With the NHL’s 2023-24 season just around the corner, it’s high time for this writer’s annual pre-season predictions.
You’re always advised to take these choices with a grain of salt, as they’re our best guesses based on recent performance and discussions with scouts, coaches and media members, and they’re not locks for who will win individual awards. With that said, we’ll get on with the show:
Hart Trophy (NHL’s most valuable player)
Winner: Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Other candidates: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado; David Pastrnak, Boston
The breakdown: McDavid has won this trophy for two of the past three seasons and three times in his NHL career. There’s no reason to assume someone will be more valuable to their team than he is. The 26-year-old set new personal bests in goals (64), assists (89) and points (153) last season, and while he likely won’t put up even better numbers in 2023-24, McDavid remains a cut above the very best the sport has to offer.
Otherwise, expect a bounce-back season of sorts from Matthews, who will have a potent new linemate in winger Tyler Bertuzzi and a season of better health than he had last year. MacKinnon also is coming off a season in which he posted career highs in goals (42), assists (69) and points (111), and he’ll be counted on by the Avalanche to lead the way for them this coming year. Finally, Pastrnak no longer has excellent centers in the retired Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but that fact may underscore Pastrnak’s tremendous value to the Bruins.
The three runners-up will have to pull off a miracle to unseat McDavid, though. The Oilers’ superstar is operating on a different plane than everyone else, and he won’t be denied another Hart-winning season.
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
Winner: Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Other candidates: Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders; Jake Oettinger, Dallas; Akira Schmid, New Jersey
The breakdown: Shesterkin finished a distant eighth in voting for the Vezina last season, but he won the 2021-22 Vezina, and he’s going to be playing behind an even better Rangers defense corps this coming year. If the Blueshirts ascend to the top of the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference as we believe they will, it will be in no small part because of Shesterkin’s dominance.
Sorokin was the runner-up in Vezina voting in 2022-23, and he’s going to be doing much of the heavy lifting on Long Island, so it only makes sense that he’ll be near or at the top of this season’s Vezina voting. Similarly, Oettinger (fifth overall in last season’s Vezina voting) will help drive the play of the Stars, and rookie Schmid should be front and center in the Devils’ push to the top of the Metro.
It’s going to be a close race for this honor, but it’s highly unlikely any of these four goalies will struggle on their teams. It’s a matter of who can be most consistent, and for our money, we like Shesterkin to come out of the gate on a roll and never slow down the rest of the way.
Norris Trophy (best defenseman)
Winner: Miro Heiskanen, Dallas
Other candidates: Cale Makar, Colorado; Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo; Adam Fox, New York Rangers
The breakdown: Heiskanen is entering his sixth NHL season, and he’s the lynchpin of the Stars’ success in both their own zone and in their opponents’ area. The 24-year-old Finn blew his previous career highs in assists and points out of the water in 2022-23, increasing his assist totals from 31 to 62 and doubling his points total from 36 in 2021-22 to 73 in 2022-23. He’s smooth as butter with or without the puck, and this should be the year he gets recognized for his all-around excellence.
Other than that, we’d expect Makar and Fox to remain among the top vote-getters for the Norris, but this could well be the year that Dahlin steps his game up (even more than he did last season) and becomes a top-four vote-getter. A team’s win/loss successes and failures often dictate which awards they become front-runners for, and the rise of the Sabres and Stars will be harbingers of top D-men like Heiskanen and Dahlin having success with Norris voters.
Art Ross Trophy (top point-getter)
Winner: Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Other candidates: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado; Mikko Rantanen, Colorado
The breakdown: McDavid has taken home the Art Ross Trophy for the past three seasons, and it’s going to be very difficult for opposition players to deny him of a fourth consecutive honor this coming season. He’s the straw that stirs the drink in Edmonton, and he’s still got his prime years ahead, so he should win this trophy with relative ease.
Coming in second through fourth in our estimation will be McDavid’s teammate, Draisaitl, and MacKinnon and his teammate, Rantanen. You need a high-octane offense around you to win the Art Ross, and there may be no more potent teams than Edmonton and Colorado, so it makes sense the Art Ross for 2023-24 will go to the best player on one of those two teams.
Calder Trophy (best rookie)
Winner: Connor Bedard, Chicago
Other candidates: Logan Cooley, Arizona; Adam Fantilli, Columbus; Leo Carlsson, Anaheim
The breakdown: Some people are ready to give Bedard the Calder before the season begins, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s as dynamic a youngster as the sport has seen in some time. He’s expected to be the key cog in Chicago’s offense, so barring injury, he’s going to be the Calder winner.
That said, there will still be healthy competition for Bedard in this trophy race, with a trio of centers, including Coyotes up-and-comer Cooley, Blue Jackets cornerstone Fantilli and Ducks newcomer Carlsson all carving out some spotlight for themselves.
There also could be some unexpected rookies stepping up, but who’s kidding who here – if Bedard doesn’t win this award, it will be a massive shock. All four of the aforementioned players are crucial to their team’s fate in 2023-24, and there will be intense competition for Calder honors all season long.
Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
Winner: Aleksander Barkov, Florida
Other candidates: Nico Hischier, New Jersey; Mitch Marner, Toronto; Roope Hintz, Dallas
The breakdown: Barkov won his first Selke Trophy in 2021, and while Bergeron took home the last two Selkes, we can see Barkov bouncing back in a big way to take home the trophy this season. Hischier and Marner finished second and third, respectively, in voting last season, but a dark horse candidate in Hintz – Dallas’ best all-around performer in the 2023 playoffs – should cut into the voting this season. Hintz was phenomenal on and off the puck last season, and it wouldn’t surprise us if he wound up winning the 2023-24 Selke, but it won’t be easy.
Rocket Richard Trophy (top goal-scorer)
Winner: Auston Matthews, Toronto
Other candidates: Tage Thompson, Buffalo; Jason Robertson, Dallas; David Pastrnak, Boston
The breakdown: McDavid won last season’s Rocket Richard Trophy, but Matthews won it the previous two seasons, and we expect he’ll be back in first place. Thompson and Robertson are still finding out how great they can be, and they’ll help drive the fortunes of the Sabres and Stars. Finally, Pastrnak will have to generate more of his offense on his own, but we have great confidence he’ll be a 60-goal scorer once again and be a major contender for this year’s Rocket Richard honor.
Lady Byng Trophy (for outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly play)
Winner: Jack Hughes, New Jersey
Other candidates: Jaccob Slavin, Carolina; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles; Matty Beniers, Seattle
The breakdown: Kopitar took home last season’s Lady Byng, and while we expect he’ll be prominent in Byng voting in 2023-24, we like last season’s runner-up, Hughes, to earn his first major individual award. Hughes had just six penalty minutes in 78 games last season, but amazingly, the year before that, he didn’t have a single PIM in 49 games. He’s savvy and never lets his emotions get the best of him, and at 22 years of age, his best days are ahead.
Last season’s Calder winner, Beniers, should also get some Byng votes, and Kopitar and Slavin (who won the Byng in 2021) will also garner attention for this award.
Jack Adams Award (best coach)
Winner: Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina
Other candidates: Peter DeBoer, Dallas; Todd McLellan, Los Angeles; Bruce Cassidy, Vegas.
The breakdown: We said in our Metro Division predictions that we thought the Hurricanes would take a slight step backward, but they’ll still be a terrific team, and the universally respected Brind’Amour will get a lot of love as the game’s best bench boss.
Brind’Amour is a tough but fair coach who knows how to implement structure and discipline throughout his roster. While there are veterans, such as DeBoer, Cassidy and McLellan, who also will earn praise with Adams Award votes, it’s Brind’Amour’s time to shine and win this honor for the second time.
Jim Gregory Award (top GM)
Winner: Don Waddell, Carolina
Other candidates: Chris Drury, New York Rangers; Tom Fitzgerald, New Jersey; Jim Nill, Dallas
The breakdown: Nill won last season’s GM of the year award, and rightfully so. However, Carolina’s tremendous roster will be the difference that gives Waddell the honor this coming season. Drury and Fitzgerald also will garner votes in this category, and Nill may wind up getting the award for the second straight year. But Waddell has done incredible work to put together a balanced and dangerous group, and he’s entirely deserving of winning this award this season.
For further reading, check out Carol Schram’s look at the top candidates for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Jack Adams and Art Ross.