2023-24 NHL Season Preview

October 3, 2023 Season Previews

Welcome to the first Hockey Recaps podcast. I've been writing this column for over 10 years. Sometimes I wonder why am I still doing this and I honestly don't know. A podcast seemed like the natural evolution of the column. I would like to add video at some point, but I need to figure out what I want to do first.

It's time for the season preview. I usually do a bunch of questions and storylines to look for in this season.

And I always start out with will the champs repeat?

And the answer is usually almost always no. Mostly because of luck and injuries. I mean we did have it twice in the past 25 years, but the Lightning and the Penguins, those were pretty special teams. I don't think we're going to get that again anytime soon. The Avalanche didn’t repeat because they were decimated with injuries all season long. And part of the reason they won is because the Golden Knights were decimated with injuries so they didn't have to play them in that playoffs.

The Golden Knights also got a little lucky because you know Jamie Benn had that stupid penalty against the Stars. They had that slashing against Leon against the Oilers and that didn't really, that actually led to penalties that helped them with one on Darnell Nurse. When he got that, not to mention they played a Panthers team that overachieved and you know Brady Tkachuk or is it Matthew? No it's Matthew. Got injured and you know they really weren't the same after that. They're not going to get those kind of breaks again. It's just not going to happen.

For me the more compelling thing with the Golden Knights is what are they going to do in goal? Because all three of their goalies are up in two years. Now Robin Lehner is still on the injured list which I can't even believe. He's been on the injured list for like two freaking years and I knew it was a bad move when they made him the main goalie over Fleury. But here we are. But luckily they lucked in to Logan Thompson and Adin Hill. You know they're going to have to make a decision because they're not going to keep both of them and pay them both what they're going to want. It'll be interesting to see how they lean. I guess Thompson is actually only a year younger. I thought he was much younger. I would probably stick with Thompson. I'm assuming they'll probably split and then we'll have to see what happens.

Are there any Stanley Cup favorites?

Well the one thing we've been doing recently is clearing out the backlog of teams that had been favorites and never won. We had the Lightning, then we had the Avalanche. We had the Golden Knights, we had the Capitals. If you go even further back then somehow the Blues snuck in. But that's what we've been doing is clearing out teams that haven't won that almost won. Probably should have won. Winning president's trophy but not getting all the way. My current you know log of teams that haven't won but probably should or are on the cusp are the Dallas Stars, the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs. We'll get to the Maple Leafs a little later. Those are probably my top three. I would actually give each one about a 25% chance and then the rest of the field another 25%.

One dark horse not to count out is the Boston Bruins who if it wasn't for Linus Ullmark, there was a good chance they would have made it to the Stanley Cup. Maybe they would have beaten the Golden Knights. Maybe not. We'll never know. Sadly.

And I also bring it up because when they won it the last time in 2011, they were up three games to one against the Flyers. And then the Flyers forced game seven and then the Bruins were up three to one in that game. And then they lost that as well that lead and they lost. And that was embarrassing. I don't know if that was the first or second round but they bounced back and they came back and they won it all the next year. Kind of like the Lightning when they got embarrassingly swept by the Blue Jackets and they bounced back and won it all the next season. So the Bruins could be prime for a comeback. The only problem is they lost both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci which I can't really think of any teams that lost their top two centers in one season like that. That's just crazy. You know, I don't know how that's going to work out. And then I guess Brad Marchand was the captain which that's an interesting choice. I mean he's been there. He's probably the only guy left from that 2011 team. I'm trying to think of anybody else but I think Krejci and Bergeron are probably the only ones and they retired. So, you know, we'll see what they do but I think they have something to prove. I don't think they’re going to set the record again but they'll be pretty damn good. So we'll see what they do.

So the running joke the last few previews was would the Toronto Maple Leafs finally win a series and that was going on for several years but of course now they finally won so now it's what are they going to do for an encore?

