(Image via sportstravelmagazine.com)
Staff Writer: Tom Dunford
With the 2023-24 NHL season approaching rapidly, it’s time to look at what teams are here to make noise and what teams may have to look past this season regarding hope and prosperity.
What are our top four intriguing storylines heading into this season?
Without further ado, let’s begin.
4: Boston’s Fall From Grace
After Boston flew too high to the sun with a 65-win season, their dreams and ambitions came crashing down after the 8th-seed Florida Panthers knocked them out in the first round of the playoffs. With that, the Boston Bruins are back to the drawing board to decipher a new plan.
With the captain and soul of the team, Patrice Bergeron, retiring, along with his partner-in-crime David Krejci, the Bruins are amidst an identity crisis. Their crucial trade deadline acquisitions in Dmitry Orlov and Tyler Bertuzzi have jumped ship, leaving Boston in a state of limbo they haven’t felt in what feels like forever.
The Bruins continue to be regarded as a high-end contender, but with fatal flaws enduring the lineup, it feels like fool’s gold to predict this team to be anything other than a middle-of-the-pack wild-card team.
Some pieces, however, remain intact to give Bruin’s fans a glimmer of hope.
The new captain in Brad Marchand has also remained a fan favorite, along with the two-headed monster in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman defending the cage; there is some reason to suggest Boston will continue to dominate.
Will it prevail, or is this the start of a long journey to nowhere?
3: New York, New Coach, New Luck?
After the New York Rangers failed to win a playoff series against a young, elusive Devils squad, the front office abruptly ended the Gerad Gellant coaching era.
Instead of finding someone new to go under the Broadway spotlight, the Rangers rebooted an old system with head coach Peter Laviolette. His previous tenure was with the Washington Capitals, finishing with a record of 115-78-27, with two playoff appearances and no playoff series wins with the squad. The Rangers core has talent for Laviolette to thrive with, including Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, and goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
The main factor for Laviolette is in the young talent that the Rangers continue to fumble. Premier skills in Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere have been delegated to depth pieces, being overshadowed by veterans stepping in and taking playing time.
If Laviolette can develop these stars properly, this hire could be a slam dunk.
2. The Great Hellebuyck Wait
To say Winnipeg has failed to meet expectations is an understatement, and it seems like the Jets are soaring into the abyss.
The Winnipeg Jets had a massive regression in the 2022-23 season, finishing with a record of 46-33-3, getting knocked out in five games by the Vegas Golden Knights. With that, the Jets underwent a retool, shipping off the disgruntled forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings for future draft picks and prospects.
The departure of Dubois hurt, but what stung a loyal Jets fanbase was the organization parting ways with the six-year captain Blake Wheeler. With no foundation or thrill to succeed in 2023-24, star goaltender and future hall of famer Connor Hellebuyck has voiced his discretion with the organization.
It is clear that Hellebuyck still has a will to play, boasting a record of 37-25-4, with goals saved above expected of 30.8 and a goals against average of 2.49. Hellebuyck is in the final year of his contract, and with no intention of resigning with Winnipeg, the Jets will look to sell him for a haul.
Goaltending is a significant x-factor in the NHL playoffs, and Hellebuyck is as good as they come in stealing wins and shutting down offenses. It’s not a matter of if Hellebuyck will leave Winnipeg; it’s a matter of when.
1. Can the NHL figure it out?
When the NHL signed a seven-year deal with ESPN, it was to help grow the game of hockey and expand its viewership and fanbase. Instead, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the league.
NHL viewership has decreased by a sizeable 22% since signing the deal; with the backlash to animated advertisements on boards and the regional media blackouts, it feels like the NHL has fallen off a cliff to most average sports fans.
To put in perspective how blasphemous the growth of hockey has been, take the championship games between the NHL and NBA. The average viewership for the NBA finals was roughly 11.64 million viewers per game, while the NHL finals averaged 2.6 million viewers.
With a lack of marketing and sponsorships, the NHL is declining rapidly, with no plan of action or change. Nike refused to offer a bid to sponsor the NHL, claiming that the league hemorrhages money.
The NHL needs to figure out the business side of the sport, or things could get grim.