This is the third installment of Last Word on Hockey’s five-part series breaking down the top 50 personalities in the hockey world during 2016. They were picked based on skill, accomplishments, notoriety, or compelling narratives.
Last Word on Hockey’s Top 50 Personalities of 2016: 20-11
20. Vincent Viola
Vincent Viola has had nothing short of a fortuitous 2016, and the future is looking just as bright. Viola, who is the owner of the Florida Panthers, has seen his net worth increase up to just short of $1.8 billion over the year, and his finances weren’t the only thing on the upswing this year for him.
Including his net worth increasing, his resume is looking more and more impressive as well. He was the owner for a season that saw playoff hockey, despite the weird situation that’s currently going on in Miami. On top of that, President Elect Donald Trump has chosen to nominate Viola for the United States Secretary of the Army. What an exciting year, and future, Viola has had.
19. Patrik Laine
The Finnish phenom has burst onto the NHL scene this year, and he’s undoubtedly a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy because of it. His combination of size, speed, and silky mitts has him sitting on 19 goals and 30 total points in just 37 games in his first NHL season. That’s nothing short of amazing.
Despite Auston Matthews being touted as the frontrunner for the number one pick in last summers draft, Laine wasn’t seen as much of a drop off. Those who saw him as an arguable number one pick are being proven to be very astute in the observations. Laine will surely continue this play, as it’s undoubtedly not a fluke, and will definitely be in serious consideration for the Calder Trophy come the end of the 2016-17 season.
18. Taylor Hall
Hall has had a bit of an interesting year, as he was traded away from the Edmonton Oilers to New Jersey in a one-for-one trade for defenseman Adam Larsson. Despite Larsson being a quality blueliner and undoubtedly having potential, this trade dumbfounded many people around the hockey world.
Hall is widely considered, and rightly so, as one of the best players in the league. And even while playing with a struggling organization in Edmonton he was able to rack up 132 goals and 328 points in 381 games for the Oilers. Amazing. In his first season with New Jersey, to this point, he’s score eight goals and has 23 points in 27 games. Playing at almost a point-per-game pace with a Devils team not known for their offensive ability is truly impressive.
17. Bryan Murray
Bryan Murray has had nothing short of a fantastic career in all facets of the game of hockey. He coached a grand total of 1,239 games in the NHL and compiling an impressive 620-465-131-23 record in the process. Despite this he was never able to win the Stanley Cup as a head coach with Washington, Detroit, Florida, Anaheim, or Ottawa. After finishing his coaching career he stepping into the front office of the Senators, where he took over as the general manager.
The biggest story though was that in 2014 he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. This is usually not much short of terminal, as Murray was stated in saying that just five percent of people diagnosed with this live another five years. Fast forward to 2016 and Murray has reportedly gained much of the weight he lost in chemotherapy back and the tumor has shrunk significantly, making 2016 a bright year for Murray and everyone in the hockey world.
16. Jimmy Vesey
Vesey was at the center of a contract controversy last summer that saw him talking to the Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He caught the headlines with this contract debacle, and many people were betting on where he would finally end up.
When he finally decided to end this situation he chose to go with the New York Rangers, who gave him a two-year, $925,000 contract with bonuses on top. Vesey has 10 goals and 17 points to his name in 36 games with the Rangers this season, which shows he may have just made the right decision for a bright future.
15. John Tortorella
The volatile, and less than widely liked, John Tortorella has had one heck of a year in 2016. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season he was hired as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were un utterly amazing (in the bad way) 0-8-0 at the time of his arrival. And it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies upon his arrival, as he seemingly didn’t see eye to eye with superstar Ryan Johansen. This resulted in Johansen packing his bags and heading to Nashville in a one-for-one trade for defenseman Seth Jones.
Move ahead to this season and things are looking much, much brighter for Tortorella and the Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have broken multiple franchise records this season and are one of the hottest teams in the league, with the playoffs as the end goal with just over half a season left to play. It seems as though 2016 was the year of the Torts, and 2017 doesn’t look any less bright.
Alexander Radulov has also had quite the year in 2016, making his return to the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens. This is his first season back since leaving the Nashville Predators during the 2011-12 season. In his 154 games with the Preds he had 47 goals and 102 points in 155 games, a great scoring pace for a top six forward like Radulov. But he left the league in slightly controversial fashion and went back to the motherland to play in the KHL.
It was reported on July 1st that Radulov would be returning to the NHL with the Habs on a one-year contract worth $5.75 million. Good money for a guy who hasn’t been around for a few years. That contract has paid off, as Radulov is seemingly fitting like a glove in the Habs system. In 33 games so far this season Radulov has seven goals and 24 points. Well worth every penny.
13. Jim Rutheford
Jim Rutheford continues to prove that he may very well be one of the best general managers in this era of hockey. He has won the Stanley Cup twice as a general manager, once in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and again this year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as they knocked off heavy favorites in the Washington Capitals in just six games on their way to lifting Lord Stanleys’ Cup.
On top of winning his second Stanley Cup as a general manager, the Hockey Hall of Fame inductee also won the NHL General Manager of the Year award for the 2015-16 season. A very prestigious award indeed. 2016 was a fantastic year for Rutheford, and if what he’s shown over the last decade is any indication, this likely won’t be his last individual award, or even his last Stanley Cup.
12. Brent Burns
Brent Burns has been one of the most exciting and enjoyable personalities of the year. With his toothless smile, and his chewbacca mask at last years All-Star game, he has had one heck of a year. He played fantastic all year and was able to help lead the San Jose Sharks all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, which they ultimately lost to the Penguins.
Despite not winning the Stanley Cup, or the Norris Trophy for that matter, he has had a great year that he surely won’t be forgetting anytime soon. This season has started on a personal high note as well, as Burns has 14 goals and 34 assists in just 35 games. Those are numbers you’d expect to see from a first line forward, not a defenseman. If 2017 treats Burns like 2016 did, he’ll sure be playing postseason hockey and in the hunt for the Norris yet again. Our money says these are safe bets.
11. Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews, much like Patrik Laine, has burst onto the NHL scene since being selected number one overall at the draft last summer by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many had high hopes that he would be in for a Calder Trophy, and some even touted him as the next step for the Leafs organization. Both of these are showing to have serious merit to them.
In his first game of his career Matthews showed of his skill, fantastic skating, and physical prowess by scoring an amazing four goals. This is a feat that will be remembered for a long, long time by both Matthews and American hockey fans alike. In 34 game so far in his young career he has racked up 17 goals and 28 points in just 34 games, and 2017 looks to be just as promising as this year was for the young superstar.