From the Maple Leafs big coaching splash to the Patrick Kane affair, here are the most talked-about moments of 2015.
Year in review: The Top 10 stories of 2015 The 2015 calendar year was a unique one. By some accounts it was quiet, given there were no major events, like the Olympics in 2014 and World Cup to come in 2015. But both on and off the ice 2015 had several memorable moments and storylines. Here is the top 10:
10. Anaheim Ducks struggle Back in May the Ducks looked primed for another Stanley Cup. They tore through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Winnipeg Jets and needing just five games to beat the Calgary Flames. They also led the Western final against the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. But the Blackhwaks, of course, rallied to win games five and six and went on to win the Cup. Despite the Game 7 loss, the Ducks appeared to be a team on the rise. They were a popular pick to win the Cup in 2016 (including by The Hockey News). But the second half of 2015 has been a nightmare. The Ducks have scored by far the fewest goals in the NHL to begin the 2015-16 season, and sit last in the poor Pacific Division, and second last overall. As 2015 comes to a close you have to wonder which Ducks team shows up in 2016.
9. Maple Leafs hire Mike Babcock The Maple Leafs suffered through an embarrassing 2014-15 season. They fired head coach Randy Carlyle, replaced him with Peter Horachek and plummeted to the bottom of the NHL standings. Depending on if you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person, you could say it was worth it. After Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan cleaned house, he sought out to get the best coach available, and got his man. On May 20, 2015, the Maple Leafs lured Mike Babcock away from the Red Wings and signed him to an eight-year, $50 million deal. The Leafs are still a work in progress, but getting Babcock was a coup.
8. Blackhawks win Stanley Cup again Modern-day dynasties don’t exist, in any sport, they way they used to. So it’s fair to call the Blackhawks a dynasty. The Blackhawks overcame the aforementioned Ducks in the Western final then downed the Lightning in the final to win their third Stanley Cup in six years. With the core of their team still in their prime and locked up, don’t be surprised to see them win again. In an odd-numbered year, of course.
7. Jets trade Evander Kane to Sabres When the Jets dealt the young forward to the Sabres in February, it ended months, reportedly even years, of unhappiness between both the player and team. Kane
told The Hockey News that he asked for a trade every off-season he was with the Jets. Kane couldn’t help but make headlines on and off the ice in Winnipeg, and he eventually got the move he wanted.
6. Jamie Benn wins Art Ross We know now that it wasn’t a fluke, but few could have predicted Stars forward Jamie Benn winning the Art Ross trophy last season. Benn finished the season with 55 points in 46 games to win the scoring title, holding off household names like John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin. Benn’s great start to the 2015-16 season shows that few were players on the planet were better in the year 2015.
5. The rise and (temporary) fall of Carey Price One of the few player better than Benn over the last 365 days was Carey Price. The Canadiens goaltender solidified himself as the best goalie in the world, winning the Vezina and Hart trophies, while leading the Canadiens to a surprise Eastern Conference final berth. The latter half of 2015 has not been quite as great. Price has been hobbled by a lower-body injury and been limited to just 12 games so far this season. When he was in goal, the Canadiens looked like legit Cup contenders. Without him, they’re bottom feeders. Expect Price to look like his old all-world self when he returns.
4. Oilers win draft lottery The Oilers didn’t even finish in dead last for once. They finished third last in the NHL. Despite that modest improvement from recent years, Edmonton leapfrogged Buffalo and Arizona in the draft lottery and got to select first for the fourth time in six years. Their prize? Connor McDavid. The most talked about, most hyped, highly touted prospect since Crosby. No doubt more than a few NHL fans lamented McDavid going to Edmonton.
3. Steven Stamkos contract stalemate Steven Stamkos is 25. He’s already won two Rocket Richard trophies and has 292 career goals – and he could become an unrestricted free agent. Stamkos, the Lightning star sniper, keeps saying he wants to remain in Tampa for a longtime. The Lightning keep saying they want to re-sign him. Everyone is saying the right things, but there’s still no extension in place. As much interest as there was in nothing happening in 2015, what happens with Stamkos in 2016 will be even more riveting.
2. Steve Montador dies The former NHLer was found dead in his home in February, and the cause is officially still unknown. The death of another former player sent shockwaves through the hockey world. Researchers later discovered Montador suffered from CTE – the degenerative brain disorder that is caused by concussions, and has been blamed for the deaths of many NHL and NFL players. While his family is suing the NHL, Montador’s death renewed the discussion around player safety.
1. Patrick Kane On the ice, Patrick Kane was the player in the world in 2015 – better than both Price and Benn. He won his third Stanley Cup, was better than a point per game player, and had a 26-game point streak early in the 2015-16 player. Off the ice, however, he was embroiled in a highly publicized rape investigation. He didn’t face charges and the investigation was dropped, but it spoiled what should have been a celebratory summer. Despite the distractions, Kane continues to excel on the ice, leading the NHL in scoring so far. He remains the NHL’s most divisive figure.