Lost in Connor Bedard mania may be the "actual" season that is about to happen. The Vegas Golden Knights will hang their banner on Tuesday to kick off the 23-24 season and it should be a memorable one.
More than most seasons, I can honestly say there isn't a favorite this year. Six weeks ago I wrote an article highlighting the 4 tiers that were coming into focus for the upcoming season. You can read that article by clicking on this paragraph. I stand by the picks and still think it will ultimately be the way this year shakes out.
While our Blackhawks will see improvement, it is unlikely that the playoffs will be in their immediate future. Let's instead look at who could truly raise Lord Stanley's Cup this season:
My main contenders are (in order) Dallas, Carolina, Edmonton, Colorado, New Jersey, Toronto, Vegas, and Tampa Bay. The injury to Vasilevskiy will dampen their playoff standing for sure, but I still believe that the Lightning will present one of the best rosters come playoff time.
Will this be a curse breaking season with Edmonton and Toronto having such a good chance at overcoming a now 30 year old Northern Cup drought? Perhaps, it's as good of a shot as Canada as had in some time from my perspective.
I see Dallas and Carolina as truly having the two rosters that intrigue me the most in terms of both regular seaon and postseason potential. This has to be the all-in year for the Canes in my opinion. If they aren't aggressive at the deadline, then they will have done a disservice to their fans to be blunt. It's this lack of aggressiveness that would make me pick the Stars as the favorite for the 23-24 Cup.
In terms of the opposite end of this equation you have to start with San Jose when thinking about how their year may play out. Not only have they traded away some key players (Karlsson and Meier) but they will likely make more moves before the deadline this season. Add in the Flyers, Coyotes, Ducks, Predators, Blackhawks, Blues, and Canadiens and it could be another "tank" year for some clubs.
Like this past draft, it appears to be a draft class that has elite level forward talent (in Celebrini, Demidov, and Eiserman) so I expect more teams to join the fray in the depths of the standings before March.
When it comes to awards, the usual name should be at the forefront in terms of the Richard / Hart trophies. Connor McDavid will likely net another 130-160 point campaign and take home at least one of those awards. In terms of the Norris, I'm squarely looking at Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar. The Calder, which of course fans of the Blackhawks will be interested in, will be headlined by Connor Bedard's stat line, however there will no doubt be competition for the award.
Rookies such as Luke Hughes, Adam Fantilli, Devon Levi, and Logan Cooley will give Connor Bedard all the competition this season and those are just the headliners. A player like Matthew Knies or even Zach Benson could make a bid to be considered. What if Logan Stankoven makes the Stars roster and puts up stats this year? This may go down as one of the greatest rookie classes of all-time.
The season is upon us, the #98 jerseys are in your closet ready to be worn, and this year is presenting itself as one of the most wide open fields I've seen in some time. Get excited, hockey is right around the corner!