Opening night of the 2023-24 NHL season is Tuesday, with a tripleheader of games on ESPN and ESPN+: Nashville Predators–Tampa Bay Lightning (5:30 p.m. ET), Chicago Blackhawks–Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m. ET) and Seattle Kraken–Vegas Golden Knights (10:30 p.m. ET), the latter of which will include the Knights’ Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony.
We’re here to help get you up to speed with intel on all 32 teams, including the key players who were added or subtracted, best- and worst-case scenarios, X factors and fantasy tips, plus bold predictions.
Our season preview will also feature the first edition of our Power Rankings, which provide the order in which these teams are presented. The rankings were formulated through votes from ESPN hockey broadcasters, analysts and reporters, and will appear weekly on ESPN.com.
Note: Thanks as always to CapFriendly for salary and contract data. Advanced stats are from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. Kristen Shilton profiled the teams in the Eastern Conference, while Ryan S. Clark handled the Western Conference clubs. The fantasy outlook for each team is courtesy of Victoria Matiash and Sean Allen, and bold predictions are courtesy of Greg Wyshynski. Stanley Cup odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
Last season: 51-22-9, 111 points. Won the Stanley Cup.
Stanley Cup odds: +1200
Key players added: None
Key players lost: F Teddy Blueger, G Laurent Brossoit, F Phil Kessel, G Jonathan Quick, F Reilly Smith
Most fascinating player: Ivan Barbashev. The Golden Knights’ trade for Barbashev provided a major boost to their Cup run, as he posted six goals and 10 assists in 23 regular-season games and another seven goals and 13 assists in the playoffs. He was slated to be an unrestricted free agent, and in order to keep him (he signed a five-year contract worth $5 million annually), they had to part with one of the remaining original Golden Knights in Reilly Smith. The Golden Knights are counting on Barbashev — a four-time double-digit scorer — to continue to be a productive two-way forward who can be trusted in all situations.
Best case: They win the Stanley Cup for a second year in a row.
Worst case: Falling short of the title, along with the reasons why. So much of the formula behind the Golden Knights’ success was rooted in being multifaceted. They had the depth that allowed them to rely on all four lines and all three defensive pairings for offensive contributions. They had a defensive structure that saw them limit some of the game’s most talented players to zero points in the playoffs, as well as the depth that saw players like goaltender Adin Hill go from being a member of the regular-season rotation to one of the main reasons for winning the Cup.
X factor: Part of the challenge in being a defending champion is finding enough players on team-friendly deals who can serve in key roles. That makes what the Knights have done at the AHL level even more vital. Homegrown talents such as Nicolas Hague, Keegan Kolesar, Logan Thompson and Zach Whitecloud are proof that they’ve been able to develop key contributors on team-friendly deals. It was the case last season, when Paul Cotter, who did not see action in the postseason, still contributed 13 goals while playing in a bottom-six role. Cotter is expected to take on a greater role this season, and it’s possible the Golden Knights could ask their next wave of homegrown talents to do the same.
Fantasy outlook: Jack Eichel appears in solid shape after a stretch of serious injury concerns. As demonstrated by his performance on route to winning the Knights’ first Cup, the club’s top center is more than capable of eclipsing the 85-point mark, while averaging close to four shots per contest.
Bold prediction: Logan Thompson reclaims the crease.
Last season: 51-24-7, 109 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +900
Key players added: F Ross Colton, F Jonathan Drouin, F Ryan Johansen, F Miles Wood
Key players lost: F J.T. Compher, F Lars Eller, F Darren Helm, D Erik Johnson, F Denis Malgin, F Alex Newhook, F Evan Rodrigues
Most fascinating player: Cale Makar. Injuries throughout the lineup forced the Avalanche to make adjustments. One of them was asking Makar to take on more, which is why he led the NHL in average ice time (26:22 per game), which meant he had to pick and choose his spots to attack. Having a healthier roster along with more secondary and tertiary scoring options could help Makar become more of an offensive threat. Injuries limited Makar to 60 games, but he still averaged more than a point per game, almost matching his output from the previous season, when he won the Norris.
Best case: Winning their second Stanley Cup in three seasons is the mission for the Avs. They have built a core around Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Devon Toews, Valeri Nichushkin, Samuel Girard and Artturi Lehkonen, who were part of their 2021-22 title-winning team. Injuries and a lack of scoring depth were stumbling blocks in their bid to repeat last season. Like any Cup contender, salary-cap limitations forced the Avs to part with players such as J.T. Compher and Evan Rodrigues in free agency and Alex Newhook via trade. Yet like any Cup contender, they got creative with their cap space and made the necessary moves to provide more options to supplement their core with captain Gabriel Landeskog slated to miss a second straight season while recovering from knee surgery.
Worst case: A repeat of last season, which saw an injury-riddled campaign end with a first-round playoff exit. Part of what also plagued the Avs was their limited cap space, which made it difficult for them to find replacements for Andre Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri, members of that Cup winning team that left in free agency. Trading draft picks for Ross Colton and Ryan Johansen while signing Jonathan Drouin and Miles Wood in free agency should give the Avs the needed secondary scoring and depth they lacked last season.
X factor: Could it be Jonathan Drouin? Over the past few seasons, Avs coach Jared Bednar has found results with skilled forwards who joined the team in free agency or via trade. Burakovsky and Kadri had the strongest years of their careers with the Avs, while Nichushkin went from a top-10 pick who struggled to find success with the Dallas Stars to a key top-six forward. Lehkonen is the latest example: The former Canadiens winger finished with his first 20-goal and 50-point season in his first full campaign with the Avs. Is it possible that Drouin will be the next forward who strikes it rich in the Rockies?
Fantasy outlook: On the blue line, Makar remains any manager’s choice No. 1 defenseman, particularly in leagues that reward power-play points at a premium. Third-year defender Bowen Byram is hoping his first full, healthy season results in a haul near 50 points.
Bold prediction: Cale Makar scores 102 points.
Most fascinating player: Seth Jarvis. What’s the ceiling for Carolina’s up-and-comer? He has become a genuine driver within the Hurricanes’ offense and plays with control yet the slightly reckless abandon of a skater who wants to keep up with the likes of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Carolina has become known for playing a tight defensive structure and is often pooh-poohed for not being “exciting” enough up front. Jarvis can be a catalyst for change there. Now going into this third NHL season and with a solid foundation of growth to build off, this could be a momentum-shifting year for the 21-year-old forward.
Best case: Carolina finally puts it all together and wins the Cup. Season after season it feels like the Hurricanes have inched closer to that championship version of themselves. For one reason or another it hasn’t happened for Carolina, although it came close in making the Eastern Conference finals last spring. Even more impressive was the fact that the Hurricanes reached that stage without Svechnikov, who tore an ACL in March. Svechnikov is healthy again, and assuming he and the club’s other top skaters stay that way, the Hurricanes could become the beasts of the East. Michael Bunting was a key offseason signing whom Carolina expects will bring a certain edge — and skill — to its top nine, and Dmitry Orlov is a terrific addition to an already great blue line. There’s nothing standing in Carolina’s way now, right?
Worst case: More of the same: The Hurricanes dominate the regular season, start well in the postseason and then fizzle out. That would be the biggest disappointment of all. Carolina being swept by Florida in the conference finals was a tough enough pill to swallow. If that letdown doesn’t fuel the Hurricanes’ fire and propel them to something greater, what will? Carolina has too many good players, and too good a coach in Rod Brind’Amour, to keep letting opportunities to achieve their full potential slip away.
X factor: Goaltending. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta are both back and project to be the Hurricanes’ tandem once again. Are two aging goaltenders enough for Carolina to reach that aforementioned promised land? Andersen had a strong 2022-23 as the Hurricanes’ No. 1 (.903 SV%, 2.48 GAA), but that was only when the 34-year-old was available — and not battling various injuries. It has been a pattern for Andersen throughout his career. But Carolina is counting on him and Raanta to keep them steady between the pipes. Will they be up to that task?
Fantasy outlook: The Hurricanes run six deep on defense, and the top question is whether Brent Burns can repeat again at age 38. As a backup, Tony DeAngelo returns to the club as a potential power-play specialist.
Last season: 50-23-9, 109 points. Lost in second round.
Stanley Cup odds: +900
Key players added: F Connor Brown, F Mattias Janmark, F Lane Pederson
Key players lost: F Nick Bjugstad, D Oscar Klefbom, F Klim Kostin, D William Lagesson, D Ryan Murray, F Kailer Yamamoto
Most fascinating player: Stuart Skinner. What Skinner does in the regular season will clearly carry value. That’s how he was able to earn the starting job going into the playoffs. It’s just that both he and the Oilers are now at the stage in which what’s done in the regular season is overshadowed by what does, or does not, happen in the playoffs. Skinner’s maiden postseason came with questions considering he finished with a 3.68 GAA and a .883 save percentage. Those were further amplified in the second round when Skinner was pulled in three of the Oilers’ four defeats.
Best case: Winning the Stanley Cup. This is the expectation for a team that has a pair of Hart Trophy candidates who have combined to win the award in three of the past four seasons: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. While it has been a gradual incline from the 2019-20 season, when they reached the qualifying round, the Oilers have done more to strengthen their case as a legitimate Cup contender. They made it to the Western Conference finals in 2021-22, and while their Cup hopes ended in the second round last season, their two most recent exits came at the hands of the teams that would win it all in the Avalanche and the Golden Knights.
Worst case: Getting eliminated in either the first or second round. What further complicates the Oilers’ championship aspirations is where they stand within the conference landscape. They’re trying to win a Cup at a time in which the Avs and Golden Knights are the most recent winners, teams such as the Kraken and Stars believe this most recent postseason further legitimized their approach, and changes including trading for Pierre-Luc Dubois could get the Kings beyond the first round. Even then? What makes assessing the Oilers challenging is how recent Cup winners such as the Capitals, Blues, Lightning and Golden Knights all went through some sort of crucible before winning it all. Could that also be the case for the Oilers?
X factor: How much of a difference will their tactical changes make? The Oilers spent quite a bit of the preseason installing a new neutral-zone system while also changing their defense from man-to-man to zone. One of the questions facing the Oilers throughout the offseason was how do they solve the defensive issues that plagued them in the second round against the Golden Knights? Fixing those issues became a concern given that the Oilers held a one-goal lead in all of their losses to Vegas. Especially considering that the Oilers were in the bottom five among playoff teams in shots allowed per 60, goals allowed per 60 and high-danger chances allowed per 60 in 5-on-5 play.
