Free-agency, draft plans for every eliminated NHL team

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The 2021-22 NHL season included a great deal of highlights, from the dominance of the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers, to the goal-scoring prowess of Auston Matthews and Chris Kreider, to spectacular goaltending from Igor Shesterkin, Frederik Andersen and Jacob Markstrom.

But there can be only one team that gets to raise the Stanley Cup. For the rest, this offseason will be a critical time to restock for another playoff run, make that big free-agent signing to get over the hump, or continue the slow build back to contention. With 14 teams officially eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to identify their biggest needs as well as some solutions that can be explored.

Read on for a look at what went wrong for each eliminated team, along with a breakdown of its biggest keys this offseason and realistic expectations for 2022-23. Note that more teams will be added to this story as they are officially eliminated from the playoffs.

Go through every team’s profile, or skip ahead to your favorite team using the links below:

Note: Profiles for the Atlantic and Central teams were written by Kristen Shilton, while Greg Wyshynski analyzed the Metro and Pacific teams. Stats are collected from sites such as Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey. Projected cap space per Spotrac.

Jump to a team:
ANA | ARI | BUF | CHI
CBJ | DET | MTL | NJ
NYI | OTT | PHI | SJ
SEA | WPG

Non-playoff teams

The Ducks have an ascending star in Troy Terry, and flirted with the playoffs for much of the season. What must they do to get back in the postseason mix? Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $34,792,500

2022 draft picks: 1st, 1st (BOS), 2nd, 2nd (PIT), 4th, 5th, 5th (TOR), 6th (NSH)

What went wrong?

There’s a concept in sports called “the rookie wall,” in which young players will have extraordinary success for a portion of the season but are unable to sustain it. The Ducks had their share of young players in 2021-22, many of them making an impact to turn Anaheim into a surprising contender. But things changed in early March. The Ducks went winless in 11 straight games, and won only four times in a 23-game stretch.

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Before that, Anaheim seemed ahead of schedule in its return to relevance. Forward Troy Terry had a career offensive season. Center Trevor Zegras electrified the NHL with his over-the-net passing and lacrosse-style goals. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale, at age 19 for most of the season, played nearly 20 minutes a night. The Ducks hung tough in the Pacific until that skid.

New GM Pat Verbeek — hired on Feb. 2 to replace Bob Murray, who entered a treatment program for alcohol abuse amid allegations of professional misconduct — moved veterans Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Rickard Rakell at the trade deadline. That signaled the Ducks were punting on the season as well as beginning a generational shift for the franchise, one that was underscored by the retirement announcement from center Ryan Getzlaf.

Keys to the offseason

The Ducks have some housekeeping to handle, with free agents in forwards Sonny Milano (RFA), Sam Steel (RFA), Isac Lundestrom (RFA), Zach Aston-Reese (UFA) and defenseman Urho Vaakanainen (RFA).

Beyond that, it’s full speed toward a bright future. Coach Dallas Eakins had his contract option picked up for the 2022-23 season. One question for Verbeek is whether to bring more of the team’s prospects — forwards Jacob Perreault and Mason McTavish, defenseman Drew Helleson — into prominent roles or add veterans as stopgaps? Another question for Verbeek: How much of a roster that he didn’t build does he see as part of the Ducks’ future?

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

It’s hard to shake the image of the high-flying Ducks from earlier this season, infused with the energy of their young stars and playing an exciting brand of hockey. That offense dipped as the season went on and their defense — which wasn’t all that strong to begin with — spiraled during the long winless streak. Both are indicative of an inexperienced team, and with a season under their belts, the young Ducks may be ready to soar into the playoff picture in the Pacific next season. But there’s no rush. They’re on the right flight path.

The Coyotes have a big decision to make on defenseman Jakob Chychrun this summer. Gavin Napier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $38,069,000

2022 draft picks: 1st, 1st (CAR), 1st (COL), 2nd, 2nd (PHI), 2nd (SJ), 2nd (NYI), 3rd, 5th, 6th

What went wrong?

Arizona has had talent problems. The NHL’s lowest-scoring team struggled to generate offense and to capitalize on chances when it did. In well over one-third of their games this season, the Coyotes were either shut out or scored a single goal. It wasn’t a model for success.

