32 bold predictions: Connor Bedard to score 100 points in epic rookie year

Fortune favors the bold, or at least that’s how the saying goes.

We’re not so sure that’s the case in making preseason predictions. Nothing is safe, not in hockey, where seemingly every season there are six to eight jaw-dropping things happen that no one saw coming. Consider: every year since 2014, at least five new teams have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs that didn’t make it the year prior. It speaks to the unpredictability of the sport, where the most fickle position in pro sports (goalie) also happens to be the most critical.

That means you should go bold or go home. And our annual tradition is to throw safe out the window. Some years, like last year, there are more hits than misses. Others years, your Stanley Cup pick misses the playoffs. Woof. That won’t keep me down.

Hockey is back, and so are we with 32 bold predictions for the 2023-24 NHL season:

1. Connor Bedard will become the first rookie since Sidney Crosby in 2005-06 to net 100 points in a season. It can be done, even for an 18-year-old on a bad team. Crosby paced Pittsburgh with 102 in a dreadful year for the Penguins, who finished in 29th place with 58 points. Believe it. Bedard Mania is here for the Blackhawks.

2. The other Connor: McDavid will be the first player to score 60 goals in back-to-back seasons since Pavel Bure in 1992-93 and 1993-94. With 163 points, McDavid will become the third-fastest player in NHL history to 1,000 career points (less than 651 GP) – with only Wayne Gretzky (424) and Mario Lemieux (513) faster. That results in another Awards sweep: Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay, Rocket Richard and Art Ross as McDavid yearns for team hardware.

3. The Florida Panthers will be the third Stanley Cup finalist in the last four seasons to miss the playoffs the following season. With a thin defense corps, it’s going to be a slog trying to make it through until Dec. 15, when Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are projected to return. The Stars (2021) and Habs (2022) also nursed the Final hangover.

4. With the Cats out of the mix, Sam Reinhart will be the big trade chip ahead of the NHL’s 2024 trade deadline on March 8. It’s not that Florida doesn’t want to keep Reinhart. After back-to-back 30-goal seasons, he’s going to be expensive on a team that needs better salary cap balance between forward and defense — and is in desperate need of draft capital.

5. Mike Babcock will sign an endorsement
deal with Huawei smartphones. Too soon?

6. Counting on six players to hit the 50-goal plateau: McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Tage Thompson, Auston Matthews and Cole Caufield. Yep, the Canadiens’ 5-foot-7 sniper will be Montreal’s first 50-goal scorer since Stephane Richer way back in 1989-90. Caufield scored at a 46-goal pace before requiring shoulder surgery, but he’s healthy and ready to start his $63 million contract in style.

7. Incoming New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette will be the 7th coach in NHL history to hit 800 victories. He needs 48 wins to get there, which means another 100-point season for the Broadway Blueshirts.

8. Patrick Kane will sign with his hometown Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo has methodically built their roster, avoiding adding most any vet who will get in the way of their young players. Kane is not just any vet, and there is room on the right side. He looks great in his rehab from hip resurfacing surgery.

9. Sidney Crosby will add to his immaculate collection with the first Selke Trophy of his career. Sid has always been recognized as a complete player, but his previous best finish in Selke voting was fourth (2018-19). He appears to be dialed in and ready to push the Pens back into the postseason after missing for the first time since 2006.

10. Betano.ca Stone Cold Mortal Lock: Vancouver Canucks over 88.5 points.

11. Erik Karlsson’s point total this season as a Pittsburgh Penguin: 79. It’s a regression from 101 points last year, yes, but there’s no way Karlsson can play with the same risk profile as he did last season on a lost San Jose Sharks team where he was their only engine.

12. Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft will take home the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year following the Oilers’ best regular season since the 1980s. Not bold enough for you? History dictates coaches of teams with the top players are usually penalized; the award typically goes to clubs who’ve made vast turnarounds. Remember when the Oilers were out of a playoff spot when Woodcroft took over on Feb. 10, 2022?

13. There will be 13 skaters in the 100-point club this season: McDavid, Draisaitl, Pastrnak, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan McKinnon, Jason Robertson, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikko Rantanen, Elias Petersson, plus newcomers Jack Hughes, Tim Stutzle, Roope Hintz
and Bedard. Yes, it’s Hintz who makes the biggest leap from 75 to the century mark, as the most underappreciated star in the league.

14. Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The NHL will announce in April that the Arizona Coyotes are relocating to Houston for the 2024-25 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman seemed to signal February is a looming deadline for the Coyotes to announce arena plans. They can’t stay at Mullett Arena forever, and Houston just upgraded its ice plant in Toyota Center as part of a $30 million renovation. Phoenix will then rise to the top of expansion possibilities — as there is no doubt the NHL loves a market that needs a fresh start.

15. Eastern Conference Playoff Teams: Toronto, Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Carolina, New York Rangers. Wild Card: Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.

