Biggest Winners and Losers from the 2015-16 NHL Regular Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2016

Biggest Winners and Losers from the 2015-16 NHL Regular Season

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    With the 2015-16 NHL regular season completed, it's time to select its biggest winners and losers. Teams such as the Washington Capitals and players such as Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin had memorable seasons, albeit for different reasons. 

    In compiling this list, various factors were taken into account. Performance, All-Star voting and injuries were among those that determined which category the players and teams fell into here.  

    The following sideshow examines the biggest winners and losers from the season. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section.

Winner: John Scott, NHL All-Star

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    Among the last of a fading breed of pure NHL enforcers, John Scott began 2015-16 with the Arizona Coyotes. Suiting up for only 11 games with the Coyotes, the 33-year-old journeyman faced a modest end to his big league career. However, the 6'8", 260-pounder would have a shining moment to remember. In large numbers, hockey fans voted him into the 2016 NHL All-Star game as captain of the Pacific Division team.

    On Jan. 18, the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle reported Scott's subsequent trade to the Montreal Canadiens and demotion to the minors created a conspiracy theory suggesting NHL headquarters was trying to keep him out of the showcase. However, the league approved his participation. Through it all, Scott handled the situation with class and good humor. 

    Rather than being an embarrassment, Scott's participation in the All-Star Game became this season's feel-good story. To the delight of his fellow All-Stars, he scored two goals and was voted game MVP by the fans. This unlikely happy ending makes Scott one of this season's winners.

Loser: Zac Rinaldo, Boston Bruins

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Gritty center Zac Rinaldo's penchant for reckless play during his NHL career has proved costly. In four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Rinaldo received three suspensions totaling 14 games for charging, boarding and an illegal hit to the head. 

    Acquired from the Flyers last June by the Boston Bruins, Rinaldo was up to his old tricks in 2015-16. On March 1, he received a five-game suspension for a hit to the head of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette. Subsequently waived and demoted to the Bruins' AHL affiliate in Providence, Rinaldo received another five-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of an opponent. 

    Rinaldo's actions demonstrate an apparent unwillingness to change his style of play. While he has one more season (at $850,00) left on his contract, his antics may have cost him an opportunity to return to the NHL. This repeat offender was one of this season's biggest losers.

Winners: Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins

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    On Dec. 12, 2015, the Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins were in big trouble. The Penguins had sunk to 9th in the Eastern Conference and were still dropping, while the Ducks were near the bottom of the Western Conference. However, both teams rebounded strongly over the remainder of the season.

    That day, the Penguins replaced Mike Johnston as head coach with Mike Sullivan. His changes sparked a notable improvement in their offense, helping team captain Sidney Crosby regain his offensive spark. The acquisitions of winger Carl Hagelin and defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, along with the rise of depth players such as Tom Kuhnhackl, bolstered the Penguins roster.

    As for the Ducks, they stuck with head coach Bruce Boudreau. A combination of strong goaltending and solid defense carried them to several key wins, buying time for offensive stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to regain their scoring touch. The additions of forwards Jamie McGinn, David Perron and Brandon Pirri provided invaluable forward depth. 

    By season's end, the Penguins finished second in the Metropolitan Division with the second-best record (104 points) in the Eastern Conference. The Ducks finished atop the Pacific Division with 103 points. For two teams that were tumbling in the standings before last Christmas, their remarkable turnarounds puts them among this season's winners.

Loser: Eric Staal, New York Rangers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    During center Eric Staal's prime, he was among the league's top stars. He helped the Carolina Hurricanes win a Stanley Cup in 2006 and reached or exceeded 70 points seven times. This season, however, Staal is a shell of his once-dominant self. 

    Since suffering a serious right knee injury during the 2013 IIHF World Championships, Staal's production has steadily declined. Not even a Feb. 28 trade by the Hurricanes to the playoff-bound New York Rangers could bolster his numbers. In 20 games with the Blueshirts, Staal netted only six points. 

