In the hockey world, 2012 will be remembered, it now seems, as the year the NHL cemented its reputation as an adolescent's unfunny joke of a business. We're four days away from New Year's Day, when the Winter Classic, normally America's reminder that hockey exists, is supposed to take place. But the Winter Classic, like every other hockey game scheduled since June, has been cancelled because of the lockout. Many observers uh, myself included figured the league would never miss a high-profile appointment like that, but our optimism mortifies in hindsight. The league is absolutely going to miss that appointment, and many others. All games are canceled through Jan. 14 now. It appears as though the league will soon miss its second full year in less than a decade, which basically turns the NHL schedule from an annual occurrence into an almost-annual northeastern peculiarity, like when Dave Matthews Band goes on tour. Huh. They're doing it again this year. Cool, I guess. Surprised they have enough of an audience to schedule it so often.
This is a great disappointment, and not just for the usual sports-lockout reasons -- layoffs, irritated fans, the public toleration of management's decision to blame its own problems on labor -- but also because the 2011-12 season ended with a playoff triumph that testified so well to what the NHL can do when it's at its best. The Los Angeles Kings came from the sport's lowest ranks and thrashed the teams above them, simply because they pressed harder than their opponents. The Kings offered us that gift unique to contact sports, hockey especially, where a team's strategy exactly matches the identity-related clichés that might describe it. In bland coach-speak, the Kings were tough and aggressive. In terms of hockey strategy -- what did they do that made them so much better than their opponents? -- the Kings were tough and aggressive.