Commentary

Top five hockey stories of 2011

The death of an enforcer and a debacle on the Island cast a pall over the year

Updated: December 27, 2011, 1:37 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

Penguins vs. IslandersJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Isles and Penguins combined for 346 penalty minutes on Feb. 11 at Nassau Coliseum.

We asked ESPNNewYork.com's beat writers to rank their five top stories of 2011. Next up: Katie Strang, who shares her hockey picks. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

1. Death of Derek Boogaard

The death of beloved enforcer Derek Boogaard not only rocked his Rangers teammates but shocked and saddened the entire NHL community. The 28-year-old, who accidentally overdosed on painkillers and alcohol, was one of three NHL fighters who died during the offseason, leading some to question the role of fighting in the game. It was also later reported that Boogaard suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain ailment related to Alzheimer's disease that is caused by repeated blows to the head.

2. Rangers sign Brad Richards

The Rangers won the 2011 free-agency sweepstakes, landing coveted 31-year-old center Brad Richards and signing him to a nine-year, $60 million deal. Richards had no shortage of suitors -- Toronto, Calgary, L.A. and Tampa Bay all made aggressive pitches to woo the former Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner -- but the Prince Edward Island native ultimately chose the bright lights of Broadway.

3. Post-concussion symptoms sideline Staal

Cornerstone defenseman Marc Staal of the Rangers made a stunning revelation in training camp, telling reporters he was still dealing with the harrowing effects of a concussion suffered on a hit from his older brother Eric in Feburary. Although the initial incident only sidelined him for five games last season, Staal saw his condition worsen over the summer. The 24-year-old, who remains on injured reserve, has resumed skating but has yet to play a game this season.

4. Islanders-Penguins debacle

A 9-3 Islanders win over the Penguins turned ugly after a melee that featured a franchise record-setting 346 penalty minutes and 10 game misconducts. As a result of the February bloodbath, Trevor Gillies earned a nine-game suspension, Matt Martin got a four-game ban and the Islanders incurred a $100,000 fine from the NHL. Penguins owner Mario Lemieux also blasted the Islanders and decried the events as a "sideshow."

5. Devils' collapse and second-half surge

The Devils' atrocious start led to the dismissal of first-year coach John MacLean midway through the season, but with former coach Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench, the team made a remarkable surge to almost save the season. Ultimately, the Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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