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16 players, coaches and executives to watch in 2016

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

With the calendar about to turn to 2016, there are a number of people around the NHL who likely will  be dominating the news during the next 12 months.

Some will do so for good reasons, others not so much.

Here is NHL.com's collection of 16 people to watch in 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins center

You should watch Bergeron all the time because he's really good at hockey. But he is so good at hockey the Bruins surprisingly are in the hunt not only to qualify for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but perhaps even win the Atlantic Division title. This was not supposed to happen for the Bruins this season as they embarked on a bit of a retooling under new general manager Don Sweeney. Will it continue? Bergeron will have a big part to play in the answer, and that could see him carve some space for himself in the eventual Hart Trophy discussions.

Guy Boucher, unemployed hockey coach

Boucher was fired from Bern of the Swiss league on Nov. 18 after informing the team he would not return next season. Now the former Tampa Bay Lightning coach is a free agent and has expressed his eagerness to return to the NHL. A bright hockey mind with a proven track record as a power-play guru, Boucher could tempt any team that continues to struggle into the New Year with what he has to offer.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets defenseman

There are few people in hockey who can take over a game in the variety of ways Byfuglien can. He has the ability to shift momentum with a big goal or a big hit. Then there's the fact that he's, well, big. Byfuglien is playing out the final season of his contract with the Jets, and as an impending unrestricted free agent he could become the most sought-after rental on the market when the NHL Trade Deadline hits Feb. 29.

Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton Oilers general manager

Chiarelli got picked, but this could apply to basically any general manager in the Pacific Division aside from Dean Lombardi of the Los Angeles Kings. How does Chiarelli or Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks or Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames or any of their counterparts approach the trade deadline? In all likelihood, there will be two Pacific teams that reach the playoffs aside from the Kings, and each of them could have fewer points than the fifth-place team in the Central Division. Does a playoff opportunity mean you go all-in? Or do you stay the course and make a cold assessment of your team? Should be fascinating to watch.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins captain

You might have heard that Crosby is having a rough season. There are two ways of looking at it, and we should be able to narrow that down to one over the first few months of 2016. Is this the start of the decline of his career? Or is this the calm before a massive storm of goals and assists to come from No. 87?

Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers right wing

Jaromir Jagr should pass Brett Hull for third place on the NHL all-time goals list in 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jagr, with 732 NHL goals, should pass Brett Hull's total of 741 for third place on the NHL all-time list early in 2016. That's not really in question. The intrigue lies in when Jagr will stop, not only climbing that list but playing this game. He turns 44 on Feb. 15 and has shown no signs of having any desire to stop playing after this season. It might take Jagr two more seasons to pass Gordie Howe's 801 goals for second on the list. Is he willing to do that? We might not find out this season, but the first months of the 2016-17 season could be very telling on that front.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks right wing

Kane is well on his way to the best season of his NHL career, which is saying something when you've had a career like he has. Kane's best season was in 2009-10 when he had 30 goals and 88 points, each an NHL career high. He was 21 at the time; now 27, he is on pace to shatter those numbers. If he continues into the spring the Blackhawks could have a decent chance to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.

Lou Lamoriello, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager

The Maple Leafs have eight impending unrestricted free agents on the roster. That is no accident. Players like PA Parenteau, Shawn Matthias and Michael Grabner were added this season largely in the hope they could be flipped for future assets at the trade deadline. This is when Lamoriello and Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan will need to shine.

Auston Matthews, Zurich Lions center

Matthews will be attempting to lead the United States onto the podium at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship starting this week. But in the longer term he will continue to impress the legions of NHL scouts who have been watching him dominate against men in National League A, the  top professional league in Switzerland. Playing for coach Marc Crawford, Matthews has done little to shed any doubt on his status as the top prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft, and come October we could see him doing special things in the NHL.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers center

McDavid should return from his broken clavicle in late January or early February, potentially adding to the conundrum Chiarelli may be facing at the trade deadline. McDavid was hitting his groove just as he got injured against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3, with four goals and seven assists in the prior nine games. Can he pick up where he left off? And if so, how do the Oilers adjust the way they evaluate their chances to not only make the playoffs but make a deep run?

Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks general manager

Murray is somewhat covered in the section on Chiarelli, but his case is unique in the Pacific Division. The Ducks are perhaps the most underachieving team in the NHL this season, and Murray has been extremely patient in allowing coach Bruce Boudreau the time to lead them out of it. How much longer can Murray remain patient? It's difficult not to get the sense that the clock is ticking in Anaheim.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals left wing

If Alex Ovechkin ramps up his scoring, the Capitals will become even more dangerous in 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)

The news surrounding "The Great 8" in 2015 is how the Capitals didn't need him to be all that great in order to become the best team in the Eastern Conference. What should be scaring the rest of the NHL is what happens if Ovechkin does in fact find another gear and pour it on in 2016. Even if Ovechkin continues producing at his current rate, which is more than adequate, the Capitals probably are the most complete team in the League. But he entered this season with 104 goals in his previous 159 games. If Ovechkin starts catching up to that pace, look out.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens goaltender

Price currently has the most important lower body in the NHL. The Canadiens have struggled in Price's absence because of a lower-body injury, widely believed to be his right knee, though not all of it can be traced back to that. Still, getting a healthy Price back sometime after mid-January is the single most important factor in determining the Canadiens' status as a Stanley Cup contender. If Price's injury continues to linger, how can general manager Marc Bergevin consider adding pieces at the trade deadline without his No 1 goaltender at full health?

Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager

Much like Bergevin will be waiting on the health of Price to determine how he acts at the trade deadline, Rutherford will be monitoring the health of his entire team. He has expressed his disappointment with how the Penguins have performed, and he replaced coach Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan to try to fix it. If that doesn't work, what moves are left for Rutherford? A big trade to address the top-heavy nature of his team is not out of the question.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning center

Stamkos' expiring contract with the Lightning is the biggest story in the NHL right now and will continue to be until he either signs a new contract or forces general manager Steve Yzerman to consider trading him. Stamkos has expressed his desire to remain in Tampa Bay, but Yzerman can't risk the possibility of losing him for nothing July 1.

John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets coach

Tortorella's boss, president John Davidson, is on record saying anyone in Columbus potentially could be traded. Tortorella's ability to mesh with some of the better players on the Blue Jackets, starting with center Ryan Johansen, likely will have a massive influence on how Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen approach the trade deadline and the offseason.

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