Perennial underachievers the Toronto Maple Leafs begin another NHL season with high hopes, but the big question is whether new general manager Brad Treliving can deliver the postseason success that has so long eluded them.
The Leafs finally won a playoff series for the first time since 2004 last season, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2, but their Stanley Cup hopes were extinguished in the second round with a 4-1 series loss to the Florida Panthers.
They have made some eye-catching offseason moves but Toronto always seem to go into a season looking strong, and often excel in the regular season, only to put their long-suffering fans through the ringer in the playoffs.
This year there is no reason to be less optimistic, particularly with some of the Leafs' divisional rivals dealing with their own issues, and there is market confidence that this could finally be their season.
|2023/24 NHL Season
|US & Canada
|October 10, 2023 - June 2024
|How to watch
|Sportsnet, TVA, RSN & NHL Centre Ice
|TOR Maple Leafs +800, COL Avalanche +850, EDM Oilers +900, NJ Devils +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1000, VGS Golden Knights +1100
The Leafs finished second in the Atlantic Division on 111 points, 24 behind the Boston Bruins who enjoyed a record-breaking regular season.
They dropped their first game of the playoffs 7-3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning but won the next three games and ended up claiming the series 4-2. In the second round they quickly fell to a three-game deficit against the Florida Panthers, losing the series 4-1.
Toronto showed progress last season and they should build on that in 2023/24.
Kyle Dubas paid for the latest disappointment with his job, and Treliving becomes the Leafs' fourth general manager in just over eight years.
He has made some positive moves which should add stability to the forward lines in particular and strengthen the team overall.
Tyler Bertuzzi looks a key addition. He made a significant impact for Boston after joining at the trade deadline last season, and fit in beautifully as the Bruins' winning ways continued right up to the end of the regular season.
The 28-year-old Bertuzzi has two 40-point seasons and one 60-point season under his belt.
Boston would have loved to keep him, but couldn't work the cap space, and the former Detroit Red Wing is likely to find a home on the Leafs' top line alongside Auston Matthews and William Nylander. That looks as strong as any line in the league, and should help Matthews up his production after a slightly disappointing return last year.
Another new addition, Max Domi, is likely to shore up the second line along with his long-time friend Mitch Marner, who collected 99 points last season.
It has been the Leafs' approach for a while to try to win games by scoring too many goals for their opponents to stay in touch, and there are still question marks over their defence.
The additions of Jake McCabe and John Klingberg aren't necessarily going to do much to address that while Ilya Samsonov must prove himself as a starting goaltender.
But topping the Atlantic Division looks a realistic goal.
Last year's division champs and Presidents Trophy winners Boston have lost their veteran 1-2 punch of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, and replacing those top two centres won't be easy. They were also forced to part ways with more of their deadline acquisitions than ideal, not least Bertuzzi.
Florida only came alive late in the season last year and haven't added much over the summer. They could also have a Stanley Cup hangover to deal with having made the finals last year.
Tampa took a step backwards last year and have had to make changes to stay under the salary cap, which will hurt.
Ottawa could potentially become a dangerous team but they need to completely turn their fortunes around, while Buffalo and Detroit don't look anywhere near as strong as the Leafs.
The Leafs are +800 favourites to lift the Stanley Cup, which would be their first time winning it since 1967.
They are +450 market leaders to win the Eastern Conference and +200 favorites to top the Atlantic Division ahead of +375 Boston and the +475 Lightning.
Meanwhile Matthews, who signed a deal making him the world's best-paid hockey player over the summer, is -150 to score at least 50 goals.
He is +350 second-favourite behind Connor McDavid to win the Rocket Richard trophy as the league's top goalscorer, and he's the joint-second favourite for the Hart Trophy for the league's most valuable player at +1000, level with Nathan MacKinnon and behind only McDavid.
The Leafs open their 2023/24 regular-season campaign at Scotiabank Arena against the Montreal Canadiens on October 11.
On October 16, they will host much-hyped rookie Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks. Then on the 19th they travel to Atlantic Division rivals and their playoff conquerors last season, the Florida Panthers.
On November 2nd they head to TD Garden for their first clash of the season with old sparring partners Boston Bruins. That could well be a rivalry that decides the winners of the division.
Matthews and McDavid go head-to-head on January 16th, 2024 when the Leafs travel to Edmonton.
Their two meetings with Stanley Cup champions Vegas Golden Knights come in quick succession, with a trip to Nevada on February 22nd followed five days later with the return meeting in Canada.
Sheldon Keefe has been behind the Leafs bench since November 2019 when Mike Babcock was fired.
Keefe had previously coached the team's AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, winning the Calder Cup with them in 2018.
The Maple Leafs posted a 15-4-1 record in Keefe's first 20 games in charge, making it the best start for a head coach in the team's 102-year history.
Simon Benoit (D) (Anaheim)
Tyler Bertuzzi (F) (Boston)
Max Domi (F) (Dallas)
Dylan Gambrelli (F) (Ottawa)
Martin Jones (G) (Seattle)
John Klingberg (D) (Minnesota)
Sam Lafferty (F) (Chicago)
Jake McCabe (D) (Chicago)
Ryan Reaves (F) (Minnesota)
Noah Gregor (F) (San Jose)
Zach Aston-Reese (F) (Carolina)
Jordie Benn (D) (Dallas)
Victor Mete (D) (Philadelphia)
Radim Zohorna (F) (Pittsburgh)
Mac Hollowell (D) (NY Rangers)
Alexander Kerfoot (F) (Ariaona)
Justin Holl (D) (Detroit)
Erik Kallgren (G) (New Jersey)
Luke Schenn (D) (Nashville)
Erik Gustafsson (D) (NY Rangers)
Ryan O'Reilly (F) (Nashville)
Michael Bunting (F) (Carolina)
Noel Acciari (F) (Pittsburgh)