Arizona also missed out on getting a big year from its best player, Jakob Chychrun. After he scored 18 goals and 41 points last season, Chychrun had only 21 points in 47 games in an injury-plagued campaign. That certainly impacted the Coyotes negatively on both ends of the ice, given their constant difficulties keeping pucks out of the net as well.

In the final few weeks and months, though, a tidal wave of injury problems simply capsized the Coyotes. Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer, Lawson Crouse, Chychrun and others missed time with various ailments. It would be nearly impossible for any team to lose that many crucial bodies and carry on with any level of success.

Keys to the offseason

The Coyotes are being evicted from their current lodging at Gila River Arena and will begin playing in a much cozier venue at Arizona State University. That will be quite the transition for Arizona as it is; at the same time, GM Bill Armstrong has to entice more players into the fold. The Coyotes need scoring, dynamic two-way skaters and guys who will sign multiyear deals. Those boxes won’t be easy to check.

At the same time, Armstrong must decide on Chychrun’s future. He took many calls on the defenseman prior to the March trade deadline but decided to stand pat. Will that hold into the summer as well? Chychrun had a down year, but he’s still viewed as a valuable commodity. Is now the time for Armstrong to swap out his elite defender for some firepower?

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Getting everyone back and healthy will be critical, of course. And deciding whom to lean on in the net (Karel Vejmelka? Harri Sateri? Someone else?) is another key. If the Coyotes pick right, and Armstrong can fill in the other gaps through trades and free agency, it’s reasonable to think Arizona will be better than this season. How much better? Not playoff bound. But not a bottom-feeder.

In 2021 No. 1 overall pick Owen Power, the Sabres have another impressive young player on whom to build. Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $42,114,166

2022 draft picks: 1st, 1st (FLA), 1st (VGK), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th (NJ), 6th, 6th (CGY), 7th

What went wrong?

In a word: goaltending. Buffalo actually started the season fine, winning five of its first seven games. Then starting goaltender Craig Anderson got hurt Nov. 2 and wouldn’t return until Jan. 29. The Sabres went 8-19-6 without him and averaged the third-most goals against (3.76) while cycling through five other options in the crease. The lack of consistency at such an important position undoubtedly hurt the Sabres’ prospects. Same goes with defense. Rasmus Dahlin came into his own this season but it was a process. The early-season growing pains for that entire blue line in finding a rhythm took its toll as well.

There also was the Jack Eichel trade in November, which removed a top talent from Buffalo’s ranks but brought Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs in return. Eichel, of course, would not play until February following surgery on a herniated disc, but losing contributions like his from your lineup — at any point — is going to be an adjustment.

Keys to the offseason

Again: goaltending. Who is Buffalo going to tap for next season? In a perfect world, the Sabres could re-sign Anderson and have him be half of a one-two tandem with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. That would give Buffalo a known veteran commodity in Anderson to mentor the up-and-coming Luukkonen, who was the team’s second-round pick in 2017 and — the Sabres hope — is Buffalo’s goaltender of the future. If that scenario doesn’t appeal to them, then GM Kevyn Adams will have to work the trade market and/or free agency to find a reliable goaltending duo so Buffalo doesn’t run into the same troubles it experienced this season.

The Sabres’ other priorities will revolve around their burgeoning core. Owen Power has arrived. Ryan Johnson is on the horizon. Dahlin is a rising star. Adams should be on the lookout for potential veteran additions for the blue line to maximize that group’s potential. Up front, Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, Tuch, Krebs & Co. project to build on a solid final third of this campaign.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Playoffs? Playoffs! There is no reason — if Buffalo can get its goaltending settled — that this team won’t push for its first postseason appearance since 2010-11. The Sabres have played some great hockey since March. Coach Don Granato can see the chemistry emerging and will keep nurturing it. Buffalo should relish coming into next season with more than a hint of swagger.

Is it time for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to move on to other teams? Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $24,741,667

2022 draft picks: 2nd, 2nd (MIN), 3rd (VGK), 3rd (EDM), 3rd (TOR), 6th, 6th (CBJ), 7th

What went wrong?

