At the centre of every good (and bad and ugly) hockey story, you’ll find people. Here are the 31 newsmakers and game-breakers who will define the 2017-18 NHL season — ranked in order of importance.

The retired NHL enforcer has filed a lawsuit alleging he suffered seizures while playing for the Devils, Flames, Blues and Senators yet was encouraged to keep fighting. He claims he’s now permanently disabled and called out his former employers plus their insurance companies as defendants in his suit. Subpoenas to Bettman, Lamoriello and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly have reportedly been issued. All three have been directed to appear in early November. “I want the world to hear Bettman and Lamoriello have to answer for what they have done,” Peluso told another outlet. “So many players have been abandoned by the NHL. When you can’t promote their game anymore, if you’re not a big name or a star, they toss you aside.”

When the New York Rangers sent their No. 1 centre, Derek Stepan, to the desert, the young, musically gifted Zibanejad instantly became the Big Apple’s top pivot — and he was handed $26.75 million to cement it. Forever a playoff team, the Rangers’ window is open as long as Henrik Lundqvist can keep himself from falling off. Zibanejad has his opportunity to become a star.

A highly touted defence prospect from Sweden, eh? Imagine that. At 17, Rasmus Dahlin is the youngest person on this list. As 2018’s projected first-overall draft choice, however, Dahlin could very well have an impact on the season’s final months. Lottery-bound clubs could take a glance at the standings and decide they’re better off fallin’ for Dahlin. (Under the new format, however, this is a risky proposition. Just ask Joe Sakic or Trevor Linden.)

More and more, Captain Everything is speaking with a strong voice in the media — social and otherwise — and we’d love more of that. Priority 1, however, is making Chicago forget the Blackhawks’ disastrous first-round sweep by reigniting chemistry with winger Brandon Saad and chugging back into the dynasty conversation.

The NHL’s vice president and director of officiating made his power felt during the year’s very first pre-season game, as the zebras started bouncing centremen out of the faceoff dot like they were wearing cargo shorts in a nightclub. Suddenly, every NHLer is Michael Myers; they’re all slashers. Seriously, though, Walkom’s crackdown on hacks to the hands will open space for speedy, skilled players. Johnny Hockey is counting on you.

Empire builder
Toews is speaking with a stronger voice in the media, but his top priority will be reestablishing Chicago's place in the dynasty conversation.

A Nashville trade rumor is already out there, because of course it is. Hockey’s brightest personality now has a taste of the Cup Final if not the Cup. With fellow top-four right D Ryan Ellis sidelined for several months, Subban’s performance on the ice must speak volumes. Either way, the guy will be making headlines.

When the Winnipeg Jets GM was asked to specify the terms of his multi-year contract extension, he dryly said, “More than one.” Chevy plays every hand tight to the vest, but the underachieving Jets (and their fan base) are reaching a point where patience turns into a fault. This is the winter where Cheveldayoff must give Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler & Co. the boost they need to win a playoff game.

Billed as the world’s greatest teammate — and playing last season like the world’s best backup — a flower has bloomed in an arid environment. Fleury doesn’t need to look over his shoulder anymore. He’s been thrust to the forefront of the Vegas Golden Knights’ glittery promotions and will be their last line of defence. He’ll have to flash that smile while keeping a makeshift roster competitive.

Brian Boyle was diagnosed in pre-season with chronic myeloid leukemia, a treatable type of bone-marrow cancer. The big Devils centre has every intention of dressing opening night, and his positive attitude is already inspiring. “If I suck one night, it’s because I sucked, not because of any other reason,” Boyle said after his diagnosis went public. “And hopefully if that’s the biggest issue, then that’s a good thing.”

The owner of the NHL franchise with the distinction of drawing the league’s worst attendance has long had a “for sale” sign hanging on his club. But Karmanos has also been steadfast that the Hurricanes remain in Raleigh as a condition of any potential sale. Chuck Greenberg and his investors are in negotiations to buy the team (which has a reported asking price of $450-500 million), and the Canes could increase their value by snapping a league-worst eight-year playoff drought.

