Keys to the offseason for NHL teams, including draft, free-agency game plans

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.

 

Anaheim Ducks

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.

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?

Author: Lucy Green