NHL faces in new places: the most intriguing players and coaches to watch during the 2014-15 season.
October 03, 2014
1 of 24Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Ryan Kesler, C, Ducks
A former Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's best two-way forward, Kesler left Vancouver via trade and under a cloud of discontent. He now provides the Cup-contending Ducks with some formidable depth at center. The 10-year vet is still in his prime at age 30—a rugged physical presence with scoring touch, great skill in the face-off circle, and penalty-killing prowess. If he's at the top of his game this season, the Ducks could very well crash the brawl for the Western crown that is expected between the Kings and Blackhawks.
2 of 24Alex Brandon/AP
Barry Trotz, coach, Capitals
After 15 seasons of making a consistently hearty if a bit bland chicken salad out of scraps in Nashville, the widely respected Trotz is now the Capitals' fourth coach since 2011-12. He's been entrusted with changing the culture—"clean the parts," as he put it—in Washington and is preaching accountability and defensive responsibility, qualities the Caps will need to flourish in the competitive Metro division.
3 of 24Jack Dempsey/AP
Jarome Iginla, RW, Avalanche
The quest for a first Stanley Cup continues for the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer. Iginla, 37, may be slowing a bit—the key question is if he can keep up with young bucks like Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene—but he still brings a wealth of experience and skill. The rugged winger led the Bruins with 31 goals last season and will surely make the Avs' power play much more dangerous.
4 of 24Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Brad Richards, C, Blackhawks
Bought out by the Rangers after three seasons of declining performance on Broadway, the 34-year-old former Conn Smythe Trophy winner was signed by Chicago to a one-year deal for the bargain bin price of $2 million as a possible solution to the team's hole at center on its second line. He'll see duty on various lines and the power play as the Hawks determine how much he has left.
5 of 24Mark Humphrey/AP
Peter Laviolette, coach, Predators
Only the second coach in Predators history, Laviolette succeeds Barry Trotz and will try to turn the traditionally low-scoring, defense-minded Predators into an up-tempo team with a formidable attack. A Stanley Cup winner with Carolina (2006), Nashville's new bench boss has some new guns (James Neal, Mike Ribeiro) in the team's arsenal but may need time to get the roster's assorted parts to mesh with his philosophy. The Predators slim postseason hopes in the powerhouse Central rest on Laviolette succeeding as he did with the upstart Islanders in the early 2000s.
6 of 24Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Jason Spezza, C, Stars
Dealt to Dallas after 11 seasons in Ottawa, the former captain of the Senators was so eager to join the rising Stars that he waived his no-trade clause. With one year and $7 million left to go before hitting unrestricted free agency, Spezza, 31, surely have an incentive to return to his 30-goal form and if he does, he'll be a superb complement to the Stars' corps of formidable young forwards that includes Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and 19-year old Valeri Nichushkin,
7 of 24Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire
James Neal, LW, Predators
The prickly former Penguin is the centerpiece of Nashville's new offensive orientation under first-year coach Peter Laviolette. Toting a reputation for dirty play, attitude problems and vanishing in big games, it will be interesting to see how close Neal can get to his career-best totals of 40 goals and 81 points for the Pens in 2011-12. He'll have to do it without old running mate Evgeni Malkin.
8 of 24Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Dan Boyle, D, Rangers
Having lost Anton Stralman to free agency, the Rangers brought in the 38-year-old former Sharks star to solidify their second pairing and quarterback their power play. Boyle was clearly jazzed to come to New York, leaving more money on the table in Detroit and on Long Island. Unfortunately, the Ranger will have to wait to find out what Boyle can do for them. He fractured his hand in the season opener vs. St; Louis and will be sidelined up to six weeks.
9 of 24Chris O'Meara/AP
Brian Boyle, C, Lightning
Another former Ranger poached by the Lightning as a free agent, Boyle, 29, joins former Blueshirt teammates Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman on a team that looks like one of the East's rising powers. A big (6'-7", 244), rugged forward, Boyle brings needed size to Tampa's otherwise diminutive corps of forwards as well considerable penalty-killing skill.
10 of 24Gary Wiepert/AP
Brian Gionta, RW, Sabres
A long season of growing pains for the rebuilding Sabres will be made somewhat easier by the addition of Gionta, 35. The 12-year NHL veteran and former captain of the Canadiens was brought in to beef up Buffalo's offense and lead the team's corps of talented kids through the wilderness. A native of nearby Rochester, Gionta will surely be a hometown favorite of the Sabres' impassioned fan base.
11 of 24Minas Panagiotakis/Icon Sportswire
Brooks Orpik, D, Capitals
His five-year, $27.5 million deal with the Caps was one of the summer's more hotly debated topics. With Washington seeking to fortify its defense, the question became how much the big, rugged blueliner has left at 33 and if he'll be worth the bucks. His speed, never a strong point, is declining, but on the plus side he has been reunited with former Penguins defensive guru Todd Reirden and ex-teammate Matt Niskanen.
12 of 24Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images
Daniel Briere, C, Avalanche
One of the league's most promising young teams, the Avs brought in a pair of seasoned veterans in Briere and winger Jarome Iginla to add some experience and savvy and speed up the club's maturation process. Briere, 36, may be small (5'-9", 179) and on the downside of his career, but he still has heart. He's also versatile, clutch (he played well for Montreal in the playoffs last spring) and optimistic that he can contribute 20 or so goals to the cause in Colorado.
