Setting goals: Recapping the year, picking 2015 resolutions for Florida teams

Quick, scrub the old and prepare for the new.

Refocus. Make lists. Prioritize for a fresh beginning.

New Year’s resolutions are in season, these days a time to take notice of what has been done and what could come. Florida teams are no different, the flip of the calendar an opportunity to shape and remake themselves for 2015.

From Jacksonville to South Florida, from baseball to hockey and basketball with pigskin in between, all teams have reason to anticipate the coming year. Some have momentum. Others will try to create a spark. All have reasons to push for more.

Here’s a look ahead to 2015 with a glance back at what was done in the past year.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Roberto Luongo.

2014 overview

At this point, it may be easier to list what didn’t happen to the Panthers during an up-and-down year of transition in South Florida. From the hiring of former Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant as head coach to the reacquiring of former franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo via trade, the former Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers barely resemble the team that finished 29th in 2013-14.

A year removed from missing out on the No.1 overall pick during the 2013 draft lottery, the Panthers jumped one spot ahead of the last-place Buffalo Sabres to win the 2014 lottery, where they selected 18-year-old defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 overall pick.

In addition to these moves, the Panthers, armed with newfound funds thanks to co-owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, also made a big splash on the opening day of the NHL’s free-agency period by signing six players, including veteran forwards Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland.

The Panthers, who have quickly become one of the league’s hottest up-and-comers, enter 2015 right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Biggest 2015 wish

When Gallant arrived from Montreal during the offseason, he was heralded as somewhat of a power-play savant. So far, this hype has yet to materialize itself with the Panthers, as their power play looks only marginally better than the one that ranked 30th in the league just a season ago. As it stands now, Florida is converting 13.2 percent of their chances with the extra attacker, which is good enough for 28th in the league.

Currently scoring an average of 2.21 goals per game, the Panthers will need their power play to pick up if they hope to take some pressure of Luongo in net and evolve into a legitimate playoff contender.

Best-case scenario for 2015

A return to the playoffs should be the goal. When ownership invested heavily in roster upgrades during the offseason, they didn’t do so expecting gradual improvement. Yes, the Panthers’ core of Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ekblad is still very young. But given the amount of veterans that were added during the offseason, a quick turnaround is expected.

Luongo, who boasts a 14-7-7 record with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage, will need to remain healthy as well. The Panthers pride themselves on defense, and Luongo has been their backbone. — Jameson Olive

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Blake Bortles.

2014 overview

The giant new scoreboards were snazzy, and having the first stadium in the NFL featuring cabanas generated no shortage of national attention. But in terms of the on-field product, the Jaguars continued to rack up losses in largely unentertaining fashion — a double whammy if there ever were one.

With the third pick in the draft, they went against prevailing wisdom and selected quarterback Blake Bortles, who left UCF after leading the Knights to a Fiesta Bowl victory in his junior year. The plan was to have Bortles spend his rookie season watching and learning from veteran Chad Henne, but that was scrapped after the Jaguars lost 41-10 at Washington — yes, Washington — in Week 2 and trailed Indianapolis 30-0 at halftime of their home opener the following week.

Bortles took every snap the rest of the way and exhibited typical growing pains, throwing 12 interceptions in his first six games. The Jaguars finished with a 3-13 record, one game worse than in Gus Bradley’s first season as their head coach, and fired offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch two days after the season ended.

Cheerleader gallery

Biggest 2015 wish

The biggest splash they made in free agency was for something that never panned out for them. The Jaguars signed center Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns in April to a five-year, $42 million offer sheet, only to have the Browns match that.

General manager Dave Caldwell said Tuesday the Jaguars had planned all the while not to be especially active in bringing in free agents until his and Bradley’s third year. If they can add a running back and a wide receiver, it would help not only Bortles but an offensive line that gave up a league-high and franchise record 71 sacks.

While saying "Make no mistake: The draft is going to be the lifeline of this organization," Caldwell added it’s not a must for the Jaguars to take someone who can start right away with the third pick in the upcoming draft.

Best-case scenario for 2015

A lamentable season ended with even more of a thud when defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks tore the ACL in his right knee in the final game. If Marks, fellow tackle Roy Miller and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny have all recovered from their respective surgeries by the start of training camp or the preseason, it would be a tremendous boost to a defense that was adept at sacking quarterbacks and forcing fumbles.