16. Western Conference Playoff Teams: Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Edmonton, Vegas, Los Angeles. Wild Card: Calgary and Vancouver.

17Yes, that means the Seattle Kraken will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs one season after getting within one win of the Western Conference Final last spring. Matty Beniers is just coming into his own but the balanced Kraken lineup just seems to be missing a real game breaker.

18. Looking for a dark horse Calder Trophy candidate? If you think there’s a chance Connor Bedard and Logan Cooley will cancel each other out, consider Sabres goalie Devon Levi (+900 at Betano.ca). It worked out pretty well for Buffalo’s last rookie netminder that completely skipped the AHL. Tom Barrasso is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in a few weeks.

19. After some back and forth, Steven Stamkos will sign a three-year extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning next spring. This one won’t be about money, as Stamkos finds a reasonable number to keep him a Bolt through age 37. GM Julien BriseBois needs to know the Lightning can continue to compete – and he’ll get that answer this season once Andrei Vasilevskiy is healthy.

20. Thatcher Demko will become the first Vancouver Canuck to capture the Vezina Trophy. You can almost directly correlate Demko’s success to his health; when Demko is feeling good, there are few better. His .920 save percentage in 16 games to close out last season is proof and this summer was his first pain free offseason of training in a bit. Look out.

21. Betano.ca Stone Cold Mortal Lock: Buffalo Sabres to finish with more points than New York Islanders (-115).

22. With a franchise-best regular season and trip to the Eastern Conference Final, first year Toronto Maple Leafs manager Brad Treliving will win the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award. Treliving essentially swapped Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi and Matthew Knies for Michael Bunting, Denis Malgin and Pierre Engvall. And locked up Auston Matthews. All wins.

23. Karlsson will pass the Norris Trophy back to Colorado’s Cale Makar for his second win in three seasons. There probably isn’t much debate that Makar was the best all-around defenseman last year, but he missed more than a quarter of the season. He was on-pace for 91 points over a full campaign and averaged nearly 30 minutes per night for chunks of the year. You can still get Makar for the Norris at plus money on Betano.

24. Jonathan Drouin will be the NHL’s unofficial Comeback Player of the Year. The last few seasons were a slog in Montreal since Drouin shared in April 2021 that he needed to take leave for mental health reasons. He’s got a fresh start now, he’s flying, and he’s reunited with junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon. It’d be an incredible story.

25. The Philadelphia Flyers will win the 2024 Draft Lottery. They’ll come by it honestly, without tanking on a team with John Tortorella’s work ethic. There is no clear-cut No. 1 pick this year, with Macklin Celebrini and Cole Eiserman atop Steven Ellis’ early board.  (FWIW: We correctly predicted last year that the Blackhawks would win the Bedard sweepstakes.)

26. Best point per dollar value this season: Blake Wheeler on Broadway. After his buyout in Winnipeg, Wheeler signed for just an $800,000 cap hit on July 1. He’s coming off a 55-point season and has plenty of game left at age 37 as he chases that elusive Stanley Cup.

27. He won’t generate the headlines or gargantuan return, but teams are already clamoring for Washington Capitals center Nic Dowd as a low-key trade deadline target. Cup Contenders see Dowd, a complete fourth line center who does everything well, as an affordable player with term on his contract who can be a difference maker.

28. After 35 years and three Stanley Cups, this will be Lou Lamoriello’s last season as an NHL general manager. The NHL’s only octogenarian GM, sharp as ever, will celebrate his 81st birthday on Oct. 21. But the New York Islanders will fall short of the playoffs this season and after doubling and tripling down on this roster, change is inevitable.

29. Marc-Andre Fleury will become just the fourth goaltender in NHL history to play 1,000 games this season. That’s not bold: He’s only 15 away. But he’ll be the last netminder to ever hit 1,000. The days of starting well north of 60 games per season are over. It will take more than 18 years of averaging 55 starts to get there, and that’s difficult to do. Andrei Vasilevskiy will have to play through his 41-year-old season at his current pace, and as his injury this season reminds us, that isn’t easy.

30. The Great Eight will need 30 goals in 2024-25 to tie the Great One’s all-time record of 894. Alex Ovechkin enters this season 72 back of Wayne Gretzky. That means he’ll notch 42 this year and create a Mark McGwire-like following next year as he travels in search of one of hockey’s great records. 

31. It’s a second straight sun belt Stanley Cup Final: the Carolina Hurricanes will square off with the Dallas Stars. Rod Brind’Amour has the Canes poised for more playoff success, as they look to make waves in a year where changes may be on the horizon with Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, and Teuvo Teravainen all pending UFAs.

32. The Dallas Stars will party like it’s 1999, breaking through with a battle-tested roster that is built for playoff success with their first Stanley Cup win since the Ken Hitchcock era. They’ve got it all: the most mobile back end in the league, a lethal scoring punch, depth at every position and pedigreed goaltender with series-stealing capability.

Giddy up.

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