Fantasy outlook: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (104 points) and Zach Hyman (83) aren’t likely to replicate their outstanding numbers from last season, but still have the wherewithal to finish in the top 25 and 35 in scoring, respectively.
Bold prediction: The Oilers will win the Stanley Cup.
Most fascinating player: Timo Meier. It’s time for Meier to spread his wings in New Jersey. The Devils landed a major prize in trading with San Jose for Meier last season and the forward produced nine goals and 14 points in 21 games for New Jersey after coming aboard. He dealt with injuries though — in the regular season and again in the playoffs — so it still seems like New Jersey hasn’t seen all of what Meier will eventually offer its offense. GM Tom Fitzgerald got the business side taken care of when he inked Meier to an eight-year contract extension in June. That shows a commitment on both sides to see Meier shine for the Devils. How will that manifest now in the season ahead, when a more established Meier will be playing off the likes of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and more?
Best case: New Jersey is a Cinderella story no more. And that’s a good thing. The Devils are just a good team, and they can parlay that into being a great one throughout an 82-game regular season. What’s next after that? Playoffs. New Jersey got the satisfaction of beating their rival New York Rangers in a first-round series last April. Best case? That outcome again is just an appetizer for the Devils. Instead of tapping out in the second round, New Jersey wields its way to greater heights on the back of Hughes, Bratt and Meier dominating offensively while Dougie Hamilton & Co. lock down the blue line. Vitek Vanecek performs between the pipes and there’s no dip in the Devils’ production as they push their way well into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Worst case: New Jersey folds under the newfound pressure of being a contender. The Devils won’t catch any team off guard this time around and their struggles will be amplified and harder to overcome than they were last season. Frustration settles in when their goaltending tandem of Vanecek and Akira Schmid can’t stand up to the tougher competition and even more cracks begin to show. Eventually, the Devils succumb to their own demons and don’t even reach the second round.
X factor: How will New Jersey’s blue line adjust without Severson and Graves? Severson was traded to Columbus in June and Graves signed with the Penguins as a free agent. Losing both leaves a defense gap with which the Devils will be grappling. New Jersey can expect only so much development out of Luke Hughes and there’s a lot more riding now on Hamilton, John Marino and even Colin Miller to keep New Jersey’s defensive game tight. They’ll need help from the Devils’ forwards, too. Getting beat too easily off the rush has been an issue for New Jersey in the past; if it remains one in their future, that could detract from an otherwise strong season ahead.
Fantasy outlook: Vanecek is the 1A starter, but Schmid showed flashes last season. The crease here should generate value regardless, so earning minutes will determine how much value they each have.
Bold prediction: Hischier wins the Selke Trophy.
Last season: 50-21-11, 111 points. Lost in second round.
Stanley Cup odds: +1000
Key players added: F Max Domi, F Tyler Bertuzzi, D John Klingberg, F Ryan Reaves, G Martin Jones
Key players lost: F Michael Bunting, F Alexander Kerfoot, F Ryan O’Reilly
Most fascinating player: Ilya Samsonov. What a revelation Samsonov was for the Leafs last season. Signed to a one-year deal with low expectations, the 26-year-old quickly took hold of the No. 1 job and turned in the best performance of his career. Now, after an arbitration hearing with Toronto landed him another one-year pact, can Samsonov do it all over again? His .919 SV% and 2.33 GAA in 2022-23 helped keep Toronto consistent right up to the playoffs — during which Samsonov suffered an injury that sidelined him in the second round. Had Samsonov been available — and had the Leafs not been forced to put Joseph Woll in against Florida — would Toronto have come through that second-round series? Is Samsonov that much of a factor in their success? Could be.
Best case: Toronto got over the proverbial hump by beating Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs last season. Check. Done. So, the Leafs must push forward into the next phase — and that’s being Cup contenders. Toronto has the talent to be a top-five team in the league year after year, and it is. The Leafs’ best case is translating all that regular-season success (not to mention optimism) into the playoffs and not being overwhelmed by expectations. General manager Brad Treliving took one major potential distraction off the table by signing Auston Matthews to a four-year extension. And Treliving added some snarl with Ryan Reaves, forward depth in Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, and a solid veteran defender in John Klingberg to bolster the back end. Change can do a team good, and that’s what the Leafs are hoping for here.
Worst case: Another crash and burn in the postseason. The recipe for Toronto is simple: Don’t just make the playoffs; make the most of an opportunity when you get there. And that starts with building chemistry early on and sustaining consistent habits all the way through spring. The Leafs know what’s expected, and they have enough depth to potentially go all the way. Falling short, again, would have to produce more significant alterations to the team than what it already has gone through over the past three months. Patience, it seems, always runs short in Toronto.
X factor: William Nylander. Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe is starting Nylander at center this season instead of on the wing, and that’s enough to challenge any skater. However, this also happens to be a contract year for Nylander — the status for which is already generating headlines of its own. The last time Nylander went up against the Leafs looking for a new deal, it led to a stalemate lasting well into the regular season. Is the uncertainty of what lies ahead for Nylander likely to weigh on him — or the team — as this season stretches on? And how will Nylander handle the added responsibilities, game after game, at the center spot? He has done it in short spurts before but never for a sustained period. There’s a lot riding on Nylander to perform — individually and for the entire team.
Fantasy outlook: Tyler Bertuzzi feels like a natural replacement for Michael Bunting on the top line and could be in for big fantasy boost with his new linemates.
Bold prediction: Toronto wins two playoff rounds.
Last season: 47-21-14, 108 points. Lost in Western Conference finals.
Stanley Cup odds: +1500
Key players added: F Matt Duchene, F Craig Smith, F Sam Steel
Key players lost: F Max Domi, F Luke Glendening
Most fascinating player: Miro Heiskanen. He consistently averages ice times that run longer than an episode of “Abbott Elementary.” He can take on the challenge of facing a top line while being at the controls of a penalty kill and a power-play unit. And now that he showed he can score more than 70 points in a season, Heiskanen has become too hard to ignore. Heiskanen’s all-around performances were one of the reasons the Stars finished a point shy of being the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It was also one of the reasons they were two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final and went from a wild-card entrant that was knocked out in the first round in 2021-22 to entering the 2023-24 season as a team in a championship window.
Best case: Finding a way to build upon what they did last season by at least returning to the Western Conference finals. One of the questions facing the Stars prior to last season was whether they had enough offensive production. Under Peter DeBoer, the Stars had nine players who scored more than 10 goals and were sixth in goals scored. That production carried over into the postseason, which is how they were able to overpower the Wild in the first round, outlast the balanced Seattle Kraken in the second round and pose challenges to the team with the strongest depth in the NHL in the eventual Cup champion Golden Knights. Replicating the Stars success from last season would further legitimize that the Stars are in a championship window.
Worst case: Losing Jake Oettinger to a long-term or season-ending injury. In the span of three seasons, Oettinger has gone from a promising prospect playing in a tandem to being one of the few goaltenders capable of starting more than 60 games at a time in which more NHL teams are using tandems. Oettinger started in 76% of the Stars’ regular-season games while leading the league in starts, in addition to being in the top 10 in shots faced and saves. So what would happen in the event something prevented Oettinger from playing for an extended period? The Stars do have veteran Scott Wedgewood, who has 98 games of NHL experience. Beyond that? The two goalies the Stars have under contract throughout their system — Matt Murray and Remi Poirier — have a combined three games of NHL experience, with all of them belonging to Murray, who made his debut in 2022-23.
X factor: It could depend upon the impact made by Thomas Harley and Nils Lundkvist. Part of the offseason discussion about the Stars has centered around their defense, which in itself is a bit of a complex issue. The Stars’ defense was among the strongest units in both the regular season and playoffs in several 5-on-5 categories. What makes Harley and Lundkvist players to watch is that they could add more layers to the Stars’ defensive dynamic. Harley averaged 0.47 points in the playoffs on a defensive unit that had most of its members average less than 0.31 points in the regular season. A lack of right-handed options is why Heiskanen was moved to the right. That, however, also presents Lundkvist with a chance to potentially challenge Jani Hakanpaa, who is also right-handed, for a top-four role.
Fantasy outlook: New to Dallas on a one-year deal, Matt Duchene is in position to kick his production back into gear after last season’s humdrum campaign in Nashville. Not to the tune of 83 from 2021-22 but definitely more. Defenseman Miro Heiskanen is, far and away, the Stars’ No. 1 fantasy option on the blue line.
Bold prediction: Jake Oettinger wins the Vezina Trophy.
Last season: 42-32-8, 92 points. Lost in Stanley Cup Final.
Stanley Cup odds: +2000
Key players added: D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Niko Mikkola, D Mike Reilly
Key players lost: F Anthony Duclair, F Patric Hornqvist, D Radko Gudas, D Marc Staal, G Alex Lyon
Most fascinating player: Sergei Bobrovsky. Which Bobrovsky will Florida get when the season opens? Will it be the Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie who carried the Panthers in net to an unexpected Stanley Cup Final appearance? Or will Bobrovsky struggle to show up like a $10 million-a-year player should and force Florida into either giving him time to recover or turning the No. 1 job over to someone else? Is there a long leash there from coach Paul Maurice given Bobrovsky’s stunning postseason numbers (.915 SV%, 2.78 GAA)? It’s been a wild ride for Bobrovsky with the Panthers so far, undulating between excellent and exasperating. We’ll see what version of Bobrovsky will show up in 2023-24.
Best case: Florida was the feel-good story of last season when it defied critics (and oddsmakers) to boldly go into the playoffs and all the way from there to a Cup Final. It would be easy to dismiss the Panthers’ success as a one-off feat and assume they won’t recreate it. That would be a mistake. If Bobrovsky can pick up where he left off, and if Matthew Tkachuk plays at the Hart Trophy-like level he did for much of the previous eight months and if the plethora of defensemen GM Bill Zito signed to sustain Florida’s back end perform well while Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour recover from injury, then Florida would (and should) be considered a top contender in the Eastern Conference. The stars have aligned before above these Panthers; there’s no reason it can’t happen again.
Worst case: There’s a long list of things that will need to go right for Florida to touch the success it had last season. It’s not clear how long the Panthers will be without Ekblad and Montour, leaving a gaping hole in the blue line that’s even more pronounced now that Radko Gudas has moved on too. If Florida gets run aground defensively and is leaning too heavily on (A) Bobrovsky and (B) the ability to outscore its own issues every night, that doesn’t project to end well. The worst case for Florida is it starts slow and falls too far out of postseason reach to make the type of Cinderella run that captivated us all in 2022-23. Going from three wins away from a championship to no playoff opportunity at all would be a tough pill to swallow.
