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September 19, 2013 | 11:43am ET


The 5 Spot
 Dennis Bernstein reveals the five people to watch this season.

LOS ANGELES, CA -- We're on the cusp of a full 82-game NHL season and a slew of rule changes that will likely have coaches and players wearing wrist bands like NHL quarterbacks to start the campaign.

With the stabilization of the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers through new ownership with deep pockets (Florida's sale is on the horizon, and they're not moving), the League is set to continue on the path of increased revenues that was interrupted by last season's lockout.

I expect the salary cap approaches $ 80 million within a couple of seasons and we'll see 32 franchises inside of five years.

With the overall health of the League improving, there are five individuals in the spotlight when the puck drops for real in a couple of weeks:

5. Lou Lamoriello, Devils

The good: Fresh money and deep pockets can help him quickly recover from the 1-2 punch of losing Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk over consecutive summers. The bad: The days of the All Powerful Lou ruling with an iron fist are history.

In addition to new owners, there's a new CEO (Scott O'Neil, former CEO of Madison Square Garden) to contend with. While Lamoriello has as good an eye as there is when it comes to evaluating talent, part of the reason the Devils were in the crapper was Lou's steadfast refusal to market a team that contends most seasons. With his power base reduced, there's more pressure on this legendary executive, not only to lead this team back to the playoffs but to fill the building as well with the latter rarely given consideration in the old regime.

Devils fans may actually see a third jersey in their future, as the current approach of marketing of hanging a sign outside the Prudential saying "Hockey Tonight" won't cut it anymore. If the Devils don't have a bounce back season, one of the longest tenured General Managers in professional sports may be looking for another employer.

4. Paul Holmgren, Flyers

You should run to the table if you see Holmgren in a poker game at your local casino, he's on a losing streak that is self-authored.

He's dealt himself out of a full house that was the 2010 Cup Finalist team to a pair of deuces, a team with poor defense and marginal goaltending. A further measure of how far off the rails this franchise has gone is the fact that the gambling site bodog.ca has installed the New York Islanders with a better chance to win the Metropolitan Division (7/1) than the Flyers (10/1).

The Claude Giroux Caddyshack wrist aliment doesn't help the effort to start the campaign and there's a nasty rumor going around that new Assistant GM Ron Hextall spent a good deal of the summer picking out furniture for Homer's office waiting for the axe to fall.

3. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs

Kessel's rolling the dice and going to the play through his walk year without negotiating and apparently not signing an extension, though some conversations will happen soon. There's some method to his madness; had last season been a normal 82 games, Kessel would have eclipsed the 30 goal plateau for the fifth consecutive season.

Off the ice, he's turned the tide of the Buds faithful with chants of "Thank You, Phil" late last year that brought to a screeching halt the reminders of the Tyler Seguin trade. Kessel stands to be one of the youngest players to hit free agency, as he'll be 26 years old at season's end. If he hits his mark in with an injury-free campaign, he's likely staring at a deal in excess of $60 million not matter who is signing the cheques.

2. Dan Bylsma, Penguins

With the Penguins, it's less about the failure to win the Cup and more about the manner in which they exited the playoffs that puts the focus on the likeable former NHL fourth liner. The 2012 extinguishing by Flyers when their goaltending and defense evaporated was eclipsed in the 2013 playoffs second round when the Penguins when silently into the night.

The passiveness of the Penguins play was disturbing and fueled rumors that GM Ray Shero was contemplating a coaching change. Adding to the intriguing was Bylsma's announcement on the first day of camp that the goaltending tandem that underperformed in the playoffs was the best in the NHL.

While owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle gave Bylsma a vote of confidence, the fact that Jacques Martin was added to the coaching staff is a clear signal that Bylsma must get his team to play tougher at the opposition's net and better in their owns zone in this coming post season.

1. Roberto Luongo, Canucks

Through all the drama, Luongo has been professional, making light of the saga on Twitter, saying all the right things when interviewed and from all accounts, and was the best teammate he could be to Cory Schneider while competing for the same job.

He's had his say with TSN's James Duthie, but with training camp in full swing, the time for talk is over. But even before he made his first save, his commitment to the franchise is in question, telling Duthie, "I was willing to walk away (from $35 million) to sign somewhere else for lesser term and less money."

Looie's new coach, John Tortorella, is a very different cat than the laid back Alain Vigneault and will not stand for anything else than an all-in attitude from Day One. Oh, by way, Torts had a guy named Lundqvist between the pipes almost every night.

With a demanding coach needing to prove himself more than Luongo, there will be little patience for a subpar start for this goalie backstopping a team with its championship window just about shut.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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