The 10 most controversial people of 2013 (Puck Daddy year in review)

10. Ilya Kovalchuk

The picture at the top of this post is a visual representation of what Ilya Kovalchuk did to New Jersey Devils fans and the NHL – he punched them in the face.

After the lockout ended, no one seemed sure as to if Ilya Kovalchuk would be coming back from Russia where he was playing for SKA in the KHL. Then news came out that Kovy needed to review the terms of the new CBA before he made a decision to come back. (Riiiiight…) In the end, Ilya made his way back to the states and to the Devils, the team who paid dearly for him and his 15-year, $100-million dollar contract, two years prior.

Following the truncated 2013 season, Kovalchuk made the decision to retire and return to Russia; leaving $70 million on the table. This move was expected but not until a few years later when there would be a drop in his salary. His mom claimed taxes, escrow, homesickness and having to take care of a family as his reason for retiring.

9. Patrick Roy

There had been rumors for years of Patrick Roy taking various jobs within the Colorado Avalanche organization. In 2009, he was offered the head coaching and general manager jobs before turning them down to continue coaching/running/owning/emperoring the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL.

Once Joe Sacco was fired, the Roy rumors started swirling again; now with greater intensity as Roy’s former teammate Joe Sakic had assumed the role of Executive Vice President of Player Operations. As predicted, Roy was eventually hired as coach, and with a twist, assumed the title of VP of Hockey Operations. He and Joe would be making the player decisions from there on out despite GM Greg Sherman still being around. Awkward.

Roy started the season off with a bang as the Avs destroyed the Anaheim Ducks 6-1. Following the final whistle, the Patrick Roy we all expected finally arrived. Roy took exception to a late game knee-to-knee contact by Ben Lovejoy of the Ducks on rookie Nate McKinnon. Roy expressed his feelings to Lovejoy, and Corey Perry and Bruce Boudreau took exception to his exception! A kerfuffle ensued until both sides went to their respective locker rooms. Thankfully the only injury was to a plexiglass divider.

Some said Roy planned to do this to fire his team up and cement the regime change in Colorado. Others said he’s just bat-shit crazy, like usual.

8. John Tortorella

Coming out of the lockout, the Rangers looked like the team to beat. New York nearly made it to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final but was upended by New Jersey. Henrik Lundqvist was the reigning Vezina winner. They had some of the best young talent in the pipeline; not to mention guys like Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Brad Richards already sitting on the bench. Most coaches would drool to have their teams at that level.

And then there is John Tortorella. Torts has always been known as a bit of a hard-ass. He’s sarcastic, condescending and most certainly isn’t a players coach. Those qualities not only signed his pink slip in New York, they got him hired in Vancouver.

His time in New York was filled with moments he’d probably like us to not remember. There were the epic battles with Larry Brooks. His penchant for calling out his star players time and time again. Then there was the nail in the proverbial coffin, benching Brad Richards in the 2013 playoffs. After losing to the Boston Bruins, the Rangers dismissed Tortorella and it was surmised this was done at the behest of King Henrik.

It didn’t take too long for Torts to find another job; he and his ‘blue collar’ coaching system was picked to lead the Vancouver Canucks and their country club-like dressing room. His initial press conference made headlines when he expressed his expectation for Daniel and Henrik Sedin to kill penalties and block shots. Basically, be tough. That was met with a chuckle from the hockey community. Not sure if he’s seen this video.

7. Roberto Luongo

Almost every day during the 2013 season there was at least one story about Roberto Luongo and his situation in Vancouver. Most of the time it was the same story with rearranged words. That shows just how big of a deal Roberto Luongo was in 2013. (Or just how bored the Vancouver media was pre-Tortorella.)

“My contract sucks”, Roberto Luongo stated in a post-trade deadline press conference. Vancouver’s GM Mike Gillis was not able to move Luongo and his 12-year, $64-million contract as everyone expected to happen. The next move could have been the buyout but the Canucks moved Cory Schneider, and his easier to digest contract 3-year, $12-million contract, to New Jersey instead.

The one person that handled ‘Goalie Gate 2013’ better than most was Luongo. He used social media to poke fun at the situation and himself. When the whole brouhaha was pretty much over, Bobby Lu had the final word: #NOtradeclause.

6. Tyler Seguin

Tyler, Tyler, Tyler. We’ve all been there – 21 and stupid; pretty sure we know everything about life and how it works. The only difference between us and him is the whole making millions of dollars, professional athlete thing. This cautionary tale had already been written by Patrick Kane and it looked like Seguin was following down the same path in Boston until he was traded to Dallas.

Aside from one concussion, things have gone pretty well for Mr. Seguin in Dallas. As of writing this post, he’s got 19 goals (4 of which are game winners), 18 assists and is a plus-12 through 33 games. To compare, in 48 regular season games with the Bruins last season, he had 16 goals, 16 assists and was a plus-20; in 22 playoff games, he had 1 goal, 7 assists and was a minus-2.

5. Brian Burke

Oh, Burkie. Where to begin?

To start the year, Burke was fired as GM of the Maple Leafs after a four year reign with zero playoff appearances. He was kept on in an advisory role in some made up position until he found another gig.

Burke then signed on as a professional scout for the Anaheim Ducks, the organization he left for the job in Toronto. There were rumblings in the Ducks circles that the hiring of Burke as a scout was meant to put some pressure on GM Bob Murray to rebuild on the fly. Burke was the GM when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup. No pressure, Bob.