X factor: Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Someone has to step up for Florida on the back end. Could that be the veteran? This is a pivotal juncture for the 32-year-old player, who was bought out by Vancouver and now joins a young, hungry Panthers team that recently became familiar with winning. That alone should ignite Ekman-Larsson and help bring out his best game, something we haven’t seen the most of since he was patrolling Arizona’s blue line over five years ago. It’s an opportunity to not only massively impact the Panthers’ back end but also to show the rest of the league that, at least for the time being, Ekman-Larsson can still be an important player for his team.
Fantasy outlook: Injuries to Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour will keep the team’s two best fantasy defenders on the sidelines until what sounds like November or December. It’s a massive opportunity for Gustav Forsling.
Last season: 47-22-13, 107 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +1300
Key players added: F Blake Wheeler, D Erik Gustafsson, G Jonathan Quick
Key players lost: F Patrick Kane, F Vladimir Tarasenko, D Niko Mikkola
Most fascinating player: Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin is the Rangers’ backbone. That’s not to say New York isn’t more than just goaltending; it is. But the team’s success rides heavily on how well Shesterkin performs. There’s nothing wrong with that; Shesterkin has the Vezina Trophy to prove how elite his skill set is. And yet, some have deemed his 2022-23 season a “down” one, even though Shesterkin collected a .916 SV% and 2.48 GAA. Shesterkin simply couldn’t make up for all the Rangers’ shortcomings — but he will be looked at to do so this year anyway. New York is facing a certain amount of transition under new coach Peter Laviolette. Being able to rely on Shesterkin to give New York a chance every night he’s in net — and that’ll be most of them — is something they won’t take for granted.
Best case: New York thrives under Laviolette, and the fresh start provided after a couple of disappointing postseason runs. The Rangers revel in Shesterkin’s excellent play but also get key contributions from their top six forwards — led by Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad — and enjoy another Norris Trophy-type season from Adam Fox on the blue line. The Rangers’ young stars — including Kaapo Kakko — pop off as significant point producers, and there’s no obvious flaws to New York’s new system. Not only does the team make the playoffs, but the Rangers find themselves back again in the mix to push beyond just a first-round showing.
Worst case: The Rangers are counting on depth players like Blake Wheeler and Erik Gustafsson to come in and fill the gaps left behind by exiting skaters. When that doesn’t happen, the Rangers’ lack of contributors becomes an increasing problem. When Laviolette’s tinkering proves unsuccessful, there are questions raised about whether New York was right to even move on from previous bench boss Gerard Gallant. Regardless of how good the Rangers’ offensive core is, they can’t make up for the team’s defensive deficiencies, and New York flames out before the postseason begins.
X factor: Attitude. Chris Kreider has talked about it. There’s a certain chip on the Rangers’ shoulder after the way their previous two seasons have gone, with one ending in the Eastern Conference finals and the other in a first-round exit versus New Jersey. Can’t New York actually use that pain to its advantage now? It’s one thing to talk about being frustrated; it’s another to see the changes made in the wake of failure and not do something about it on the ice, where it actually counts. The Rangers have a chance to rally around their prior disappointment. Would that actually have an effect on their outcome this season? Stranger things have happened. But talk alone is cheap.
Fantasy outlook: The defense remains strong for fantasy, with Adam Fox challenging for best overall among defenders, Jacob Trouba remaining a source for counting stats and K’Andre Miller finding value.
Bold prediction: Kaapo Kakko takes flight and lives up to his draft pedigree.
Last season: 65-12-5, 135 points. Lost in the first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +1800
Key players added: F Milan Lucic, F James van Riemsdyk, D Kevin Shattenkirk
Key players lost: F Patrice Bergeron, F Tyler Bertuzzi, F Nick Foligno, F Taylor Hall, F David Krejci, D Connor Clifton, D Dmitry Orlov
Most fascinating player: Brad Marchand. The newly minted Bruins captain has been one of the team’s most consistent contributors for over a decade, and now he’s taking on a leadership mantle vacated by franchise legend Patrice Bergeron. Will that added responsibility alter how the feisty Marchand conducts himself on the ice? Or will it inspire even better play out of the 35-year-old, who impressively has maintained a near point-per-game output throughout his career to date?
Best case: Boston endured a devastatingly poor finish in the playoffs last season that frankly overshadowed its wildly successful, historically dominant regular season. In a perfect world that disappointment fuels the Bruins’ fire to not only be an Atlantic Division contender but pushes them through a long postseason run from there. That might not include the precursor of another Presidents’ Trophy bid, especially given all the players Boston has lost since last season ended. It might actually be better for the Bruins to build their way up slowly, getting to construct a new identity under second-year coach Jim Montgomery and rallying around their impressive core helmed by Linus Ullmark, Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Marchand and more. There’s a great deal of talent in the Bruins’ ranks; best-case scenario is they make the most of it.
Worst case: It’s not easy replacing the number of key players Boston had to let walk out the door. GM Don Sweeney was hamstrung by a lack of cap space and that (partially) led to Orlov, Clifton, Hall and Bertuzzi exiting the organization. Bergeron and Krejci have retired. There are clear holes Boston must fill in the lineup, and the players Sweeney did add are all veterans in the later stages of their careers who can best be expected to contribute in depth roles. That might not be a recipe for success in the increasingly competitive Atlantic, where teams like Buffalo, Ottawa and Detroit will be right in the mix for a playoff spot when they weren’t before. The Bruins could fall behind early in that race and never recover, finally fulfilling the yearly prophecy from outside voices that they are, in fact, no longer able to keep pace with the up-and-comers around them.
X factor: Charlie McAvoy (and the Bruins’ defense). It still feels like McAvoy doesn’t earn enough attention for how good he is patrolling Boston’s back end. This season will require the most out of all the Bruins’ best players, but eyes will be on the likes of McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm (another under-the-radar defender) to help stabilize Boston early on when there could be some growing pains with the skaters being introduced up front. The Bruins lost some physicality with Clifton going to the Sabres, and the now-departed Orlov was a superb pickup for them at the trade deadline last spring. Now it’s on Boston’s incumbents to pick up the slack, helping the Bruins keep from (possibly) missing a beat.
Fantasy outlook: Replacing the total lost offensive talent of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci won’t be simple, as Charlie Coyle and James van Riemsdyk are next up for the scoring lines. Brad Marchand might not rebound from his 129th overall showing last season, but Charlie McAvoy might improve on his 92nd-place finish.
Bold prediction: Contrary to popular prediction, the Bruins make the playoffs.
Last season: 46-30-6, 98 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +2200
Key players added: F Luke Glendening, F Tyler Motte, F Conor Sheary
Key players lost: F Corey Perry, F Alex Killorn, F Pat Maroon, F Ross Colton
Most fascinating player: Victor Hedman. Tampa Bay is going to need everything out of Hedman now that Andrei Vasilevskiy is going to miss significant time with an injury. Hedman has been the Lightning’s backbone on the blue line (and elsewhere) for essentially his entire career. But the pressure on Hedman to be Tampa Bay’s top blueliner will only be amplified now with Vasilevskiy out. Hedman is 32. He’s battled injuries, and the 24-plus minutes per game the veteran is averaging don’t come without significant wear and tear on a nightly basis. Still, who can count out a talent like Hedman? The way he supports the Lightning at 5-on-5 and both special teams units is nothing short of impressive. What can he offer the Lightning now — when they’re a little more down and out?
Best case: Tampa Bay set the bar high with two Stanley Cup wins and a Cup Final appearance since 2020. Given the loss of Vasilevskiy in net and the void left by Alex Killorn departing in free agency, the best case for Tampa would be seeing its depth start to shine long before the playoffs. Brandon Hagel and Tanner Jeannot explode in top-six or top-nine roles that take some pressure off the Lightning back end and allow the team time to establish a strong identity amid some changes (particularly up front). By the time Vasilevskiy is able to come back, the Lightning are still on the playoff bubble and ready to challenge for an Eastern Conference slot.
Worst case: Tampa Bay can’t overcome the early roadblocks in its way, and that ultimately decides where the Lightning end up — outside the playoffs for the first time since Jon Cooper took over as the club’s full-time head coach. Distractions abound with Vasilevskiy’s injury and Steven Stamkos‘ contentious contract extension talks. And then there’s the state of Tampa Bay’s defense if Hedman can’t be their usual workhorse. Will Mikhail Sergachev be able to fill in and carry a heavier load? Has Tampa Bay lost too many of its veteran voices in Killorn and Maroon especially that it can’t fight through the inevitable rough patches ahead? This could be the year we see the Lightning window truly begin to close.
X factor: Nikita Kucherov. Any success the Lightning have offensively is bound to be driven by Kucherov. He is still one of the league’s most dynamic, dominant forwards (Kucherov just pocketed 113 points in 82 games last season) and can do a great deal to buoy any lagging confidence his team has in itself with some singularly stellar individual performances. It’s rare that one player can genuinely be a difference-maker night after night, particularly when Atlantic rosters around the Lightning have been beefed up over the last few months, but Kucherov has the firepower to flip every switch on for Tampa Bay. They might need that more than ever this year.
Fantasy outlook: Mikhail Sergachev will be pushing Hedman for a larger share of the pie again, and he earned it last season, beating Hedman for overall value.
Bold prediction: The Lightning miss the playoffs.
Last season: 47-25-10, 104 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +2000
Key players added: F Pierre-Luc Dubois, D Vladislav Gavrikov, F Trevor Lewis, G David Rittich, G Cam Talbot
Key players lost: D Sean Durzi, D Alexander Edler, F Alex Iafallo, G Joonas Korpisalo, F Rasmus Kupari, F Gabriel Vilardi
Most fascinating player: Dubois. Another offseason. Another move by the Kings to signal that they are trying to win now. Kings GM Rob Blake was willing to part with quite a bit to trade for Dubois and then sign him to an eight-year contract worth $8.5 million annually. Getting Dubois accomplished a few items for the Kings. The first is that it places them in the discussion for one of the strongest center situations in the NHL in Phillip Danault, Anze Kopitar and Dubois anchoring their top three lines. Another element that comes with getting Dubois is that the Kings now have another top-six forward who they believe can help them now and in the future contend for what they feel has a chance to be a lengthy championship window.
