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These 11 figures made biggest NHL news in 2011

Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 10:40 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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These 11 figures made biggest NHL news in 2011
What does Gary Bettman have in common with Tim Thomas? Terry Pegula with Brendan Shanahan? They're among the most influential names from this past year's NHL headlines.
There are dozens of headliners in the NHL every year, but many create stories that become big for a day, maybe two before they're forgotten. There are those, however, that create headlines that are so big and newsworthy that their stories live on for days, weeks, months and in some cases even years.
 
In 2011, there was no shortage of players, coaches, and executives that made news that shocked and rocked the hockey world. We've narrowed the list down to the 11 biggest newsmakers of the year.
 
Here they are in alphabetical order by last name:
 
Gary Bettman
 

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The NHL commissioner had a busy year of change, including amendments to current rules, changes in ownership, the relocation of a franchise and the creation of a new player-safety department. All paled, however, in relation to the bold realignment that is scheduled for the 2012-13 season.
 
By bringing the Jets back to Winnipeg, Bettman earned rave reviews and became a fan favorite in the Manitoba capital. The team reached its mark of 13,000 season tickets sold in a matter of minutes.
 
By creating the Department of Player Safety and putting it in Brendan Shanahan's hands, Bettman proved to the hockey community that the League is serious about player safety. In its first year, the department has already made advancements in transparency relating to supplemental discipline as well as bringing about significant changes to rules governing boarding and illegal checks to the head.
 
Arguably Bettman's most remarkable achievement of the year happened in early December, as he was able to convince at least two-thirds of the NHL's Board of Governors to approve a radical realignment plan that will divide the 30 teams into four conferences (two with eight teams and two with seven teams) based on geography, starting with the 2012-13 season.
 
Bettman also aided in the sales of the Sabres and Stars while keeping the Coyotes in Glendale as the League continues to look for a local buyer for the team.
 
Guy Boucher
 
Roughly two weeks after Steve Yzerman took the job as Tampa Bay's general manager, he plucked his first coach off the free-agent market by signing Guy Boucher to a four-year contract on June 10, 2010.
 
Boucher had a strong track record from his three seasons with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and one year with the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs, the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, many people in Montreal had Boucher targeted to be Jacques Martin's replacement, but Yzerman changed all that by bringing Boucher on board and giving him a chance to flex his coaching acumen at the NHL level.
 
The Lightning won 46 games in Boucher's first season and then beat the Penguins in seven games in the first round before sweeping the Capitals to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lightning took the Boston Bruins to seven games, but lost Game 7 in Boston, 1-0.
 
It has been a struggle for Boucher this season with various injuries to go along with marginal play on the back end and in goal as the Lightning have struggled.
 
Bruce Boudreau
 
Boudreau started the year as the popular coach of the Washington Capitals and finished it across the country as the coach of the Anaheim Ducks. In between, there were plenty of interesting moments, including those captured by the HBO "24/7" cameras even before the calendar turned to 2011.
 
HBO caught Boudreau in some of his most passionate and messy moments, complete with an expletive-laced locker room address to the Capitals. Along the way, he became a hit even to non-hockey fans for his unscripted and unpolished ways.
 
Boudreau celebrated the start of 2011 with a 3-1 win against Pittsburgh in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field. However, he soon became one of the key faces of the underperforming Capitals, who were swept out of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs by Tampa Bay and got off to a slow start this season.
 
Washington's slow start to the 2011-12 season wound up costing Boudreau his job in late November, not long after he became the fastest coach to 200 wins in the modern era of the NHL. However, just as soon as the post-firing story turned into what Boudreau would do next, he landed on his feet in Anaheim as the replacement for Randy Carlyle.
 
Boudreau is still in the process of getting adjusted to a new team in a new conference. He was 2-6-2 in his first 10 games behind the Ducks' bench.

Mark Chipman and David Thomson
 
Chipman and Thomson of True North Sports & Entertainment are linked as one because together, with the help of Bettman and the approval of the League's Board of Governors, they purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and relocated the franchise to Winnipeg to bring back the Jets.
 
The purchase and inevitable franchise relocation were announced in Winnipeg just prior to the start of the Stanley Cup Final. It became official at the Board of Governors meeting less than a month later with a unanimous stamp of approval for both the ownership change and the franchise relocation.
 
Chipman said at the announcement in late May that, "True North, our city and our province has received the call we've long since been waiting for." He spoke with emotion and some sleep deprivation because of the 4:30 a.m. ET conference call that finally hammered out the details of the purchase agreement with the Atlanta Spirit group.
 
Since the announcement, Winnipeg fans have gobbled up season tickets. The Jets hit their goal of 13,000 season tickets easily, with 7,158 tickets sold in a three-day pre-sale and 5,842 purchased online in four minutes and processed in 17 minutes. The expectation is for MTS Centre to be sold out for at least the next three seasons.
 
Sidney Crosby
 
The Penguins superstar captain has given a face to most newsworthy injury of 2011 -- the concussion.
 
Crosby was on his way to a Hart Trophy-winning season with 66 points in 41 games before he was shut down with a concussion following a game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 5. Everything Crosby has done or said about the injury since has been news across hockey circles -- as well as medical circles -- throughout North America. Crosby even held a press conference with his team of doctors beside him.
 
Despite an initial diagnosis of a mild concussion that would put him out for a week after absorbing hits in back-to-back games in early January, Crosby never returned during the 2010-11 season. He skated during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he never played in a game.
 
Crosby began practicing with the Penguins at the start of training camp, but wasn't cleared for contact in early November. Crosby made a celebrated return to the lineup on Nov. 21 and had a magical night with four points against the Islanders. He put up 12 points in his first eight games, but announced in early December that he was again experiencing concussion-like symptoms and would be out indefinitely.
 
Jaromir Jagr
 
For several days in late June, Jagr Watch took over headlines across the NHL. Reporters and fans were fixated on a topic that began to trend across the Twitterverse as well.
 
The consensus was that Jagr was embarking on a return to the NHL after a three-year hiatus in, well, Siberia, playing in the KHL. However, nobody was sure what team he'd be joining.
 
The Penguins seemed like a sure bet and were reportedly the frontrunners with an offer on the table and GM Ray Shero waiting by the phone for Jagr's agent, ex-NHLer Petr Svoboda, to call with an acceptance.
 
Jaromir Jagr
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 30
SOG: 82 | +/-: 11
That never happened. Soon enough the Penguins pulled out of the Jagr sweepstakes. So, too, did the Detroit Red Wings. The Rangers, his previous team in the NHL, never expressed interest, according to Jagr.
 
Eventually it was the Philadelphia Flyers who jumped in and signed the 39-year-old right wing to a one-year deal worth $3.3 million. Jagr was reportedly offered $2 million on a one-year contract from the Penguins.
 
With a strong start to the season, talk has begun about Jagr re-signing with the Flyers this summer. Through Dec. 28, he had 30 points in 31 games playing mostly on the Flyers' top line with NHL leading scorer Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
 
Terry Pegula
 
Terry Pegula's purchase of the Buffalo Sabres from Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn for $189 million was approved by the NHL Board of Governors on Feb. 22. Following the transaction, the Sabres went 16-4-4 down the stretch to jump into the Stanley Cup Playoff picture and earn the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. They were in ninth place and four points out of the playoffs the day Pegula was approved as owner.
 
Pegula's presence reinvigorated the fan base, which had more to cheer for in the offseason, when he unshackled GM Darcy Regier and gave him a checkbook to build a winning roster and make the Sabres one of the biggest-spending teams in the League.
 
Regier re-signed Drew Stafford to a four-year, $16 million contract in early June. He made a trade with Calgary at the NHL Draft to pick up defenseman Robyn Regehr and his $4 million cap hit for the next two seasons. He acquired the negotiating rights to Christian Ehrhoff on June 29, and one day later signed him to a 10-year, $40-million contract. Regier also signed Ville Leino to a six-year, $27-million deal.
 
Not finished, Regier signed Tyler Myers to a seven-year, $38.5-million extension on Sept. 15.
 
In the meantime, Pegula also put his money toward renovations of the Sabres locker room at First Niagara Center.
 
The Sabres have struggled this season and entered the Christmas break at No. 11 in the Eastern Conference with 35 points, but hope still exists because of the owner who has already proven he's willing to do whatever it takes to build a winner in Buffalo.
 
Brendan Shanahan
 
Prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that Brendan Shanahan would be heading up the new Department of Player Safety, as well as taking on Colin Campbell's duties as the League's chief disciplinarian for on-ice infractions.
 
Since that time, Shanahan, the NHL senior vice president of Player Safety and Hockey Operations, has spearheaded the changes that have made the rules governing boarding and illegal checks to the head stricter. He has also initiated video explanations of all disciplinary decisions involving suspensions.
 
