With the NHL’s regular season basically across the finish line, the focus turns toward the greatest postseason in sports — the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But before we start paying close attention to the league’s 16 surviving teams, let’s take some time to reflect on the 16 fallen squads that are packing up for an early summer vacation.
What went wrong: A lot. A whole lot. The rebuild looked like it might be gaining momentum last season, as the Ducks saw some young talent make the jump and looked pretty fun at points. Then … woof. This season, they had trouble right out of the gate, and the outlook didn’t get any brighter when Jamie Drysdale’s sophomore season ended after eight games. This team finishes very near the bottom in a ton of meaningful categories, offensively and defensively. It was a painful season, pretty much from start to finish.
What we'll miss: Laughing at them, mostly. This is a team that had one regulation win a few weeks before Christmas. One! It also finished the season with 12 straight losses. Everybody point and laugh.
What's next: Wait for the lottery and hope it was all worth it. With the best odds to win the No. 1 overall pick, the Ducks are almost guaranteed to get at least one really great prospect they can add to their rebuild. If it’s Connor Bedard? They’re certainly in business. They also have some draft capital and financial flexibility, so we could see them be aggressive this summer.
What went wrong: Well, they were one of the league’s worst teams, played in a college rink, traded their franchise player for much less than anticipated, engaged in an ugly legal dispute with the city of Arizona and spent another year as a salary cap dumping ground for the rest of the league. Other than that? They still somehow won too many games. They can’t even tank correctly.
What we'll miss: That weird, slightly embarrassing "new car smell" at Mullett Arena. The Coyotes may be the redheaded stepchild of the NHL, but one of my favorite memories this season was getting to experience the novelty of the Yotes' first game at ASU.
What’s next: For the love of God, the Coyotes need to find some solid footing both on and off the ice. They’re probably going to be quite bad again next season, but they can at least start working on making a long-term vision in Arizona become clearer. They have 22 picks within the first three rounds over the next three years, so they need to start using them to start shaping another rebuild.
What went wrong: Bad team defense and bad goaltending kept the Sabres out of the playoffs, but not by much. If they had employed Devon Levi all season, they may have actually sneaked into the postseason.
What we'll miss: The chaotic nature of this team. I believe in my heart of hearts that this was, pound for pound, one of the most entertaining squads in the NHL all season. They scored a ton and had one of the best top lines in all of hockey, and Tage Thompson’s first half was truly awesome. They also gave up a ton of goals in their own end. Just unhinged, high-octane, high-event hockey from these guys.
Speaking of unhinged, I’ll also miss the good vibes and great content this group of fellas provided. You can tell they had a ton of fun together, both on and off the ice.
What’s next: It feels like the sky’s the limit for this team as long as it can fill out the depth and improve defensively. I said earlier this season that I believe Buffalo will win a Stanley Cup within the next five years, and I still believe that’s very possible. The Sabres' first line has been unlocked. Rasmus Dahlin has turned into a Norris-caliber defenseman. Dylan Cozens is locked up. Owen Power had a strong rookie season. Levi is already providing light between the pipes. They just have to build on this momentum and not throw the train off the tracks.
What went wrong: The Flames lost their two best offensive players over the summer and got a lackluster season from the big replacement they brought in, but scoring wasn’t the big issue — at least not at 5-on-5. The biggest issue was goaltending, as Jacob Markstrom saw his save percentage drop from .922 last season to .892 this season. Calgary ranked eighth in the league in expected goals against, but it was 18th in actual goals allowed, thanks in large part to the NHL's sixth-worst team save percentage. The Flames also lost 30 one-goal games — most in the league by a long shot — including 17 games in overtime or shootout.
What we'll miss: I personally enjoyed the fact that it seemed like Darryl Sutter was actively trying to get fired this season. From dumping on his own players, especially the young guys, to trotting out Nick Ritchie in the shootout with the team's playoff hopes on the line, it seemed like Sutter missed his farm a whole lot.
What's next: The vibes were off in Calgary. It didn’t seem like guys were having much fun, and you can make the case for it being the cause and/or effect of plenty of losses. The Flames could easily be a bounce-back candidate next season, but some changes must be made to adjust the culture in the room a little bit. I think it’s very possible Sutter's days are numbered.
What went wrong: Not a lot, I guess. Yeah, they stunk, but that was kind of by design. They began a teardown last summer that signified they’d be tanking this season, a process that continued with the trade of Patrick Kane at the deadline. And, to their credit, the Blackhawks tanked quite effectively. They finished with top-3 lottery odds and a real chance at immediately shifting from the Toews- Kane era to the Connor Bedard era.
What we'll miss: Their shameless bid for the basement.
What's next: They essentially have a blank canvas to work with now, especially when it comes to the front end of their lineup. They have a lot of roster flexibility, tons of cap room and a boatload of draft capital, so there’s opportunity to build a new team essentially from scratch. It’ll likely be at least a few years until the Blackhawks are truly relevant again, though.
Columbus Blue Jackets
What went wrong: Remember the excitement over winning the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes? Seems like a long time ago. Despite leading the team in points by a healthy margin, Gaudreau finished with fewer than 20 goals, and it’s clear he’s not turning this ship around by himself. The team, which wasn’t very good to begin with, also got decimated by injuries and finished at or near the bottom of the league in pretty much every meaningful statistical category.
What we'll miss: Kent Johnson doing stuff like this.
What's next: There's a lot of work to be done, but, perhaps first and foremost, the Blue Jackets really need to land high-end help at the center position. That’s not typically an easy thing to accomplish but, hey, they have strong lottery odds in a year when promising centers are plentiful at the top of the draft. Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli would work out quite nicely.
Detroit Red Wings
What went wrong: The goaltending duo of Ville Husso and Alex Nedeljkovic didn’t work out as expected, and that partially tanked Detroit's expected defensive results. However, this team clearly still needs to improve across the board before it's going to be taken seriously. The Red Wings lack offensive firepower and aren’t nearly tough enough to play against.
What we'll miss: Not much. In all honesty, Detroit was rather disappointing, both in results and entertainment.
What's next: Steve Yzerman has always relied on patience and a long-term vision, but it feels like the Red Wings will need to take their big step toward being a legit threat soon. They're years into this rebuild with the framework in place, but it needs to start coming together as a whole. Luckily for Detroit, it has plenty of cap flexibility and draft assets (five picks in the first two rounds this summer).
What went wrong: Nobody really expected this team to be good, but the Canadiens also were demolished by injuries, which didn’t help things at all. Juraj Slafkovsky, the 2022 No. 1 overall pick, had a thoroughly underwhelming rookie campaign (four goals and six assists in 39 games) before getting hurt and shut down. Still, it’s hard to find too much disappointment here based on the expectations Montreal carried into the season.
What we'll miss: Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are both really fun players, especially when they’re sharing the ice together. Caufield has continued to thrive under Martin St. Louis, and it’s a bummer that he only got to play in 46 games, especially since he still managed to finish the season tied for the team lead in goals (26).
What's next: The Canadiens improved this season, but that’s not saying a whole lot. You can be encouraged by the development/emergence of some of the young players and hope that next season goes smoother in terms of health issues, but this team will need to improve personnel-wise, especially defensively. Unfortunately for Montreal, it is not well-positioned to make big changes given its contractual commitments.
What went wrong: You’re going to have problems if you can’t score, and that was an issue for the Preds all season long. All things considered, though, this team showed an admirable amount of fight — especially after a miserable start to the season. Nashville finished 28th in scoring, sold hardcore at the deadline, got hit with several injuries to key players in the second half and still managed to hit 90 points and stay in the hunt for a playoff spot until the final few days of the season.
What we'll miss: Watching Juuse Saros put on a show almost every night behind a defense that didn’t do him many favors.
What's next: Great question. The Predators are currently stuck in No Man's Land, where they’re not good enough to contend but aren’t bad enough to bottom out. They might be one of the most intriguing teams to watch this summer, especially considering they have a new owner and Barry Trotz is taking over as general manager — the first time he’s held that post. It’s also the first time that the Predators will be led by anyone other than David Poile, who had been GM since the team’s inception in 1997. With 10 draft picks through the first four rounds — in a draft hosted by Nashville, no less — it should be an interesting summer.