Best case: Slaying the dragon that is the first round. Practically every conversation around the Kings seeking to win a third Stanley Cup at some point comes back to the fact that getting beyond the first round has been an issue. Their two most recent postseason campaigns saw them get eliminated by the Oilers in the first round — a place they have failed to escape since the 2013-14 season when they won their second Cup in three years. Advancing beyond the first round would not only see the Kings clear a near-decade long hurdle, but it would also see them gain a firmer grasp of a challenging Western Conference landscape.
Worst case: It really would be losing in the first round for a third straight season. Part of it stems from the fact they have been aggressive over the last few seasons by going after players such as Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Gavrikov, Danualt and Dubois. Another element is the fact that the Kings are about to face some considerable salary cap decisions when the next offseason arrives. Arvidsson along with all three goalies in Pheonix Copley, David Rittich and Cam Talbot are members of a five-player UFA class. Prospects such as Quinton Byfield, Blake Lizotte and Arthur Kaliyev are part of a five-player RFA class in need of new contracts for a team that CapFriendly projects will have $23.3 million in available cap space to address their roster needs.
X factor: The dynamic with their goaltenders. Finding what they believed to be their strongest tandem became a season-long narrative for the Kings. They were hindered by a disconnect between a defensive structure that was top 10 in fewest shots allowed per 60, fewest scoring chances allowed per 60, fewest high-danger scoring chances per 60 and what proved to be porous goaltending. They used the deadline to address those concerns and were active again in the offseason by signing Rittich and Talbot. Having those two along with Copley gives three experienced options that only costs them $3.375 million in cap space for a team that’s trying to find consistency in net.
Fantasy outlook: Those interested in a sleeper asset up front might give Quinton Byfield a long look. After two part-time seasons with the Kings, the 21-year-old is expected to kick it up a notch, enjoying a regular shot to compete within this club’s impressive top six.
Bold prediction: Talbot proves to be the answer in goal.
Last season: 46-25-11, 103 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +3500
Key players added: F Patrick Maroon
Key players lost: D Matt Dumba, D John Klingberg, F Gustav Nyquist, F Oskar Sundqvist, F Sam Steel
Most fascinating player: Filip Gustavsson. Going from being the No. 3 goaltender in Ottawa to operating in tandem with a presumed future Hall of Fame inductee in Marc-Andre Fleury is the most succinct way to describe Gustavsson’s arc. He would ultimately overtake Fleury, which was the case in the playoffs when he won twice in his five playoff appearances before the Wild were ultimately eliminated in the first round. Gustavsson then signed a three-year extension to give the Wild an option in net for the future with the 38-year-old Fleury in the final year of his deal while Jesper Wallstedt, their first-round pick from 2021, continues his development in the AHL.
Best case: Reaching the playoffs for a fifth straight season would be a start. So would the idea of winning an opening-round series for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Getting beyond that familiar hurdle could be hypothetically accomplished if the Wild can find a way to create the offensive consistency that eluded them throughout the majority of last season. It was evident in that first-round series against the Stars that also saw the Wild finish the playoffs with the fewest shots per 60 and third-fewest goals per 60 in 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Worst case: If they miss the playoffs or have a fifth straight first-round exit because of a lack of offense. One of the largest challenges the Wild faced in trying to address their offensive issues was a lack of cap space given the combined Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts will cost them $14.7 million in 2023-24 and again in 2024-25. It’s what further amplifies the need for the Wild to find even more production from a roster that went through more subtractions in the offseason than it did with Patrick Maroon being their lone addition.
X factor: What sort of impact could Brock Faber and Marco Rossi have on a team in need of contributions from players on cheap deals? Faber provided insight into how he could help the Wild after he signed his ELC following the completion of the Golden Gophers’ season that ended with a national title game defeat. He averaged 20 minutes in two regular-season games before logging more than 14 minutes in six playoff games. Rossi recorded one point — an assist — in 19 games with the Wild before going to the AHL where he scored 16 goals and averaged 0.96 points in 53 games. Given the offseason departures and the need to find contributors to fill those needs, it appears Faber and Rossi both have a chance to make a significant impact for the Wild.
Fantasy outlook: Young blueliner Calen Addison operates as an off-radar asset in fantasy competition that favors power-play points. The now 23-year-old led the Wild’s blue line with 18 power-play points, and it wasn’t even close, in just 62 games last year — his first full NHL campaign.
Bold prediction: Bill Guerin becomes a sneaky seller.
Last season: 40-31-11, 91 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +2500
Key players added: F Noel Acciari, F Lars Eller, F Reilly Smith, D Ryan Graves, D Erik Karlsson
Key players lost: F Jason Zucker, D Brian Dumoulin, D Jeff Petry, G Casey DeSmith
Most fascinating player: Erik Karlsson. Is there any question who everyone will be watching when Pittsburgh takes the ice for opening night? Karlsson is in the middle of a career renaissance, and he’s linking up with some of the NHL’s most storied players of the past decade in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. What will Karlsson bring to the group? He’s capable of taking on any role at 5-on-5 and on special teams, plus he’s got the hunger to finally chase down an elusive Stanley Cup championship. Karlsson ended up in a place with recent playoff pedigree, but the Penguins need Karlsson to be on top of his game (again) to get there. Can he prove the 2023 Norris Trophy win was no fluke with another jaw-dropping season?
Best case: Pittsburgh is determined to avoid another embarrassing non-playoff finish and overcompensates entirely with a standout season from start to finish. Karlsson transitions without issue into a prominent role on the blue line, while Crosby and Malkin turn back the clock with vintage performances of their own. Tristan Jarry stands tall as the team’s No. 1 netminder, and coach Mike Sullivan gets the most out of the Penguins’ depth both up front and on the blue line. Pittsburgh works its way back to the postseason and goes on a surprisingly long run fueled by its veteran leaders.
Worst case: Time catches up with everyone, and every team, eventually. That happens now to Pittsburgh. Instead of slowly sliding out of playoff contention, the Penguins are never even in the hunt as it’s clear from the outset they can’t keep up with the Eastern Conference’s fast-paced risers. Jarry shows he can’t carry the load in goal and frustration sets in for Crosby & Co. watching the team struggle its way through another season. GM Kyle Dubas starts exploring trade options early, and by mid-February is already offloading players in an effort to set Pittsburgh up for something better in the future.
X factor: Tristan Jarry. Dubas took a chance on Jarry when he re-signed Pittsburgh’s incumbent to a five-year, $26.8 million deal in July. It wasn’t that Jarry was awful in 2022-23 (he produced a .909 SV% and 2.90 GAA) but it was his lack of timely saves and big performances at the right moments which drew criticism (not to mention he has been through spells of injury problems). To reward the 28-year-old with a lucrative, long-term deal adds plenty of pressure on Jarry going into a pivotal season for the Penguins. Will that ultimately affect his mindset? Or will Jarry thrive now that he knows the organization is behind him? It’s a fine line to walk with goaltenders. Pittsburgh should find out quickly whether Dubas was right to bet on Jarry again.
Bold prediction: Erik Karlsson plays a “complete” style.
Last season: 46-28-8, 100 points. Lost in second round.
Stanley Cup odds: +4000
Key players added: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Brian Dumoulin, F Kailer Yamamoto
Key players lost: F Ryan Donato, F Joonas Donskoi, F Morgan Geekie, G Martin Jones, D Carson Soucy, F Daniel Sprong
Most fascinating player: Philipp Grubauer. What allows Grubauer to be in this position is what he showed in the playoffs compared to the postseason. Since Grubauer signed that six-year contract worth $5.9 million in free agency, injuries and inconsistencies have led to him fielding a 3.01 GAA and a 0.892 save percentage. Yet what he accomplished in the playoffs beyond his 2.99 GAA and a .903 save percentage he posted is what creates intrigue. He was one of the main reasons why the Kraken upset the then-reigning Cup champion Avalanche in the first round and were a game away from the Western Conference final before losing to the Stars.
Best case: Returning to at least the second round of the playoffs. Going from a lottery team in their first year of existence to a game away from the conference final the following season is proof that much can change in a year. Showing they are a consistent playoff team that can win at least one round appears to be the goal for the Kraken at a time in which the most recent Cup champions in the Avs and Golden Knights shows the path for a title — as of this moment — appears to be running through the Western Conference.
Worst case: Any sort of regression. Wide-ranging as that might be, it’s something to consider when it comes to what the Kraken could achieve in Year 3. What does Calder Trophy winner and NHL All-Star Game selection Matty Beniers do for a follow up act? How does Vince Dunn build upon a career year that saw him earn a long-term contract while further proving he could handle the demands of being a top-pairing defenseman? Does the scoring depth the Kraken used throughout the regular season and playoffs continue or will the production be harder to generate?
X factor: How much of an impact can Chris Driedger have? Driedger missed the entire 2022-23 season recovering from a knee injury he sustained at the IIHF Men’s World Championships in 2022. His injury led to the Kraken signing Martin Jones, who won a team-high 27 games before Grubauer was their full-time starter in the playoffs. Jones left in free agency, which means the Kraken will turn to either Driedger, who will start the season in the AHL, or Joey Daccord as the backup.
Fantasy outlook: Top center Matty Beniers appears on the upswing after bursting forth with 24 goals and 33 helpers in his rookie season. The reigning Calder winner projects to eclipse 65 points in his sophomore campaign.
Bold prediction: The Kraken take a step back, miss the playoffs.
Most fascinating player: Rasmus Dahlin. Here’s a 23-year-old defenseman entering a contract year after a breakout season where he tallied 73 points in 78 games and rightly earned Norris Trophy buzz throughout. Dahlin carries himself with veteran swagger and truly seems invested in sticking with the Sabres long-term because of their potential to finally turn the corner and become a perennial contender. Buffalo saw last season how, when its defensive details faltered, so did its success in the win column. Dahlin seems poised to fix that this year, and elevate not only the Sabres’ back end but his own stock as a Norris contender again. Is that too much pressure for someone Dahlin’s age (and with the added expectations of negotiating a new deal)? Time will tell.
Best case: Buffalo makes the playoffs. That’s it. There is nothing (on paper) holding the Sabres back from ending the 12-year postseason drought looming over their organization like an unmovable black cloud. Buffalo has the young talents (see: Dahlin, Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, Mattias Samuelsson, etc) and veteran presences (i.e. Kyle Okposo, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Tuch) to produce a complementary mix up front and on the blue line. There’s significant buy-in from Buffalo’s players to the identity and culture they’ve been cultivating under GM Kevyn Adams and head coach Don Granato. This is when the Sabres have to make good on their potential and show why a slow-and-steady rebuild was the correct path to their eventual sustained success.
