NHL season predictions 2.0: Revised picks for Stanley Cup, playoff field, awards and more – The Athletic

How much could have changed in a month?

Ask the Edmonton Oilers. When The Athletic polled its NHL staff for 2023-24 predictions in the preseason, Connor McDavid was the prohibitive favorite for another Hart Trophy, and his team was expected to be a shoo-in for a playoff spot and among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Now? Well, the Oilers are the overwhelming top pick in one category, but it’s not a good one.

What else has changed? This week, we polled staffers on the same set of questions we asked in the preseason. Here’s how our expectations for 2023-24 have already evolved, with expert analysis, critique and trolling from senior national writer Sean Gentille, analytics guru Shayna Goldman and NHL betting expert Jesse Granger.

Who will win the Stanley Cup?

Gentille: It’s worth reiterating that, somehow, nobody picked the Golden Knights to repeat back in October. Their start has changed some minds — but not mine just yet. I picked the Stars and I’m sticking with them. They’re leading the Central, and they’re a stronger five-on-five team than Vegas in plenty of important ways.

Goldman: It’s interesting to see how many of us are sticking with Dallas, even though, unlike Vegas, they’re showing some actual weaknesses in their game. It feels like once they work out some of the kinks in areas like their power play, there’s going to be a real battle for the honors of best in the West between these two. And who says no to a Dallas-Vegas Western Conference Final again?

Granger: The most impressive part of the Golden Knights’ 11-2-1 start is that they’ve done it without playing all that well, at least by their lofty standards. There have been stretches of strong play, but the coaches and players all feel they’ve yet to truly find their game, which is a scary thought. Vegas has benefited from a light schedule but has really shown up in the big matchups, like the 7-0 beatdown of Colorado. It’s hard to find a weakness in this team.

The Rangers have looked like a complete team from top to bottom through one month of the season. (Elsa / Getty Images)

Who will be the runners-up?

Gentille: It makes sense for two Eastern teams to be at the top of this, given how high everyone is on Vegas and Dallas. Carolina is scuffling and banged up (Frederik Andersen is the latest to leave the lineup), and the Rangers are the clear beneficiary.

Goldman: The Rangers definitely make sense here after their start, and some weaknesses to other top contenders in the East make room for them. The Leafs are “Leafing,” the Devils have some elements in their game to work out, and the Canes have some key injuries to work through.

Granger: It’s no surprise the Rangers flew up this list. They’ve looked like such a complete team from top to bottom through one month of the season. New York has two of the top-12 scorers (Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin), a top-10 defense in expected goals allowed led by a Norris Trophy candidate, and a goalie tandem that has played exceptionally well.


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Who will finish in last place?

Gentille: Is it too late to pick the Oilers?

Goldman: How can you not pick the team that’s on pace for a historically bad season?

Granger: I was one of the few who tried to be cute and pick someone other than the Sharks before the season began. It hasn’t worked out. San Jose is the worst team in hockey.


Oilers’ crisis shifts to embarrassment after loss to the Sharks

Who will be the biggest disappointment?

Must have been projected at 100-plus points in the preseason by Dom’s model.

Gentille: It seems like we shoveled dirt on the Bruins a little too early. Their team defensive play and goaltending were always going to give them a chance, though.

Goldman: If it wasn’t for the Oilers, the Leafs would probably be getting a lot more flack here.

Granger: Team defense and goaltending are the biggest reasons the Bruins are proving the preseason predictions wrong. It’s fitting that those are the same reasons the Oilers are now the landslide pick here.


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Who’s your dark horse Cup contender?

Must have been projected as a middle-of-the-pack team, between 85 and 100 points by Dom’s model.

Gentille: On some level, seeing the Canucks tied for second place is a surprise, but the Kings are one of the biggest surprises in the league, period. That’s an outstanding top-to-bottom team, and Cam Talbot has given them what they need in net.

Goldman: The Kings should be number one here, but maybe the Panthers deserve a little more credit — they’ve managed a lot better than expected despite that blue line with Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour injured.

Granger: With three of the biggest positive surprises in the league — Los Angeles, Vancouver and Anaheim — the Pacific Division is the most interesting it’s been in quite a while. The Ducks are improved, but obviously still miles away from this conversation. The Kings and Canucks have really impressed in all aspects thus far.

Who’s your surprise playoff team?

Must have been projected below 85 points by Dom’s model.

Gentille: I don’t particularly like any of these teams to make the postseason, but the Edmonton crash-and-burn is going to give Arizona and Anaheim a real shot.

Goldman: It seems like there’s a lot more room for a surprise in the West than in the East. I don’t think Arizona or Anaheim actually make it either, but the fact that they’re in the conversation at all shows the steps forward they’ve taken over the last month.

Granger: Greg Cronin has the Ducks playing with structure, and their goaltending is reaping the benefits. John Gibson has been back in form, and he hasn’t even been the best goalie on the team. Rookie netminder Lukáš Dostál has been outstanding. It’s hard to say if Anaheim can keep this up for 82 games, but the improvement has been dramatic.

After the Oilers’ disastrous start, will Jay Woodcroft be the first coach fired this season? (Derek Cain / Getty Images)

Who will be the first coach fired?

Gentille: Truly wild, despite how horrendous the Sharks have been, that David Quinn only picked up one vote here. It’s a testament to how screwed up things are with the Oilers and Senators.