13 of 24Paul Bereswill/AP
Jaroslav Halak, G, Islanders
The Islanders filled one of their most pressing needs by signing the 29-year-old veteran to be their No. 1 stopper. The 2011-12 Jennings Trophy winner (with Brian Elliott in St. Louis) has a career mark of 144-85-29 with a 2.38 GAA, .918 save percentage and 30 shutouts. He also gives the Isles a playoff-tested netminder with 23 games worth of postseason experience and more than a puncher's chance of qualifying for the playoffs in the competitive Metro Division.
14 of 24Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Dany Heatley, LW, Ducks
If ever a player stood at a stark crossroads, it's Heatley. The 33-year-old, 12-year veteran looks far removed from his 50-goal halcyon seasons with Ottawa (2005-07) and was a major disappointment during his three years with Minnesota, but the Ducks felt that there wasn't anything wrong with Heatley that planting him on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry can't fix. Working on a one-year deal that could be his last in the NHL, he got off to a hard luck start, injuring his groin in training camp and opening the season on the injured list.
15 of 24Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire
Anton Stralman, D, Lightning
One of the league's best under-the-radar players, the former Ranger was signed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal and should be a nice addition to the young, up-and-coming Lightning. A solid, consistent defender, strong skater and skilled passer, the 27-year-old Swede starred for New York during the playoffs and will bring some valuable experience to the Bolts.
16 of 24Kathleen Hinkel/Icon Sportswire
Ryan Miller, G, Canucks
The Canucks often bizarre goalie carousel stopped spinning this summer with the arrival of Miller, who has his share of questions to answer. Often seen as an elite, if continually besieged, goalkeeper during his years with Buffalo, he seemed to get his big chance to contend for the Cup when he was traded to St. Louis before last season's deadline. Alas, his stint with the Blues was disappointing and he now must get his game back with a team in transition that must deal with the high expectations of its impassioned fans and media.
17 of 24Terrence Lee/Icon Sportswire
Jonas Hiller, G, Flames
Since the retirement of stalwart keeper Miikka Kiprusoff in 2013, the Flames have been seeking a reliable successor. Hockey ops president Brian Burke believes Hiller, 32, is capable of fitting the bill. The Swiss netminder is coming off a sometimes dazzling, sometimes frustrating seven seasons with Anaheim (where he was originally signed by Burke) that included a battle with vertigo. Will he return to top form while the rebuilding Flames continue to cultivate their solid crop of prospects?
18 of 24Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images
Matt Moulson, LW, Sabres
It's been a rapidly winding road from Long Island to Buffalo to Minnesota and back to Buffalo for the three-time 30-goal scorer during the past year. One of the NHL's easiest to root for players, Moulson was continually cut in youth and junior hockey before bouncing from the Penguins to the Kings to the Islanders, where he blossomed as John Tavares's sidekick. A hard worker with a bona fide scoring touch (even without Tavares), he gives the young rebuilding Sabres added punch and a veteran who is in his prime at age 30.
19 of 24Minas Panagiotakis/Icon Sportswire
Matt Niskanen, D, Capitals
The most coveted defenseman on last summer's free agent market, Niskanen, 27, blossomed into a star with the Penguins before being signed by Washington to a seven-year $40.25 million as the centerpiece of the Capitals blue line overhaul. Niskanen, who will be mentored by assistant coach Todd Reirden as he was in Pittsburgh, brings another element of offense to the Caps' backline corps as well as the ability to lift the burden on incumbents John Carlson and Karl Alzner.
20 of 24Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Mike Cammalleri, LW, Devils
The offensively challenged Devils added some badly needed firepower by signing the 11-year veteran to a five-year, $25 million deal. A reliable 20-goal man (he's hit that mark in six of his NHL seasons), he'll play a key role in making New Jersey a more formidable club that most people expect. He got off to a roaring start by scoring twice in the Devils' 6-4 opening night win over the Flyers.
21 of 24Mark Humphrey/AP
Mike Ribeiro, C, Predators
Bought out by the Coyotes after a sometime tumultuous tenure that ended with a second-half slump and reports of personal problems off the ice. Reunited with former Dallas Stars teammate James Neal, Ribeiro, 34, has a chance to make a fresh start as a featured player in what Nashville hopes will be an offensive renaissance under new coach Peter Laviolette. The 12-year veteran still has the potential to be a point-per-game player.
22 of 24Bill Boyce/AP
Paul Stastny, C, Blues
Another homecoming story—the 28-year-old center spent much of his youth in St. Louis—Stastny was one of the summer's most significant free agent signings. Handed a four-year, $28 million deal, he will be expected to round out the roster of a team that is still struggling to fulfill its promise as a legitimate Cup contender. He gives the Blues a solid two-way center with great playmaking and passing skills.
23 of 24Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire
Scott Hartnell, LW, Blue Jackets
The former Flyer brings the up-and-coming Jackets another banger with some skill and a knack for stirring the pot. He's capable of threatening the 30-goal mark and looks right at home on a lunchpail team that should prove to be a handful for any opponent on any given night.
24 of 24Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire
Thomas Vanek, LW, Wild
Like Matt Moulson, for whom he was traded to the Islanders last season, Vanek has been a bit of a nomad during the past year, moving from Buffalo to New York to Montreal before finally returning "home" to the Wild as a free agent. The former NCAA Frozen Four MVP with the Minnesota Gophers is expected to give the Wild a serious scoring threat and playmaker. If Minnesota takes the next big step in the playoffs next spring, Vanek is likely to be a major reason.
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