Top 10 Hart Trophy candidates for 2014-15

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are again leading candidates to win the Hart. (Getty Images)

The Hart Trophy debate is my favorite of the Great Hockey Debates, largely because nobody knows what the award truly means.

By definition, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association votes for “the player judged to be most valuable to his team.” It’s debatable whether that happens. Last year, it’s safe to say the Penguins would’ve gone nowhere without Sidney Crosby. But was any player more valuable to his team the year before than John Tavares, who almost singlehandedly took the Islanders to the playoffs? He finished third in the vote, with the Hart going to the defensively deficient but offensively potent Alex Ovechkin.

More often that not, the Hart skews toward prolific point totals, so keep in mind that my top 10 Hart candidates for 2014-15 factor in that common bias. Sorry, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar.

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THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: St. Louis Blues

The Hockey News
Jay Bouwmeester, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes and Alex Steen. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 52-23-7

Acquisitions: Colin Fraser, Peter Mueller, Jeremy Welsh, Nate Prosser, Chris Butler, Benn Ferriero, John McCarthy, Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarsson

Departures: Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Taylor Chorney, Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller, Roman Polak, Keith Aucoin, Vladimir Sobotka

Top five fantasy players: Alex Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, Jaden Schwartz

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Blues are as talented and well rounded as any team in the NHL on paper. They roll an excellent top-nine forward group, with two lines good enough to be first lines, whatever combinations emerge between Alexander Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and freshly signed Paul Stastny. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Anaheim Ducks

The Hockey News
The Anaheim Ducks celebrate a goal. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 54-20-8

Acquisitions: Dany Heatley, Jason LaBarbera, Clayton Stoner, Nate Thompson, Ryan Kesler, Louis Leblanc

Departures: Daniel Winnik, Zack Stortini, Jonas Hiller, Mathieu Perreault, Stephane Robidas, Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, Teemu Selanne

Top five fantasy players: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: If GM Bob Murray had to do the trade deadline all over again, he’d have a more secure Plan B in place when his quest for Ryan Kesler fell through. As it unfolded, Murray didn’t give his top two lines any kind of offensive boost. Meanwhile, the rival Los Angeles Kings added Marian Gaborik, who almost singlehandedly sunk the Ducks, with six goals and 10 points in their seven-game second-round series. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

The Hockey News
Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Jamie Sabau/National Hockey League)

2013-14 record: 43-32-7

Acquisitions: Brian Gibbons, Jarry D’Amigo, Scott Hartnell

Departures: Nick Schultz, Jack Skille, Blake Comeau, Matt Frattin, Derek MacKenzie, Nikita Nikitin, R.J. Umberger

Top five fantasy players: Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell, James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Blue Jackets come into the season riding high after getting the franchise’s first playoff wins. Sure, they eventually fell to the Penguins in their first-round clash, but there was a real sense the series could have gone either way. That’s a confidence booster. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Hockey News
Steven Stamkos with Valtteri Filppula. (Photo by Rob Marczynski/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 46-27-9

Acquisitions: Brenden Morrow, Matt Corrente, Evgeni Nabokov, Brian Boyle, Mike Blunden, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison

Departures: Ryan Malone, Tom Pyatt, Cedrick Desjardins, Anders Lindback, Mike Kostka, Keith Aulie, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell, B.J. Crombeen

Top five fantasy players: Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula, Victor Hedman, Jonathan Drouin

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: For the first time since 2000, Martin St-Louis won’t be at a Tampa Bay Lightning training camp. But after an off-season that featured serious wheeling and dealing from GM Steve Yzerman, the Bolts aren’t missing their former captain. Read more

USHL Preview: Who will rule in 2014-15

Ryan Kennedy
Muskegon's Matheson Iacopelli (Photo courtesy of Brandon Anderson/USHL)

The United States League may have lost its playoff champs in the Indiana Ice, but the junior circuit gained two expansion teams in Bloomington and Madison. The USHL has become a great league for players on the cusp of NCAA careers and this year will be no exception. I surveyed a crew of insiders to get power rankings and added a player to watch for each franchise. As a note, Team USA (the National Team Development Program) is not included in the standings since both the under-18s and under-17s play in the league and because the playoffs are kind of an afterthought; the best of the NTDP are always at the world under-18s at the time, so USHL post-season success is fleeting at best.

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THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Chicago Blackhawks

The Hockey News
Patrick Sharp. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

2014-15 record: 46-21-15

Acquisitions: Michael Leighton, Kyle Cumiskey, Brad Richards, Pierre-Cedric Labrie

Departures: Jason LaBarbera, Brandon Bollig

Top five fantasy players: Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Chicago fell short of a third Stanley Cup in five years, but its 2013-14 was still excellent. The Hawks were a Game 7 overtime goal away from the Cup final and return with the same stars and a couple notable upgrades. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Los Angeles Kings

The Hockey News
Los Angeles Kings celebrating their 2014 Stanley Cup championship. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 46-28-8

Acquisitions: David Van Der Gulik, Adam Cracknell

Departures: Colin Fraser, Willie Mitchell, LInden Vey

Top five fantasy players: Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: If L.A.’s offensive orgasm in the playoffs carries over into 2014-15, the team has a real chance at winning the Western Conference. After averaging just 2.42 goals per game last season, the Kings went nuts during the post-season, humming along at a 3.38 clip. Backed by Jonathan Quick, they already own the league’s No. 1 defense, and their playoff explosion shows they have the weapons to run with the West’s big guns during the regular season, if they only use them. Should they do so, the Presidents’ Trophy is well within reach, especially if freshly minted Marian Gaborik scores like he did in the playoffs. Read more