Five Questions Ahead of the NHL’s 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Will the Stanley Cup finally return to Canada? Can the Rangers break the curse of the Presidents’ Trophy? 
The Rangers enter the playoffs as this season's Presidents' Trophy winners, and will face the Capitals in the first round.
The Rangers enter the playoffs as this season's Presidents' Trophy winners, and will face the Capitals in the first round. / Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

It took until overtime in the final game of the regular season, but the NHL playoffs bracket is set and action begins Saturday. 

Before the puck is dropped on the first round, here are five questions heading into the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Will Canada finally end its Stanley Cup drought?

Until a Canadian team can break the 31-year (and counting?) drought to bring Lord Stanley back to its place of origin, this will be a talking point heading into every NHL postseason. This year’s bracket has four of the seven Canadian teams in the running: the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. 

Let's start with the Leafs, who, despite having a storied franchise, have not won the Stanley Cup in 57 years. And they haven’t really come close in the decades since. But Toronto got to exorcise some of those demons last year when they finally escaped the first round of the playoffs (a feat the Leafs hadn’t accomplished since before the 2004–05 NHL lockout). But a first-round matchup with postseason rival Boston Bruins won’t be easy.

There's a reason for Toronto to have hope and its name is Auston Matthews. With a mind-boggling 69 goals this season, Matthews was reliable whenever his team hit a rough patch. And the Leafs seem to have found their groove heading into the playoffs with consistent scoring and a renewed confidence in goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who had a rough first half of the season but has been playing some of his best hockey since being waived in January. 

Not far behind Toronto in the drought watch is Vancouver, which has never won a Cup in its 52 seasons in the NHL. This Canucks team surprised many with a Pacific Division–winning season thanks to a young core that is coming into its own. Quinn Hughes led all NHL defensemen in points this season with 92, J.T. Miller had 100 points of his own, Brock Boeser had a 40-goal campaign, and Thatcher Demko, who has the third-best save percentage in the league, returned from injury just in time for the playoffs. Vancouver is looking to make it past the first round for just the second time in 13 years against an experienced Nashville Predators team. 

Edmonton, which last won a Cup in 1990, has had massive expectations this season—that’s been clear since the Oilers fired coach Jay Woodcroft just 13 games into the season. Since Kris Knoblauch took over behind the bench, they have become a scary group that’s tough to score on. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are in their prime, and with Draisaitl due for an extension this summer, these playoffs could be crucial in deciding if this dynamic duo’s era is nearing an end in Edmonton. The two have the playoff experience to lock in, but they will likely need the secondary scoring to step up and support them if the Oilers are to make a deep playoff push. 

This Jets franchise has only been in Winnipeg since 2011 but has been pretty consistent at making the playoffs in the last decade or so. The Jets are riding an eight-game winning streak into their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche and had the best five-on-five defense in the Western Conference this season. Of note: The Jets won all of their games this season against the Avs, who have been struggling down the stretch. 

Can the New York Rangers break the Presidents’ Trophy curse? 

It wouldn’t be the Stanley Cup playoffs if you didn’t also mention the Presidents’ Trophy curse. Only three teams in the salary-cap era have gone on to the Stanley Cup Final and none have done so in the last 10 seasons. Can the Rangers break that curse and win their first Cup in 30 years? 

After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs last year, New York brought in coach Peter Laviolette. Having coached four other Metropolitan Division teams (New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals), it was pretty clear what the Rangers were aiming for. Laviolette is known for putting together a complete roster that can find ways to win, and he’s done just that this season. 

Artemi Panarin put up a career-high 120 points this season with 49 goals—this after the star forward failed to notch 30 goals in each of the last three seasons. The Breadman also is looking for a bit of playoff redemption of his own, having woefully underperformed in the Rangers’ series against the Devils last year and dropping off in the postseason in general compared to his regular-season statistics throughout his career.  

New York also has Matt Rempe, who could prove useful later in the playoffs should the Rangers need a boost in physicality. Although he’s played just 17 games this season, the rookie has become a fan favorite as an enforcer and could be a good counter to noted agitator Tom Wilson in the first round against the Caps. 

Will the Boston Bruins get redemption? 

Speaking of the Presidents’ Trophy curse, let’s talk about Boston. The Bruins didn’t just finish as the best team of the regular season last year, they set an all-time record for most regular-season wins with 65. And then they lost in the first round to a Florida Panthers team that jusssst squeaked into the playoffs. 

Boston has bounced back this season despite losing its top two centers in David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins boast a deep lineup, starting with stars like David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle and Charlie McAvoy. They also have an incredible goalie tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. The pair alternated starts in the last 30 games or so of the season, with Ullmark having a slight edge statistically. But coach Jim Montgomery may have learned his lesson in last year’s playoff disappointment: After splitting starts with the same duo all regular season, he turned to Ullmark for the first six games against the Panthers before throwing in Swayman in Game 7. 

It should also be noted that there is a pattern in recent years of teams winning the Stanley Cup one season after winning the Presidents’ Trophy (Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning and Capitals). 

Who will be this year’s chaos agent? 

The NHL playoffs are fun because nothing is ever predictable other than that at least one team will make a shocking run to ruin all the experts’ predictions. Last year, it was the Panthers—having taken down the seemingly unbeatable Bruins in a 1v8 matchup that went the full seven games and then went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Who will be the bracket busters this year? Only time will tell. But this postseason’s wild-card teams—Capitals, Lightning, Knights and Predators—all have plenty of recent experience with making deep runs. The Islanders have also turned things around since Patrick Roy stepped in as coach in late January, finishing out the regular season with a 19-12-5 and a renewed confidence on Long Island. 

Then there’s the Hurricanes, who have been a solid team for many years now, but have struggled to translate that into playoff success. But with a clutch goal-scorer in Jake Guentzel—who is showing that it wasn’t just playing alongside Sidney Crosby that made him so good since being traded to Carolina—could that finally change? 

Can the defending champs hold their own?

The Golden Knights started off the 2023–24 season right where they left off, but started falling flat thanks to a long string of injuries and now enter the playoffs as the second wild card in the West. 

Thankfully for Vegas, the injury bug seems to finally be running its course, most notably captain Mark Stone has returned to practice and could come back from a lacerated spleen soon. Many of the weapons that took them all the way last year—Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo and Adin Hill—are still around. Plus they made major pick ups at the deadline with winger Anthony Mantha, defenseman Noah Hanifin and another top forward Tomáš Hertl. 

The Knights enter the playoffs with a question of how to handle goaltending—both Hill and Logan Thompson have been splitting duties in net down the stretch. Thompson has been the more consistent goalie of late, but Hill was crucial to Vegas winning the Cup last year. 


Published |Modified
Kristen Nelson

KRISTEN NELSON

Kristen Nelson is an associate editor for Sports Illustrated focused on women's sports. She also enjoys covering hockey and previously wrote for NHL.com.