From disgruntled Syracuse Crunch winger to the toast of Montreal, the crafty and charitable hometown boy arrives with great fanfare and greater expectations — and at great cost. With a cap hit of $5.5 million, Drouin makes more than Alex Galchenyuk and captain Max Pacioretty. The difference is Drouin can play centre. Right?

Centre of attention
As the Habs' first Francophone scoring star in, well, quite a while, Drouin will face plenty of pressure in Montreal.

Got any defencemen on the trading block there, George? McPhee flipped the script by taking a very aggressive expansion draft tack, loading up on left-shot blueliners and rental-ready forwards on expiring contracts. The GM will be holding auctions up until Feb. 26. Make him an offer; he wants all the draft picks.

Just when we thought he was out, they pull him back in. The Big D will once again stand for defence as one of the sport’s smartest, toughest coaches oversees a revamped Stars lineup — including Alex Radulov, Ben Bishop and Martin Hanzal — that will try to yo-yo from first to worst to first. Hitch can’t leave hockey; the game needs him — and vice versa.

Leiweke’s Oak View Group plans to renovate KeyArena in Seattle in hopes it will be operational by 2020 and capable of luring an NHL team, either via expansion or relocation. “We’ve spent $600 million on a [17,500-seat] building that ultimately will be one of the better buildings,” the former Maple Leafs and Kings executive told Prime Time Sports. Leiweke has eyes on both the NHL and NBA as tenants. “We will be ready in Seattle if and when there’s a day and time that Adam Silver comes knocking on our door.”

Your iPhone 4S was hot stuff the last time the Calgary Flames had a true No. 1 goaltender capable of thriving under a 60-game workload. Mike Smith is 35, though, and didn’t come cheap at a $5.67-million cap hit. GM Brad Treliving is to be admired for pushing all-in this summer — welcome back to Western Canada, Travis Hamonic! — but ultimately the Flames’ fortunes will be built from the net out.

It would be incorrect to describe Lou Lamoriello as a “lame duck” general manager. The 74-year-old didn’t fail his physical, and he certainly has the power to make trades. Still, at last check, the Toronto Maple Leafs executive does not have a contract in place for 2018-19 and, in theory, this could be his last season at the helm. But! Lamoriello appears as energized and active as ever, landing big-fish Patrick Marleau in free agency. And with a glut of intriguing trade chips at the forward position, Lamoriello could be a mover-and-shaker before the trade deadline. That the Leafs have capable GM prospects on staff in Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter only ups the intrigue.

Ovie the Hill?
It seems as though his powers are beginning to dwindle. Can Ovechkin quiet his critics yet again this season?

After three straight 50-goal campaigns, Ovechkin smashed the back of the net just 33 times in 2016-17 and watched his points per game drop to a five-year low. The Capitals were ousted in Round 2, as per hockey law, and a swath of Washington’s core moved on due to cap issues. Ovie may no longer be the most highlight-worthy Russian on his own team — flap those wings and fly Evgeny Kuznetsov — and it “sucks” he can’t rep Team Russia in Pyeongchang. Can the Great 8 shut up his haters as he’s done so many times before?

One of the greatest players in the history of team sports is a 45-year-old lone wolf with flowing locks that never end — much like his workouts. Jaromir Jagr is easily the most intriguing free agent on the market (sorry, Iggy), coming off a season in which he scored 46 points and didn’t miss a game. Even in his dotage, The Mulleted One can improve your NHL power play, but he’s picky about where he signs and has one eye on the Olympics.

Player agents Anton Thun, Ritch Winter and Kurt Overhardt have all stated publicly that they have clients questioning the manner in which the NHLPA is being run under Donald Fehr. The PA chief signed off on a CBA that did not include 2018 Olympic participation, and it’s worth asking whether he’ll be the one negotiating with Bettman on the next CBA. “It’s a complete democracy. The players can do whatever they want to do. And I mean what I’m about to say quite literally: If they want to change the executive directors and staff three times a week, they can do it,” Fehr said this summer. “It’s not something which concerns me in a large-scale sense. In a short-scale sense, obviously you’d want all players to understand and be on board.” is a site that calculates the impact of an injured player’s absence on his team. According to the site’s handy database, the 65 games Steven Stamkos didn’t play for the Tampa Bay Lightning had a greater negative effect in 2016-17 than the loss of any other injured player. Stamkos, who was scoring at better than point-per-game pace before he blew his right knee, has been through the ringer the past four years, and the Bolts are feisty after missing the dance. “He’s walking around like a man on a mission,” says coach Jon Cooper.

“If you look at what I’ve done, it hasn’t been a whole lot,” Jack Eichel said in pre-season. “Two mediocre seasons on a losing team.” The face of a Buffalo Sabres franchise that overhauled its front office, bench, captaincy and defence this summer seems to have high expectations. At 20, Eichel is electrifying on the ice and no-BS off it. The proposition of a full season of Healthy Eichel playing for a new contract should frighten those with designs on the Art Ross. New coach Phil Housley needs to develop a rapport with the superstar, and new GM Jason Botterill must lock Eichel up ASAP.

Long time coming
Put through the ringer over the past four years, Stamkos is back to full health and "walking around like a man on a mission,” according to coach Jon Cooper.

The new sheriff of player safety — a thankless position with short expiry date — believes he’s uniquely suited for the gig because he played the game physically and was never was fined or suspended. Parros, a Princeton grad who previously served under Stéphane Quintal, says the Department of Player Safety can punish non-hockey plays more severely. “If it’s an intentional or retaliatory type of play – especially causing injury – I think that we need to be harder on those types of things,” he explained to Prime Time Sports. Parros has a puncher’s chance of affecting real change.

If there is a GM riding into 2017-18 on a hotter seat, he doesn’t work in a city where hockey is religion. Bergevin has lost fan favourites — P.K. Subban and Alexander Radulov — in back-to-back summers. He traded away his best puck-moving defence prospect to a division rival and opted to not keep Andrei Markov in the fold. And he still hasn’t managed to land a proven NHL-level No. 1 centre. Having already burned his fire-the-coach card, Bergevin must win with a roster that looks weaker on paper than the one that finished 2016-17 — hence the Matt Duchene and John Tavares trade rumours. Giving Carey Price all the money might not have been enough.

The goodwill gained between Bettman’s owners and Donald Fehr’s players during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey took a hit when the league decided not to allow its players to participate in the 2018 Winter Games, irking superstars like Jonathan Toews, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin, to name but a few. The NHL has swelled in revenue and members since Bettman took the reins, but the league has come under fire for its concussion policy, its slow-to-grow salary cap, and its tolerance of weak markets.

The health of the smoothest Swede on skates — and that’s saying something — is paramount to the success of the Ottawa Senators. The newlywed Karlsson is taking his left ankle injury in stride, but the timing of his return remains fuzzy. “Karl” can saucer Hail Mary passes tape-to-tape, pivot like a poem, and block shots with the frequency of Kris Russell, yet somehow he has not won the Norris the past two seasons. Is there a single player who means more to his team? Ottawa can re-sign the 27-year-old demigod defender for eight more years as early as July 1. And they better.

The debate over who will fund the new Calgary arena has already escalated to a full-blown rhetorical war and election peg. Flames president and CEO Ken King is asking for financial aid from a puck-mad populous presided over by mayor Naheed Nenshi. Municipal elections are scheduled to take place less than two weeks after season’s opening, and Calgarians will have a chance to throw tax dollars at a successful franchise currently being run out of a creaky barn that pales next to Edmonton’s fancy new palace and draws fewer and fewer Garth Brooks concerts. Or they could decide to call Gary Bettman’s bluff on the vaguely threatening “consequences” and refuse to pick up the tab.