Well, let’s begin with Jeremy Colliton. Chicago went 1-9-2 to start the season before Colliton was relieved of his duties as coach. Derek King stepped in as the interim coach, and there was a requisite bump of better play that wouldn’t last. Chicago could never find consistency offensively or defensively.

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Outside of Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Hagel (prior to his being traded), the Blackhawks were continuously looking for more players to contribute. Some would, in spurts, but never for long enough to give Chicago the momentum it needed. Defensively there was little cohesion at times, whether due to an apparent adjustment period for Seth Jones early on or just a lack of chemistry among teammates.

Then there was the simple matter of unexpectedly difficult seasons for some players, such as Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach. And once Marc-Andre Fleury was traded at the deadline, the goaltending suffered (the Blackhawks were in the bottom five in goals against following Fleury’s departure) and it was a slow slide to the regular-season finish line.

Keys to the offseason

Chicago is rebuilding. That’s rarely a simple process.

GM Kyle Davidson will have to assess the organization top to bottom and figure out who’s staying and who’s going. That starts with King behind the bench. Will he remain or will Davidson start a broader search for his replacement?

There has been talk about whether it’s time for the Blackhawks to move on from Kane and Jonathan Toews and hand the keys to the next generation. Moving Hagel was already a sign Davidson won’t be shy about making changes. Is this a tear-down operation? Or are there veteran pillars in place that can support Chicago’s new wave of talent? Those are heavy questions, and the Blackhawks’ path ahead hinges on how they’re answered.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Keep them low. It will be some time before Chicago is back to its former glory. The team’s primary goal for next season should include becoming tougher to play against. Too often this season the Blackhawks were an easy out. Rebuilding can be a grind mentally on players, but whoever comprises this roster in the coming years will have to persevere.

Patrik Laine put together an impressive season for the Blue Jackets. Re-signing him will be a critical task this summer. Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $27,203,272

2022 draft picks: 1st, 1st (CHI), 2nd, 3rd (TB), 4th, 4th (TOR), 7th (ANA)

What went wrong?

It was a transitional season for the Blue Jackets. In the past year, they traded disgruntled No. 1 center Pierre Luc-Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets for Patrik Laine; traded defenseman David Savard to the Tampa Bay Lightning; traded star defenseman Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks before he could walk away as a free agent; and replaced head coach John Tortorella with assistant Brad Larsen, who vowed to give some players a chance to shine in bigger roles in 2021-22.

Shine, some of them did. Defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov saw an increase in ice time and a jump in points. Cole Sillinger, 18, had a promising rookie season. Best of all, Laine became Laine again with a point-per-game season that earned him increased ice time.

But a lineup in transition meant it was a rough ride at times. The Blue Jackets went through a 2-10-1 stretch from December to January that torpedoed their record. Important players such as Laine, Boone Jenner, Alexandre Texier, Zach Werenski and Adam Boqvist missed chunks of time. Most of all, the Blue Jackets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL, near the bottom of the league in 5-on-5 expected goals against.

That defense was in front of goaltending that saw Elvis Merzlikins‘ save percentage decline for the third straight season and Joonas Korpisalo become one of the league’s most mediocre goaltenders — although obviously this critique of the position comes with the caveat that the Blue Jackets were missing the late Matiss Kivlenieks in every sense of the word.

Keys to the offseason

Priority No. 1 is Laine. He’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who made $7.5 million against the cap on a one-year deal. This season should be enough proof of concept to earn him a long-term contract as one of the Jackets’ franchise pillars, although that hasn’t materialized yet.

In terms of roster construction, the Blue Jackets could use a couple of veterans to help out on the defensive end, potentially through free agency, and preferably ones who could bring the lineup the size and physicality that was lacking this season. Merzlikins begins a new five-year contract in 2022-23; assuming Korpisalo is gone, will Columbus pair Merzlikins with promising Daniil Tarasov or bring in another veteran?

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

The Blue Jackets scored more (13th in the NHL in goals per game) than their underlying numbers would have indicated (23rd in expected goals per 60 minutes). That said, their offensive is going to be OK. The bigger problem is on the other side of the ice. If Larsen can find solutions tactically or GM Jarmo Kekäläinen can find some externally, the Jackets could be back in wild-card contention — provided they’re healthy.

Moritz Seider will be a fixture on the Red Wings’ blue line for years to come, but which veterans will the team bring in around him? Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $35,376,944

2022 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (WSH), 3rd, 4th, 4th (VGK), 4th (COL), 5th, 7th, 7th (LA)

What went wrong?

Inconsistency is a hallmark of rebuilding teams. The Red Wings were no exception. Their first 25 games (with a 13-9-3 record) this season wound up being a microcosm of what would unfurl the rest of the way, with strings of great performances punctuated by too-long runs of cringe-worthy losses. After that initial burst over .500, the Red Wings won only 17 of their next 52 games.

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Detroit’s team defense was the major problem, and made the Red Wings among the league’s worst clubs in high-danger chances allowed. Outside of rookie phenom Moritz Seider, Detroit didn’t have many standouts on the back end. The poor habits being exhibited just seemed to permeate everywhere else over time and hampered any progress Detroit was able to make.

The Red Wings also were lacking in secondary contributors. Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond were electric at times, but Filip Zadina, Givani Smith and Adam Erne failed to take flight. It became a matter of too many passengers and not enough helpers.

Keys to the offseason

First and foremost, Detroit’s defense must be addressed. Filip Hronek and Jordan Oesterle are the only veterans signed for next season. To improve their execution defensively, the Red Wings will need the right personnel leading the way.

After that are bigger-picture issues. Is GM Steve Yzerman still committed to this extended rebuild? Does he believe in Jeff Blashill as head coach? Those questions need answering — and not with words but actions. Larkin and Bertuzzi, in their mid-20s, are signed for one and two more seasons, respectively; are they willing to play more of their prime years for a non-contending team? Blashill has been at Detroit’s helm since 2015-16, which is also the last time these Red Wings made the playoffs. If Yzerman wants to turn the corner, can it be done with the same voice behind his bench?

There are some great contributors in place on the ice — Seider, Raymond and Alex Nedeljkovic among them — so the key will be figuring out how best to support that young core going forward.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Until Yzerman starts working his magic in the offseason, it’s tough to proclaim that the Red Wings will be markedly better next year. There are some impressive prospects in Detroit’s pipeline, including Simon Edvinsson and Jonatan Berggren, who could find their way into the big club’s roster conversation. If the Red Wings intend to ride with their young core again and see how far it can take them, there could be another spring with no playoffs on their horizon.

But if the payoff for that is crafting an identity and foundation for the team that will sustain it for years to come, well, maybe that’s worth pursuing.

Martin St. Louis had the Canadiens playing better after taking over behind the bench midway through the season. Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $3,359,524

2022 draft picks: 1st, 1st (CGY), 2nd, 2nd (EDM), 3rd, 3rd (ANA), 3rd (CAR), 4th, 4th (TB), 4th (NYR), 5th, 6th, 7th, 7th (STL)

What went wrong?

It took Montreal 50 games to hit 10 wins. What didn’t go wrong for this team?

Within months of having played Tampa in the Stanley Cup Final, Montreal had fired GM Marc Bergevin (on Nov. 29) and coach Dominique Ducharme (on Feb. 9). It wasn’t any one glaring issue that made the Canadiens so hapless, either. Carey Price being unavailable because of injury and a stint in the NHL’s player assistance program was not ideal, but hardly insurmountable. Montreal was just a disjointed team. Exciting talents such as Cole Caufield were floundering. The defense was atrocious. One thing after another made attempts at improvement feel more and more futile.

GM Kent Hughes and coach Martin St. Louis stepped in along the way and gave Montreal a pulse; it was just too late to salvage much in the standings. But St. Louis got Caufield firing, Price returned to game action and the Canadiens played with appreciably more pride.

Keys to the offseason

It should go without saying that St. Louis deserves to have the interim tag removed and sign a long-term deal as Montreal’s coach. That will be the easiest move Hughes makes before September.

From there, Montreal has to determine what’s next for Price. So much of how Hughes navigates the coming months will hinge on his starting goaltender. Can Price step back into that elite, full-time role Montreal is accustomed to getting from him? Given Price’s recent injury issues, does Hughes have to address the goaltending position either way, even with Jake Allen signed for another year? Figuring out who’ll be manning the crease is job one.

After that, Hughes will need to put his defense back in order following Ben Chiarot‘s trade and with Shea Weber out indefinitely with lingering injuries. Trading Jeff Petry has long been on the table, and Montreal doesn’t have a deep swatch of veterans signed after him. Hughes will have to restock the shelves. What decisions he makes will push Montreal in its next direction, likely leaning into the youth movement brought by Caufield, Nick Suzuki and others while balancing veteran contributions.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Montreal responded well to St. Louis. Over his first two months, the Canadiens were better than .500 at 12-11-4. Montreal did begin to fall off again later in April — losing Allen to injury didn’t help — but that shouldn’t reflect poorly on St. Louis. Give him an offseason and training camp to really get a feel for this team, and there will be plenty of reasons for optimism.

Depending where Montreal falls in the draft lottery and how Hughes can wield the many picks he has — including seven in the first three rounds of July’s draft — the Canadiens could avoid a full rebuild and come back as a retooled group.

Jesper Bratt leveled up considerably this season, just in time to hit restricted free agency. Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $24,334,168

2022 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th (NYI), 4th (EDM), 5th (CBJ), 6th, 7th

What went wrong?

The goaltending. For the second straight season, the Devils’ best-laid plans for their netminders went awry. In 2020-21, it was veteran Corey Crawford retiring after signing as a free agent. In 2021-22, it was another veteran in Jonathan Bernier playing just 10 games after the Devils signed him to pair with Mackenzie Blackwood. To their chagrin, Blackwood regressed to a .894 save percentage and played barely above replacement level … when he played. The Devils ended up using seven goaltenders this season because of injuries, finishing near the bottom of the league in save percentage for the second straight season.

Injuries were the story among the skaters too. Jack Hughes, having his best NHL season, was limited to 49 games, scoring 56 points. Free-agent prize Dougie Hamilton missed 17 games because of a jaw injury in an underwhelming first season in New Jersey. Nico Hischier also missed time.

Keys to the offseason

Goaltending is the whole ballgame. The Devils were 12th in expected goals against per 60 minutes in all situations and 28th in goals-against average. They have to make a decision on Blackwood, figure out what they have in Nico Daws, then see if Bernier can return from his hip ailment or if the Devils need to find a veteran solution for the third straight offseason.

Beyond that, the Devils will have considerable salary-cap space to address a few other vital needs: replacing veteran defenseman P.K. Subban, who is an unrestricted free agent; adding skilled size to Hughes’ line; and re-signing leading scorer and restricted free agent Jesper Bratt, who leveled up considerably this season.

The other issue to address is coach Lindy Ruff, who has a .398 winning percentage in two seasons with the Devils and is signed through next season. Will New Jersey make a change in the offseason or will Ruff have a chance to coach under better goaltending conditions (in theory)? If he stays, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a change in assistant coaches given the Devils’ special team struggles.

Meanwhile, the Devils are back in the draft lottery, where they’ve had some luck. Given their depth at center, would they opt for Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky or his countryman, defenseman Simon Nemec?

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Devils won’t be doing anything except wallowing in the draft lottery again if they can’t get better goaltending. There’s a lot to like here: New Jersey should be a top-10 scoring team next season, given its talent. If the Devils use their considerable cap space smartly, they could finally circle back to playoff contention.

Noah Dobson’s breakout season was a highlight for an Islanders club that didn’t have many of them in 2021-22. Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $10,630,833

2022 draft picks: 1st, 2nd (COL), 3rd, 5th, 6th

What went wrong?

After two straight trips to the NHL’s penultimate playoff round, the Islanders had the most disappointing season of any team in 2021-22, digging themselves an early-season hole from which they could never escape.

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They started with 13 straight road games as the finishing touches on their new arena were completed, going 5-8-0. When they finally played at UBS Arena, it was not a happy homecoming: The Islanders went winless in their first seven games in the new barn, as part of an 11-game winless streak overall. On Dec. 5, the Islanders were 5-10-5. They never recovered to enter the playoff picture.

They went from being the 12th-ranked defensive team at even strength (per expected goals against) over the previous two seasons to being 25th this season. Typically dependable players like Anthony Beauvillier and Kyle Palmieri didn’t hit their offensive marks, while forward Oliver Wahlstrom couldn’t build on his promising rookie season.

