Carlos Martinez will be one of the 10 most important people to watch in St. Louis sports in 2015. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

For most sports fans, a new year doesn’t really begin on Jan. 1 – it begins on the opening day of the baseball, football, hockey or any other sport’s season you care to name.

There is one similarity to both Jan. 1 and opening day that doesn’t rely on a calendar, however – the beginning of any new year or season offers a fresh start, a blank slate, a time to be positive and optimistic about the days and games to come.

This is true for St. Louis sports fans in 2015, who seemingly have a lot to look forward to in the coming 12 months. There also are, of course, many questions which will be answered over the next 365 days.

Before looking ahead, it is always helpful to look back – so a quick retrospective to some the biggest questions which St. Louis sports fans had on the first day of 2014 is in order. Back them, we wondered:

Would 2014 be the year the Blues made a deep run in the playoffs? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

Could Michael Wacha possibly duplicate his October 2013 success over an entire regular season? Again, because of health issues, the answer was no.

Could the Rams improve enough to make the playoffs? The loss of Sam Bradford to a second torn ACL in the pre-season derailed those hopes.

Despite those disappointments, 2014 still offered plenty of positive stories and excitement in St. Louis sports, and as we look ahead to 2015, here is a list of 10 athletes, or others in the St. Louis sports world, who we will be watching closely this year: (The list is presented in alphabetical order)

Doug Armstrong – The general manager of the Blues has not been shy in making moves to try to improve his team. He traded for goalie Ryan Miller last February, a move that didn’t work, then opened the checkbook to sign free agent Paul Stastny before this season. Armstrong followed that move by bringing in future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur when Brian Elliott was injured.

Losing in the first round of the playoffs is no longer acceptable to Armstrong or the Blues, and he likely will not hesitate to make a trade – perhaps involving a local favorite – if he believes the move will give the Blues a better chance of finally making it deeper into the playoffs.

Blues goalies – We are counting all three goalies as one for the purpose of keeping this list to 10, since only one goalie can play at a time. But deciding who plays – Elliott, Brodeur or Jake Allen – will be one of the most important decisions for coach Ken Hitchcock and Armstrong as the Blues go through the rest of the season and move into the playoffs.

Sam Bradford – Similar to the situation with the Blues goalies, there are multiple layers to the decision of who will be the Rams quarterback in 2015. Coach Jeff Fisher and the team’s brain trust continue to express faith in Bradford, who missed all of this season with his second torn ACL, but if he returns next year, it will be at a significant salary that will impact the team’s decision to spend money on other positions.

If not Bradford at quarterback, however, then who? The 10th pick in the draft likely is not high enough to get one of the top quarterbacks coming out of college. Did Shaun Hill or Austin Davis show enough for the Rams to think either can be the starter, or is there a backup on some other team who Fisher might target?

Jason Heyward – The Cardinals’ major off-season addition will be under pressure in 2015, both to show he can rebound from a couple of disappointing offensive seasons in Atlanta, and as the player being asked to fill the void in right field after the death of Oscar Taveras. He also can be a free agent after the 2015 season, which is always a factor in whether a player performs well or not.

Stan Kroenke – Perhaps the most important St. Louis sports figure in 2015, Kroenke controls the decision about whether the Rams will stay or move back to Los Angeles after the season. Because he almost never comments to the media about anything, it is basically impossible to know which way he is leaning. His thoughts also could change over time, however, depending on what happens with the local efforts to build a new stadium for the Rams. What is almost certain, however, is that sentiment will not play a role in his decision about the Rams’ future home – it figures to be a business decision, pure and simple.

Lance Lynn – All Lynn has done the last two years is win 30 games, second to Adam Wainwright among the team’s pitchers, but that has not been good enough to quiet some of his critics. The challenge for Lynn in the coming season is not only to repeat that success, but to do so during a season in which he figures to be making a lot more money. With a higher salary comes even higher expectations, and with Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly removed from the Cardinals’ rotation, Lynn will have to prove his status once again as the team’s number two starter.

Carlos Martinez – Martinez is another pitcher who figures to be under a lot of pressure in 2015, for varied reasons. First, of course, is that he will get the first chance to take Miller’s vacated spot in the rotation, something he has been asking for the last two years. He has to prove that he has the stamina and repertoire to be an effective starter.

The second level of pressure Martinez will be facing is playing this season while mourning his close friend and teammate, Taveras. Martinez will switch to uniform number 18 to honor Taveras, but pitching well would provide a better tribute.

Dave Peacock – The former Anheuser-Busch executive is leading the effort to develop a new stadium for the Rams that is probably necessary to keep the team in St. Louis. Whether his efforts succeed or fail likely will determine the team’s fate. Peacock’s greater challenge than actually developing a plan and finding a location for a new stadium, however, could be convincing a doubting public that it should pay at least a percentage of the stadium’s cost. Using public money to finance a private sports stadium has not been an easy sell in recent years in any market and that will almost certainly be the case in St. Louis as well.

Vladimir Tarasenko – The start of the 2014-15 hockey season has seen Tarasenko, who just turned 23, emerge as our city’s newest sports star. He is on pace to score 48 goals this season. No Blues player has topped the 50-mark since Brett Hull scored 57 in the 1993-94 season and Tarasenko has achieved his success with a very humble, team-oriented attitude which makes him even more appealing.

Jayson Tatum – The youngest person on our list, the junior at Chaminade happens to be the number-one ranked basketball player in the country in the class of 2016. Tatum will have a choice of the elite college programs in the country all wanting to add him to their teams and it will be interesting to see if he makes his college choice prior to his senior season. There will be at least some local pressure for him to pick Saint Louis University, where his father was a star, but the Billikens will be competing against schools such as Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida and Michigan State.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains