The top storylines heading into the 2023 NHL Playoffs
Matthew DeMille, Staff Writer
In the hockey world, the end of March signifies one thing: playoff season is right around the corner.
You heard that right! Time to put away the razors, prep the rally caps and toss on your favorite jersey. The National Hockey League’s grueling 82-game regular season slog will soon be wrapped-up, making way for puck drop on the long-awaited 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs — beginning on April 17.
Now, as the regular season dwindles down and the playoff race becomes ever so clearer, there is no better time to whip up a batch of predictions about how the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs will shake out.
Here’s a handful of storylines to keep an eye on as we head into the postseason.
The Boston Bruins will capture another Stanley Cup
This season for the Boston Bruins has been nothing short of remarkable, and, at this point, it’s their season to lose. On March 11, the Bruins, who were playing in their 64th regular season game, not only became the first team in the NHL to capture a playoff spot for the upcoming postseason but also became the fastest club to reach 50 regular season wins in NHL history — sitting at a record 50-9-5.
But, that’s not the only record the club has recorded this season — nor will it be the last.
On March 2, the Bruins also broke the NHL record for becoming the fastest club to reach the 100-point mark, securing their 101st point in a 7-1 triumph over the Buffalo Sabres. And with 11 regular season games remaining on their schedule, the Bruins also have a chance to break the record for most wins by a club in a single season.
The record — 62 wins — is currently shared between the Detroit Red Wings (1995-96) and Tampa Bay Lightning (2018-19). In order to become the record holder, the Bruins would need to win eight out of their 11 remaining games — a feat that doesn’t seem so impossible.
However, it’s not just their record-crushing season that has them pegged as a Stanley Cup favourite. They are also built for it. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci bring Stanley Cup experience to the club — having won the championship in 2011 — while David Pastrnak, Jake Debrusk and Charlie McAvoy round out their high offensive group. Recent acquisitions in Tyler Bertuzzi, Garnet Hathaway and Dmitry Orlov have already improved the team’s depth and have added an extra level of grit and tenacity perfect for postseason play.
The Colorado Avalanche will fail to make the finals
Mark our words, the Colorado Avalanche will not reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the second consecutive year. Following their Stanley Cup winning performance in the season prior, expectations are high for the reigning champs. And while they currently sit comfortably in a playoff spot (third in the Central Division), it is a large regression when comparing it to last season’s placement (first in the Central Division and second across the league).
The disappointing season is not entirely the team’s fault. For much of the season the Avalanche have had to deal with countless injuries, many of which involved their top-line skaters and bonafide stars.
Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Bowen Byram, Artturi Lehkonen and Pavel Francouz, among others, have all spent time on the ‘shelf’ this season, but none have wounded the Avs more than the loss of their captain, Gabriel Landeskog. The 30-year-old forward, who made his home on the top two lines, has missed the entirety of the 2022/23 season following knee surgery done in October. While it’s been reported that Landeskog has begun skating again, there is no timeline for his return.
A Canadian team will make the Conference Finals
Is it Canada’s year to win the Stanley Cup? Who knows. But, is it Canada’s year to reach a Conference Finals? Quite possibly. It would not be shocking if we saw either the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs — sorry, Calgary and Winnipeg — plough through the first couple rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In a relatively weak Western Conference, Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers should make quick work of their first-round opponents, whomever they may be. That’s solely from the performance of Oilers’ captain McDavid, who looks damn-near unstoppable at this point in the season. The Richmond Hill, Ont., native looks over the entire NHL in the goals (60), assists (78), and points (138) columns, with 10 games still to play.
For the club that will be eventually assigned the task of playing the Edmonton Oilers in the first round, it’s not a matter of winning four games to progress, it’s a matter of shutting down McDavid four times — which if you ask us, seems almost impossible.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2004, but all that can change this year, maybe. The Leafs, who sit second in the Atlantic Division, have logged yet another impressive regular season and are well on their way to clinching a spot in the NHL playoffs for the seventh-straight season.
While the first round playoff curse that has plagued the team for over a decade is still on the horizon, we can’t help but feel that this is the season where the Leafs will cast away their demons. The core four consisting of Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares looks lethal as ever, with each skater averaging over a point a game.
But the additions made by Toronto’s general manager, Kyle Dubas, is what will sway the scales for the team. Calle Jarnkrok, Erik Gustafson, Jake McCabe, Noel Acciari, and most notably, Ryan O’Rielly have all been added to the roster in the hopes of bolstering the Leafs’ depth with some solid two-way skaters. If the Leafs get past their first round woes, then a Conference Final may be in their near future.
The Calgary Flames will fall short
On a more local level, the struggling Calgary Flames are in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the west. Sitting six points out, the Flames are currently scrapping it out with the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. If the recent performances from the club are any indication of how the rest of the season will finish, the probability of the postseason is grim.
The biggest concern for the Flames seems to be coming from within the locker room, as the players — mainly the offseason additions, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri — are finding it difficult to gel with head coach Darryl Sutter’s style of coaching. This issue has persisted through the entire season, as neither Huberdeau or Kadri were able to replicate offensive performances we’ve seen in past seasons.
With nine games remaining in the regular season, the chances of Calgary stringing together a considerable amount of wins seem highly unlikely.