There were personal highlights, such as Brock Nelson‘s best goal-scoring season, Noah Dobson‘s breakout year and Ilya Sorokin‘s Vezina-caliber goaltending. But it didn’t add up for the Islanders, who looked slow and old in a fast and young league.

Keys to the offseason

GM Lou Lamoriello must address the team’s blue line. Dobson needs a new contract. Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara are both free agents and past their prime, while free agent Sebastian Aho was generally ineffective. Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov — who will be in the final year of his contract next season — can only paper over so much of the Islanders’ troubles on defense.

After that, Lamoriello has to determine whether the team’s struggles were anomalous or systemic. Will he try to trade off some of his 30-and-older players on long-term contracts? Or does he run it all back next season with hopes that the pieces he’s assembled still can click for a Cup run?

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Bringing back Cal Clutterbuck and Zach Parise on new contracts would indicate that Lamoriello is willing to keep this core together for another kick at the can. With a few tweaks, especially on defense, perhaps the Islanders have another run in them, especially with their goaltending. A better start and some new bodies in the lineup should mean they’ll be a heck of a lot closer to the postseason than they were this season.

Brady Tkachuk is one of a handful of exciting young Senators. But the team needs quite a bit more to get back in the Cup contention mix. Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $23,303,929

2022 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (TB), 3rd, 3rd (BOS), 4th, 5th, 5th (WPG), 5th (BOS), 6th, 7th (NYI)

What went wrong?

The Senators thought the rebuild was over. They thought wrong.

Why? Let’s start with goaltending. Matt Murray was hardly the Senators’ savior there, losing seven straight to start the season and six straight in the back half of his campaign before exiting in early March with an injury. That’s not what Ottawa needed from its supposed starter. And with his own subpar play, Filip Gustavsson didn’t fill the void effectively.

Murray wasn’t the only one who fell below expectations, though. Tim Stutzle also came out slowly (on the score sheet anyway), notching only one goal in his first 21 games, epitomizing a lineup that struggled to score as a whole. Ottawa just never got the leaps and bounds from some of its younger stars early on, then couldn’t overcome its deficiencies later. That became especially true after Drake Batherson, the Sens’ leading point-getter, was lost to an injury right before the All-Star break.

Then there were the defensive inconsistencies: odd-man rushes, sloppy in-zone coverage, bad decision-making with the puck. All the little negative habits that add up to negative results.

Keys to the offseason

Murray hasn’t played an NHL game since March 5. How is GM Pierre Dorion going to address that position for next season? Anton Forsberg has had a solid final third of the season and signed a three-year deal to stick with the Senators. If Murray can get healthy, will Ottawa trust him to stay that way and be part of a tandem with Forsberg? Do the Sens have any other choice? Shoring up the goaltending, one way or another, will be critical to Ottawa’s hopes for a turnaround.

Dealing with their defensive problems will also be key. Dorion added Travis Hamonic at the trade deadline, but he’ll need to do more work to help Ottawa keep the puck out of its own net. The Senators have cap space available to rectify these issues; it’s on Dorion to find the right mix.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

At this stage, it’s hard to think of Ottawa in the playoff conversation next season. Unless, of course, Dorion takes some big swings in free agency and can get some difference-making defensive players. The Senators have great talent up front in Stutzle, Batherson and Brady Tkachuk. Even if all three improve upon this campaign, more tweaks are necessary before we can say Ottawa realistically moves the needle next season.

If Carter Hart can return to his previous sky-high trajectory, the Flyers could quickly return to being a playoff contender. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $8,803,143

2022 draft picks: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

What went wrong?

This season was a debacle for the Flyers. Coach Alain Vigneault was fired after an 8-10-4 start and replaced by assistant coach Mike Yeo on an interim basis. Under the former Wild and Blues head coach, the Flyers would win just 16 of their next 56 games. They missed key players to injury in center Sean Couturier (29 games played), forward Kevin Hayes (44 games) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (4 games), a significant offseason acquisition who was expected to solidify the defensive corps. A slight uptick in goaltending quality by maligned franchise netminder Carter Hart was undercut by a penalty kill that saw the Flyers finish near the bottom of the league.