Worst case: The Sabres fall short, again. Their playoff dry spell hits 13 seasons and it shakes the core foundation of what the franchise thought it was creating through the last several years of patience with its process. While players have outwardly stated they’re ready to take on those additional expectations (both internal and external), it’s easier said than done — particularly when a club runs up against inevitable tough stretches and injury issues. If Buffalo can’t weather the storms better than it has in the past — think of how that stretch of winning one game out of nine in March derailed its postseason hopes last year — then the Sabres find themselves sitting in disappointment once more as the clock keeps running on their time to step up and make some noise.
X factor: Goaltending. The Sabres are counting on youngsters like Devon Levi (age: 21) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (24) to take the reigns from previous incumbents like Anderson (who had a late-career surge in Buffalo over the last couple years). Granato has said he wouldn’t bet against Levi being able to take over the Sabres’ starting job and Levi did produce a .905 SV% and 2.94 GAA in seven NHL appearances during the 2022-23 season. But will Levi and Luukkonen combine to be a strong enough tandem to carry Buffalo where it wants to go? Or will netminding ultimately doom the Sabres to a lesser outcome in the standings than they’re aiming towards? For a team desperately trying to get its foot in the door, the margin for error at any position is slim.
Fantasy outlook: By not going another route in the offseason, the Sabres have indicated a willingness to let Levi take the ball and run with it as the starter. Given the talent up front, there’s a ton of potential value packed in Levi as a fantasy pick.
Last season: 42-31-9, 93 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +5000
Key players added: None
Key players lost: F Josh Bailey
Most fascinating player: Mathew Barzal. What can we make of Barzal’s contributions up until now for the Islanders? He’s consistently producing more assists than goals and averages a decent point total year over year, but where is Barzal’s impact truly felt? Is he the game-changing forward stats (on their face) might suggest? And if so, why haven’t the Islanders had more success since he’s been in the fold? There’s no question Barzal is a top-end puck mover, but is he driving play enough? Is there more to be expected from him? There’s intrigue around him going into this year given how little GM Lou Lamoriello did to upgrade the Islanders beyond re-signing some of their own players. If Barzal could have a breakout season of sorts where he’s scoring timely goals and being a greater playmaker? That’s big.
Best case: The Islanders’ commitment to their own pays off. Ilya Sorokin — fresh from signing an eight-year extension — puts on a Vezina Trophy-worthy show to guide New York into the postseason, where they battle through a couple rounds. Bo Horvat showcases more than just a flash or two of his best self and drives the Islanders’ offense in the way his capabilities have proven, in the past, that he can. The Islanders see sustained growth from some of their young studs — including Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson — and the momentum gives the organization hope for a bright future beyond just this coming season.
Worst case: New York’s season is as stagnant as its offseason signings. The team sputters immediately and even Sorokin’s brilliance can’t make up for a lack of offense and general star power at either end of the ice. Horvat wilts under the pressure to step up and Barzal doesn’t evolve enough to help the team change course. Coach Lane Lambert loses the room, and New York falls into the mushy middle where it remains until the regular season ends — without a postseason bid.
X factor: Special teams. New York iced the third-worst power play in the NHL last season, lowest by far of any team that went to the playoffs. Even Dobson has admitted the Islanders “lost their confidence” there as things continued to spiral out of control (losing Barzal to injury certainly didn’t boost New York’s prospects there, either). It’s hard to keep pace with the league’s best teams when you can’t put pucks in with the man advantage. The Islanders must see improvements there in order to be a competitive team — not just in the regular season but if the playoffs are in their future, as well. The Islanders can’t be in their own heads again and let power play chances be a hindrance instead of a help.
Fantasy outlook: A healthy Barzal hasn’t had a heck of a lot of time to gel with Horvat, so the hope is that the latter can prop up Barzal’s stagnated value in recent seasons. If they stick together, there will be a golden opportunity on the other wing for someone — and Wahlstrom has the inside track.
Bold prediction: Barzal grows his hair back.
Most fascinating player: Elias Lindholm. Does he stay? Does he go? What does a future with him in Calgary look like? What does a future without him in Calgary look like? Lindholm, who is part of an eight-player UFA class, is expected to give the Flames a decision regarding his future at some point. Should he opt to stay, the Flames would be retaining one of their most important forwards considering Lindholm was second on the team in points and can log significant ice time on both special teams units. Yet if he chooses to depart, it would leave the Flames once again searching for a way to fill the void left by another key member of their lineup.
Best case: Getting into the playoffs and winning a first-round series allows those players who are still undecided about staying the green light to continue with the Flames. Part of what makes the Flames’ current situation so cumbersome is that for the players who could be elsewhere, they have the same amount of players who are under contract for at least two more seasons which represents a long-term plan. It’s possible that a strong regular season coupled with a postseason run could serve as a potential retainment tool as the Flames look to create even more roster continuity.
Worst case: Missing the playoffs while failing to capitalize on the opportunity to trade any one of those pending UFAs for draft capital could be the answer. Even for all the challenges they faced last season, the Flames were still two points away from being in the final wild-card spot and qualifying for the playoffs for a consecutive season. Couple that with the fact they have a few decisions to make regarding a number of their UFAs and it reinforces how the 2023-24 season has a chance to be a pivotal one for the Flames’ current and future plans.
X factor: Was last April a stepping stone for Jacob Markstrom? Finding consistency proved to be a season-long issue for Markstrom, who finished with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. Those were the lowest marks he’s recorded since establishing himself as a full-time goalie in the 2015-16 season. Something that could create optimism regarding what he could achieve in 2023-24 is how he performed in April. Despite going 1-1-2, Markstrom had a 2.47 GAA and a .915 save percentage in five appearances. Even though it was not the largest sample size, it was still the highest save percentage and second-highest GAA that Markstrom recorded in any month.
Fantasy outlook: Get ready for Jonathan Huberdeau to rebound after hemorrhaging 70 points from the previous season in Florida. No, he won’t collect 115 again, but 75-80 feels well within reach, skating on a line with top center Lindholm.
Most fascinating player: Korpisalo. Ottawa has been waiting on a No. 1 stud to take over the net. GM Pierre Dorion tried to fill in that gap with Cam Talbot and the veteran failed to deliver. Now he’s got Korpisalo stepping into his first true starting job. Will he be the savior these Senators have been longing for, one of the missing pieces in Ottawa’s long journey back to being a playoff-caliber team? Korpisalo was primarily a backup in Columbus and through his brief stint with the Kings post-trade deadline last spring. Yet his numbers (.904 SV%, 3.01 GAA) are relatively strong. Can Korpisalo — in tandem with Anton Forsberg — elevate Ottawa in an area they’ve been perennially struggling with? That could be a difference-maker in their outcomes this season.
Best case: Ottawa makes the playoffs. It’s been a long time coming. There’s been enough talk about how the Senators structured their rebuild, how they drafted and developed talent (starting with Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, among others), how they’ve been patient in attacking roster construction. All of the things. It’s about time Ottawa saw the fruits of its labors. A healthy Josh Norris — who missed almost all of last season with injury — and Artem Zub will have a major impact on Ottawa upfront and across the blue line. Dorion went about addressing the Senators’ goaltending in the offseason and with the team’s sale done and approved, there are no distractions. This is Ottawa’s moment.
Worst case: Well, Ottawa doesn’t make the playoffs. Whether due to injuries stacking up (again), or just an inability to build chemistry and reach its potential. Doesn’t matter why, really. If the Senators aren’t at least in the postseason race to the end then it will be hard for Dorion to not just keep his own job, but stick behind coach DJ Smith another season on top of it. The Senators and their fans have been waiting a long time to reach this sort of pinnacle. Letting another season go by without anything to show for it by way of a postseason bid would simply not be good enough for anyone inside or outside the organization.
X factor: Jakob Chychrun. When the long-time Arizona defender finally moved on elsewhere it was to an Ottawa team that fully embraced having a blueliner of his ability on their side. The Senators just want to see Chychrun at his best — and they’re still waiting. After being traded to Canada’s capital city, Chychrun played in just 12 games before missing the rest of the year with an injury. The five points he produced in that span was significantly less than the sort of impact Ottawa is rightly expecting from him. The Senators can’t be the contenders they want — and need — to be without Chychrun playing like he’s capable of (see: 41 points in 56 games in 2020-21). Will he get back there? That’s the question.
Bold prediction: The Senators make the playoffs.
Last season: 46-33-3, 95 points. Lost in first round.
Stanley Cup odds: +5000
Key players added: G Laurent Brossoit, F Alex Iafallo, F Rasmus Kupari, F Gabriel Vilardi
Key players lost: F Pierre-Luc Dubois, G David Rittich, F Blake Wheeler
Most fascinating player: Connor Hellebuyck. He’s a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate who’s become the sort of nightly fixture that can be trusted to start more than 60 games a season. His performances can oftentimes be the difference between reaching the playoffs or missing out on them entirely. What Hellebuyck has accomplished has made him one of, if not the, most crucial player the Jets have in their annual bid to reach the postseason. And similar to a number of his teammates, Hellebuyck is in the final year of his contract.
Best case: In terms of the regular season? Getting to the playoffs and advancing beyond the first round for the first time since the 2020-21 season would be one answer. In terms of their roster? That onto itself is a more complex discussion. Trading Pierre-Luc Dubois while placing former captain Blake Wheeler on waivers were the first major changes for a roster that could be significantly altered over the coming months. Assessing what happens next when it comes to the six players in the last years of their contract is a dilemma that is seeking a resolution.
Worst case: In terms of the regular season? Missing the playoffs or reaching the playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round is also an answer. As for their roster? It’s plausible the answer could hinge upon what happens with their six-player pending UFA class. Brenden Dillon, Nino Niederreiter, Mark Scheifele and Hellebuyck are part of that group entering the final years of their contracts for a team that has decisions to make. Receiving the sort of return that can either help them now which was the case in the Dubois trade or aid them later would plausibly soften the blow of the Jets losing those players. Watching them leave without receiving anything in return beyond freeing up cap space, however, could prove problematic given the Jets only have 20 out of a possible 21 draft picks over the next three cycles.
