The 2023-24 NHL season is just days away, and that means that it’s time to start looking ahead to what may transpire throughout the regular season.
Every team will be starting with a clean slate, so it’s possible for any team to completely alter their fortunes from a season ago. Several teams have had eventful offseasons that have led to them believing that the upcoming season will be different. We’ve put together some bold predictions for the 2023-24 season, including which teams could surprisingly miss the postseason, who could make a deep Stanley Cup run, and which players could rise to the occasion.
Bengel: The Boston Bruins will miss the postseason
The Bruins put together a campaign for the ages in the 2022-23 regular season. This was a team that tallied an NHL-record 135 points, but were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following the postseason disappointment, the Bruins saw veteran centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci announce their respective retirements.
After losing those two key pieces, it’s truly possible the Bruins will miss the playoffs altogether in 2023-24. This is a team that lost winger Tyler Bertuzzi in free agency and didn’t add a ton of talent to replace what they lost in Bertuzzi, Bergeron and Krejci.
Nivison: The Pittsburgh Penguins will miss the playoffs again
General manager Kyle Dubas deserves a lot of credit for getting this team back to being a threat in the Metro Division after it missed the playoffs in 2022-23. That said, it isn’t hard to see where the Penguins fall short again in the 2023-24 season.
For starters, Father Time’s record remains undefeated. Sidney Crosby (36), Evgeni Malkin (37), Kris Letang (36) and Erik Karlsson (33) are all well above the age of 30. As good as they all are, some kind of drop-off could very well be in the cards for one or multiple players in that group, and that isn’t even factoring in the injury risk.
On top of that, getting to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference will be a slugfest. The Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers will still rule the roost in the Metro. The top three teams in the Atlantic will still be a problem, and that doesn’t even include the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Florida Panthers. Plus, upstart teams like the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres are poised to take another step forward.
Age will catch up to the Penguins, their depth scoring falters, Tristan Jarry struggles to get his footing again, and they narrowly miss out on a wild card spot again.
Bengel: The Buffalo Sabres will end their postseason drought
The Sabres only missed the postseason by a single point during the 2022-23 campaign. This is a franchise that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons, but that’s a streak that could definitely end in 2023-24. The Sabres possess an extremely talented core that is headlined by prolific goal scorer Tage Thompson and talented blue-liners like Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power.
The biggest question mark for the Sabres remains in goal, but newcomer Devon Levi could have the potential to be the future at the position. If that turns out to be the case, there’s no doubt Buffalo could be a playoff team this season.
Nivison: The Ottawa Senators will win a playoff series
I have decided that I will be all-in on the Ottawa Senators in 2023-24. They still have some flaws, but they also have one of the best young rosters in the NHL.
The Senators have all the makings of a team ready to burst onto the scene and do some damage in the postseason. Their young core, led by Tim Stützle and Brady Tkachuk, consists of a handful of high-end players under the age of 26. It’s also important to remember that Josh Norris missed nearly the entire 2022-23 season due to injury after totaling 35 goals in 2021-22, and he should be back in time for opening night.
As long as the goaltending tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg can hold up, and they should get plenty of help from star defensemen Jakob Chychrun and Thomas Chabot, then Ottawa could be a very dangerous team. Look for the Sens to claw their way into the players and wreak some havoc once they get there.
Bengel: Jacob Markstrom bounces back with a Vezina-caliber season.
It was a rough year for Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom to say the least. After being a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2021-22, Markstrom struggled in 2022-23 with just a 23-21-12 record, 2.92 goals-against-average, and a .892 save percentage in 58 starts. As a whole, the Flames had a very different roster in place with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk leaving the team.
Considering that the group has a year together under their belt now, it’s likely Markstrom would be able to bounce back. After all, Markstrom showed that he was an elite netminder during the 2021-22 season when he recorded a 2.22 goals-against-average.
Nivison: Timo Meier wins the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
Timo Meier set a new career high with 40 goals in 2022-23, and I would not be surprised to see him build upon that in his first full season with the New Jersey Devils. Meier is in a good position to go on a thermonuclear scoring binge this year.
Last season, Meier ranked second in five-on-five expected goals with 25.07, per Natural Stat Trick. That was only behind Auston Matthews, so Meier is keeping pretty good company there. It only gets more impressive when you realize that Meier spent 57 games on a San Jose Sharks team that was one of the worst in the NHL. With an absolutely loaded roster around him in New Jersey, Meier should be able to light the lamp early and often.
This year, Meier might spend the majority of his time playing alongside Jack Hughes, one of the best young playmakers in the NHL. Hughes can work magic with the puck on his stick, and he will draw plenty of attention from opposing defenders. That will give Meier the opportunity to cash in on some glorious scoring chances, the caliber of which were hard to come by in San Jose. Add in a full season’s worth of power play opportunities with the Devils, and Meier might be able to climb past the 50-goal mark.