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It was a season also marred by tragedy, as Hayes lost his brother, former NHL player Jimmy Hayes, last August. It was also overshadowed by the saga of captain Claude Giroux, the career Flyer whose time with the team ended after a deadline trade to the Florida Panthers.

Too many injuries, too many ineffective performances and not enough impact from GM Chuck Fletcher’s offseason additions in Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle and Martin Jones (although Cam Atkinson played well in his first season in Philly).

Keys to the offseason

Fletcher has spoken about an “aggressive retool” in the offseason, believing there are enough pieces on the roster, with some augmentation, to contend next season. That retool is going to have to be quite aggressive: The Flyers need to replace Giroux’s offense and probably add another established scorer beyond that.

Will they seek to move forward James van Riemsdyk, who carries a $7 million cap hit into the final year of his contract? Will those rumors about Ivan Provorov‘s availability result in a trade? There are plenty of directions to take the retool.

Obviously, an NHL draft lottery win would help. The Flyers could certainly use a Shane Wright or a Logan Cooley at center, or Simon Nemec on defense.

But beyond the roster, Fletcher will need to hire a new head coach. There has been a lot of speculation that the Flyers will seek out TNT commentator and Philly fan favorite Rick Tocchet to take over the bench. Or does a team seeking better fundamental 5-on-5 play make overtures to another coach-turned-commentator in John Tortorella?

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

If they’re healthier. If their offseason acquisitions are uniformly more impactful than last season’s were and don’t detract from other areas of the team. If they choose the right coach. If some of the younger players getting time this season — Noah Cates, Ronnie Attard, Bobby Brink, Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett — level up, and Hart continues to trend back to his previous standards. If all of this — or at least most of it — happens, the Flyers could return to playoff contention. But that’s a lot of ifs.

The Sharks paid a premium to retain Tomas Hertl. What other big moves do they have in store this summer? Amanda Cain/NHLI

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $13,003,333

2022 draft picks: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 5th (BUF), 6th, 7th, 7th (ARI), 7th (MIN)

What went wrong?

Not much was expected from the Sharks this season, but they improved incrementally.

They were a .438 points percentage team last season; they had a .468 points percentage through 77 games this season. Their goaltending improved from 29th last season to 20th this season, thanks to the acquisitions of James Reimer, Adin Hill and eventually goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, whom they acquired from Minnesota in a trade for defenseman Jacob Middleton.

But their offense dropped from seventh in expected goals per 60 minutes in all situations last season to 27th this season. Part of that could be attributed to the loss of forward Evander Kane, as the Sharks terminated Kane’s deal for what they said was a breach of contract and for violating COVID-19 protocols. He was their leading scorer last season, but it was clear that the relationship had run its course.

Keys to the offseason

The first is finding the next general manager after Doug Wilson stepped down this season. Joe Will is the team’s interim GM and may end up running their draft as they meticulously comb through candidates to succeed Wilson, who was with San Jose for 19 seasons.

Whoever takes over inherits a veteran roster filled with long-term contracts. The Sharks have $42.6 million in salary committed to the 2024-25 season for Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and now Tomas Hertl, whom they signed before the trade deadline. That’s an expensive core with ample trade protection. Unless something dramatic changes, the Sharks will have to find ways to build around that talent thriftily.

To that end, they have some interesting free agents: productive forward Alexander Barabanov (UFA), center Jonathan Dahlen (RFA), defenseman Mario Ferraro (RFA) and Kahkonen (RFA).

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Another season in hockey purgatory, as the Sharks hope an affordable supporting cast can solidify around their talented but aging core. They need more players like center Thomas Bordeleau, the University of Michigan product who made his debut this season. They could have another one in forward William Eklund, the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft, but he had a rough season in the Swedish Hockey League. The regular-season ceiling for this team feels like a wild card.

The Kraken have a franchise cornerstone in Matty Beniers, who got a taste of NHL action this spring. Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $21,135,834

2022 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (NSH), 2nd (TOR), 2nd (FLA), 3rd, 4th, 4th (WSH), 4th (CGY), 5th, 6th, 7th

What went wrong?

