The debut of a united North American women’s league, Connor McDavid’s quest for team success, the culmination of Connor Bedard’s first season, a return to best-on-best in the men’s international game, and a scandal that continues to overshadow the sport.
The Canadian Press takes a look at some of the hockey storylines to watch for in 2024.
PWHL HITS THE ICE
The Professional Women’s Hockey League will drop the puck on its inaugural 72-game season on New Year’s Day with an Original Six that includes teams in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The PWHL, which was born in July and had a short runway to get up and running, marks the first time North America will see the best players in the women’s game all on one circuit.
The new league announced a landmark national broadcast deal this week with CBC/Radio-Canada, TSN/RDS and Sportsnet, along with a regional agreement south of the border with MSG Networks and NESN.
The PWHL curtain raises Monday when Toronto hosts New York.
MCDAVID’S QUEST FOR TEAM SUCCESS
The Edmonton Oilers captain has enjoyed incredible personal success in the NHL, but that hasn’t translated to his team.
Edmonton made the Western Conference final in 2022 before getting eliminated in the first round last spring. The Oilers fired head coach Jay Woodcroft in November following a disastrous start to the season and replaced him with McDavid’s old junior coach, Kris Knoblauch.
The Oilers have rebounded, but remain out of the playoff picture.
McDavid’s contract with the Oilers runs through 2025-26, while fellow star forward Leon Draisaitl, who can sign an extension July 1, has a deal that expires after next season.
The top pick at the 2023 NHL draft has come as advertised with the Chicago Blackhawks in his rookie campaign.
The 18-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., brings fans out of their seats with breathtaking rushes and outrageous solo efforts — already fulfilling sky-high expectations as the sport’s next big name.
Men’s hockey hasn’t had a best-on-best tournament since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The NHL skipped the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and backed out of the Beijing Games in 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The players are desperate to go — McDavid called a group that includes himself, Nathan MacKinnon and Auston Matthews a “lost generation” of the international game back in September — and the NHL has repeatedly said it plans to be in Italy for the 2026 Olympics.
But nothing has been set in stone with the International Ice Hockey Federation. The NHL, meanwhile, is looking to host a scaled down international event of its own in 2025 before getting the World Cup back up and running a few years down the road.
HOCKEY CANADA INVESTIGATION
The scandal that rocked the sport in this country continues to hang over the game without resolution. News broke in May 2022 the organization quietly settled a lawsuit after a woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by eight players, including members of Canada’s world junior team, following a 2018 gala in London, Ont.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Government and corporate money quickly evaporated, and a string of ugly headlines continued throughout that spring, summer and fall.
Hockey Canada has started to clean up its house with new leadership, but until there’s a conclusion from competing investigations, it’s difficult for the game to move forward.
“Would be great to have closure,” Hockey Canada board chair Jonathan Goldbloom said earlier this month. “It would be to our advantage to have this finalized, but we have to go through due process.”
CANADA’S CUP CHANCES
The Montreal Canadiens remain the last Canadian team to hoist the Stanley Cup — all the way back in 1993.
The Vancouver Canucks (1994, 2011), Calgary Flames (2004), Oilers (2006), Ottawa Senators (2007) and Canadiens (2021) have come close since, but couldn’t finish the job.
The Canucks, who sit among the teams at the top of the standings, and Winnipeg Jets have had strong starts to the season, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are also in the mix.
But time will tell if hockey’s holy grail makes its way back over the border this spring for the first time in more than three decades in 2024 — or if Canada’s Cup drought will stretch into its 32nd year.
By Joshua Clipperton
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2023.