Goodbye 2014. We hardly knew ye. But before the year that was melts from our minds, let’s remember those who stood above their teammates during the past 365 days.
When hockey fans look back on 2014, they’ll remember what may just be the final year of NHL participation in the Olympics, more than 100,000 people packing the Big House to watch Detroit play Toronto in the Winter Classic, and a Stanley Cup playoff run by the Los Angeles Kings for the ages.
But when it comes to fans of specific teams, there’s one player from each of the NHL’s 30 squads that really had a 2014 that may define their career. From Florida’s Nick Bjugstad, the newly minted $24-million man, to the Flames Mark Giordano, who is coming into his own after at age 30, these are the 30 individual performances that stood out in 2014.
ANAHEIM DUCKS: Ryan Getzlaf was runner-up for the 2013-14 Hart Trophy and a second all-star team center. He’s also a big reason why Corey Perry is such a dominating scorer. Getzlaf was statistically better in the first half of last season rather than the 2014 portion (47 points vs. 40), but averaged more than a point per game in the calendar year.
ARIZONA COYOTES: Keith Yandle gets more points than fellow defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson every year, but it’s OEL’s all-around game that puts him at the head of the class. Yandle led the Coyotes with 53 points in 2013-14, but was minus-23 and didn’t get a sniff of shorthanded duty. Ekman-Larsson plays in every situation and also produces.
BOSTON BRUINS: When you include the end of last season and the beginning of this one, Patrice Bergeron had points in 15 consecutive games. He also padded his trophy case, earning a gold medal with Canada at the Sochi Games and won his second Selke Trophy in three seasons to go along with his NHL Foundation Award for community work.
BUFFALO SABRES: It was a season the Buffalo Sabres would rather forget, but it was also one in which Tyler Ennis established himself as the team’s most consistent offensive producer. Twenty-eight of the 43 points he earned in 2013-14 came after Jan. 1, and he was the team’s leading scorer this season through early December.
CALGARY FLAMES: After a slow start to 2013-14 and 18 games lost due to injury, Mark Giordano was a league force in the second half and was considered for Canada’s Olympic team. Combine that with a brilliant start to this season – in which he’s an early candidate for the Hart Trophy – and Giordano has been the NHL’s top D-man in 2014.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: On a team that has struggled this past year, there are a few candidates for best player. Captain Eric Staal and defenseman Andrej Sekera are in the mix, but fellow blueliner Justin Faulk has raised his profile in Carolina. The 22-year-old was leading the Canes in ice time and scoring through mid-December.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Gold brings out Duncan Keith’s best. In 2010, he was an Olympic champion and followed that with the Norris Trophy after a 69-point season. In 2014? Another Games gold, another Norris, another 60-plus points. Peruse Keith’s resume, which includes two Cups and two first-team all-star selections, and you get a Hall of Fame trajectory.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: The Avalanche, every advanced stat geek’s favorite whipping boy, owed much of their success last season to Semyon Varlamov. Injuries have limited him this season. Colorado’s best player in 2014? Tyson Barrie. The young D-man has 50 points in 66 games since last January, which pro-rates to 62 points over 82 games.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Ryan Johansen has a good case, but Sergei Bobrovsky gets the nod for the Blue Jackets, largely for his contribution to last year’s playoff run. Not only did ‘Officer Bob’ win his last four decisions to secure a wild card berth, but he set the stage for success early in 2014 when he reeled off 10 wins in 12 starts in January.
DALLAS STARS: Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin carried the offense in 2014 and equally deserve Dallas’ player-of-the-year honor. Benn gets the edge because, on top of his point-per-game production since January, he’s blossomed as a leader since assuming the captaincy. Benn also broke out on the world stage for Canada at the 2014 Olympics.
DETROIT RED WINGS: If the Hart Trophy were awarded solely on which player was most valuable to his team, Gustav Nyquist would’ve received serious consideration last season, as he helped the injury-depleted Wings make the playoffs for a 23rd straight season. He had 38 points in 37 games from Jan. 1 on and led Detroit in goals as Christmas approached.
EDMONTON OILERS: Taylor Hall isn’t the most conscientious backchecker in the world, but he is a world-class offensive player who sets the tone for the Oilers. Edmonton didn’t have much to be happy about in 2014, with the fewest wins in the NHL through mid-December, but Hall set the pace, with 59 points through the first 61 games of 2014.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: As the Panthers plan for the future, Nick Bjugstad continues to make his case as a franchise forward. In 2014, he established himself as the team’s go-to offensive player, picking up 23 points in 40 games in the second half to lead the team in scoring as a rookie, and he was the leading goal and point producer through December.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: It’s not typically about goals or points for defenseman Drew Doughty. The thing that matters to him is championships, and he was a vital force in a pair of 2014 titles – the Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup. Doughty was Canada’s go-to player at the 2014 Games, and he should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as NHL playoff MVP.
