Change, chaos, and crushed expectations are the only constants in the NHL. This year will be no different. Their are a fistful of players, coaches, and general managers who might not be in the same position next year. For some it s the hand they were dealt, for others they were the dealer.

Marc-Andre Fleury

The Flower needs to bloom like never before this season. Yes he won a Stanley Cup, but he also allowed more goals than any other keeper that year. Since then he’s been a consistent disappointment in the playoffs, even losing the starting job in one year. This is the last year of his contract, there’s a new general manager, a new coach and some important departures on the blueline. As of now, only 3 of his 8 playoff appearances have ended with a saves percentage over .900.

Joe Thornton

Not only has he had the captaincy of the San Jose Sharks stripped from him, the last week or so of camp he was skated with players who would have trouble holding onto a second line job in the AHL. I don’t know if the messages is coming from coaching alone or if it has the blessing of management behind it. While Joe Thornton is not the MVP level player he was five or six years ago, he’s still a top shelf player, but who knows how long he’ll put up with the disrespect in the building, on the other hand management could decide he either accepts a trade or he doesn’t play.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

The general manager of the Winnipeg Jets has taken “more of the same only different” to a new home. Specifically the general manager who took over when the Jets set Atlanta firmly behind the afterburner and headed true north. Since landing in Manitoba the Jets have sputtered, muttered and done little else. Any objective observer has to question his personnel decisions, his long term strategy, and even his hockey sense.

Garth Snow

In the topsy-turvy world of the NHL, it is a little hard to believe that Garth Snow has been on the job since 2006. That’s a pretty long time in NHL time, more than dog years almost technology years. While its hard to tell how much of the failure to thrive of the Islanders is his doing and how much is Wang’s this team has not won a playoff round in his tenure. They have in fact only won three playoff games. The recent moves should make the team measurably better both in the regular season and the playoffs, that still may not be enough to keep him in place once ownership changes.

Each year we as 30 teams go careening through the grueling season hell bent on playing at least sixteen more when it is over, we have the chance to see the most difficult and most subtle position played by the good, the bad, the forgettable and the elite. Getting the Norris trophy (normally) means you are an elite defenseman. Here’s the guys to watch this year.

  • Shea Weber, he’s long overdue, his team has a shot at the playoffs with the improvements up front, and the return to health of Pekka Rinne.
  • Ryan McDonagh, a new name to watch, he’s got two solid tenders to play in front of, a decent squad even without Stepan or a few weeks, and his team is fresh off a deep playoff run.
  • Drew Doughty, I’d have been much happier to see him win last year than the guy who did, and I don’t expect his performance to dip this season, top level defenseman with the most Ray Bourque like mix of skill and skating of any player in the NHL.
  • Zdeno Chara, the elder statesmen of the top end defensemen in the NHL, he’s go one Norris, and the defense crew he plays with now just got younger and less experienced.
  • Alex Pietrangelo, this is one of the players who doesn’t get recognized because he doesn’t have one outstanding area of strength that’s easy to pin down, however he also doesn’t have any areas where he’s average or below average.
  • Ryan Suter, top shelf defenseman who was suffered mutual penalization with Shea Weber for playing together, now playing with a rather young mostly nameless defense.
  • Victor Hedman, consistent producer of points, while his actually defensive numbers don’t fall into the same league as the rest of he watchlist, he’s still more worthy than certain recent winners.

Every season there are players who because of injuries, changes in coaches, or family issues just fall off a cliff in terms of performance or their interaction with their team. The following year some players bounce back. In some cases it will take an additional year to get back to form, and some just never make it. This season there’s a handful of notable players who might just reclaim who and what they were.

Niklas Backstrm

Last year was the worst season of Backstrom’s professional career. He made it into only twenty one games. His record was a dismal 5-11-2, and the less said about his personal stats the better. Let’s not forget this is a Vezina quality net minder with a championship pedigree. What would a good season for Backstrom be? Sixteen post season wins would be great but first you have to get there. A thirty or more win regular season, and a save percentage .914 and up are more than possible with the team he has in front of him.

Loui Eriksson

The counterbalance to Tyler Seguin in a massive trade Eriksson had a 36 goal season on his resume when he arrived and managed to scrape together just ten in his first season in one of the most scrutinized hockey markets on the planet. Part of the problem was getting two concussions, one at the flying elbow of John Scott. Part of it was less minutes in a much more defensive system. This season he’s likely to be playing on the top line and the minimum Bruins fans will accept is a 25 goal 65 point season.

Mike Ribiero

An ignoble season playing for the Coyotes ended in him being bought out. It is arguable that his issues were a prime contributor to the Coyotes missing the playoffs. This season brings a news start for the 34 year old. The Nashville Predators extended him a one year contract and the opportunity to prove he can stick to irritating just his opponents.

Michael Del Zotto

Del Zotto is 24 year old USHL alumni who at the top of his game was over half a point per game. The young defenseman was sent to Nashville last season after starting his career with the Rangers. He was not retained. This year he’s on a defense that’s in flux and with more offensive upside than the Predators, and more structure than the current Rangers. A good season for Del Zotto is should see him back over the 25 point mark.

Dany Heatley

The Anaheim Ducks are the 33 year old’s fifth team. His goal production has been in decline the last few years. Part of that is undoubtedly the lack of a world class offensive minded center. Another part has been nagging injuries and the inevitability of Father Time leaning on him. With either Getzlaf or Kesler up front and Fowler and Lindholm moving the puck on the backed there’s a chance of him reversing his declining numbers. Improving on last years -18 and just 12 goals shouldn’t be too much of an issue, a 30 goal season may still be possible. Among other positive elements are getting to play with fellow former Minnesota Wild Clayton Stoner.