The defense will need to continue to carry an offense that started eight rookies at some point in 2014. Can whoever replaces Fisch get the Jaguars to finish higher than 29th in total offense for the first time in five years?

Under Bradley, the Jaguars have a 1-15 record in September and October. At this point, going into next November at 2-6 or 3-5 would almost be warmly embraced by their fans. "We obviously appreciate their patience and their frustrations," Caldwell said. "I understand it. We get it." — Ken Hornack

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Cameron Wake.

2014 overview

Team owner Stephen Ross promised big changes to the franchise and upgraded the roster in several areas after last season ended with a thud due to a poor December finish that pushed them out of the playoff picture with an 8-8 record.

A promising home victory against the New England Patriots in Week 1 gave hope that this season would be the one to send the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. But instead the team finished with another 8-8 record despite a career season from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, improved offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor, and Pro Bowl seasons from defensive end Cameron Wake and cornerback Brent Grimes.

Cheerleader gallery

Losing close games to the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter certainly hurt them, but it was a disheartening 2-3 December record that once again killed any chance of securing an AFC wild-card spot.

Biggest 2015 wish

The goals for this team remain as straightforward and simple as they have been for several seasons: Own a winning record and make the playoffs.

Ross declared after a Week 16 victory against the Minnesota Vikings that Joe Philbin would stay on as head coach in 2015 for one more chance to make the playoffs in the final year of his contract. Tannehill must keep progressing in key areas of his game, but their implosion in the second half of the 2014 season was not entirely his fault.

The defense shouldered plenty of the blame, however, and they must avoid their fading production that took place as the season wore on. But for 2015 to be a successful year, the offense, defense and special teams must keep surging and build off each week with improved performance.

Philbin has his work cut out for him, but the hope remains that this new year will represent a major breakthrough.

Best-case scenario for 2015

In addition to improved play on both sides of the ball, the best-case scenario for the team would be that quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots start showing their age and allow Miami to capture the AFC East.

Failing that, a more realistic approach would be for the Dolphins to have a strong draft and continue developing promising young players such as wide receiver Jarvis Landry, linebacker Chris McCain and offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. They also need to shore up their running back corps after Knowshon Moreno went down with a season-ending injury, though Lamar Miller played well and enjoyed a 1,000-yard season.

Their offensive line and linebacker units need upgrades, and they could use reinforcements in the secondary, especially if cornerback Cortland Finnegan chooses to retire. Should star receiver Mike Wallace return to the team — and that’s a big question mark after his meltdown on the sidelines in the second half of their final game against the New York Jets — perhaps he’ll finally be able to develop into the consistent deep ball threat that was envisioned by many when he signed with the team in 2013. — Surya Fernandez

MIAMI HEAT

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

2014 overview

Midway through 2014, the Miami Heat were three victories away from their third straight NBA championship with homecourt advantage after taking Game 2 of the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Three consecutive routs later, the Heat would not only lose the series and their chance at the three-peat but would then lose LeBron James in free agency to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Pat Riley and the Heat’s front office did an admirable job afterward of filling out the roster with veterans Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger while also retaining Dwyane Wade, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh in the hopes of competing in the East.

However, injuries to Wade, Bosh and McRoberts along with up-and-down play from their young players has forced coach Erik Spoelstra into making constant changes to his lineups, and it has derailed a promising 5-2 start to the 2014-15 season.

A perplexing 6-12 home record and poor play in the second half of many games now has them five games below .500 after a 5-12 record in December closed out a year with many highs and lows for the Heat.

Biggest 2015 wish

Apart from the unrealistic hope from Heat fans that James would somehow opt out of his current contract with the Cavaliers next summer and take his talents back to South Beach, the Heat will have to stick with what they have for the time being and hope for good health.

Newcomer Josh McRoberts was unable to play consistently for the Heat because of a variety of ailments and setbacks — starting with rehabbing from his offseason toe surgery to start the season to straining his back as well as a painful blister. He was then ruled out for the rest of the 2014-15 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Several other players have missed time due to injury or illness and has made it difficult for the team to develop much chemistry.