Well, the way they lost was, you know, kind of a downer so they'll probably be hung over from that and they were hung over obviously from the Lightning win because that was a huge deal because that was their nemesis. That was a team that made it three times in a row to the finals and they finally won the series. So I don't think they were 100% when they played the Panthers but the way they lost that series was probably the most Toronto Maple Leafs ever. So, in the end of game six, you know, they had the no goal. I forget who scored that but they couldn't figure out if it crossed the line or not which I think that it did even though there was no evidence. I mean, logic would dictate that it did but I still don't understand why they can't put, you know, a sensor in the puck so you can determine it across the line or not. But I guess you need to see it and they don't want to be ruining the integrity of the game. I don't know, they don't want to put a computer chip in there but that's what I would do. So, I was like, oh man, that isn't going to be good. Of course they go the other way and then they have the Panthers guy, I can't remember who he was, the one with the beard (Radko Gudas). And he grabs the stick, for a good three to five seconds which is obviously a penalty, they don't call it and of course they get the goal. And it's just like, you know, between those three things, it's just like the most Maple Leafs thing ever. It's not surprising to me that people say they're cursed because it's hard to argue against that.

You know, they made some good additions. I mean, they did lose Ryan O'Reilly which makes sense because, you know, they don't need three centers or they can't pay three centers like that. But he was a good fit. And they also lost Michael Bunting who I love and I think he's a really great player but, you know, apparently he's an ass and they didn't, they had a falling out and they butt heads and they don't like each other. So it's not surprising he left but that's a loss. They did sign Tyler Bertuzzi who will kind of fill that void. And, you know, I always said that the Maple Leafs needed a Dustin Brown type of a player which Bunting sorta was. Wayne Simmons definitely was and whenever I saw him play on the Maple Leafs, he always did good things, sometimes got a couple of hard goals. It was always a good net presence. I don't understand why that didn't work out. I guess he's a free agent now. I still just don't understand that. But, you know, Bertuzzi can't really fill the shoes of Simmons and Bunting but it's still a good pickup because they need a player like that. Hopefully he'll work out.

They also picked up John Klingberg who is a great hockey player but not a very bright guy. If you don't know the saga of him, you know, he's with the Stars long term. He was a great fit there. And they wanted to resign him for seven years, for seven million a year. For five years or whatever. But he didn't want to sign it because he wanted eight million a year. The Stars couldn't afford that so he left as a free agent. Then he signed for the Anaheim Ducks where he only got seven million which isn't eight and I don't know why you want to be on the Ducks. They weren't a contender so you go from what a team has a chance to win a cup to a team that's not doing anything. Then he was traded to the Wild, and is a free agent again. And then he ends up in the Maple Leafs for a whopping four million dollars which is half of the eight that he wanted. I seriously do not understand why he didn't sign the seven million dollar offer with the Stars. I just don't get that. And I have a feeling he doesn't get it either. Or maybe it's his agent to blame. I don't know who's to blame but just freaking stupid. But hopefully he'll work out there.

Next up is what are the Chicago Blackhawks doing?

And I honestly have no idea and I don't think they know either. So they get Connor Bedard which is really lucky especially since they had the second worst record. And that's great and all but they go and they sign Taylor Hall, Josh Bailey, and Corey Perry. And to be honest every time I heard those names I'm just like what? Why? Why would you do that? First of all I don't understand why Taylor Hall wants to be there. At this point in his career doesn't he want to win Stanley Cup. I also don't understand why Corey Perry's there because shouldn't he be retired. But they're all over 30. Bedard is 18. You need to get somebody in the mid 20s at the oldest to play with him so they can build some chemistry. Not a bunch of guys who aren't going to be there in a few years.

Second of all I don't understand, are they trying to win? Win what? He's 18. He hasn't played any games. There's no point in winning to lose in the first round. You have to build the team in the draft. They've only had three top 10 picks over the last five drafts. Two of those players have been traded which means they only got one pick and that guy hasn't played yet. I don't think with the Blackhawks yet. So they're not assembling a team because if you look at all the teams that actually are good and won like the Avalanche, they stocked up picks, Landeskog, Makar, MacKinnon, same thing with the Penguins. Back in the day they had Fleury, Malkin Crosby, I don't know if Letang was a high pick or not. And they look at the Oilers who haven't won yet but they had Hall which of course is now on the Blackhawks. They had McDavid and Draisaitll and then they had a lot of people that they just whiffed on but they had a lot of picks. I don't think this strategy makes sense because you're getting old guys who are going to be retired and you're not going to be accumulating picks because now they have a chance like the playoffs or just missed the playoffs so they're not getting high picks. And I just... I don't understand this strategy at all. And what makes this even worse is why the hell did they get rid of Alex DeBrincat? Because this is the kind of player that Bedard should be playing with.

And that of course leads me to what were some of the key trades that happened?

And to be honest, I don't have a lot because a lot of them were going to cover in other sections. The biggest one was Alex DeBrincat ending up on the Detroit Red Wings, which when I saw that I was also scratching my head and I'm in like... what? So to be honest, I don't understand what DeBrincat, the Blackhawks or the Senators were thinking in any of this. It literally makes no sense to me. I still don't understand why they traded him to the Blackhawks. I just don't get it.

Then the Senators signed him. Now, apparently he didn't want to sign a long term deal with them. So I don't know at what point the Senators knew that. But if they knew that, or if they didn't know that, they should have figured that out. Because why would you give up three picks to pick a guy who's only going to play with you for one season, especially when you're not a player away from a Stanley Cup? I don't understand that. I also don't understand why DeBrincat didn't want to stay in Ottawa. I mean, they're building a contender. They're probably going to be good for a few years and they really wanted him there. I think DeBrincat made a joke that said, well, there's no Chipotle there. I don't know if he was kidding or joking, but it's like, really? I don't know. I've never been Ottawa. I can't imagine there's no place that has Mexican food and if there isn't, isn't he on the road half the year? Can’t he get Mexican food somewhere else? Not to mention the offseason? I don't know. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Now, he's originally from Michigan, so he probably wanted to go back there, but it's like Ottawa isn't that far from Michigan. Couldn't he try to go back to Chicago? I mean, I don't know. That's close to Michigan. I don't know. I just don't understand any of this. So he's on the Red Wings now and everybody looks stupid. The Blackhawks look stupid. The Senators look stupid. And DeBrincat kind of looks stupid too, because, yeah, the Red Wings are on the upswing, but we don't actually know. They've been bad for quite a while. We don't actually know what they're going to become. And I don't know if DeBrincat going to, you know, how's this goal total going to go, because it decreased in his season in Ottawa. And I don't know. He kind of reminds me of a player who's going to end up like Taylor Hall, who's really talented, but for some reason he just keeps bouncing around from team to team every year or two. I don't know. I hope it works out for him and Detroit. I really do. I honestly really wish he was still in Chicago.

What are the Pittsburgh Penguins up to?

Well, the oldest team just got even older. They're the only team over the age of 31. The Capitals are right behind them around 30. And their big news, or the big acquisition this season, would be trading for Erik Karlsson. And even though the guy scored 101 points last season, the only thing I can think of is, why would you want to do that? If you asked the San Jose Sharks, I guarantee you they would say, trading for him was the worst decision they ever made. They gave up seven assets to get him, and they only made the playoffs his first season and never again. And now they're terrible. That didn't work out. The Penguins gave up a first and second round pick to get him, not to mention they gave up a third round pick to get Reilly Smith. And you're probably thinking, well, third round pick isn't too bad, but it is because they picked Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust with those third round picks in the past. Speaking of Guentzel, he's injured. If I'm the Penguins, I wouldn't want to rebuild. I definitely don't want to get rid of Malkin and Crosby considering how important they are to the franchise and the fact that they're still producing. I would do a better job of trying to blend with people that are Guentzel's age and younger versus getting rid of all my picks, getting really old guys, and then just trying to do a last hurrah. Because you're going to end up really terrible in the long run without any picks, not to mention, do we really think a team who couldn't even beat the Chicago Blackhawks to get into the playoffs last season is going to be able to do anything this season? What I worry about is they're probably going to be really slow on the defensive side. And then the goal tending is always a question mark for them. I mean, Tristan Jarry just signed a new deal worth $5 million, but is he worth that? Because there were times when he was just playing bad. I think the Penguins would probably be one of the most unique stories. And if especially if it goes really bad, I'd love to know what they would end up doing at the trade deadline. Would they end up just getting rid of all these assets? Or what? Maybe they would try to recoup some of their picks that they got rid of, but that'll be an interesting story to see.

Who are the most compelling teams this season?

Well, the Buffalo Sabres would be the top choice. They haven't made the playoffs since 2011, 12 seasons. And they have a lot of young talent, some of whom are ready to take another step. I think the biggest question mark they have is that goalie, Devon Levi will be their starter. He hasn't played a lot, so I think that whether he's good, then they'll make the playoffs. If not, then I don't think they'll make the playoffs again because Eastern Conference is so tight.

Next would be the New Jersey Devils, who they really put it all together last season. But that exit against the Hurricanes, that series is just dreadful. The good thing is they found Akira Schmid, and whether he'll take the next step or not, because technically I think it still is a rookie season because I don't think he played enough last season, but generally goalies have a sophomore slump. So, you'll be able to see whether he continues to play like he can, or if he'll maybe regress a little bit. I don't know, that's an unknown.

Then the New York Rangers, who also took a step back last season, which I kind of thought that they would, but I thought that they would probably lose in the second round, not the first round. I mean, that series against the New Jersey Devils started out great in the first two games, but good lord after that, it just unraveled. You know, it'll be interesting to see, I mean, they're a really good team, and I mean, they have a chance to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, so, you know, there will be pressure on them to do well in the playoffs this season.

Then lastly, I'm going to go with the Ottawa Senators mostly because, you know, last year they were, you know, a team to look forward to but didn't really work out. I kind of thought that, you know, it would take some time for them to gel, which is basically what happened. So, there's a couple of changes, one of which we'll get to a little bit. This is the second year of this, this core together, and, you know, a lot of those young players are ready to take the next step. But, I think, you know, playoffs like them with the Sabres, there's a chance they'll make the playoffs. I mean, it's very tight, but, you know, they might get in. It's probably one of the bottom wild cards. We'll see what happens.

Who are the most unpredictable teams?

Seattle Kraken will probably be number one. They finished a really strong last season, and obviously they had the upset of the Avalanche and the playoffs. They're a very deep team, although they did lose Morgan Geekie to the Bruins. One of my favorites, but they'll survive that. It's whether, you know, Matthew Beniers is just going to take the next step or not, and then, of course, there's an ongoing saga with Shane Wright, which I love because I think it's just so stupid. So, in order for him to be able to go to the AHL as a CHL player, he needs to either hit 20 or have four seasons. But he missed being 20 by five days, and then the second thing, even if they count the COVID season that they lost, he still was one game short of a season last season. So, he doesn't qualify either way, but they seem to think that they made an agreement with the CHL so he could play in the AHL, but it's like, good lord. Should it really be that complicated? I mean, they'll probably go even higher. I mean, they have the Golden Knights and the Oilers in that division, but might be able to get the third seed over the Kings. You know, the sky’s the limit for them because they're only going to get better from where they are right now.

Next would be the Colorado Avalanche, you know, mostly because they should be healthy this season, but are they hungry enough? Do they want it? I mean, as long as Makar, MacKinnon are healthy, and they want it, I mean, there's a good chance they'll go far.

And then, of course, the Florida Panthers, which would probably be the biggest wild card mostly because you never know what they're going to do. I mean, they went from first to worst, and then from worst to the Stanley Cup final. So, you know, I guess they would be going back down. As long as they have Matthew Tkachuk and he's hungry and healthy, you know, they should be fine, but I don't know if there's enough there because they were, they got quite lucky last season, and luck doesn't usually happen two seasons in a row. You know, there's probably a good chance that they may not make the playoffs this season.

Any key player signings?

Well, some of them we already touched upon. The biggest one would be Patrick Kane. Where's he going? I don't even think he knows. He's still rehabbing his injury. He's waiting for the right fit. And going back to the Chicago Blackhawks makes the most sense because they seem to be collecting 30 plus year old wingers, but he's probably not going to go back there. The Buffalo Sabres entered into the discussion, which makes sense because they could use a player like him and that is his hometown. Don't really know where else he would go. He really wanted to go to the Rangers. He went there. They obviously don't have the salary cap space to keep him. I don't know if he had his heart set on anywhere else. I imagine he probably won't sign until January, so we'll keep an eye on to see what happens there.

The Senators added Vladimir Tarasenko, which is a great pickup. They also added Joonas Korpisalo to be their goalie. Those goalie acquisitions, those big splashes after they've had a good season or two somewhere else, and then they come. They almost never work out. The Cam Talbot thing didn't work out because they had him last year. That was the big thing. Oh, he'll be our goalie and then that didn't work out. Korpisalo, he's had some good stretches, but I don't really think based upon his career, he hasn't really put up that great of numbers. To me, I don't really honestly don't think this is going to work out either, which is kind of sad. Picking these goalies up like this just never works. Patrick Roy was an exception, obviously, but for the most part, it just doesn't work. You've got to get them in the draft and you've got to develop them yourself.

The Lightning sign, Tanner Jeannot, I only made a note of that because the trade was highly stupid last year. They traded five picks, one in each of the first five rounds for him, and he played in only three playoff games and didn't even score. I wrote this trade made no sense. Why would you give up that much for that kind of a level player which you don't even need? I was right, they didn't need them. I mean at least they signed them because if they didn't, they would seriously look like dumbasses.

Michael Bunting went to the Hurricanes. I think that'll help them add some depth. It doesn't change the fact that the Hurricanes have a problem where they don't really have a star. They have a couple of good players, but nobody who really steps up in the key moments. So I don't know if that's really going to help them go any further in the playoffs because they still haven't addressed that issue.

Matt Duchene went to the Stars which that's interesting. The Stars were really loaded and I really think of all the teams. They have the best chance of going all the way as long as Jamie Benn doesn't do anything stupid again.

So what key players to watch?

Well besides the usual, some of which we've already also mentioned. Tage Thompson is the biggest one. He's broken out the last two years, but I still think he has another level to get to which is scary to think about. Tim Stutzle on the Senators, he broke out last season but I think he can go higher. He was their top pick that he got in that Erik Karlsson trade. Clayton Keller on the Coyotes. I feel really bad he's on the Coyotes. He signed there for a few more seasons so I wonder if he's going to have enough and just be like get me out of here. I've been waiting for years for Mathew Barzal to break out. I'm starting to think that will never happen. I mean if it doesn't happen this season I don't see why I would. Trevor Zegras is another one. You know he always has those flashy moves but I like to think maybe he can have a breakout season for the Ducks this year. Kirby Dach for the Montreal Canadiens. A lot of people think he'll take it to the next level of the season. He's still pretty young. He hasn't played much so there's a good chance that'll happen. Dach is on of those top ten picks the Chicago Blackhawks traded away.

Are there any bad teams?

For the most part not really. Probably for the bottom for me would be the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Arizona Coyotes and the San Jose Sharks. The Anaheim Ducks, they might be bad. I really think they might start getting better. The Montreal Canadiens I think of all the bad teams they actually have the most upside to actually start getting better. Might not happen this season but I really like what they're doing and they have a great potential to be on the rise very soon.

How about any coaching changes?

I won't go into all of them. I think there were maybe eight. Usually we have at least three or four in the middle of the season. Gerard Gallant was fired again by the New York Rangers and this is the third time he has been fired and he shouldn't have been fired any of those times. I mean he's a great coach. I hope he gets scooped up. I don't think anyone has hired him yet. The Rangers replaced him with Peter LaViolette which is his sixth team he's coached. I mean I know he's made it to the Stanley Cup finals a few times. I think he won it with the Hurricanes but good Lord. How many teams do you should you be coaching by now? I mean not only has he been hired six times he's been fired five times or released or whatever however he left.

Mike Babcock was the Columbus Blue Jackets coach for a couple weeks, couple months. You know I used to think he was a good coach. I'm starting to wonder that because I'm starting to think he's a weird guy. The best way to sum it up is there was an ex Red Wings player. I can't remember who it was. He said that he was a great coach but an awful person which is an interesting juxtaposition. You know he had the thing with Mitch Marner where he asked him for a list to rank his teammates and how they play or something and then he shared it with the team which is just weird. Then he asks about photos, some about their family but also some of did you take any during practice and other weird things. I guess it's somehow a bonding exercise but some of the younger players think it's weird. I mean it's an invasion of privacy among other things so he's gone. I don't know what they replaced him with. You know he's kind of old anyway he's 60 and I'm not being ageist. You know a lot of these guys are probably past their prime. It's kind of like Bruce Boudreau when he was hired by the Canucks which I'm still upset with the way he was fired when he was crying and they couldn't just wait until the end of the season. You know he had two talented teams with the capitals and the ducks and he did nothing with them. Like why would you bring him on to the Canucks? You know did you really think he was going to turn them around at that point in his career he was 65, 68. Like he's suddenly going to like take a team to the finals and win like give me a break.

And then of course there's John Tortorella who's still the coach of the Flyers. I cannot wait for him to be fired I think he's one of the worst coaches ever. I really do and I hope he never gets hired again when he gets fired.

Playoff predictions

So for the Atlantic I'm going to go with the Lightning, the Bruins, the Maple Leafs and the Senators. For the Metro, the Hurricanes, the Rangers and the Devils. So that makes 7. Final three would be Panthers, Penguins and the Sabres fighting for the last playoff spot. Maybe they'll knock out somebody else above. Not really feeling it for the Islanders for some reason. I don't think anybody else is ready for the next step.

For the Central Division I have the Avalanche, the Stars and the Wild and that was a great finish last season. I hope they have something like that again this year. For the Pacific Division I have the Oilers, the Knights, the Kings and the Kraken. That makes 7. For the last spot I'm thinking maybe the Blues, Flames or the Canucks.

You know I'm kind of tired of talking about the Canucks every year. I'm like are they going to go back to when they almost came within a game of the conference finals and the answer is...No, I honestly don't understand what they're doing and why this team is so bad with all the young talent they have. But hopefully I'll be wrong and they'll turn around this season. This will be a very tight race. Last year was pretty tight. I think it'll be even tighter. Well I shouldn't say that, the Eastern Conference was pretty predictable during the end. I like the drama, the suspense at the end of the season. Who's going to win when they fight for the playoff spots? When it's all pretty much wrapped up it's not that exciting. That's what made the top of the Central Division so interesting. When we all knew they were going to make the playoffs but where are they going to play and who's going to go to where? Who has home ice? That makes it better.

That's it for the preview. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm planning to release the weekly recaps on Sunday. During football season, It makes it hard but I'll record on Saturday still release on Sunday. I'll sprinkle in some football thoughts as well. Sound off on the comments about what you thought about my preview, anything you don't agree with or just want to make fun of me. See you guys. Thanks for listening.

Alex Mueller
Alex has played floor and ice hockey but never anywhere near NHL level. He's been writing this column since 2013. He's finishing up his first novel entitled Bobby Sterling vs Truth. Learn move about the book here. He loves exploring the outdoors and photography. Join the adventure and view the photos here.