The Kraken weren’t the Vegas Golden Knights. That much was clear. Our expectations for Seattle, based on the Knights’ recent expansion success and Seattle drafting under the same rules, were inflated. Given the talent on the roster, the Kraken should have been better than a points percentage under .400, even if they inevitably became a seller at the trade deadline anyway.

At the very least, they should have been a team that established a discernible identity in their inaugural season; yet in the end, Seattle’s style and direction are as mysterious as their namesake sea monster.

Their goaltending was supposed to help define them. Instead, Philipp Grubauer gave up more than 18 goals below expectations and cost his team at least three wins, per Evolving Hockey. Through 76 games, the Kraken had the worst team save percentage in the NHL. Whatever gains they made at 5-on-5 during the season were undermined by the league’s most porous goaltending.

But the Kraken didn’t give their netminders much goal support, either. They were near the bottom of the goals per game rankings, watching players like Joonas Donskoi struggle and others like Jaden Schwartz and Brandon Tanev limited by injuries.

Keys to the offseason

The arrival of No. 2 overall pick Matty Beniers gives the Kraken a potential No. 1 center next season and a glimpse of the future. How to achieve that future will involve the NHL draft, where the Kraken will have five picks in the first two rounds. But the short-term prospects for Seattle will rise or fall on GM Ron Francis’ moves this offseason.

They have 10 free agents, three of them unrestricted. They’ll have around $21 million in open cap space. They can see what worked and what didn’t this season and adjust accordingly. That goes for the players and the coaches, whose player usage and systems contributed to the team’s offensive malaise.

But mostly, they need to find a way for Grubauer to shake off this season and become the goalie they thought they signed last summer — the one who was going to be the foundation for what they’re building in the Emerald City.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

The Kraken found some franchise foundations in their first year. Jared McCann was the goal-scoring ace that the analytics portended. Yanni Gourde was as solid as expected. Jamie Oleksiak had a strong season. So consider the inaugural season as the opening draw in a card game; they’ll keep some, give some back, take new ones and hope the hand turns out better. This is clearly a slow build for Seattle. Another season outside the playoffs, considering what’s in the 2023 draft, wouldn’t hurt.

The Jets have some elite talent on the roster, including winger Kyle Connor, but couldn’t seem to put it all together this season. Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

Projected 2022-23 cap space: $16,271,310

2022 draft picks: 1st, 2nd (STL), 2nd (NYR), 3rd (CBJ), 4th (ARI), 6th, 7th

What went wrong?

Some teams don’t have enough talent to compete with the NHL’s best. Winnipeg has top players, but too many of them had a tough season at the same time. So much so, coach Paul Maurice didn’t think he could get enough out of the group anymore, leading him to resign in December.

It’s not often that a coach just up and quits on a team that’s underperforming. Did that have a residual effect on the Jets’ overall confidence? Maybe. But the club’s struggling stars were the real issue.

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler both missed time early in the season and didn’t find an offensive groove until later. Nikolaj Ehlers was one the Jets’ best forwards, but he too was felled by injury midseason, and that hurt the Jets’ chances of making a run up the standings. It felt like one thing after another took Winnipeg’s assets out of the lineup, and the more they fought to stay above water, the harder another wave of adversity would land.

Eventually that roller coaster seemed to take a mental toll on the entire team, effectively ending any last-ditch hope of contending for a wild-card spot.

Keys to the offseason

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will need to decide on his next coach. Dave Lowry stepped in for Maurice, but is that a long-term slot for him? Probably not.

Whoever fills the role will face arguably the next most important task for the Jets: putting this wasted year behind them and starting fresh. It’s not as if the Jets’ require a massive overhaul. They have good players and good prospects. Connor Hellebuyck is a strong goaltender. This was just a nightmare season in nearly every regard.

Inevitably, Cheveldayoff will swap some personnel or make alterations here and there. He’ll have to manage Pierre Luc-Dubois’ next deal as well, which will be a priority negotiation between the club and its pending restricted free agent.

Realistic expectations for 2022-23

Winnipeg should enter training camp with a massive chip on its shoulder. This was not the year the Jets intended to have, and there are far too many good players in this lineup to have it happen again. There should be high expectations for the Jets going forward, both inside and outside the organization.

Source: ESPN NHL

    

Author: Ellen Garcia