Hockey, 2014, in review:
•Boosted by six outdoor games, the NHL earned record revenues of $3.7 billion for the 2013-14 season, the first full season under its newest collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players' Assn. A lucrative Canadian TV deal sweetened the pot. According to Forbes, the average franchise value grew 18.6% to an all-time high of $490 million, and three clubs — the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens — surpassed $1 billion. Fans often criticize Commissioner Gary Bettman for his aloofness or lack of feel for the game, but his job has never been safer because he's making lots of money for lots of owners and got them a salary cap that hasn't soared as high or fast as predicted.
•The NHL's international superstars were showcased during the Sochi Winter Olympics, where Canada defeated Sweden for the gold medal. Finland, led by all-time Olympic scoring leader and Ducks winger Teemu Selanne, earned sentimental support and bronze medals. The tournament was a breakthrough moment for Slovenia and its only NHL player, Anze Kopitar of the Kings. Slovenia advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time and won the hearts of hockey fans around the world with a gutsy seventh-place finish.
•The NHL's two biggest American markets were represented in the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings defeated the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons, and they did it dramatically. They fended off elimination seven times, including rallying to beat San Jose after losing the first three games of their opening-round series, and rallying to defeat the Ducks in seven games in the second round. The Kings set a standard for physicality and skill that other teams are trying to copy. Their Western Conference final series against the Chicago Blackhawks was a gem. The team that used to trade draft picks for washed-up veterans used its picks well to construct a gritty, hard-hitting core that General Manager Dean Lombardi has managed to keep together. The pieces are there for them to make a run at becoming the first back-to-back champions since the Red Wings won in 1997 and repeated in 1998.
•Every Stanley Cup playoff game was available on TV through the league's deal with NBC Sports Group and the NHL Network. NBCSN still isn't available in many hotels, bars and restaurants, but the availability is growing.
•Longtime coach Pat Burns was finally elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame — unfortunately, four years after his death from cancer. He was part of an extraordinary induction class with former players Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, and referee Bill McCreary.
•Head injuries continued to be a contentious topic. In October, lawsuits filed by former players were consolidated into a class-action lawsuit against the NHL in federal court in St. Paul, Minn. Players contended the league ignored the risks of head injuries and failed to disclose those risks to players. The NHL filed a motion to dismiss the suit and said information about head injuries was readily available to players and that it had worked with players, through collective bargaining, to establish workplace safety rules.
•Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was suspended indefinitely with pay after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence against his wife, Marta Varlamova, on Oct. 20. He later was charged with a felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday. The NHL took a tough stance, no doubt mindful of the public outcry against the NFL's initial light sanction of former Baltimore running back Ray Rice after he punched his fiancee unconscious in an elevator.
•Low attendance in Florida continues to be an eyesore. The Panthers no longer give thousands of tickets away and say business will rebound; Bettman has said there are no plans to move the franchise. The planned sale of 51% of the Arizona Coyotes to hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway is proceeding slowly and was not voted on at the last board of governors meeting, but league officials say a deal is still on track to stabilize the franchise.