In September, Burke left Anaheim for Canada (again), this time joining on as President of Hockey Operations for the rebuilding Calgary Flames. Nope, no VP. He’s the President! And he was GM Jay Feaster’s boss. Burkie pledged at the time to be a ‘good teammate’ and will let Jay do his thing with minimal interference. Now there is zero interference. Feaster was fired mid-December and guess who took over as interim GM…? The answer can be found in the hilarious tweets by his kids.

4. Paul Holmgren

Paul Holmgren is still the General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. Much to the chagrin of Flyers fans.

After getting his owner’s signoff on the ridiculous deal to begin with, Holmgren got the OK to buy out the contract of Ilya Bryzgalov for $23-million in June. $23-million straight down the toilet (and the Edmonton Oilers are grateful(?) for Philly’s charity.)

His handling of Peter Laviolette was stunning. Dipping into the Lakers and Mike Brown playbook, he fired Lavi – NOT FIVE – but three games into the 2013 season. Holmgren called the decision a ‘gut feeling’. It took his gut all of training camp, the preseason and the first three games of the regular season to come to a decision?! Get the man some Ex-Lax STAT.

By the luck of being in the Metrosexual Division, the Flyers have crawled from the basement into the third playoff position with 38 points; they’re tied with New York in points but have a better record of 17-16-4.

On the brightside, Ed Snider gave Bryzgalov and Holmgren the kiss of death in March. Bryzgalov did not survive but Holmgren has. He received an additional smooch along with then-coach Peter Laviolette. Lavi is gone now, too. It’s just a matter of time for Holmgren.

3. Brendan Shanahan

Brendan Shanahan has been a significant improvement as the Tzar of Timeouts over Colin Campbell. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of ‘huh?’, though.

The Department of Player Safety (DoPS) began releasing disciplinary explanation videos since the 2011 preseason. They have helped to decrease the number of cries over the Wheel O’ Justice being used in hearings instead of rules, logic, common sense, etc.

As the DoPS evolves, the fan is starting to understand why a suspension was given – a great thing – but now with a focus on safety the more frequent question is ‘why not?’. The most recent example is Washington’s Tom Wilson’s hit on Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn. Shanny explained in great detail why Wilson did not merit supplementary discipline.

In contrast, on the same night, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf was driven face-first into the boards by Detroit’s Kyle Quincey. Quincey was given a major penalty and a game misconduct. Getzlaf left the game and returned after receiving multiple stitches to his upper-lip. There was no comment from the DoPS as to why Quincey didn’t receive a hearing. It’s incidents like this that will continue to plague the NHL and it’s on Shanny to clear up the gray areas.

The main controversy for Shanahan is the consistency among suspensions. Phil Kessel was suspended ‘for the remainder of the pre-season’ (i.e. three garbage games) for slashing John Scott the angry giant with his tiny, childlike hands. Nazim Kadri barrels over Nicklas Backstrom causing an injury and gets three games. Anthony Peluso received three games for boarding Alex Goligoski who received stitches and returned to the game. Kessel and Peluso were deemed to be intentional while the Kadri hit was incidental. Three game suspensions for three different kinds of illegality. This is another area Shanahan and department need to clear up.

2. Enforcers

Are enforcers going the way of the dodo bird and Crystal Pepsi? The debate over their necessity in the game is discussed more than ever due in part to the rash of injuries not just from fighting but from the increased physical play of today’s incredibly conditioned athletes.

George Parros has found his way into several enforcer-based conversations throughout the year. When Parros played for Randy Carlyle in Anaheim, he knew he was going to be in the lineup nearly every night because Carlyle rarely rolled all four lines, allowing George to play limited fourth line minutes and have his obligatory fight nearly every game.

After Carlyle was fired and Bruce Boudreau was hired, Parros was a healthy scratch more than he liked because Bruce’s system rolls four lines and all four lines are expected to score. George has some skill, he is in the NHL, but not to Bruce’s standards. Parros left Anaheim for Florida and then Montreal where the conversation about fighting really started up again. Boudreau chooses players like Matt Beleskey and Patrick Maroon both will throw-down when necessary but they can setup plays and score.

That whole story was to show that enforcers aren’t going to be extinct anytime soon; they’re just going to have to take the Darwin approach and evolve from using their hands primarily to fight to improving their skills and offensive upside. The NHL is bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than ever. This hybrid-enforcer is the way of the future before fighting is abolished all together.

1. Gary Bettman

As commissioner, Gary Bettman has to take the good with the bad.

The year of 2013 in the corner offices of the NHL had a theme – money. It began with the negotiation of the new CBA. Bettman was able to deliver to his clients, the owners, an increase in hockey-related revenues.

He backed a plan that is forecasting an additional $1-billion in revenues for the NHL over the next three years. This lead to the creation of the Stadium Series, six outdoor games to capitalize on the popularity of the New Year’s Day Winter Classic. The NHL strengthened its partnership with large brands like Coors Light and negotiated a massive $4.9-billion TV deal with Canadian broadcaster Rogers.

Also in 2013 was the end of his third labor stoppage in 20 years as commissioner. The NHL can experience massive amounts of growth but it will be those lockouts that will forever be Bettman’s legacy.

Follow Jen Neale on Twitter at @MsJenNeale_PD