Shanahan has created a stricter environment aimed at making the game safer. By the NHL's two-day holiday break, Shanahan had handed out 23 suspensions totaling 78 games. He has also issued 13 players a fine of $2,500, bringing the NHL's Players' Emergency Assistance Fund $32,500.
 
Jeff Skinner
 

"It has a Justin Bieber-type feel to it, but he's got a Justin Bieber-type look, too." -- Eric Staal on Jeff Skinner

Jeff Skinner, the youngest player in the NHL last season, burst onto the scene at the start of the 2010-11 season by putting up 25 points in 36 games before New Year's Day. The Hurricanes' young star began earning local fame in Raleigh, N.C. as young female fans started to gravitate toward him and their parents started to appreciate Skinner for his youth, his looks, and well-balanced behavior.
 
Soon enough, Skinner Fever turned into an epidemic in North Carolina.
 
Skinner was named as a replacement for the All-Star Game in Raleigh and his fame was never more evident than at Fanfest at the Convention Center, when he showed up for an autograph session and had to be escorted around like the teen sensation he had become in Raleigh.
 
His teammates, the media and even the fans started comparing Skinner to teen idol Justin Bieber.
 
"It has a Justin Bieber-type feel to it, but he's got a Justin Bieber-type look, too," Carolina captain Eric Staal told NHL.com.
 
Skinner was also a huge hit League-wide. He completed his rookie season with 31 goals and 32 assists in 82 games, leading all rookies with 63 points. He was awarded the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year for 2010-11.
 
Skinner, who didn't turn 19 until May, has 24 points in 30 games this season, but he's currently out with a concussion.
 
Dale Tallon
 
When Dale Tallon took over as the Florida Panthers general manager prior to the 2010-11 season, he took aim at trying to build a team the way he had in Chicago before his departure there. He knew he needed to build through the draft and with young players, a process he started in 2010 with three picks in the first round.
 
The difference this year was Tallon had no choice but to spend and spend heavily because the Panthers entered the offseason roughly $30 million below the salary-cap floor.
 
He went to work early by carving out a deal with Stan Bowman, his replacement and former assistant in Chicago, to bring Brian Campbell and his $7.1-million cap hit to the Panthers. Then, in a span of roughly 24 hours starting with the opening of free agency on July 1, Tallon added nine veterans -- most notably Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Ed Jovanovski, Jose Theodore and Tomas Fleischmann.
 
Soon after the season began, Tallon made another move, shipping David Booth out to Vancouver for Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.
 
The deals have been good enough to land the Panthers in first place. They entered the holiday break with a six-point lead in the Southeast Division and appear on their way to making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000.
 
Tim Thomas
 
Tim Thomas
Goalie - BOS
RECORD: 16-5-0
GAA: 1.84 | SVP: 0.943
Tim Thomas was the best in the NHL during the 2010-11 regular season with a 2.00 goals-against average and .938 save percentage, and then got even better in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, boasting a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage, earning all 16 wins for the Bruins, including four in the final five games of the Stanley Cup Final against Vancouver, to cap his season with the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy and finally, the Vezina Trophy.
 
Thomas set the NHL record for most saves in the postseason (798) and a Stanley Cup Final (238) as well as most shots faced in a postseason (849). He allowed only eight goals in the Final and became the first goalie in NHL history to win Game 7 with a shutout on the road. He also had a shutout in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but that was in Boston.
 
Thomas lost Game 1 of the Final, 1-0. In Game 2, he was criticized for coming too far out of his crease before giving up Alex Burrows' winning-goal 11 seconds into overtime. However, he allowed only four goals the rest of the way to deliver the Stanley Cup to Boston for the first time since 1972. He had two shutouts, including a perfect 37-save performance in Game 7 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
 
Thomas also found himself in a war of words with Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo that he didn't start, but most certainly finished with his play on the ice.
 
Thomas made 36 saves to win Game 6 and another 37 to win Game 7, both do-or-die games.
 
Just to prove it was no fluke, he may be on his way to another Vezina Trophy this season. Entering the Christmas break, Thomas was third in wins (16), fourth in GAA (1.84) and second in save percentage (.943).
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Quote of the Day

I might have blacked out. I was pretty pumped.

— New Jersey Devils rookie goalie Keith Kinkaid on his first NHL win Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning