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Way-too-early predictions for the NHL 2024-25 season: Stanley Cup winner, dark horse, playoff field, awards, more

Can the Edmonton Oilers make it back to the Stanley Cup Final and finish the job this time? Are the Florida Panthers bound for their third straight Final? What will the playoff field look like when the regular season plays out?

With the offseason’s big free-agent signings in the books, The Athletic asked its NHL staff those questions plus who the first coach fired will be, which players will win the major awards and more.

Here are our early 2024-25 NHL season predictions.

Which predictions will look best and worst this time next year? We’ve brought in senior national writer Sean Gentille, national analytics writer Shayna Goldman and NHL betting expert Jesse Granger to provide context, analysis, skepticism and some light trolling of the results.


Stanley Cup champion

Goldman: It looks like a lot of us are thinking the Oilers follow the Panthers’ path: Make it to the Final one year, win it all the next. Edmonton’s had a pretty encouraging start to the offseason to boost confidence.

Gentille: I have one rule when it comes to making Cup champion picks: Err on the side of recklessness. If you pick a favorite like the Oilers and they deliver, big deal. History will not remember you kindly; history will not remember you at all. What I’m saying is that I picked the Canucks.

Granger: I think we’ve forgotten how good the Devils are when healthy. New Jersey had the second-highest expected goal share in 2022-23, and even when decimated with injuries still finished in the top 10 in 2023-24. With a full summer off, I expect the Devils to be fresher than most (similar to Vegas in 2022-23 after missing the playoffs), and they now have a stud goalie in Jacob Markstrom to ensure they don’t squander that exceptional expected goal share. I ventured out on a limb for this, but give me the Devils to win it all.

Runners-up

Gentille: There’s a cluster of Eastern Conference teams at the top. Given our Cup champion picks, that makes sense. I’d say that I’m surprised to see so many people on the Devils’ bandwagon, but the psychology at play makes sense. Pick a boring Cup winner, then get a little spicy downballot.

Granger: I was alone in picking the Devils to win it all, but apparently plenty of the voters were right on the verge.

Goldman: Maybe the most interesting part of these two polls is that only one vote predicts the Panthers to return to the Stanley Cup Final after two straight trips.

Surprise playoff team

A projected lower-tier team (+6,000 or worse odds of winning the Cup, per BetMGM) that you see making the playoffs

Goldman: Utah is the fun pick here, considering the progress the Coyotes made last season and the investment made in the roster so far this summer. Washington and Seattle getting votes makes sense, too. The Capitals have made some promising moves, and the Kraken’s refreshed coaching staff could make things interesting.

Gentille: Actually, I have two rules for Cup champion picks. The second: You have to at least believe it yourself. I can’t come close to talking myself into the Kraken, Blue Jackets or Blackhawks, even as a bit.

Granger: Never underestimate the impact of a fresh start. We saw it in the Golden Knights’ first season. It took the Kraken an extra year, but they got there. While this isn’t an expansion team, I expect some major surprise performances out of Utah this season from players with elevated roles.

Dark horse Cup contender

A projected middle-of-the-pack team (between +2,000 and +6,000 odds of winning the Cup, per BetMGM) you could see making a real run

Goldman: Vancouver gets a big share of votes after taking massive strides this past season, but hello Tampa Bay. I picked the Lightning here (and as the Cup Final runners-up). They are back in their villain era and aren’t here to make friends, which has worked out well for them in the past.

Gentille: I like all of the +2,200 teams basically equally, and I don’t want anything to do with the rest of the field.

Granger: I chose Ottawa because I think the Senators will take major strides this season, with Linus Ullmark leading the way. The Lightning, Canucks and Jets all probably have a better chance to win the Cup. I won’t argue that. But picking a team with two Cups in their recent history just didn’t feel like a true dark horse, so I went with a team I think will surprise.

Biggest disappointment

A projected favorite (+2,000 or better odds of winning the Cup, per BetMGM) that you could see missing the playoffs or being a first-round flameout

Gentille: I went with the Golden Knights here. As of this moment, the forward group is lacking a bit, and the Pacific Division is still pretty treacherous. Seems like the ingredients are in place.

Granger: I totally understand why Vegas was a popular pick here. The Golden Knights lost a lot of forward depth this summer, and they’ve struggled to stay healthy for three straight seasons. With that loss of depth, they may not have the reinforcements to keep their heads above water if Mark Stone and/or Jack Eichel miss time, as they have in the past. When healthy, Vegas is still a very talented team, but that’s a serious question mark.

Goldman: Vegas and Carolina definitely track as the top two picks here. The Canes had to retool their defense which will be a real test of their system, plus they haven’t found their Jake Guentzel replacement yet. As for me, I went for the safe and dependable pick for a Round 1 flameout: the Leafs!

Presidents’ Trophy winner

Gentille: Edmonton wasn’t my Cup pick, but it was my Presidents’ Trophy pick. If Stuart Skinner keeps his momentum going, I like them a lot for this one.

Granger: After the Oilers’ brutal start to last season, from Nov. 23 on, they had the best points percentage in the NHL (.727). The next-closest team was Carolina all the way down at .695. It looks like the majority of voters see that continuing right into next season, and I agree with them.

Goldman: I guess most of the voters don’t believe in the Presidents’ Trophy curse, with Edmonton finishing first for both.

Fewest points

Goldman: Macklin Celebrini should give the Sharks a huge spark like Connor Bedard did last year in Chicago … but the Sharks are probably going to be awful any time he is on the bench, which is par for the course.

Gentille: I wanted to go with the Ducks here, but man, Tyler Toffoli and Barclay Goodrow aside, that San Jose roster is still abysmal.

Granger: The Ducks at least have John Gibson and Lukáš Dostál to steal a game here or there. The Canadiens have Sam Montembeault (who quietly had an excellent 2023-24). The Sharks should be better than last season, but by how much?

First coach fired

Coach Percent of vote

31.3%

21.9%

9.4%

6.3%

6.3%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

Gentille: I’m not sure the Red Wings got any better this offseason, and expectations are still high. Derek Lalonde is a good coach, but it’s easy to see him as a scapegoat.

Granger: It’s hard to argue with that explanation for Lalonde. I personally wonder how things go in Philadelphia if the Flyers don’t exceed expectations the way they did for most of last season.

Goldman: Lalonde definitely makes sense, but I actually went with Jim Montgomery here if the Bruins don’t look like a team ready to go on a deep run.

Calder winner

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

Player Percent of vote

Macklin Celebrini

50.0%

Matvei Michkov

34.4%

Logan Stankoven

12.5%

Dustin Wolf

3.1%

Gentille: The Flyers’ situation down the middle isn’t great, but Matvei Michkov’s linemates should still be competent. If Philly’s power play is half decent, he’ll have an opportunity to stack some points, too. In most years, that’s enough.

Granger: A goalie hasn’t won the Calder Trophy since Steve Mason did it with Columbus in 2009, but with the Jacob Markstrom era officially over in Calgary, I expect Dustin Wolf to see a major increase in starts. With only Dan Vladar as competition, Wolf could easily seize the starting role. The Flames aren’t expected to win a lot, but Wolf could rack up enough victories to join the conversation with the talented forwards listed above.

Goldman: Bedard managed with no one around him, so Celebrini could follow in his footsteps … but the Flyers situation may give Michkov a better chance of success.

Vezina Trophy

Given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position. Voted on by general managers.

Goldman: Igor Shesterkin turned his awful start into an elite second half, and that’s a wave he could ride into 2024-25. But if Andrei Vasilevskiy has more defensive support and Ilya Sorokin can bounce back, the field for this could get pretty deep.

Gentille: Jake Oettinger has already burned me once, and I think Shesterkin (on most nights) is the best goaltender on the planet.

Granger: I agree that Shesterkin is the best goaltender on the planet, and I also think he figured something out midway through last season that has really helped his consistency. He played a more patient game down the stretch and into the playoffs, holding his edges longer and letting the play come to him, and the result was a ridiculous 32.31 goals saved above expected after the All-Star break (including the playoffs). If he were to maintain that pace for a full season, it would be one of the best in recent history.

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: I think it’s going to be Cale Makar — he almost deserved it during a down season in 2023-24 — but I figured Quinn Hughes and Evan Bouchard would at least get a few more votes.

Granger: The fact that Makar had a “down” season is the reason I’m so confident he’s going to shred 2024-25, and apparently everyone else feels similarly.

Goldman: If Makar’s healthy (unlike parts of this past season), he feels like the slam dunk. Gustav Forsling and Miro Heiskanen will get nods, but right or wrong, their scoring will probably hold them back from finishing first.

Selke Trophy

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

Goldman: Welcome to a Patrice Bergeron-less field, where now you all have to try and beat Aleksander Barkov. Good luck!

Gentille: Might as well engrave this one already.

Granger: Reputation is a big deal when it comes to Selke voting. It’s at least partially why Bergeron won it six times (and was a finalist 12 straight years). Now that he’s gone, it appears Barkov has filled those shoes.

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 Percent of vote

28.1%

12.5%

9.4%

6.3%

6.3%

6.3%

6.3%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

Goldman: This is Kris Knoblauch erasure.

Gentille: Mike Sullivan took over midseason, won a Cup, won another Cup and still hasn’t gotten one of these, so Knoblauch is in solid company. Also, as we know, “New coach + decent roster + improved goaltending = Jack Adams,” so congrats to either Sheldon Keefe or Travis Green.

Granger: Sean’s formula is exactly what led to my vote for Green.

Jim Gregory Award

Given to the top NHL general manager. Voted on by a panel of all 32 NHL general managers, five NHL executives and five media members.

GM Percent of vote

50.0%

12.5%

6.3%

6.3%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

3.1%

Goldman: Listen, I won’t be surprised if we’re all thirsting over Barry Trotz this season because he seems like a breath of fresh air in the general manager sphere. I’m just a little surprised that more of this year’s contenders (or the reigning champ) didn’t get more hype.

Gentille: Voters are going to be extremely eager to give this one to Trotz. Barring a collapse or a major push by Utah, this is his to lose.

Hart Trophy

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

Gentille: Hope voters enjoyed their break from Connor McDavid.

Granger: It’s going to take something miraculous for someone to wrestle this away from McDavid.

Goldman: Literally, it would probably take him missing time to lose this. He was still a top three even after an injury slowed him down early this past season!

Eastern Conference playoff field

We asked each voter to pick the eight East playoff teams. Here is the percent of the vote received by each team. (Note: * playoff team in 2023-24)

Gentille: Nothing crazy here, but I’ll use the space to, once more, state my skepticism about the Red Wings.

Granger: Seeing my dark horse pick receive only 18.8 percent of the votes to make the playoffs is not exactly confidence-inspiring. Plenty of room on the Senators bandwagon, so jump right on! I do find it interesting that the confidence in Detroit is significantly higher despite Ottawa having a superior expected goal share last season, and the Senators added a Vezina-winning goalie while the Wings added Cam Talbot.

Goldman: The Devils should firmly reach the playoffs after this past season’s setbacks, so that likely only leaves one spot up for grabs. I just am a little surprised the vote isn’t closer after the Senators added Ullmark and Washington made some savvy moves.

Western Conference playoff field

We asked each voter to pick the eight West playoff teams. Here is the percent of the vote received by each team. (Note: * playoff team in 2023-24)

Gentille: I didn’t want to just port over all eight teams from last season, but I do think they’re the eight best teams in the conference. Tough.

Granger: It certainly feels like the delineation between the power tiers in the West is right on the playoff cut line, and six of the eight playoff teams from 2022-23 qualified again in 2023-24, so there’s some precedent for it.

Goldman: I really think Seattle or Utah can shake things up so the West isn’t just a repeat of the same teams from this year. But it’s so tricky to project which team will fall out of the race. It feels like the Jets and Kings still have work to do this offseason.

(Top photo of the Oilers after winning the Western Conference final: Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

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