The NHL Fun Rankings: Which Teams Are the Best to Watch for the 2023-24 Season?
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Jack HughesRich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images
What would any NHL preseason ranking be without a disclaimer? So hear me out on this one: “Fun” doesn’t always mean “best” when it comes to watching hockey.
You saw it with the total dominance the 2023 Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights displayed. Of course Vegas fans were having a blast, but the rest of us? I’m sure you’d agree that the rest of us could’ve used a bit more drama during last season’s lopsided Stanley Cup Final.
Luckily, an offseason full of blockbuster trades, special draft talent and under-the-radar signings is priming us for an eventful 2023-24 from the first puck drop.
When I ask myself, “Which NHL teams are going to be the most fun next season?” I’m asking a few questions. Beyond the offseason moves, which off-ice storylines are reaching a boiling point? Which teams are desperate but not totally pathetic (what’s more fun than desperation hockey)? Which teams are so pathetic that it becomes entertaining (looking at you, 2022-23 Ducks)?
Basically, consider the following your guide to who to watch when your favorite team isn’t playing. And remember—this is about entertainment value, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with Stanley Cup contention.
8. Dallas Stars
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The intrigue of the 2023-24 Dallas Stars begins with one question: How will they follow up the sour taste the Western Conference Final left in our mouths?
To be fair, it turned out the Golden Knights were really just that dang good. But the Stars were matching their energy until Jamie Benn’s reckless suspension for cross-checking Mark Stone, and that 6-0 loss in an elimination game wrapped it all in a tough-to-watch bow.
The good news? The Stars are stacked with some of the best young talent in the league all over the lineup, and now there’s a (tiny) chip on their shoulders.
You’ve got Jason Robertson, who continued on his superstar trajectory last season with 46 goals and 109 points in 82 games; Roope Hintz, who came in just over a point per game; and defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who is actually the most sneakily underrated player on the team with 73 points in 79 games.
In a league that somehow keeps getting increasingly elite offensively, the Stars’ biggest entertainment factor will be the play of goalie Jake Oettinger. He has the potential to become a top goalie in the league after a not-terrible-but-not-good-enough playoff performance.
The drama of a goalie storyline and the emergence of the Stars offense is more than enough reason to tune in this season.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
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A Pittsburgh Penguins squad equipped with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel and Erik Karlsson would’ve broken the fun-to-watch meter in 2015-16.
Eight (!) seasons later and these players have gotten older, but wait—you’re telling me Karlsson put up an astonishing 101 points in 82 games and won the Norris Trophy last season? And Crosby had his best season in four years with 93 points in 82 games?
No, these guys (save for Guentzel) aren’t in the theoretical NHL player “prime” anymore, but they’re all so transcendent that they’re better than most of the league regardless.
They’re still going to be a blast, and Karlsson chose the Penguins for a reason. If—big if—goaltending even remotely pans out, the Eastern Conference better watch out.
6. Edmonton Oilers
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Is this fun? Like, are we sure we are having fun when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers? Are we done nervously laughing?
On one hand, things are looking up, and they have been, consistently: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are only getting more incomprehensibly good—McDavid’s 64 goals and 153 points last season represented the best offensive outing in decades, in a new age when it’s even harder to accomplish that. The team around the league’s best duo has finally shaped up, led by defensive improvements and brilliant deadline acquisition Mattias Ekholm.
They led the league in regular-season scoring and were virtually the only team to give Vegas a legitimate fight in the playoffs. Have they finally earned our trust?
Edmonton is always worth watching to see the world’s best player in his prime, and this could be the year the team around him actually makes it count. But if it isn’t, it’s all significantly less fun and more depressing as we yearn for McDavid’s first appearance on the biggest stage.
5. Buffalo Sabres
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If calling the Oilers fun is a bit of a stretch, calling the Buffalo Sabres fun is full-on masochism. And yet here we are again, doing our silly little predictions, having our silly little hope, banging our silly little drum.
Objectively, this should be the year they snap the NHL’s longest playoff drought (12 seasons). Tage Thompson has established himself as one of the best players in the league, full stop. Rasmus Dahlin is shaping up into the player we always thought he could be. Jeff Skinner is highly entertaining on and off the ice and has been a perfect complement to the offense. Alex Tuch fit right in.
You’ve got some exciting kids on the come up like Owen Power on defense and Jack Quinn on offense. Northeastern alum Devon Levi in net is super enticing. This is a playoff team on paper, if that piece of paper was not crumpled up on the ground next to an upstate New York Tim Hortons.
Before last season I said believing in the Sabres feels like participating in a toxic relationship, and unfortunately that only got more accurate on the safety violation-breaking roller coaster that was their 2022-23 season. They say that the longer you stay in one of these relationships, the more delusional you get and the harder it becomes to leave.
