1997-98: Olympic Proportions
The Three Stars:
NHLers Head To Olympics; Hasek Dominates - In a battle of NHL dream teams the Czech Republic blanks Russia 1-0 to win the Olympic Gold medal in Nagano, Japan, thanks to the spectacular goaltending of Domink Hasek. The Czechs reach the final after shocking Canada in the semi-final. Tied 1-1 after a scoreless 10 minute overtime, the Czechs win in a shootout when Hasek tones all five Canadian shooters (none of which were Wayne Gretzky, hockey's all time leading scorer). Robert Reichal beats Patrick Roy to end the game. Finland then upsets a disinterested Canada in the bronze medal game, while Team USA goes home in shame, trashing rooms in the Olympic village after losing in the quarterfinal.
Whalers Blow Out Of Hartford - After missing the playoffs five straight years the Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina and became known as the Hurricanes. The team originally played in Greensboro until the new rink in Raleigh was available.
Scoring Drought - Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr is the NHL's only 100 point scorer. His 102 points is the lowest Art Ross winning total in a non-lockout season since 1967-68 as teams employ the neutral zone trap. Scoring drops to a 40 year low of 5.28 goals per game on average. Player crease violations also become a serious issue as 304 reviews conducted by video goal judges result in 110 disallowed goals.
- Dominik Hasek wasn't just dominant at the Olympics. He became the first NHL goaltender to win back-to-back Hart Trophies as the league's MVP. He wins his fourth Vezina Trophy in five seasons as the league's top goalie, leading the league in save percentage a fifth straight time. His 13 shutouts are the most in a season since 1969-70.
- Wayne Gretzky records his 1851st career assist, giving him more assists than any other NHL player in history has total points.
- Mark Messier shocked many when he left the New York Rangers to sign a big contract with the Vancouver Canucks. It was an ill-advised move on behalf of the Canucks.
- Messier was a surprise omission from Team Canada's first all-NHL Olympic team.
- After a lengthy contract holdout, Paul Kariya returns only to be knocked out of the Olympics thanks to a concussion courtesy of a stick to the head from Gary Suter.
- Mike Gartner reaches the 700 goal mark. Jari Kurri and Dino Ciccarelli reach 600 goals.
- Facing more than 30 charges of racketeering, fraud, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and accepting kickbacks, hockey czar Alan Eagleson pleads guilty to three counts of fraud in a Boston court. He does the same the next day in a Toronto court and is sentenced to 18 months in jail and fine $1 million.
- Carolina tenders a multi-million dollar offer sheet to restricted free agent holdout Sergei Fedorov of Detroit. The Wings matched and kept the superstar.
- Olie "The Goalie" Kolzig was a brick wall during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He gave up just 13 goals in 6 games vs Boston, then seven more (including 2 shutouts) in a 5 game romp over Ottawa, and just 11 in a six game classic goalie battle vs Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. Washington advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in team history.
- However the mighty Detroit Red Wings sweep the Capitals in the final to repeat as Stanley Cup champion. Captain Steve Yzerman immediately hands the Stanley Cup to wheelchair-bound teammate Vladimir Konstantinov, who suffered severe brain injuries in a limousine crash just days after the 1997 Stanley Cup victory.