X factor: A healthy Cole Perfetti would hypothetically give the Jets another option now that they are trying to recoup the production they lost by moving on from Dubois and Wheeler. Ever since they drafted Perfetti in the first round in 2020, the Jets haven’t been able to receive the firmest grasp when it comes to what Perfetti can provide. Injuries limited him to seven points in 18 games during the 2021-22 season while the 2022-23 saw him score eight goals and have 30 points in 51 games before he was moved to injured reserve in February.
Fantasy outlook: With Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler sent packing, youngsters Perfetti and Gabriel Vilardi have ripe opportunities to carve out permanent roles within the Jets’ top six. As second-line center in the case of Perfetti, and somewhere on the wing for Vilardi.
Bold prediction: Hellebuyck re-signs in Winnipeg.
Last season: 35-37-10, 80 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +7500
Key players added: F Alex DeBrincat, F J.T. Compher, F Klim Kostin, F Daniel Sprong, D Shayne Gostisbehere, D Jeff Petry, G James Reimer
Key players lost: F Dominik Kubalik, F Filip Zadina, G Alex Nedeljkovic
Most fascinating player: DeBrincat. How do you not wonder about what DeBrincat will do for Detroit’s offense? The Red Wings haven’t produced a 40-goal scorer since Marian Hossa hit the mark in 2008-09. That was in Detroit’s heyday of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. Can DeBrincat help ignite the Red Wings’ up front and recapture some of that former glory? It was just two years ago in Chicago that the 24-year-old winger topped out at 41 goals, and he’ll be surrounded by greater talents even in Detroit than he had with Blackhawks (no disrespect to Patrick Kane, of course). DeBrincat wanted a fresh start after his lone season in Ottawa last year, and going home to the Detroit area seems like a perfect match between player and team.
Best case: Detroit’s been biding its time getting back into contender mode. GM Steve Yzerman looks to have his proverbial ducks in a row now for the Red Wings to be back in that space. Yzerman’s club hasn’t reached playoffs since 2016 and the aggressive nature of Detroit’s last two offseasons — adding top-tier young skaters like DeBrincat, rising studs like Ville Husso and veteran voices with David Perron — has all pointed them in a strong direction. Best case scenario now is that it includes a postseason berth. Patience is a virtue, but it’s also got to yield results, too. The Red Wings haven’t shied away from recognizing their flaws and addressing them, like swapping out Nedeljkovic for a seasoned veteran in Reimer to play behind Husso. Detroit looks ready to announce itself onto the postseason stage again.
Worst case: Yzerman wasn’t making moves to improve Detroit at the trade deadline last spring. He — and the team — knew they wouldn’t get over the hump and be a playoff club by April. History repeating itself for an eighth straight year in 2023-24 could spell a disaster of sorts. Detroit can’t have lesser expectations than playoffs given how stacked its roster is at nearly every position compared to where it’s been in years past. Even if injuries pile up there’s ample depth in the Red Wings’ ranks, too, which should keep them from stumbling too hard. Detroit failing to reach its own potential in the coming season could leave ownership no choice but to make changes internally, something that might lead to unnecessary (not to mention destabilizing) turmoil for the team.
X factor: Derek Lalonde. Yzerman inserted the former Tampa Bay Lightning assistant into Detroit’s head-coaching job ahead of last season, and that was a clear learning experience for Lalonde. How can he be better now behind the bench and help these Red Wings rise? Detroit’s special teams improved slightly last season over the previous campaign, and there were improvements made on the defensive side as well. But for Detroit to overtake some of the other Eastern Conference power players and work its way into the playoff picture, its coach has to be pushing the right buttons. Can Lalonde maximize the Red Wings roster and get the most out of their top talents in particular?
Fantasy outlook: With an upgraded defense, Husso is a candidate to rebound from a disappointing debut after the Red Wings invested in him last offseason.
Last season: 42-32-8, 92 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +7500
Key players added: F Gustav Nyquist, F Ryan O’Reilly, D Luke Schenn
Key players lost: F Matt Duchene, F Ryan Johansen
Most fascinating player: O’Reilly. Never mind the fact he’s considered to be one of the game’s premier two-way centers. The case can be made that O’Reilly and his decision to sign a four-year contract with the Predators represents something. Exactly what it represents is the mystery and that’s the point. Back in March, the Predators used the trade deadline to hit a reset button of sorts which allowed David Poile to set the stage for his heir, Barry Trotz, to take over as the club’s GM. Trotz kept it going by trading Johansen and placing Matt Duchene on waivers. Only to then place the Preds in a position to have one of the more surprising hauls by signing three veterans led by O’Reilly which has led to questions about if the Preds could plausibly be in contention for the playoffs after last’s absence snapped an eight-year postseason streak.
Best case: New Predators coach Andrew Brunette’s prolific philosophies provide the roster with the sort of goals that eluded them last season. And if that happens? It’s possible that Brunette’s tactics could lead to the Predators returning to the postseason. Even with the trades they made at the deadline plus Johansen being out since February, the Predators still finished three points shy of the final wild-card spot. Brunette’s time as the interim coach of the Panthers, along with his lone year as a Devils assistant, saw both teams finish among the top 10 in the league in a number of offensive categories. Getting those sorts of results for a team that missed the playoffs by three points while having a minus-9 goal differential could prove crucial in Brunette’s first year behind the bench.
Worst case: Does one really exist? Let’s say the Predators miss the playoffs. It’s a consecutive campaign without the postseason for a team that was already considered by some to be a bit of a guessing game when it came to the playoffs. If that happens, then, the Predators can continue to stockpile more draft capital and/or prospects considering they have nine pending UFAs led by Tyson Barrie who could be moved at or ahead of the trade deadline. So what happens if they do make the playoffs? Then the question becomes: Can the Preds make it out of the first round for the first time since the 2017-18 season?
X factor: How much support will Juuse Saros receive this season? No goaltender played more games, logged more minutes, faced more shots and made more saves than Saros during the 2022-23 season. What he’s accomplished since taking over as the team’s full-time starter is give the Predators a goaltender who is capable of starting more than 60 times in a season at a time in which more teams are shifting to tandems. Providing Saros with more support either in the form of facing fewer shots or scoring more goals could lessen the burden carried by one of the NHL’s premier goaltenders.
Fantasy outlook: Second-line winger Tommy Novak is looking to replicate, if not better, last season’s unanticipated haul of 43 points in 51 games. There’s no reason to believe Novak can’t again flirt with a similar pace, but this time through a full run in the NHL.
Bold prediction: The Predators make the playoffs.
Most fascinating player: Alex Ovechkin. Who isn’t enthralled by Ovechkin and his continued milestone chase? How often is there a player in the league within legitimate striking distance of setting new benchmarks and re-writing history books on a nightly basis? It’s impossible not to get caught up in that, whether you’re rooting for Ovechkin to usurp Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s top all-time goal scorer or not. Washington didn’t have much else to be optimistic about last year beyond Ovechkin pumping in goals to get him closer to Gretzky’s mark. There’s little doubt Ovechkin’s continued prowess will draw everyone in again, regardless of how the Capitals are doing around him.
Best case: Washington GM Brian MacLellan made the right call trading players away at the deadline last season and letting the Capitals slide out of the playoff field. The changes made since then all combine now to boost Washington back into contending status. First-year head coach Spencer Carbery hits the ground running with a strong first month of the season to set Washington up well. Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Tom Wilson — who all missed significant time with injuries last season — are stronger than ever and remain healthy for a full 82-game season. Pacioretty is back on the ice too and supports the Capitals’ offense enough to see them back into the postseason. And of course, Ovechkin gets closer to his next milestone.
Worst case: Washington gets off the ground but never takes flight. Its top talents have lost a step against the league’s tougher competition, and Carbery can’t find the right combinations up front to steer Washington out of its skid. Evgeny Kuznetsov remains disgruntled with his place in the organization and that seeps into his diminished play on the ice. The Capitals can’t gain any momentum and it’s obvious they’re done before their calendar flips to 2024.
X factor: It’s all about the veterans — namely Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov. What more do they have to give the Capitals now? Backstrom has put his body through a recent hip resurfacing. Oshie missed the end of last season with injury and underwent a double ablation surgery in the offseason. And Kuznetsov admitted to a lingering back issue that hindered him most of last season. Plus, there’s Pacioretty’s condition coming off two torn Achilles. If those types of problems crop up again, how will the Capitals cope? Is there enough depth to patch the holes? Washington is in a precarious position as it is with the number of 30-somethings it leans on every night. Last season showed how fast the wheels fall off without some of those key players. Is Washington doomed to face a similar fate this season?
Bold prediction: Ovechkin will score his 850th career goal Jan. 18, 2024.
Last season: 38-37-7, 83 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +7500
Key players added: F Teddy Blueger, D Ian Cole, D Carson Soucy, F Pius Suter
Key players lost: G Collin Delia, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Most fascinating player: Filip Hronek. There’s no shortage of candidates, yet what might give Hronek the edge is all the moving pieces involved with his situation. It starts with the fact that the Canucks parted with two picks — namely the first-rounder they received in the Bo Horvat trade to get Hronek. Then there’s the fact he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury that limited his time with the Canucks to four games. Finally, a healthy Hronek proved to be the first move in the Canucks’ attempt to revamp their defense beyond Quinn Hughes. Since getting Hronek in a trade, the Canucks used the offseason to sign Cole and Soucy with the aim those collective arrives can help a defensive unit that fielded the NHL’s worst penalty kill with a 71.6% success rate in addition to being seventh in goals allowed per 60 in 5-on-5 play.
Best case: Any of the progress Rick Tocchet made can manifest itself over an entire season that could see them in the wild-card hunt. It starts with the notion the Canucks won 20 of their 36 games with Tocchet on the bench. That was the 12th most victories in the NHL during that time. Even though the Canucks are still in cap limbo, they addressed their needs by getting a pair of two-way forwards such as Blueger and Suter in addition to defensemen such as Cole and Soucy. If the Canucks can harness what they did under Tocchet, show signs of defensive improvement all while remaining above league average in goals scored? It’s possible they could be among the teams pushing for a playoff spot.
Worst case: None of the progress Tocchet made manifests itself over an entire season which would bring the franchise back to where they were when they fired Bruce Boudreau and hired Tocchet in the first place. Last offseason, there was the expectation that the Canucks could be among the teams to challenge for a playoff spot only to end up closer to a lottery spot rather than one in the postseason. It leaves the Canucks hypothetically facing two realities: One in which they find a way to extend what they did in the late part of last season into something that comes with long-term results. Or? The second is they’re forced to once again search for the answer to the question of what will it take for them to find the success that has eluded them?
