Like the college kids who crash through the side door into a party with a goofy, boozed-up look on their face, here comes the NHL season as a surprise.
Right in the heart of the NFL season and MLB playoffs, you’d be forgiven for getting sideswiped by the dawn of yet another interminable NHL season, but the early parts of the year are actually worth paying attention to. That’s because it’s so hard to make up ground late in the season thanks to the everyone-gets-a-trophy standings system. Thanksgiving is always the benchmark, so teams spend the first six-to-eight weeks of the season going hellbent for leather trying to carve out a nest in the playoff spots that they can settle into.
So let’s run it through, first the East today and then the West tomorrow. What about Canadian Disease in 2023-2024 do you need to know?
The Bs would have been carrying enough just having one of the best regular seasons in history and then crashing out in the first round to the Panthers last year. But now it’s so much more, as both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have headed to Del Boca Vista. Which means #1 center…Charlie Coyle? YIKES.
Boston will still boast one of the deeper blue lines and definitely deepest goaltending tandems in the league, so they will probably still be pretty miserly. As far as scoring, well, David Pastrnak sis till gonna get his and Brad Marchand probably will, too (though there’s still a small, sneaking suspicion he did a fair amount of coattail-riding off Bergeron), but after that, it’s a real quagmire. Milan Lucic is going to be stumbling around the Garden again, so you know it’s bad.
We already did this!
Detroit Red Wings
Last year, the Wings signed Andrew Copp to a very rich deal after a big playoff run with the Rangers, hoping he would be the do-everything center behind Dylan Larkin and boost the Wings to a new level. They were shocked to discover he turned back into Andrew Copp.
This year, they signed JT Compher to a big-money deal, for position, after a good season having to be the No. 2 center for the Avalanche because no one else could do the job. They’ll be shocked when he turns back into JT Compher.
They also traded for Alex DeBrincat, who has scored a lot of goals that haven’t mattered for both the Hawks and Senators, and no one’s quite sure if he’s just a hood ornament or not.
Last year, the Wings brought in Ben Chiarot to be the veteran presence to help level out youngster Moritz Seider. They were then shocked to discover Chiarot can’t play.
This year they’ve brought in Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Holl to level out behind Seider. They’ll be shocked to discover that Ghost Bear and Holl can’t play. Could be another disappointing season at Pizza!PizzArena!
While a lot was made of the Panthers turning a No. 8 seed into a Finals appearance, they were also Presidents’ Trophy winners the season before. So what exactly they are is tough to suss out, especially as they’re still coached by an absolute moron in Paul Maurice, who tends to get all his players to create voodoo dolls of him starting in Year 2. The Panthers played great hockey in the second half and beyond, mostly because they had to. And they may have to again, as top two defensemen, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, are going to miss a big chunk of the first half. If Sergei Bobrovsky takes most of the regular season off as has been his habit, the Panthers may once again have to make up the ground later in the year.
Still in the opening throes of a rebuild, the Habs are going to take a lot of lumps while they figure out if either Nick Suzuki or Cole Caufield are genuine top-line anchors or will have to recede to supporting cast whenever they find other top-line foundations. Carey Price is not expected to ever play again because of a knee injury, and they’re going to toss Jake Allen out there most nights. Come back in a couple years, Habs.
In the same category as the Sabres, and the category the Wings would like to pretend they’re in, with most fans in Kanata thinking this is a big leap year. Certainly there’s a lot of talent to suggest that, if they can get everyone in under the tent as Shane Pinto still isn’t signed. But with Tim Stutzle, the other garbage Tkachuk son, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Thomas Chabot, and Jake Sanderson, there’s a lot here. They acquired Jakob Chychrun at the end of last season to bolster their young corps, but the history of players who escape Arizona isn’t exactly glittering. Chychrun, 25, is still a vaunted prospect mostly because everyone keeps saying so. If he is actually a thing, the Sens could definitely make the playoffs. If he’s more Coyote-mirage, they’re probably a touch short. The Sens were more defensively solid than the Sabres last year, but Joonas Korpisalo comes from the lockdown Kings to a more open team in front of him here. There’s a lot that could go right with the Sens, but they’ll also need it to.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Window-closing warning. The Bolts are going to be without Andrei Vasilevskiy for a couple months and don’t have an alternative. And this wasn’t a team that had a lot of wiggle room to begin with. The perils of being the league’s best team in a flattened-cap era have now eroded the depth that made them special, and those that are left are getting old with a lot of miles on the odometer. There’s still a lot here to make them hang around the playoff scene for the season, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock that Vasilevskiy’s injury along with Stamkos’s contract drama as well as everything else has them sweating bullets come the end of March.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Clear division favorites. How will the reasonable Toronto hockey scene handle that? The big shift for the Leafs is pivoting William Nylander to center, giving them enviable depth down the middle, assuming that John Tavares isn’t starting to turn odd colors in the back of the fridge (he’s 33). It also makes their winger situation a little iffy, as trotting out Mensa member Tyler Bertuzzi on the top line is a choice.
But the problems for the Leafs are still the same. Their blue line sucks out loud. Morgan Rielly is a second-pairing player moonlighting as a top-pairing guy. TJ Brodie, John Klingberg and Jake McCabe are genuinely terrible, two of them are hilariously slow in a game that keeps getting faster. They’ll still be trusting Ilya Samsonov in net, who got pilfered in the playoffs.
Cue the guy in the hot dog suit meme. No, not “Ask me about my weiner!”
It’s the same old story, same old story, same old song and dance, my friend. The Canes will pile up the regular-season points thanks to their fleet of quick forwards and puck-moving defensemen, which Dmitri Orlov only adds to, who work harder and fire from everywhere and find a bunch of loose pucks around the net. Then they’ll get to the playoffs and they’ll run up against a goalie who doesn’t give up the rebounds they need to feast on and teams will match their effort level because it’s the playoffs and they don’t have the star up front or in net to overcome these things. Freddy Andersen is going to put it together in the spring on attempt No. 78? Go sit down.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Adam Fantilli has a chance to be a real star, but he’ll quickly figured out that players come here to just play hockey and make a lot of money without being bothered by media or expectations. Maybe he’ll enjoy that, or maybe he’ll force a trade like Pierre-Luc Dubois if he wants to play any hockey that might matter. Enjoy your 90+ points that no one will remember, Johnny Hockey.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils will get a full season from Timo Meier and added Tyler Toffoli to a team that was already full of weaponry, as well as Luke Hughes on the back end. What Akira Schmid is in net isn’t for sure yet, but he looked pretty good in the playoffs last year for sure. Or at least good enough to send the boring-ass Rangers home. They have three lines that can score, three pairings that can push the play. If Schmid is even just “fine,” it’s all systems go here.
New York Islanders
Still cruel and unusual.
It’s the same thing, except now the fourth line is far too overpaid and overhyped and doesn’t actually do the things that got them all that hype and money (for a fourth line) in the first place. Bo Horvat is moving to a top-line wing to play with Mathew Barzal, meaning whichever of Brock Nelson or Anders Lee (I can’t tell them apart) plays center is still the No. 2 pivot. The defense could probably play more openly than they’re asked to under the Lamoriello Regime of Ennui, and they’ll base everything off Ilya Sorokin. Luckily, Sorokin is probably the best goalie in the world, so that can go pretty far. It just won’t be any fun.
New York Rangers
You’ll be shocked to find out in January or February that adding 37-year-old Blake Wheeler didn’t change much. This team is still pretty old and slow, is still counting on Kaapo Kakko and Alex Lafreniere to take a leap even though they both blow. The defense doesn’t have a puck-mover other than Adam Fox, who is just another word for Torey Krug. Igor Shesterkin will bail them out of most of their problems, and if they get enough power plays in the playoffs they may make some more undeserved noise again. Or they’ll get their doors blown off by the Devils again. Either or.
No one cares until 2025 or whenever Matvei Michkov shows up.
Probably the most watched team to start the season at least. One last hurrah for Crosby, Malkin, and Letang, with the vitamin boost of Erik Karlsson. Except their goalie still sucks, and the bottom six forwards might stink as well. They’ll hope to outscore all of those issues, and they just might if the Rangers thing goes balls-up and Barzal gets hurt again.
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