7, which both lost – the New York Islanders to Philadelphia in 1975; and the New York Rangers to Boston in 1939.

    Vegas avoided a Game 7 at home against the Stars and coach Peter DeBoer, who is 7-0 in such do-or-die games, including the Seattle series finale two weeks ago. DeBoer was the Vegas coach for its only Game 7 wins – in the second round in 2020 against Vancouver and 2021 in the first round against Minnesota. But he was fired by the Golden Knights after they missed the playoffs last season for the only time in their short existence.