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

hockey stories 2021

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

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Getty Images

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

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.