Bosh and Wade also missed eight games each, and the Heat can’t afford to have their two stars missing any significant portion of the season in 2015, or their playoff hopes could very well vanish.

Best-case scenario for 2015

The Heat want to make the playoffs and compete in a wide-open Eastern Conference, but will need to play significantly better through the first three months of the year in order to secure a spot in the playoffs.

Ideally, the Heat would leapfrog the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks in the standings and gun for home-court advantage in the first round. That would help them avoid a matchup with the Chicago Bulls or the Washington Wizards and instead perhaps face a vulnerable opponent such as the Cavaliers instead.

Beating the Cavs in the playoffs would be quite the best-case scenario for the Heat — though plenty of good fortune would have to come the Heat’s way, and why not after such a turbulent 2014?

Looking ahead to the 2015-16 season, Miami will want to preserve cap space for the all-important 2016 offseason and to do that they will likely avoid making any major roster moves. Instead, the franchise will continue to develop from within and seek continued improvement from a promising young trio of James Ennis, Hassan Whiteside and Shabazz Napier. — SF

MIAMI MARLINS

Marlins Park.

2014 overview

They may have missed the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, but 2014 certainly felt like a big step forward. Coming of a 100-loss season, Miami finished 77-85, their best record since going 80-82 in 2010. After a season of such dismay, the club’s 15-game improvement from 2013 should be looked at as potential jumping-off point in manager Mike Redmond’s second season with the team.

Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton led the NL with 37 homers and helped keep Miami’s postseason hopes alive into mid-September until an errant pitch to the face ended his season on Sept. 11. It was the first time that a Marlins player has won an NL home run crown. On Nov. 19, the organization made a large investment in both Stanton and their future by signing the 25-year-old to the richest contract in North American sports history: 13 years and $325 million.

Biggest 2015 wish

A return to form for ace Jose Fernandez should be on top of the Marlins wish list heading into 2015. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, Fernandez was diagnosed with a right elbow ligament tear in early May, which required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Prior to his injury, Fernandez posted a 4-2 record with a 2.44 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings.

Playing without Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez blossomed into an All-Star and a capable arm atop the rotation. However, the team was 19th in the majors with a team ERA of 3.78.

When Fernandez is at his best, he’s one of the top pitchers in the game. And although Alvarez’s emergence, coupled with the arrival of former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mat Latos during the offseason, bodes well for the rotation in 2015, they will need Fernandez to be at the top of his game when he returns sometime around the All-Star break.

Best-case scenario for 2015

Though a trip to playoffs isn’t out of the realm of possibility, capturing their first winning record since 2009 should be the goal of this young team.

With the offseason additions of Dee Gordon and Michael Morse to the lineup, the Marlins could surpass 650 runs scored if Stanton comes back healthy and continues on his current trajectory toward greatness. Additionally, the 1-2 punch of Fernandez and Alavarez at the top of the rotation could be a nightmare for opposing batters come August and September.

Expectations will be high heading into 2015 given the team’s busy offseason and Stanton’s mega-deal. However, the Marlins should be looking for progress more than the postseason as their young core continues to develop. — JO

ORLANDO MAGIC

Victor Oladipo and Kyle O’Quinn.

2014 overview

One of the NBA’s youngest teams got even younger when general manager Rob Hennigan traded Arron Afflalo and waived Jameer Nelson, the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, two months after the Magic finished a season where they went 23-59. Of those victories, only four came on the road.

Despite their current starting lineup having no one with more than three full years of pro experience, the Magic seem to have solved their persistent problems away from Orlando. But following a 23-point loss Tuesday night to the Detroit Pistons, their record at home is a lackluster 4-10. One of those wins required a shot by Tobias Harris as time expired, while another saw them almost squander a 27-point fourth-quarter lead to the Boston Celtics.

The Magic came away with two of the first 10 picks in the draft — forward Aaron Gordon and guard Elfrid Payton. Though Payton has already made 16 starts, Gordon is sidelined indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his left foot in November.

Biggest 2015 wish

A healthy Gordon would be terrific. An ability to consistently put away opponents in the fourth quarter would be better.

