(Puck Daddy presents its annual look back at the year in hockey. Check back every day through the New Year for our many lists and hot takes.)
We started our look back at 2015 in hockey with the Top 10 Players, which examined on-ice achievement.
The Top 10 Hockey People is the off-ice companion piece, bringing in media, executives and players that made hockey interesting in 2015. Keep in mind that “interesting” by and large means “in a positive way,” as we have another post later in the month that chronicles the people of hockey infamy.
Here are the Top 10 Hockey People of 2015. Please list anyone we missed, or your own list, in the comments!
10. Micah Blake McCurdy and Jen Lute Costella
While it’s never exactly ideal to start a Top 10 list with an entry that pushes it to 11 (despite what Spinal Tap taught us), both of these vanguards in hockey analytics deserve mention.
Costella, a.k.a. Jen LC on Twitter, turned smart and accessible analytics work online into a consulting firm called LCG Analytics. She had conversations with the Toronto Maple Leafs about joining their front office and was named to ESPN’s “most impressive people under 40” list for hockey. She also presented at the RIT Hockey Conference. A lot of smart, informed work in the last two years has paid off. (Disclosure: Jen wrote for Puck Daddy last season.)
If you don’t know McCurdy (a.k.a. IneffectiveMath) by name, you know McCurdy’s work by sight: Those colorful graphical representations of hockey stats that your social media friends have no doubt shared. McCurdy’s site, HockeyViz, deals with a variety of analytics, including some fun predictive ones involving point projections. McCurdy’s also moved into the Great Unknown for hockey analytics sites: monetization.
In another banner year for hockey analytics, Costella and McCurdy were at the forefront of where it’s headed next.
9. Ken Holland
The Detroit Red Wings general manager kept it classy as former coach Mike Babcock strung the team along before leaving for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Perhaps it’s because he knew these Wings were good enough to continue to thrive under new coach Jeff Blashill. But Holland makes the list because his annual calls to limit the shootout were finally answered with 3-on-3 overtime, which has been a welcome addition to the NHL and, for the most part, has decreased the skills competitions’ impact.
8. Jaromir Jagr
The ageless (OK, he’s 43) wonder continued to build his legacy on the ice (climbing up the goals and points all-time polls) and off, as Jagr’s crusty, humorous persona is the most interesting thing about the Florida Panthers. When Jagr speaks, hockey listens, even if it’s about re-growing his mullet.
Who else in hockey could turn a potentially embarrassing blackmail scandal into one of the season’s most hilarious stories, from telling his blackmailer “I don’t care” if the photos leak to then having the photos spark an Instagram meme?
7. John Collins
The NHL COO left the League in November after seven seasons to start an events consulting firm, but the results from his work will continue for years.
On top of the thriving outdoor games series, Collins also worked to help create next year’s World Cup of Hockey and facilitated the MLB Advanced Media deal that could be revolutionary for the NHL’s digital properties and network.
He’d be a bit higher on the list were it not for spearheading one initiative on which the jury is very much out: The NHL’s analytics deal with SAP. But Collins will be missed as a visionary in NHL marketing and someone whose influence inside the League pushed those initiatives through.
6. Bill Foley
The billionaire had guided Las Vegas to the precipice of landing an NHL expansion team by doing some heavy lifting: Convincing the Board of Governors that Vegas won’t be a mistake in the desert. That included the 14,000 season ticket deposits he landed without having to tap the rich vein of the casino industry.
Vegas, at the moment, seems like a safe bet for an NHL team. And when the Black Knights hit the ice, Foley’s the reason they’re there.
5. P.K. Subban
Subban continues to show the sports world how a superstar can promote his brand with charm and positivity. From his $10 million donation to a children’s hospital to crashing a street hockey game to doing a flawless Don Cherry impression, he’s turned even his biggest critics into P.K. Subban fans.
(Well, save for the ones in the French-language media.)
He’s the star the NHL needs. Can we clone him?
4. Brendan Shanahan
The one thing that could be said about Shanahan when he took over Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment was that he knew how to build an impressive team around him.
In the last year, the Leafs added the most coveted coaching free agent of all-time (Mike Babcock) and a legendary general manager (Lou Lamoriello) to an ever-growing brain trust that has given Toronto fans actual, palpable hope that the franchise is on the right track.
And that’s not easy.
3. Dan Carcillo
“Car Bomb” retired from the NHL in 2015 after last playing for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The death of his friend Steve Montador shook him, and Carcillo decided to end his career to dedicate himself to helping players and ex-players that aren’t getting enough of it.
As he wrote on the Players’ Tribune:
I’m retiring from the National Hockey League. My immediate goal is to help athletes transition to the next phase of their life — whether it’s continuing education, finding internships with companies, or networking with other athletes who are dealing with the same issues. My mission is to help guys who are dealing with anxiety, depression, and uncertainty about their future. Not down the line, not next week, but right now.
As the NHL faces a concussion lawsuit from former players that didn’t feel they received enough support after their careers were done, Carcillo boldly took the first step towards making sure the next generations receive it. In the process, one of the League's most notorious players become one of its most inspiring figures.
2. Dani Rylan
A former collegiate hockey player, Rylan, 28, tried to land an expansion team for New York in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2014.
That didn’t work out. So in 2015, she helped start a league of her own with Angela Ruggiero: The four-team National Women’s Hockey League, the first women’s pro league to pay its players.
Rylan serves as commissioner and GM of the New York Riveters. The NWHL has managed to secure major hype, a couple of TV deal, a Dunkin’ Donuts sponsorship since launching and the high ground over its detractors.
But more than that, it’s managed to inspire countless fans who now see a league they can aspire to compete in one day.
1. Bryan Murray
Bryan Murray doesn’t have to do this. But Bryan Murray needs to do this.
The 73-year-old general manager continues to operate the Ottawa Senators despite an ongoing battle with Stage 4 cancer – diagnosed a year and a half ago – that began in his colon and spread to his liver and lungs.
"Being around the young people, being mentally involved, it helps, I think. My family has been great, my wife has been great, but I think they understand that I like doing this,” he told the LA Times.
Hockey is many things to many people. It’s a hobby. It’s a passion. It’s friends. It’s family. For Murray, hockey is his life, and he’s damn well going to live it as long as he can.
A true inspiration … and hopefully one that gets you to the doctor for a check-up, as Murray has hoped it would.
Tomorrow: Top 10 social media moments of 2015.
Previously on the Year in Hockey 2015
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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