X factor: What about the Canucks’ goaltending? Last season, they used four goaltenders to get through a season that saw three of them play in more than 20 games. Of the three who had more than 20 games, none of them finished with a GAA below 3.00 with Thatcher Demko being the only one with a save percentage of more than .900 with a .901 mark. Demko and Spencer Martin are back with the notion that any improvements they show could play a major role in the Canucks trying to overcome the defensive challenges that plagued them throughout all of last season.
Fantasy outlook: Now healthy, Demko will have an easier time of it with new defenders Cole and Soucy aboard. The Canucks were significantly better defensively once Tocchet took over midseason. Poised to earn around 60 starts, Demko presents as a top-15 fantasy goalie once more.
Most fascinating player: Adam Fantilli. Columbus needs a feel-good story to rally around. Fantilli could be it. The Blue Jackets’ third overall pick is an exciting center prospect who should get a chance to showcase his talent early and often for the Blue Jackets. He’s already shown some of that in the preseason, scoring his first goal in a Columbus uniform and appearing focused on transitioning seamlessly to the regular season. What happens for Fantilli when he gets there? How will he mesh into an offense that already includes the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, two players eager to see Columbus out of what was a dark, dismal, disappointing 2022-23? Inside and outside the organization there are undoubtedly high hopes for how Fantilli can put Columbus back on track.
Best case: The Blue Jackets don’t spiral out of the playoff conversation immediately (as they did a year ago) and instead find some consistent success out of the gate. With the Mike Babcock distraction dealt with already and new coach Pascal Vincent settled in, Columbus finds a rhythm from its forward group on down. The new additions of Severson and Provorov to the blue line — plus the return of a healthy Zach Werenski — turn Columbus’ defense into a bona fide beast. After losing too much of last season to injury, a healthy Laine re-takes his mantle as a dominant scoring threat, Gaudreau emerges as a genuine superstar, Werenski plays a full 82-game slate anchoring the club’s blue line and Elvis Merzlikins puts his best foot forward in the No. 1 netminder role. That combines to keep Columbus in the playoff hunt through April.
Worst case: There’s another wasted season ahead for Columbus. Despite Babcock departing in September, the fallout from the internal scandal doesn’t dissipate as quickly and remains a distraction leading into the season. The Blue Jackets struggle to find their gait and injuries to key players pop up too often again. Fantilli can’t find his footing against NHL competition, and that drags the Blue Jackets down physically and emotionally. Gaudreau can’t find his best game, and Merzlikins has no help in front of him to keep pucks out of the net. The futility of watching another bad year play out leads GM Jarmo Kekalainen to make drastic changes across the board.
X factor: Vincent. There’s no way around it — Vincent wasn’t put in the best position to succeed. Stepping in when Babcock was being forced out is a tough spot to start from in your first NHL head coaching job, no matter how comfortable he might have already been within the Blue Jackets’ organization. Beyond just that drama, Vincent has plenty on his shoulder all of a sudden trying to bring Columbus back from the proverbial brink. The organization can’t keep wasting time and burning years off key contracts to top players. How well will Vincent tackle the challenge in front of him? The Blue Jackets’ prospects this season might hang in the balance.
Fantasy outlook: The Blue Jackets massively upgraded their blue line this offseason, by virtue of Werenski returning to health in conjunction with trades for Severson and Provorov.
Bold prediction: Kekalainen is fired before next offseason.
Most fascinating player: Hayes. What once began as a megadeal ultimately led to the Blues getting their much-coveted top-six center for a 2024 sixth-round pick while the Flyers also retained 50 percent of his salary. Part of what makes Hayes’ arrival alluring is the fact he offers the Blues a venerable anchor down the middle with six 40-point seasons who also logged the third-most defensive zone starts by a Flyers forward last season. Having someone who can contribute on both ends could potentially play a role in the Blues reversing course on a 38-goal differential from last season that further amplified their struggles.
Best case: Everything implemented by first-year Blues assistant Mike Weber allows the team to find the defensive cohesion that eluded them last season. Weber, who spent last season with the Rochester Americans in the AHL, was brought in to help organize a defensive structure that made the Blues one of the most porous teams in the league. Finding a solution for those issues could aid in providing more comfort for Jordan Binnington and promising rookie Joel Hofer, who only has eight games of NHL experience having spent the majority of the last two seasons in the AHL.
Worst case: An inability to find some sort of defensive consistency. In most cases, a team with deficiencies in certain areas can use the offseason to retool those areas by potentially changing their personnel. Unless it’s the Blues — whose plans were rather complex and limited by the fact they have four defensemen who each have three more years left on their contracts — earn more than $4 million annually with the additional caveat all of them have no-trade clauses. It’s another reason why moves such as trading for Hayes, promoting Hofer and hiring Weber have a chance to play a vital role.
X factor: It really is whatever Weber can do to turnaround the Blues’ defensive issues. Focusing this much on an assistant coach can be considered a bit much. What justifies the discussion about Weber is the fact the Blues were in the bottom 10 in shots allowed per 60, goals allowed per 60, scoring chances allowed per 60 and high-danger chances per 60. Having that context along with the contract dynamics is what makes Weber and whatever he can accomplish with the Blues this season paramount to any progress they seek in 2023-24.
Fantasy outlook: While defender Torey Krug has the higher fantasy ceiling, it’s worth noting Justin Faulk is coming off the most productive — to the tune of 50 points — season of his NHL career. Faulk also doesn’t shy away from shooting on net and blocking opposing shots.
Bold prediction: Jordan Binnington gets his first fighting major.
Last season: 28-40-14, 70 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +15000
Key players added: F Nick Bjugstad, F Logan Cooley, D Travis Dermott, D Matt Dumba, D Sean Durzi, F Alexander Kerfoot, F Jason Zucker
Key players lost: D Connor Mackey
Most fascinating player: Cooley. An already noticeable offseason received even more attention when the Coyotes announced they signed Cooley to an entry-level contract. Cooley, who was the No. 3 pick from the 2022 NHL draft, announced in May that he would return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season only to then sign his ELC in late July. What made Cooley a lottery pick was the fact he’s been projected as a two-way, top-six center. The 19-year-old used what ultimately became his only season at Minnesota to show what made him so promising by finishing his freshman year with 22 goals and 60 points in 39 games to help the Golden Gophers to a national title overtime defeat. And while the United States finished third at the U-20 World Junior Championships, Cooley excelled with seven goals and 14 points in seven games.
Best case: Reaching the 30-win mark and/or the 80-point plateau could be used as something of a benchmark to evaluate the Coyotes’ rebuild. The Coyotes haven’t won more than 30 games since the 2019-20 season with their most recent 80-point campaign coming during the 2018-19 season. Keep in mind, the Coyotes went from a pair of consecutive seasons that saw them finish with less than 60 points to finishing with 70 points in 2022-23. A considerable amount of that progress was guided by members of their young core such as Barrett Hayton, Clayton Keller, Matias Maccelli, J.J. Moser and Nick Schmaltz. It’s a group that has now added veterans such as Dumba, Kerfoot and Zucker in addition to an offseason trade that saw them add Durzi to further strengthen their roster.
Worst case: Not living up to any of the intrigue they’ve created over the offseason. As it stands, the Coyotes are still in that space in which they finished 25 points out of a playoff spot while still being 12 points above the fewest points in the league. Yet they still reinforced their top-nine forward corps and top-four defensive options. Even if the Coyotes are nowhere near a playoff spot, they can still help themselves ahead of the trade deadline considering Dumba and Zucker are part of a six-player pending UFA class who could see some if its members get moved for draft capital.
X factor: Winning on the road. Compare the Coyotes’ home record to the rest of the NHL. They nearly won the same amount of home games as Stanley Cup contenders such as the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers. Playing on the road, however, presented quite a few challenges as the Coyotes finished with a league-low seven victories. Part of what made their offseason haul considerably enterprising was the potential effect those new players could have. One way to measure that impact is if they can aid the Coyotes’ young core in winning more games away from Mullett Arena.
Fantasy outlook: Keller is due to score a bunch again after erupting for 86 points in his sixth season. Los Angeles export Durzi is the most intriguing blue-line fantasy pick, as a threat to boot either Juuso Valimaki or Moser from the power play, while regularly contributing in other fantasy-relevant facets.
Bold prediction: André Tourigny gets a Jack Adams nomination.
Most fascinating player: Juraj Slafkovsky. Montreal shocked (or at the very least surprised) more than a few pundits when selecting Slafkovsky No. 1 overall in the 2022 NHL entry draft. Expectations were naturally high for Slafkovsky entering his rookie season, but the freshman produced a lackluster 10 points in his first 39 games. Slafkovsky’s year ended there due to injury and now all eyes will be on how the sophomore bounces back. The Canadiens took a risk using their top pick on Slafkovsky, and granted he is only 19 with plenty of runway left to prove himself on. Will that begin to happen immediately when the new season starts? Or is Montreal going to be waiting even longer to see the best in Slafkovsky’s game?
Best case: The Canadiens need another strong season of growth for their youngest players. And that goes beyond just seeing Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Slafkovsky and others have great statistical showings on the ice. Best case, Montreal’s 2023-24 campaign also includes some sustained stretches of winning that allows its young core to truly taste what it means to be in the hunt for something — to be chasing a significant outcome. Maybe that’s just a few weeks of being on the playoff periphery and getting a feel for what that means. Maybe it’s seeing consistency from their top-six and watching chemistry develop. Montreal just wants the needle to keep moving in a position direction.
Worst case: Montreal’s had its problems with injuries (Caufield, for instance, was out from January on last year following shoulder surgery). The Canadiens are tied to their young talents and when they go down, so do Montreal’s chances of taking those necessary steps forward that will dictate the franchise’s future. Beyond just good health, the Canadiens require more out of skaters like Kirby Dach (38 points in 58 games last season) and have to avoid letting guys like Suzuki fall into stagnant roles. Montreal can’t let its foot off the gas now or be derailed by the things they can control — like continuously putting players in the best position to succeed.
