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Year in Review: 15 personalities who shaped 2015

by Dan Rosen

As 2015 races toward its conclusion, looks at some of the people and moments that have shaped the year.

There have been a number of major stories and big headliners in the NHL throughout 2015. Some people made their news on the ice; others made it off the ice. Several made news on and off the ice.

Here is's collection of the top 15 personalities for 2015:

Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs coach

He was the most notable unrestricted free agent of the year and, arguably, the most high-profile coaching free agent in NHL history. He used his leverage to take on the biggest challenge for the most amount of money a coach has ever been given. A few months after leading the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 10th straight time and for the 24th consecutive time overall, Babcock left to become the coach of the Maple Leafs, signing an eight-year, $50 million contract. Toronto has made the playoffs once in the past 10 seasons. Babcock has missed the playoffs once in his 12 seasons as an NHL coach.

Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning coach

Cooper led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final and proved to be one of the most affable and likeable coaches in the game. His journey from lawyer to high school hockey coach to Stanley Cup finalist was a staple of the narrative of the postseason. Cooper was not free from adversity, particularly in the playoffs, when he benched rookie forward Jonathan Drouin and moved center Steven Stamkos to right wing. The controversial moves only added to the intrigue around Cooper and brought questions regarding the relationship he has with those players. Through it all, he has remained steadfast in his belief that what he does he does because it's right for the Lightning.

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres forward

Every time a conversation or story focused on eventual No. 1 pick Connor McDavid, Eichel's name was also there, usually right after McDavid's, but sometimes even first. His role in the buildup to the 2015 NHL Draft can't be undersold. It became the "McEichel" show with the two 18-year old centers at center stage in front of the curtain. Eichel, who was selected with the No. 2 pick by the Buffalo Sabres, is also everything that McDavid is not. He's American. He's a power forward. He's outspoken. The comparisons between the two will go on for years, but the fact that Eichel has always been in the conversation with McDavid (who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers) is proof of how much of an impact he has in the hockey community.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames forward

Few players are as fun to watch making a difference in a game than Gaudreau, who at 5-foot-9, 157 pounds is one of the smallest players in the League. He proved size doesn't matter when you have skill by helping the Flames defy the predictions prior to the 2014-15 season and make it to the Western Conference Second Round. Gaudreau, or as he's commonly referred to, "Johnny Hockey," had 64 points, including 24 goals, last season and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Had he been allowed, Gaudreau would have been the runaway star of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Columbus. He wanted to light his stick on fire for his attempt in the Breakaway Challenge. He was not allowed to do so for safety reasons, but the idea alone proves what kind of a showman he is.

Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators goalie

Hammond went from a struggling goalie in the American Hockey League to "The Hamburglar" in the span of a few months. He went from unknown and barely recognizable to being a big reason for the Senators playoff push. He embraced it all. Hammond received free McDonald's for life from an Ottawa chain. Upon signing a three-year contract on May 20, he tweeted, "Fire up the grills! Excited to be coming back to the @Senators for 3 more years!" He added three hamburger emojis at the end of the tweet. Hammond, 27, made his first NHL start in February and went 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage to help the Senators reach the playoffs.

Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings general manager

Holland, one of the early proponents for 3-on-3 in overtime, got his wish this year when the NHL established the current OT format. It was a big win for Holland, who had been pushing for 3-on-3 for several years with the idea that it would end more games before they go to the shootout. It's reaching its intended purpose. Holland also graciously handled the upheaval around the final season of Babcock's contract in Detroit. He let the situation play out and generally kept out of the spotlight. When Babcock decided to leave, Holland went to his Plan B, which was to promote Jeff Blashill from Grand Rapids of the AHL. The Red Wings are still thriving and on pace to make the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season.

Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers forward

The level of appreciation for Jagr and the legendary status he deserves continues to rise the longer he stays in the League. He's 43 years old and he's still scoring, still producing. Not only that, he continues to be one of the most compelling voices in the game, mixing humor with experience. Jagr continues to climb the all-time scoring charts and is now in the top four for goals. He's even trying to regrow his legendary mullet.

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman

Keith became the NHL's marathon man in the playoffs. He became the fourth player in NHL history to log more than 700 minutes (715:37) in a playoff season. He averaged 31:06 of ice time per game and was brilliant in almost all of his minutes, good enough to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He scored 21 points, including three goals. Two of his goals were game-winners. He scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in the second period of Game 6 against the Lightning. He also scored the double-overtime winner in Game 1 of the first round against the Nashville Predators.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers forward

His started the year by winning gold with Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. He finished his 2014-15 season as the third-leading scorer in the Ontario Hockey League despite missing six weeks with a broken hand. He had 120 points in 47 games, and 49 points in 28 playoff games. He was selected first in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Oilers. McDavid came into the NHL with hype not seen since Sidney Crosby 10 years ago. He made Oilers games must-see TV before breaking his clavicle Nov. 3.

Bryan Murray, Ottawa Senators general manager

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray has continued to work as he battles Stage 4 colon cancer. (Getty Images)

Murray has been a marvel in perseverance and inspiration. He has maintained his job despite having Stage 4 colon cancer. He continues to fight his disease while fighting for the present and future of the Senators, who answered last season with a spectacular late-season run that resulted in a position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Murray also is spreading awareness for the disease, most notably in a gripping piece he did for TSN with Michael Farber, himself a cancer survivor.

Tim Murray, Buffalo Sabres general manager

Murray proved this year he's not afraid to say or do anything. Murray expressed his displeasure at finishing second in the NHL Draft Lottery by saying he was "disappointed for our fans." Upon selecting Eichel, Murray said it was "one of the special moments of my drafting career." The same day he drafted Eichel, Murray acquired forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn and goaltender Robin Lehner in trades. There was a lot more from Murray, including hiring coach Dan Bylsma. He's definitely not boring. He'll likely have an exciting 2016 too.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens goalie

No goalie has ever had a better year individually than Price. In June, he cleaned up at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas, winning the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. Add to that the William M. Jennings Trophy and Price became the first goalie in NHL history to sweep those four awards. This month, Price received one last honor for his remarkable year when he was named the Lou Marsh Trophy recipient as Canada's athlete of the year. He's the ninth hockey player, and first goalie, to win the Lou Marsh Trophy, which was established in 1936 and has been awarded every year since 1945.

Brendan Shanahan, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager

The head hockey man for the Maple Leafs started the year by firing coach Randy Carlyle and issuing a challenge to the players to be better or changes were coming. By the middle of the year, after his team failed to be better, Shanahan made those changes in a massive way. He brought in Babcock, traded forward Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and hired longtime New Jersey Devils boss Lou Lamoriello to be general manager. Firing Carlyle, hiring Babcock, trading Kessel and bringing in Lamoriello are the four defining moves of Shanahan's tenure so far. Next year could bring another defining move.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning forward

Stamkos helped the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Final, but in doing so he had to change positions from center to right wing and go through a scoring slump early in the playoffs. It led to speculation of friction between Stamkos and Cooper, and curiosity if Stamkos would re-sign with the Lightning. Stamkos has denied the friction and said he wants to win the Cup with the Lightning, but his future is still a topic of debate and curiosity, as is his relationship with Cooper. Stamkos can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens defenseman

Subban continues to be among the most charismatic personalities in the League while also becoming the most charitable player. He donated $10 million to the Montreal Children's Hospital in September. The donation will be paid out across seven years. In turn, the hospital named its atrium after Subban, calling the donation "the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history." In addition, Subban pulled off an almost perfect imitation of Don Cherry that turned into a viral video.


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