The Silky Swede
The date of Karlsson's return from a left-ankle injury is unclear, but when he's back, he'll still be the key to Ottawa's success.

Not since the early-’80s Islanders dynasty has the National Hockey League witnessed a threepeat. Even those glory-days Oilers couldn’t hit on the trifecta. But dangle a challenge in front of Sidney Crosby and you’d be foolish to bet No. 87 will fail to meet it. Of all the championships he’s captained — international and otherwise — the gauntlet Crosby ran in 2017 might’ve been the most impressive. The so-called “Greatest Grinder of All Time” invented fresh ways to score (one-handed backhand goals, anyone?) en route to his first solo Rocket Richard Trophy, and dragged a battered Penguins squad (himself included) to glory — and, according to plan, to the White House. The kids are coming, but The Kid won’t just hand over the throne. Crosby’s decision to accept Trump’s White House invitation has already caused a stir. A photograph of the two shaking hands will only ratchet up the debate.

As a general manager, the lazy joke goes, Joe Sakic makes a helluva hockey player. Something is rotten in Denver. The Patrick Roy collaboration failed, Will Butcher walked for nothing, the Draft Lottery bid failed, the return on the Ryan O’Reilly deal looks soft, and Matt Duchene still hasn’t been traded. Sakic is under tremendous pressure to right the ship after a disastrous and morale-crushing season that saw the Avs win just 22 games and amass 48 standings points while getting outscored by 112 goals. That’s an unenviable task for the Hall of Famer, especially considering the budget club’s internal cap restrictions, but eventually he’s got to make a move or get moved out.

One autumn ago, luck landed a special teenager in a hockey hotbed starving for a group of players worthy of all those consecutive sellouts, all that fan worship. Arriving from Arizona with a stopover in Switzerland, Auston Matthews hit ’em with the four in Game 1 and followed with 36 more over the course of the season, breaking records older than your dad and raising Toronto’s hopes. In addition to his pals William Nylander and Zach Hyman, the near-unanimous Calder champ now gets to play with new old guy Patrick Marleau (on the top power-play unit, for starters). Any way you cut it, Matthews will be a story. And so will his next contract, which can be signed as early as Canada Day. “We’re a motivated group,” Matthews says of his Leafs. “Everybody’s telling us how good we are and everything, but we haven’t done anything yet.”

Edmonton’s Next One hogged all the hardware at the 2017 NHL Awards — winning the Art Ross, Hart and Ted Lindsay trophies — then went to bed, probably. At 20, McDavid is still too young for the full Vegas experience, yet No. 97 is smart and modest enough to deflect any “Best Player in the World” praise toward No. 87. McDavid would rather have a playoff MVP trophy than a regular-season one, and he’s said publicly that he wants to get better at scoring goals — dude had 30. The cap era’s first $100-million man won the admiration of fans and the respect of his peers, then sent 31 team capologists back to the drawing board — all within a burst and a blur. And still, coming off his first 100-point season, he’s unsatisfied. Look out.

Could the NHL’s salary cap era finally see a bona fide superstar centre — a driven, two-way, game-changing franchise face in his prime — hit the open market? Steven Stamkos dipped his toe and came this close to jumping into the pool in 2016, before deciding not to mess with happy. So, Tavares, whose contract expires at season’s end, could be the first. The New York Islanders and their new owners are summoning everything in their power to make Brooklyn (or Elmont?) a happy place for their star: Doug Weight was installed as the permanent head coach and pal Jordan Eberle was brought in to convert Tavares’s passes — but the club’s on-ice performance and its long-term arena security will both factor into the player’s plans for the future. If the Isles tumble down the standings, the national coverage of trade deadline day could make for 18 consecutive hours of must-see TV.

Photo Credits

Getty Images (5); Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; John Russell/NHLI/Getty Images; Scott Audette/NHLI/Getty Images; Jared Silber/NHLI/Getty Images. Design by Drew Lesiuczok.