Goldman: There definitely should be more heat on Quinn and even Blues coach Craig Berube, but how can you look away from the three at the top right now? Which playoff hopeful will make a coaching change and hope they’re the next 2019 Blues?

Granger: Quick turnarounds are desperately needed in Ontario and Alberta.

East playoff field

We asked each voter to pick the eight East playoff teams. Here is the percentage of the votes received by each team. (Note: * playoff team in 2022-23)

Gentille: Just as we all thought, Detroit is the young Atlantic Division team set to make the leap.

Goldman: Talk about a dramatic fall for Pittsburgh. It seems like there’s too much skill for the team to be this underwhelming, but …

Granger: And it’s not just Pittsburgh. Isn’t it a little too early to bail on the optimism around the Sabres?

West playoff field

We asked each voter to pick the eight West playoff teams. Here is the percentage of the votes received by each team. (Note: * playoff team in 2022-23)

Gentille: Yeah, this feels right. I just can’t bail on the Oilers yet. I dunno what’s wrong with me.

Goldman: With the Flames burning out so early in the season, it’s hard to knock out the Oilers despite their start. It’s actually a little surprising to see such a split in votes between the top and bottom eight, though.

Granger: The Sharks are the only team to not receive at least one vote to make the playoffs. Man, the West is fun.

Jack Hughes is out week to week for the Devils with an upper-body injury. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Hart Trophy

Given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. Voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA)

Gentille: Jack Hughes’ injury and Edmonton’s decrepitude are going to make this one really fun, but I went with Elias Pettersson. Why not?

Goldman: The Canucks really could find themselves with a few awards finalists this year. McDavid’s uncharacteristic start may have opened the door for others to join the mix. Then again, if he goes on a heater and drags his team back up in the standings this is probably over, right?

Granger: The oddsmakers still have McDavid as a sizable favorite at +250, while Hughes is a distant third at +600. Also receiving a vote in this poll: his brother, Quinn, who is all the way down at +4,000.

Rocket Richard Trophy

Given to the leading goal scorer at the end of the regular season.

Gentille: I tried to find a way to pick someone other than Auston Matthews, if only for variety, but I couldn’t do it.

Goldman: There are over a dozen players on pace to hit the 50-goal mark this year after the first month-ish of play, but I just can’t see anyone keeping pace with Matthews at this rate.

Granger: Matthews winning this feels like it’s almost a certainty, but that’s also how we felt about McDavid winning the Hart a few weeks ago. It will be interesting to see if Matthews can go wire-to-wire.

Cale Makar won the 2022 Norris Trophy. Can he win it in 2024? (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Norris Trophy

Given to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position. Voted on by the PHWA.

Gentille: Quinn Hughes would get my vote today, but it already feels like a two-man race.

Goldman: The last two years saw defenders who probably qualified more for the Hart than the actual Norris finish as finalists, and that isn’t the case so far this season. It should make this conversation even more fun down the stretch if that keeps up.

Granger: Hughes versus Cale Makar may be the most interesting player-versus-player debate in the NHL right now. These two are so much fun to watch.


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Selke Trophy

Given to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. Voted on by the PHWA.

Gentille: Nico Hischier’s injury opened up a ton of space, and the Patrice Bergeron-less field is deep. Eric Staal has been his typically strong self. Feels like it might be time for a lifetime achievement award there.

Goldman: Given the Hischier injury and the Bergeron-less field, I am super surprised to see Joel Eriksson Ek actually get less of the vote this time around.

Granger: Momentum is growing for Mark Stone to become the first winger to win the award since Jere Lehtinen in 2003. Takeaways aren’t the most accurately-kept stat, but Stone once again finds himself at the top. He has 176 more takeaways than the next-closest player since the 2014-15 season when he became a full-time NHLer.

Vezina Trophy

Given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position. Voted on by the general managers of all 32 NHL clubs.

Gentille: Wild to see Ilya Sorokin play himself out of the conversation this early. I switched my vote over to Jake Oettinger.

Goldman: Thatcher Demko and his league-leading 15 goals saved above expected say what’s up.

Granger: Demko has been on an absolute tear to start the season. There’s still a long way to go, but he’s been far and away the best goalie. Everything about this Canucks team has been fun to watch, including Demko’s heroics in net.

Jack Adams Award

Given to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success. Voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association.

Coach Preseason Now







































Gentille: Truly cannot believe I was the only person to vote for Rick Tocchet at the start of the season. Everything was already in place. Just engrave the plaque.

Goldman: Considering how the Bruins are playing despite their gaps down the middle, Jim Montgomery is getting more credit now. But let’s appreciate the couple of votes that went Greg Cronin’s way, too.

Granger: Tocchet is the current favorite at the sportsbooks at +750. It’s a little interesting Bruce Cassidy didn’t receive more support here. He has the second-best odds at +1,000 and has done an exceptional job.

Connor Bedard has seven goals and 11 points through his first 12 games in the NHL. (Chase Agnello-Dean / NHLI via Getty Images)

Calder Trophy

Given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. Voted on by the PHWA.

Gentille: Logan Cooley has eight points in 13 games. Tough break for the West Mifflin, Pa., legend, though.

Goldman: This feels like the biggest slam dunk of any award this season, and rightfully so when there’s someone of Bedard’s caliber.

Granger: Bedard is rightfully running away with this.

(Top photos of Auston Matthews and Connor Bedard: China Wong / NHLI via Getty Images and Michael Reaves / Getty Images) 

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