The 2023-24 NHL season is set to begin, and there's so much to pay attention to as the year gets underway.
The Vegas Golden Knights captured their first Stanley Cup in franchise history as they defeated the Florida Panthers last June. Following an intriguing offseason, many teams will be trying to dethrone the Golden Knights this coming season. Who will take the next step? Which teams will place themselves among the league's elite?
Here are 10 of the biggest storylines around the NHL ranks as the 2023-24 campaign starts.
Golden Knights attempt to repeat as Stanley Cup champions
The Golden Knights finally won the Stanley Cup that alluded them since their inaugural season. Oftentimes, defending Stanley Cup champions are forced to part with multiple key players as a result of being up against the salary cap. The Golden Knights did trade veteran forward Reilly Smith to the Penguins to become cap compliant, but that was the only key player who left town. Adin Hill is back in net to split time with Logan Thompson, while forward Ivan Barbashev remains in the fold after re-signing. This is still a very dangerous team that if they can stay relatively healthy.
Do the Penguins have another Stanley Cup run in them?
The Penguins had made the playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons before missing the postseason during the 2022-23 season. After falling short of the playoffs and doing very little at the trade deadline, general manager Ron Hextall was shown the door, and the Penguins were able to land Kyle Dubas after Dubas left the Maple Leafs. Dubas quickly put his fingerprints on the team when he landed star defenseman Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Sharks. Acquiring a player of Karlsson's caliber is the sign of a team that is still chasing a Stanley Cup. Considering that Sidney Crosby is still playing at an elite level, the Penguins have a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup, but this may be one of their last shots.
Connor Bedard makes his NHL debut
For the better part of the last calendar year, hockey fans were clamoring for Connor Bedard and what he could accomplish at the next level. Finally, Bedard will be making his NHL debut for the Blackhawks when the season gets underway. During the preseason, we've caught a glimpse of what Bedard is capable of, including a recent three-point performance against the Red Wings. Throughout his time with the WHL's Regina Pats, Bedard made jaw-dropping play after play, and showcased his ability as an elite playmaker. Sure, this Blackhawks team doesn't have a ton of firepower, but Bedard throughout the 2023-24 season.
Panthers look to build off Stanley Cup Final run
The Panthers weren't a team that many expected to make a deep playoff run last season. However, the Panthers upset the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bruins in the opening round and managed to charge all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. During that run, Matthew Tkachuk played like the superstar many expected when the Panthers acquired him from the Flames last summer. The Panthers return the majority of the same roster from last year. The biggest question mark will be whether goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky can have a strong year in net. If he thrives like he did throughout stretches of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, .
Where will Patrick Kane end up?
After 16 seasons with the Blackhawks, veteran forward Patrick Kane was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline. Kane registered just 12 points (five goals and seven assists) in 19 regular-season contests with the Rangers down the stretch. The 34-year-old underwent hip surgery in the offseason and remains an unrestricted free agent. Kane's agency, CAA Hockey, recently posted a video of him skating just three months after undergoing surgery. It's unclear if Kane has any type of timetable or if he's talked to any NHL teams just yet. Kane could elect to be patient and sign with a contender closer to the All-Star break. If Kane can return to form, he could be a solid piece for a contending team.
Bruins depth at center in question
The Bruins had the most historic regular season in NHL history with 135 points in 2022-23. Still, the Panthers were able to outlast the Bruins in a seven-game series and sent the Bruins home. To make matters worse, Boston lost two of their centers over the summer with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci announcing their respective retirements. The Bruins now have Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha as their top two centers, which is a far cry from having two of the best in franchise history. Boston also lost winger Tyler Bertuzzi in free agency, so the offensive firepower probably won't be what it was a season ago. The Bruins are the type of veteran team that certainly shouldn't be counted out, but in 2023-24.
Avalanche looking for bounce-back season
No team was bitten by the injury bug more throughout the 2022-23 campaign than the Avalanche. Captain Gabriel Landeskog missed the entire season due to a knee injury and was forced to undergo cartilage transplant surgery. As a result, Landeskog will miss the entire 2023-24 season as well, so the Avalanche will be shorthanded yet again. In addition to Landeskog, Colorado saw players like Cale Makar, Artturi Lehkonen and Bowen Byram miss significant time last year, so having them back in the fold will be huge. The Avalanche were simply playing catch up when it came to defending their Stanley Cup a season ago, and they ended up being eliminated by the Kraken in the opening round. If this Nathan MacKinnon and Makar-led group can stay healthy in 2023-24, this is a team that can be .
Can the Kraken contend with elite teams in the West?
The Kraken didn't have the same success that the Golden Knights did during their inaugural season, but they definitely bounced back in 2022-23. Seattle put together a 46-28-8 record (100 points) last season and managed to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Jared McCann produced a career-high 40 goals, while former first-round pick Matty Beniers won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. The Kraken added to their blue line by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin away from the Penguins to help aid a back end that already includes Vince Dunn. Now the Kraken have that postseason experience and look like they're .