Well here we are, folks! I simply have no choice but to fully embrace this miserable experience once again, and I hope we’re at least in this together. Maybe that’s the fun part.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
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Connor BedardMichael Reaves/Getty Images
Imagine seeing the Chicago “tanking” Blackhawks on a list like this one year ago? Oh, how the draft lottery and one, little, perhaps generational talent change things.
Suddenly the Blackhawks are going into 2023-24 fielding an actual first line, with No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard and accompanying trade acquisition Taylor Hall leading the way.
We don’t want to put too much pressure on the kid too quickly, but his rare talent combined with the time on ice he’ll be getting on an otherwise…incomplete…depth chart, combined with (hopefully) having Hall on his wing, bode well for his first NHL season.
We haven’t seen a player with this much potential enter the league since—dare I say—Connor McDavid. Bedard’s rookie season would’ve been worth watching no matter what team he ended up on, and it will be interesting to see how much of an impact he can have on a team that was actively tanking months ago and is still swimming in cap space.
It’ll also be interesting to see how his trajectory affects the Blackhawks’ rebuild—they already accelerated it with the Hall acquisition in light of drafting Bedard. Let’s see if they’re back to relevancy quicker than we anticipated.
3. Florida Panthers
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Hooray, we’ve officially reached the intersection of “fun” and “good” on this list. (Fine, the Oilers are good, too.)
Look, it’s unreasonable to expect Sergei Bobrovsky to perform anywhere near as well as he did in net during that two-month period in the playoffs. We didn’t even expect that of the 34-year-old enigma in the first place. But Spencer Knight is expected back in the fold, and he’s still got a solid chance of being a great NHL goaltender. I’m cautiously fine with the Panthers’ projected goaltender situation for 2023-24.
Then you’ve got—checks notes—the rest of the roster and the incredibly fun, high-octane offense. Matthew “People Magazine” Tkachuk is becoming a well-deserved household name for his clutch factor both leading up to and during Florida’s playoff run, his snarl, and his personality.
Aleksander Barkov is no longer “underrated” and is still holding things down on the two-way front. Carter Verhaeghe scored a whopping, team-leading 42 goals last season and continued his tear in the playoffs. Brandon Montour had one of the most memorable playoff runs from a defenseman in recent memory after scoring 73 points in 80 games in the regular season.
Save for Anthony Duclair, the core is back. With Tkachuk in his prime and the rest of the deep offense chipping in, there’s no reason this team should slow down.
2. New Jersey Devils
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Jack HughesJaylynn Nash/Getty Images
I just love the thought of the New Jersey Devils headed into 2023-24. Their whole offseason was a masterclass in patience, as they were able to add even more to the roster in guys like Tyler Toffoli and deadline acquisition Timo Meier.
It all starts with how smart the Devils were with Jack Hughes and his eight-year, $64 million contract ($8 million AAV), and man, has that paid off as Hughes’ true breakout season extended to two postseason rounds as the Devils returned to the playoffs last season.
You could see Hughes’ confidence rising since the moment he broke through Igor Shesterkin to score his first playoff goal in Round 1, and a Hughes with playoff experience and confidence is terrifying for the rest of the league. Make that two Hughes, as brother Luke has now entered the chat.
Between the young talent, offseason additions, Jesper Bratt’s extension, and of course, Dougie Hamilton on defense—this is not your parents’ New Jersey Devils. These Devils don’t just win, they have fun and score lots of goals doing it.
1. Seattle Kraken
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Matty BeniersChristopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images
I bet you didn’t see this one coming, but when I really sit down and think about it, the Seattle Kraken were the No. 1 playoff team I wish we could’ve seen play even one more game last postseason.
In the regular season, Calder Trophy winner Matty Beniers amassed 24 goals and 57 points in 80 games, and that was with an average time on ice of 17 minutes—a number that’s only going to rise (although the Kraken have unique line deployment) as the 20-year-old keeps getting his reps in. You’ve got another young, high draft pick in Shane Wright waiting in the wings. The speedy talent alone is a joy to watch.
But what’s so fascinating about this team is the structure that yields such scoring depth. The Kraken’s approach effectively eliminates the traditional checking line, and the team expects the fourth line to chip in on the scoresheet—and it does.
It shouldn’t feel revolutionary that an NHL team is using the strategy of “every forward should be expected to score,” but it kind of does. Perhaps the Kraken’s strategy will usher in some copycats over the next few years, or perhaps they simply have a lot of offensively talented players who are evenly distributed throughout the roster.
Either way, this team feels a little different because it is. It’s fascinating, fun, and worth staying up for.