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Top NHL stories, people to follow in 2018

Penguins hope for three-peat; futures of Doughty, Karlsson, Tavares among biggest topics in coming year

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

With an eventful 2017 nearing its end, it's time to look forward to 2018 and some of the stories and people to follow in the new year.

Among those in the headlines in 2017 were Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley, repeat Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup champion Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier, the first Switzerland-born player to be picked No. 1 in the NHL Draft.

Here, in alphabetical order, is NHL.com's list of 18 expected newsmakers for 2018:

 

Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

Feb. 1 will mark the 25th anniversary of Bettman being named NHL Commissioner. As Commissioner, Bettman oversaw the addition of the League's 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights; preseason games in China; regular-season games in Sweden; and the League's Centennial celebration in 2017. The NHL begins its second century in 2018, which will include the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field in New York on Jan. 1, the Coors Light Stadium Series outdoor game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on March 3, and the possibility of more international games. 

 

David Bonderman, investment banker; Jerry Bruckheimer, TV producer

Bonderman and Bruckheimer lead a Seattle ownership group that was authorized by the Board of Governors to file an application for an NHL expansion team Dec. 7. With renovation plans for Key Arena approved by the Seattle City Council, a significant hurdle already has been cleared. But a lot of work remains before Bonderman and Bruckheimer can bring the NHL to the Emerald City, potentially in 2020-21.

 

Martin Brodeur, retired NHL goaltender, St. Louis Blues assistant GM

The all-time NHL leader with 691 wins and 125 shutouts, Brodeur, 45, is a lock to be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame's 2018 induction class in his first year of eligibility. Who will join him? Martin St. Louis? Daniel Alfredsson?

 

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins center

So far, Crosby and the Penguins haven't looked like the team that won the Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons. Perhaps flipping the calendar to 2018 will help them find the energy and depth to battle through their Stanley Cup hangover, qualify for the playoffs and keep alive their bid for a third consecutive championship.

Video: TOR@PIT: Crosby taps in Letang's pass late in the 3rd

 

Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda defenseman

A potential generational defenseman, Dahlin is projected to be the first player born in Sweden to be chosen No. 1 in the NHL Draft since Mats Sundin went No. 1 to the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. Russia-born forward Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie, Ontario Hockey League), Sweden-born defenseman Adam Boqvist (Brynas, Sweden) and United States-born forward Brady Tkachuk (Boston University, brother of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk) will be others to watch in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on June 22.

 

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings defenseman

Doughty, 28, is having another Norris Trophy-caliber season. However, because he can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, the focus will be on him beginning July 1, when he's eligible to sign a new contract with the Kings.

 

Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens center

The 22-year-old has handled being traded June 15 from the Tampa Bay Lightning to his hometown team well. Being in a playoff drive in Montreal would put the spotlight on Drouin.

Video: OTT@MTL: Drouin cashes in on the penalty shot

 

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender

Fleury, who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Penguins, returns to Pittsburgh for the first time Feb. 6. Fleury's experience should help the surprising Golden Knights down the stretch in their bid to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Jaromir Jagr, Calgary Flames right wing

Jagr, who turns 46 on Feb. 15, said before the season, "99.9 percent this is my last season in the NHL." Will Jagr be able to stay healthy enough to break Gordie Howe's NHL record of 1,767 games played before it's over? He's played 19 games this season because of injuries, and is at 1,730. Does he have one more playoff run in him? And will he actually retire?

 

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators defenseman

Like Doughty, Karlsson, 27, is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and can sign a new contract beginning July 1. If the Senators aren't confident they can re-sign him, they may decide to trade him rather than risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

Video: MIN@OTT: Karlsson blasts in one-timer for PPG

 

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning forwards

The linemates have been among the NHL leaders in points all season and have led the Lightning to the League's best record. If that continues, one of them likely will win the Hart Trophy. But what they want most is the Stanley Cup.

 

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs center

Matthews got his first taste of the playoffs last season as a 19-year-old and had five points (four goals, one assist) in six games. With another season of experience, he'll look to do more this season.

 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers center

The Oilers have begun turning things around after struggling through most of the first 10 weeks of the season. McDavid, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, will try to lead them to a playoff berth for the second consecutive season.

Video: STL@EDM: McDavid, Draisaitl execute give-and-go

 

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals right wing

After dropping from 50 goals in 2015-16 to 33 last season, Ovechkin is on pace for another 50-goal season in 2017-18. The bigger question is whether he and the Capitals can advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.

 

Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks forwards

In the final season of their contracts, the Sedin twins, 37, have yet to say if they want to come back for at least another NHL season or retire. They've said they want to retire as Canucks, so it appears being traded to another team before the deadline is unlikely.

 

John Tavares, New York Islanders center

Winning the bid to build a new arena at Belmont Park figures to help the Islanders' efforts to re-sign their captain. But until Tavares, 27, puts his name on a contract, questions will continue about whether he'll be back next season. If Tavares reaches July 1 without a contract, he will be the biggest unrestricted free agent to hit the market since Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010.

Video: ANA@NYI: Tavares slips wrister home for second goal

 

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks center

Thornton, 38, signed a one-year contract to stay with the Sharks on July 2, and can be an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2018. If the Sharks fall out of playoff contention and decide to look to the future, Thornton would be a hot commodity at the trade deadline.

 

Vegas Golden Knights 

General manager George McPhee will have to make some tough choices before Feb. 26, the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline. Will Golden Knights trade away potential unrestricted free agents such as forwards James Neal, David Perron and Jonathan Marchessault to bring in pieces for the future? Stand pat? Or bring in help for a playoff drive?

Video: Gallant on Vegas' terrific start to inaugural season

 

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