Even before their near-implosion against the Celtics, the Magic had exhibited a disturbing habit of faltering in the closing minutes. Both Harris and Victor Oladipo have had their moments, but one or both of them needs to become reliable on a nightly basis. Harris didn’t get the contract extension he hoped for, but if he keeps playing like he has, he should be rewarded for his efforts.

Wishing for help through the draft next summer appears to be a waste of time and effort. There are too many other teams with worse records than the Magic, and there isn’t a Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins in this year’s class. This is the roster coach Jacque Vaughn has to work with, and he needs to get the 25-and-under portion of it to develop winning habits.

Best-case scenario for 2015

There are only five teams currently with winning records in the Eastern Conference. Though the Magic are a collective 1-10 against those five, they are .500 against everyone else they have faced.

Losing at home in the latter half of December to Utah, Philadelphia and Detroit was not an encouraging development. But in the midst of that, Vaughn decided to pair Payton with Oladipo in the starting lineup. If those two guards can ratchet up the defensive intensity of a team that is already not far from cracking the top 10 in fewest points allowed per game, the Magic should be in good shape for years to come.

Both Kyle O’Quinn and Evan Fournier have been pleasant surprises, making up for the limited use the Magic are getting from former first-round picks Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson. And if Nikola Vucevic can avoid the injuries that slowed him down at this time a year ago, the Magic will continue to benefit from having one of the league’s best young centers. — KH

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Kevin Pamphile.

2014 overview

What was supposed to be a year of renewal under new coach Lovie Smith became a miserable nightmare instead. The Bucs finished 2-14, their worst record since earning the same mark in 1986. The offense sunk to become one of the NFL’s most pathetic without a true coordinator following Jeff Tedford’s heart procedure in late August. The defense, without cornerback Darelle Revis after he was released in March, improved in the season’s second half. But too much bend sustained by the unit became breaks often.

Smith says his Bucs are close to turning a corner, but it’s hard to believe him. Even with the No. 1 pick at their disposal, the Bucs have too many holes for one potentially elite player to mean the difference between a 2-14 campaign and a run at the postseason next year. There are major weaknesses on the offensive line. There’s the ineffective backfield. There’s the horrible quarterback play. Tweaks at end and safety could be useful as well.

Cheerleader Gallery

Remember all that hope last January? It’s gone. Long gone.

Biggest 2015 wish

Most of all, the Bucs need a dynamic offensive coordinator. Smith took a chance by pairing himself with Tedford, a former California coach, and the decision backfired in a big way. Will Smith go with someone with a college background again? Or will he opt for a proven NFL mind? Here’s guessing Smith will tap someone with NFL experience, though the choice likely must tailor the Bucs’ new scheme around a rookie’s strengths if Tampa Bay selects a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.

The Bucs’ failures on offense this season are Exhibit A of how crucial it is to have an effective system in place with the mind behind the scheme at the controls. It’s hard to blame quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo for his struggles in calling plays this season. He was placed in an impossible position of trying to gain a feel for Tedford’s creation, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith put it best Monday when he said, "You can maybe kind of look at it as someone gives you a box full of stuff and gives you a picture of what it should look like but doesn’t give you instructions." But in this opportunity to begin anew on offense, the Bucs must not miss.

Best-case scenario for 2015

The Bucs hire the right man to be their offensive coordinator, they sign an effective free-agent class, they hit on the No. 1 pick and they win at least six games in Smith’s second season.

Be realistic: Tampa Bay is too far away to dream about contending in 2015. Heck, winning for the first time at Raymond James Stadium and claiming the first victory over an NFC South opponent in the Smith era would represent progress over the mess of 2014. Next season, the heat should be on the veteran coach to show signs of life. Another 2-14 finish can’t happen or ending Smith’s time in Tampa after just two campaigns would be justifiable.

This much can be said for the Bucs in 2014: Their season didn’t devolve into including off-the-field drama. If they remain drama-free in the coming year, and if they improve by at least four more victories, then it’s possible to build from there. — Andrew Astleford

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Ben Bishop.

2014 overview

The Lightning found an identity under coach Jon Cooper, plain and simple. They became young and fast, exciting and full of life in their run to 101 points and their first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance since the 2010-11 campaign. They lost in a sweep to the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in April, but overall, their showing was an impressive display after so many questions entering the 2013-14 season.

Ben Bishop, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat all emerged as key faces. Steven Stamkos returned from a broken right tibia sustained the previous fall. Still, even with all the good, the past year also included a controversial departure and reunion. Marty St. Louis, a symbol of gritty soul for Tampa Bay throughout 14 years, demanded a trade to the New York Rangers in March at the same time he served as the franchise’s ninth captain. He returned to Tampa for the first time in November and was met with a mix of cheers and boos. The Lightning, eying a second consecutive postseason berth, end 2014 as one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.

Biggest 2015 wish

If Bishop remains healthy, Tampa Bay has a chance to go far. The Lightning learned how valuable he is when he missed the postseason series against Montreal after sustaining a dislocated left elbow against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the regular season. Without him, Tampa Bay lived a quick dismissal in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

So far, Bishop has recovered well this season. Tampa Bay boasts veteran Evgeni Nabokov behind him, but the difference in ability between the two is obvious. Bishop has earned teammates’ trust, which translates to their play when he’s in net.

Best-case scenario for 2015

Winning at least one postseason series should be the goal. The Lightning are beyond trying to prove that they have staying power within the Eastern Conference. They’ve arrived, and they should carry themselves that way.

The loss to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs should be a lesson that can offer valuable perspective as Tampa Bay continues to work through its current schedule. Everyone is a little older, more grown-up and aware. With talents like Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov leading the Lightning’s early scoring threat, they’ll likely maintain their strong production outside of the occasional slump.

Tampa Bay isn’t flawless, but there are interesting parts that could make this roster something to contend with late in the regular season and beyond. But certainly, the Lightning are a different team when Bishop is absent. He must stay healthy for Tampa Bay to turn a good season into a potentially great one. — AA

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Evan Longoria.

2014 overview

This was an uncommon year for a franchise that had enjoyed success and stability from 2008 to 2013. The Rays finished 77-85, their worst record since going 66-96 in 2007. They missed the playoffs for just the third time since 2008, offensive shortcomings a main reason for the slide. Ace left-hander David Price was dealt to the Detroit Tigers at the non-waiver trade deadline in July, a deal that brought closure to the constant chatter that surrounded him since Tampa Bay lost to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series the year before.

After the season, both Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the brains behind the Rays’ rise that included a World Series berth in 2008, left for new positions in the bright lights of Chicago and Los Angeles. Matt Silverman, formerly the Rays’ president, was tapped as the franchise’s new president of baseball operations. Kevin Cash, a Tampa native, was hired to replace Maddon after serving as the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen coach the past two seasons. Tampa Bay will begin spring training in February with a different look and feel.

Biggest 2015 wish

A comfortable transition from an old era to the new one is a must for the Rays in the coming year. It’s too early to say whether they’ll compete in the American League East, but they should hope for a smooth acclimation by Cash in his first season as a manager of any kind.

Generating more offense should be on the wish list as well. Only three teams had fewer than the Rays’ 612 runs in 2014: the Cincinnati Reds (595), Atlanta Braves (573) and San Diego Padres (535). Tampa Bay’s payroll should be far below its franchise-record $80 million from last season, so the Rays must do more with less. Still, their rotation should be solid while featuring Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly. As always, Tampa Bay will be built on pitching and defense. Whether or not the Rays can produce enough runs to be competitive remains to be seen.

Best-case scenario for 2015

The Rays should have the pitching, both in the rotation and within the bullpen, to give them a chance to reach the playoffs. The largest question remains where run production will come from, especially after Wil Myers was traded to the San Diego Padres in a massive three-team, 11-player deal in December.

Clinching a postseason berth always should be Tampa Bay’s goal, but it wouldn’t surprise to see the Rays rebuild next season. Of course, there are many lessons to be learned about Cash, the offense and the roster turnover that has marked the first offseason with Silverman as president of baseball operations. Winter predictions can prove hollow by July anyway. Remember when the Rays were a trendy pick to advance deep in the postseason before this past spring? So much for that.

Expectations will be lower in 2015, which should be refreshing for Tampa Bay after so many whirlwind developments throughout the past year. — AA