MINNESOTA WILD: Many of the Wild’s core players, from Jason Pominville to Mikko Koivu, alternate streaks and slumps. Ryan Suter is a constant, always ranking among league leaders in ice time. Before getting the mumps, Suter had the seventh-best Corsi Close among D-men in 2014-15. And he spends a lot of time against top scoring lines.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: Carey Price posted back-to-back shutouts in the semifinal and the gold medal game to help Canada win the championship in Sochi. In the NHL, Price backstopped the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final, and might have led them to the Stanley Cup final if not for a playoff-ending knee injury in Game 1 against the Rangers.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: The Nashville Predators are Shea Weber’s team, no matter how hot Filip Forsberg has been as a rookie. Weber opened 2014 with 16 points in 16 January games and never looked back. His 23 goals last season equalled his career high. Weber’s 137 goals over the past 10 seasons are 15 more than any other D-man in the NHL.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: The continuing excellence of Jaromir Jagr is stunning and the Devils are surely glad he is still prowling the NHL at age 42. The Czech legend recently passed Marcel Dionne in career points, putting him fifth in NHL history. Not only has Jagr kept the Devils’ offense afloat, but his charms with the media have been a welcome distraction.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: As great as he is, John Tavares didn’t play past the Olympics last season, so it would be unfair to give him the MVP crown. Kyle Okposo, on the other hand, was consistently good in 2014 and continues to make magic with Tavares and new linemate Brock Nelson. Okposo has harnessed his skills to the fullest and points have followed.
NEW YORK RANGERS: Not like he needed to do much convincing, but Henrik Lundqvist will always have a place in the hearts of Rangers fans thanks to the heroics he provided in the Stanley Cup final. ‘Hank’ did all he could against the potent Kings and stole the only game New York won in the tilt, with a little help from the snow in his crease.
OTTAWA SENATORS: Senators captain Erik Karlsson has been maligned for a slip in his defensive game, but his ability to create offense is beyond dispute. Karlsson was a point-per-game player from Jan. 1 to the end of last season, and in the 65 games he played in 2014 through mid-December, he was on the ice for fewer than 25 minutes in just six of them.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Claude Giroux hasn’t had great starts lately, but he’s pretty good at endings. Last season, he was blanked in his first five games, but ended up as the third-highest scorer in the NHL with 86 points, garnering a Hart Trophy nomination in the process. And once again this season, he’s one of the top offensive players in the NHL.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Living up to the lofty expectations the hockey world has placed on him, Sidney Crosby continued to thrive for the Pens in 2014. This season, he became the sixth-fastest NHLer to reach 800 points, and in 2013-14 he earned the Hart and Art Ross trophies, plus the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ choice for most outstanding player.
ST. LOUIS BLUES: Let 2014 be known as the year St. Louis found the missing piece of its puzzle: an elite goal scorer. Vladimir Tarasenko took his game to a new level during the first-round playoff series with Chicago, scoring four times in six games. He carried that into this season, leading the Blues in scoring and challenging for the league lead in goals.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: ‘Little Joe’ has taken over from ‘Big Joe’ as San Jose’s most valuable player. Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with 41 goals last season, the majority (25) coming in the 42 games in 2014. Pavelski had three more points than Joe Thornton did last season, and the former finished seventh in Hart Trophy voting as league MVP.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Steven Stamkos didn’t play a game for the Lightning in 2014 until March 6 after missing almost four months with a broken leg, but he managed to put up 17 points in the final 17 games of the season. Even though he said he didn’t feel fully comfortable until November, he started 2014-15 among the league’s best in points.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Phil Kessel has led the Maple Leafs in scoring every season he has played in Toronto and did so again in 2013-14, winning the team’s scoring title by 19 points. He’ll likely finish at the top for Toronto again this season. Kessel was spectacular for the U.S. Olympic team early, until it faltered in the semifinal and bronze medal games.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: It wasn’t a banner 2013-14 for the Sedins, though they’re back on track now. So, in a bit of a shocker, Vancouver’s MVP for 2014 goes to Dan Hamhuis. He was a member of Canada’s gold-medal defense at the Olympics, and with the Canucks, he was one of just seven regulars to finish as a plus, a team-high plus-13, in 2013-14.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: The Rocket Richard Trophy winner in 2014 and a second-team all-star, Alex Ovechkin is no stranger to accolades, just as he is no stranger to criticism. Often seen as a defensive black hole, he improved his possession stats during the first half of this season while taking on tougher competition under new coach Barry Trotz.
WINNIPEG JETS: Plenty of other Jets get the headlines – Evander Kane in particular – but all Blake Wheeler does is produce. He’s led Winnipeg in scoring two of the past three years, he set career highs with 28 goals and 69 points last season and is 21st in points over the past three campaigns. He’s the team’s most consistent source of offense.