From The Professor Is In and from other sources, I've gotten the impression that it's very good practice to refer to possible collaborators both within and outside of your department or academic unit. This makes sense to me. Doing so demonstrates that you're not just applying blindly, but rather have thought through how you fit in on that particular campus. It also makes the sale that you're a good fit with the folks already there.
I'm unsure if this practice should start at the cover letter. Is it appropriate to mention potential collaborators (either within or outside of my targeted dept) whom I don't know in the cover letter?
Talking about working with people I don't know feels a little bit pretentious--how on earth should I know what they want to collaborate on?--but I can get over it if I have incentive.
Meanwhile, it also feels natural that I should be contacting these potential collaborators if I'm sincere about thinking there's potential to work together. OTOH academia's a bit emphatic (relative to industry) about recusal so contacting such people might seem pushy, or even like trying to cheat.
Is it OK to contact potential collaborators at the institution/in the department to which I'm applying? Is it ever expected?