X factor: Defense. Montreal was poor at defending off the rush last season. Too many pucks were going in the net and deflating the Canadiens prospects night after night. The Canadiens have to get more buy-in on the defensive side from their forward group, starting with top-six skaters like Josh Anderson. Montreal chose not to upgrade its goaltending tandem from Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault, and a veteran like Edmundson won’t be on the back end to provide support, either. Montreal has to address its defense in other ways if it’s going to continue not only generating those key offensive opportunities but leave itself enough of a buffer for it to matter on the scoresheet.
Bold prediction: Dach becomes a solid No. 2 center.
Last season: 31-38-13, 75 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +20000
Key players added: F Ryan Poehling, F Garnet Hathaway, D Marc Staal
Key players lost: F Kevin Hayes, F James van Riemsdyk, D Ivan Provorov, D Tony DeAngelo
Most fascinating player: Sean Couturier. The Flyers have needed a healthy Couturier back in the lineup, not just for what he adds on the scoresheet but in a leadership capacity as well. Philadelphia is deep in rebuilding mode and players like Couturier — who hasn’t played since December 2021 due to back issues — are hard to come by (or quantify) in support of a team through its time of turbulence. Couturier is a former Selke Trophy winner, and his return should be a beacon of optimism for the Flyers as they move into what’s likely to be another difficult season.
Best case: Philadelphia is far from win-now mode. What qualifies as success is taking a step forward; simply being better than it was a year ago. The Flyers have exciting young players like Cam York who get much-needed experience against NHL talents and begin building confidence. Travis Konecny — still with the team despite constant rumors he’d be traded — ignites the Flyers’ offense early and that does eventually allow GM Danny Briere to flip him at the trade deadline for valuable assets in Philadelphia’s ongoing re-tool. The Flyers are fun, but don’t hurt their chances of grabbing another good spot in the draft lottery.
Worst case: The only downside for Philadelphia is being too good. The Flyers want to stock with the cupboards with another top prospect; that won’t happen if they rack up too many wins. Coach John Tortorella getting greedy and pushing his team too hard that it turns into points in the standings hurts their ultimate position in the drafting ones. Briere can’t find the right partners to engage with at the trade deadline and Philadelphia loses out there, too. The Flyers wind up picking too high at the draft in June and miss out on what might have been if they’d stumbled more in the regular season.
X factor: Tortorella. When a coach hates to lose as much as he does, rebuilds can be agonizing. But it’s what Philadelphia must go through to truly patch up the organization’s holes. Can Tortorella stick to the plan without alienating any of his players in the process? He’s managed that so far, it seems. The commitment to being patient has been palpable. It must remain that way for Philadelphia’s sake. And riding any of the Flyers’ prized prospects too harshly won’t pay dividends, either. Philadelphia chose the waiting game, and everyone has to lean into.
Fantasy outlook: With Provorov and DeAngelo out the door, York has a clear path to power-play quarterback duties.
Bold prediction: Couturier will be comeback player of the year.
Last season: 26-49-7, 59 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +17500
Key players added: F Connor Bedard, F Colin Blackwell, F Taylor Hall, F Ryan Donato, F Nick Foligno, F Corey Perry
Key players lost: D Ian Mitchell, F Jonathan Toews, G Alex Stalock
Most fascinating player: Bedard. For years, he’s been discussed as the NHL’s next generational talent upon arrival. Now another set of expectations awaits the 18-year-old in that he’s being charged with helping turn around an Original Six franchise that just moved on from icons Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Bedard is one of the primary figures of a rebuild that the Blackhawks believe can eventually see them go from a franchise that wins the lottery to one that can once again win the Stanley Cup. In the interim, it appears the more immediate focus for the Blackhawks is watching Bedard handle the demands of what comes with being a top-six, if not, top-line center in his maiden campaign.
Best case: Giving Bedard every possible chance to succeed with the understanding there are multiple ways to accomplish that goal. It started when the Blackhawks traded for Hall to give Bedard a veteran top-six scoring winger who also understands the demands that come with being the No. 1 pick in addition to winning a Hart Trophy. Bedard will likely receive the 5-on-5 and power-play minutes needed in order for him to start tapping into his potential as a top-line center. Those are a few of the on-ice avenues the Blackhawks could take. Another is ensuring they continue to add more to a farm system that is already considered to be among the strongest in the NHL.
Worst case: Not doing enough to give their future the strongest possible chance for long-term success. While Bedard is now the centerpiece of their rebuild, he is not the only young player on the roster or trying to make the roster out of camp. The Blackhawks watched Philipp Kurashev score a career-best 25 points and average more than 17 minutes in ice time last season. They saw Lukas Reichel spend most of the season in the AHL only to emerge as full-time player in March who finished with seven goals and 15 points in 23 games. There’s also the contributions that were made by several players under 25 such as Mackenzie Entwistle, Cole Guttman, Wyatt Kaiser, Boris Katchouk, Isaak Phillips, Taylor Raddysh, Filip Roos and Arvid Soderblom.
X factor: Kevin Korchinski and Alex Vlasic. What they’ve both done in training camp is present the Blackhawks with two more prospects who appear ready to take the next step. Finding defensive consistency was an area of concern for a Blackhawks roster that was a consistent bottom five team in several defensive categories such as goals allowed per 60 and scoring chances allowed per 60. Enter Korchinski and Vlasic. Korchinski played last season for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds in a top-four role that saw him finish with 11 goals and 73 points in 54 games. Vlasic spent the majority of last year in the AHL but was a late-season call up who averaged more than 19 minutes in his six-game cameo.
Fantasy outlook: Defenseman Seth Jones projects to lead Chicago’s blue line in scoring, with ease, in amassing 50 points or so and a good number of shots and blocked shots. Playing with Bedard at even strength and with the extra skater will boost Jones’ fantasy potential.
Bold prediction: Bedard scores at least 35 goals.
Most fascinating player: Jamie Drysdale. What has made the Ducks’ future rather promising is the young talent they possess in the form of Mason McTavish, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras. It’s a list that includes Drysdale with the caveat that he’s only had one full season considering he sustained a season-ending injury just eight games into the 2022-23 campaign. Getting a healthy Drysdale will give the Ducks a top-four, puck-moving defenseman who is one of the faces of a rebuild that has been heralded as having what’s believed to be one of the strongest assortment of defensive prospects by an NHL club.
Best case: Everything first-year coach Greg Cronin and his staff implements leads to the Ducks gradually improving over the regular season. One of the reasons why the Ducks hired Cronin is the notion he has used his career to develop the reputation as a developer and teacher who’s constantly attempting to develop every part of a player’s game. It’s possible that Cronin’s work could be parlayed into the Ducks winning more than 30 games and finishing with close to 80 points — something they last achieved in the 2021-22 season only to follow that up with a 23-win campaign that saw them finish with just 58 points for the worst record in the NHL.
Worst case: 339. The significance of that number is that it’d be one additional goal higher than the amount the Ducks allowed last year to clinch the not-so-coveted distinction of allowing the most goals in the NHL. Exactly how trying was last season for the Ducks? They finished last in shots allowed per 60, scoring chances allowed per 60, high-danger scoring chances allowed per 60 and high-danger goals allowed per 60 while finishing second to last in goals allowed per 60. It’s another reason why the decisions to add Gudas, Killorn and Lyubushkin could prove valuable for the Ducks.
X factor: Whatever happens with Leo Carlsson. Drafting Carlsson over Adam Fantilli with the No. 2 pick of last summer’s NHL draft was one that generated a bit of discussion in what was an otherwise straightforward draft. Ducks GM Pat Verbeek stressed how Carlsson eventually became the club’s “unanimous” decision after what he accomplished playing against older and more physically mature competition as the top-line center for Sweden at the IIHF Men’s World Championships. They’ll get some feedback on the decision soon, as he made the opening night NHL roster.
Fantasy outlook: Outside of dynasty competition, roster hopeful Carlsson merits monitoring instead of immediately drafting in all but the deepest fantasy leagues. Even if he manages to stick in the NHL for most of this season, a likely role in the bottom six won’t reap immediate fantasy dividends.
Last season: 22-44-16, 60 points. Missed playoffs.
Stanley Cup odds: +20000
Key players added: G Mackenzie Blackwood, F Anthony Duclair, F Mikael Granlund, F Mike Hoffman, D Jan Rutta, F Givani Smith, F Filip Zadina
Key players lost: D Erik Karlsson, F Andreas Johnsson, F Steven Lorentz, G James Reimer
Most fascinating player: William Eklund. A torn labrum in late March limited Eklund, who the Sharks drafted seventh in 2021, to just eight NHL games. Still, the Sharks watched one of their top prospects score 17 goals and 41 points in 54 games while playing for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate in what was his first season in North American hockey. The Sharks announced at the time of his injury they expected Eklund to return prior to the start of camp. Of course, that announcement was made well before an offseason that has led to the Sharks going through quite a few roster alterations.
Best case: All their offseason trades help them reach their desired destination of having the strongest possible rebuild. Getting forwards such as Duclair, Granlund and Hoffman hypothetically offers the Sharks some options. For one, those three players give them a line’s worth of offensive production they previously did not have. Yet what might become their greatest contribution is the fact all three are pending UFAs the Sharks could plausibly look to move for draft capital at or ahead of the NHL trade deadline. That along with a healthy Eklund playing a full season’s worth of games could offer more insight into the Sharks’ direction.
Worst case: Not taking advantage of the ways to improve their future. Whether it be through the draft or trades, the last few years has seen the Sharks add to a prospect base that is led by Will Smith, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Filip Bystedt, Quentin Musty and Eklund. It’s possible this season could see them strengthen what they already have. That’s what makes their roster headlined by eight pending UFAs an item to watch. Parlaying a number of those players into draft capital and/or prospects would see them continue to build upon what they’ve done to this point. Failing to capitalize on that, however, could potentially add more time to their rebuild.
X factor: All the talk about the Sharks possibly flipping parts of their roster ahead of the deadline for draft capital and prospects is made complicated by the fact they can only retain one more salary this season. CapFriendly shows they still have two more years left on Brent Burns‘ salary at $2.72 million annually while having four more years of Karlsson’s contract at $1.5 million annually. One of the items that has allowed teams in the Sharks’ position to maximize their leverage at the deadline is the ability to retain salary. Yet this season and next season places the Sharks facing some challenges compared to their counterparts who could be able to offer a contending team a better deal ahead or at the trade deadline.
Fantasy outlook: Whichever defenseman lands on San Jose’s top power play — be it Mario Ferraro or Jacob MacDonald — deserves a little extra fantasy love from simply falling into that fruitful position.
Bold prediction: The Sharks win the draft lottery.
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