Tuesday 10 October 2023

2023-24 NHL Season Preview - Vegas won't repeat... right?

Published October 10, 2023 
A year ago I got back on the horse with my first NHL Season Preview on wdnicolson.com in a decade, and we were kind of right with our Vegas prediction:
PS. The Vegas Golden Knights need to find some goaltending but Jack Eichel is going to have a big year. 
They did - ADIN HILL! - and look at that, won the Stanley Cup in 5 games over the Florida Panthers.
I also didn't miss on the Boston Bruins... well in a regular season sense.
The Boston Bruins might be a threat if they can start winning regularly when Brad Marchand returns from injury in the New Year and their goaltending is still very good.
So after nailing those two 'predictions' for the Playoffs* and Regular Season*, here is my look at the 2023-24 NHL Season - with a skew towards a team's regular season finish.
Here are the Contenders - this season feels wide open so there's a few in this category:
  • In the West... The defending champs Vegas look healthier up front than this time last year and the goaltending duo of Hill-Logan Thompson is suddenly formidable (Robin who?). If they roll out their defence (once Martinez is back) like they did during the playoffs it's hard to see them not in the race of the Pacific Division title with the Edmonton Oilers - who will once again ride their spectacular offence led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and a suspect back end. Both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars look really strong - but if the Avalanche get secondary scoring again they have the edge on Dallas in the Central.
  • In the East... the Toronto Maple Leafs look like a regular season juggernaut... so they are in this category given they could win the President's Trophy but they don't have a good track record of convincing anyone when it matters. The New Jersey Devils will take a big stride by possibly winning that President's Trophy with a high powered forward group, quality defence but again, potentially suspect goaltending worries me. The next two are teams I look at as playoff threats if they get a good enough seed and survive the first round of the playoffs - the Boston Bruins with a lot to prove (again) and just need to find some reliable centremen to be in a position to do so, and the Carolina Hurricanes had one bad week last spring and got bounced out of the playoffs by Florida - they can get over that hump with an even better defence this season. They are really good - and deep.
As for the rest who deserve consideration for a Stanley Cup challenge?
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins have some serious top end talent but unless Tristan Jarry wakes up in net - no amount of Erik Karlsson with the Penguins core can lift them into the playoffs let alone a longer run. Although I've got the Tampa Bay Lightning in a wildcard seed they will have Andrei Vasilevskiy back at some stage so you can't leave them out of the playoff race - and if they are fit by then they can win the Cup. The Cinderella team of last year - the Florida Panthers will get back into the mix but it's hard to see them beating a fired up Boston in a rematch in the first round. 
Can I make a case for anyone else to really contend? 
  • The Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Seattle Kraken, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild are playoff teams in my predictions but only the Kings and Rangers might see Round 2. On the outside looking in are the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and my smokey the Arizona Coyotes but I feel all capable of making the playoffs.
  • It's going to be another long season for everyone else, with the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Ovechkins the most interesting of the others in the East, and the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks might do okay in the West.
I've got the San Jose Sharks bringing up the rear in their quest for the 1st Overall Pick.
Here are my predicted 2023-24 Regular Season Standings for both conferences:
** Conference Top Seed *Playoff Team
Eastern Conference - Atlantic Division
  1. Toronto Maple Leafs *
  2. Boston Bruins *
  3. Florida Panthers *
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning *
  5. Buffalo Sabres
  6. Ottawa Senators
  7. Detroit Red Wings
  8. Montreal Canadiens
Eastern Conference - Metropolitan Division
  1. New Jersey Devils **
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins *
  3. Carolina Hurricanes *
  4. New York Rangers *
  5. New York Islanders
  6. Washington Capitals
  7. Columbus Blue Jackets
  8. Philadelphia Flyers
Western Conference - Central Division
  1. Colorado Avalanche *
  2. Dallas Stars *
  3. Minnesota Wild *
  4. Winnipeg Jets *
  5. Nashville Predators
  6. Arizona Coyotes
  7. St. Louis Blues
  8. Chicago Blackhawks
Western Conference - Pacific Division
  1. Edmonton Oilers **
  2. Vegas Golden Knights *
  3. Los Angeles Kings *
  4. Seattle Kraken *
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Calgary Flames
  7. Anaheim Ducks
  8. San Jose Sharks
2023-24 NHL Awards
Hart Trophy - Connor McDavid, Edmonton (from Draisaitl and Shesterkin)
Art Ross - Connor McDavid, Edmonton (from L Draisaitl, J Hughes, N McKinnon and M Rantanen)
Rocket Richard - Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton (from Rantanen and McDavid).
Norris - Cale Makar, Colorado
Vezina - Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Adams - Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh
Calder - Connor Bedard, Chicago
Jennings - Hill-Thompson, Vegas
Selke - Nico Hischier, New Jersey
Byng - Jack Hughes, New Jersey

The pointy-end of the season:
Eastern Conference Final
Carolina Hurricanes over Boston Bruins
Western Conference Final
Colorado Avalanche over Vegas Golden Knights
Stanley Cup Final
Colorado Avalanche over Carolina Hurricanes
Colorado's back end - when healthy - is the most dynamic in the NHL and I've got them pushing past Vegas (who knock out Edmonton) to emerge from the West. In the East I've got a hunch New Jersey do a Boston and go wild in the regular season but get upset by the Rangers in Round 1, with either Carolina or Pittsburgh coming out of the East after their first round matchup. Boston will be the team to emerge from the Atlantic - sorry again fans of the Maple Leafs.
So in the Stanley Cup Final - lets go with Avs over Canes in 6 games
But I think this is such an open race for the Cup - much like last year once Boston imploded in the playoffs. 
Cale Makar or Nathan McKinnon for the Conn Smythe, even if Alexandar Georgiev plays out of his skin in net.
Enjoy the season everyone.