    It's painful watching a once-great player fade before your eyes. Unfortunately, that's what seems to be happening to Staal. He is no longer a dominant player. Though he's only 31, his best seasons are now well behind him.

Winner: Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

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    This was a significant season for the Florida Panthers. They clinched their first Stanley Cup playoff berth since 2012, as well as their second division title in franchise history. A big reason for their success is right wing Jaromir Jagr, their 44-year-old scoring leader

    Jagr also had several notable personal accomplishments this season. He became only the 10th player in league history to play 1,600 games. On Feb. 20, he scored his 742nd career goal to pass Brett Hull for third among the all-time goal leaders. On March 7, he netted his 1,851th point to surpass Gordie Howe for third on the all-time point leader list. 

    Those remarkable achievements ensured Jagr's inclusion among this season's list of winners. He also has a couple of playoff milestones within reach. He's not far away from Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom for fifth in all-time playoff assists (Lidstrom has 129 to Jagr's 121) and is only one playoff point shy of 200.

Loser: Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    After showing promise during his rookie season, Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin began his sophomore campaign with six points in his first five games. That would be the high point of his regular season. After struggling through the first half of the season, Drouin was demoted on Jan. 2 to the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

    It was later revealed Drouin requested a trade weeks earlier. On Jan. 20, he was suspended by the Lightning for missing an AHL game. He opted to sit out and await a trade, but efforts to move him before the trade deadline proved unsuccessful. Drouin eventually returned to Syracuse and the Lightning lifted his suspension. On April 7, injuries forced the Bolts to recall him.  

    Drouin's standoff with Lightning management was a total failure. It did nothing to improve his performance at the NHL level. He'll need a strong effort in the upcoming playoffs to salvage an otherwise wasted campaign.

Winner: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

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    DAVID BANKS/Associated Press

    Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane was already an established superstar prior to this season. Since 2010, he helped the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cup championships. Kane is also a former winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year (2008) and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2013 playoff MVP. 

    This season, Kane reached career highs with 46 goals and 60 assists for 106 points. He was the Blackhawks' top offensive player by a significant margin. More importantly, the 27-year-old winger will win his first Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer

    Kane will become the first American-born player to win the scoring title and the first Blackhawk to win it since Hall of Famer Stan Mikita in 1967-68. He's also the only NHL player to reach 100 points this season.

Biggest Losers: All of Canada's NHL Teams

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    For fans of Canada's seven NHL teams, including the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, 2015-16 is a season best forgotten. For the first time since 1969-70, no Canadian clubs will appear in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That makes them this season's biggest losers.

    Rebuilding teams, such as the Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, weren't expected to reach this year's postseason. What was surprising was the others (Flames, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks) missing the playoffs only a year after reaching the big dance.

    For the Canadiens, a season-ending injury to superstar goalie Carey Price weakened their season. The Flames had a league-worst goals against per game of 3.13, while the Senators gave up a league-worst 32.8 shots against per game. The Jets failed to build upon last season's playoff appearance, while the Canucks' efforts to rebuild on the fly ended in failure as well.

Biggest Winners: Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars

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    The Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars were the biggest winners of 2015-16, finishing as the top teams in their respective conferences. The Capitals will win the Presidents' Trophy with the season's best record. The Stars, meanwhile, finished atop the Western Conference with 109 points.

    It was a dominant performance by the veteran-laden Capitals, led by left wing Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby. Ovechkin tallied 50 goals for the seventh time and will clinch his sixth Maurice Richard Trophy. Holtby tied the league's single-season wins record (48) held by Martin Brodeur and should be among the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy

    After missing the playoffs last season, the Stars rebounded with a strong effort that signals their emergence as a league powerhouse. Already possessing talented young players such as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg, the addition of right wing Patrick Sharp, goalie Antti Niemi and defensemen Johnny Oduya and Kris Russell brought a much-needed measure of veteran depth to their ranks.

    Team and player stats via Additional stats and info via Quant HockeyMan-Games Lost and Drop Your Gloves. Salary info via Cap Friendly.