What went wrong: After the sexiest summer of 2022, Ottawa turned out to be a pretty big disappointment. An October-November stretch of 11 losses in 13 games left the Senators in a pretty big hole, and it took a while for them to get back on track. A late-January to early-March push (bolstered by the acquisition of Jakob Chychrun) got us wondering if they might sneak into the playoffs. Alas, they ran out of gas and fell short, and it’s easy to point the finger at their lack of finishing ability. They ranked 24th in the league at 5v5 scoring despite being ninth in expected goals, and they were 31st in shooting percentage. Ultimately, the new top six was quite good, but the depth was lacking. And the lack of stability between the pipes didn’t help. Cam Talbot (.898 save percentage) was hardly a savior, as Ottawa deployed seven goalies this season.
What we’ll miss: Brady Tkachuk being able to support Matthew during a playoff run. It's the only downside of them playing in the same division now.
What's next: As mentioned above, the forward depth could certainly use a boost. There’s also the question of whether the Sens extend or trade Alex DeBrincat, but I'd imagine they’ll try to hold onto him. Aside from that, there are questions above the player personnel level. I wouldn’t be shocked if they opted for a coaching change. Is Pierre Dorion’s job safe? Will the team get sold? Lots to find out, but a few tweaks could have Ottawa in contention pretty quickly.
What went wrong: Well, if we're being honest, they were slightly too competitive. The Flyers were expected to be crap this season, especially with all the significant injuries they endured from start to finish, but they finished with 75 points (seventh-worst in the NHL). That limits their lottery chances to 6.5%. It felt like they could have been more aggressive sellers at the trade deadline in order to better position themselves for the imminent rebuild, and that might be part of the reason why GM Chuck Fletcher was fired last month.
What we'll miss: John Tortorella, obviously.
What's next: Big changes. This team is clearly in need of a reset, and that’s something that interim GM Danny Briere has already indicated. But will Briere get the permanent job and be the guy orchestrating that rebuild? Either way, it seems like a good chance that some of Philly’s veteran players, including Kevin Hayes, could be shipped out this summer.
What went wrong: After a 16-year playoff streak that included three Stanley Cups, Pittsburgh finally finished on the wrong side of the bubble. The aging roster didn’t have enough in the tank, even though the stars generally pulled their weight. If you told me ahead of the season that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would both play all 82 games and average over a point per game, I’d assume that would be enough to get the Penguins in the postseason. They have been able to overcome a lack of depth over the past several years, but this was the season it finally caught up to them.
What we'll miss: The streaks. The Pens were among the streakiest teams in the league this season. Just when you were talking yourself into believing in them, they’d lose four or five games in a row and make you feel like an idiot — and vice versa.
What's next: For better or for worse, the Penguins are committed to carrying this veteran core for several more seasons. They’ll need to do a much better job of filling in the roster around it if they want to start another playoff streak and get back to contending, and it’s going to be the job of a new front office to get them there. They’ve already fired Brian Burke and Ron Hextall, so it’s clear new ownership wants to go in a different direction.
San Jose Sharks
What went wrong: The team was bad. The vibes were bad. Pretty much everything was bad … except Erik Karlsson.
What we'll miss: EK65. It was so damn cool to see him find the fountain of youth and become an elite offensive defenseman again. Hitting 100 points as a defenseman on one of the league's worst teams is an absolute achievement. What a player.
What's next: Timo Meier was shipped out this year, and I expect this team to continue to look for ways to clean house and reset. That won’t be super easy given some of the contractual burdens the Sharks are strapped with, but they should continue to morph and get younger over the next couple of years. A nice lottery draw would certainly help kickstart that process.
St. Louis Blues
What went wrong: The Blues made the mistake of trusting largely the same defensive group that was frequently bailed out by offensive depth and good goaltending last season. That offensive and goaltending support wasn’t quite up to par, and the team quickly got exposed, enough that it waved the flag and sold heavily at the deadline. That was undoubtedly the right call.
What we'll miss: A weird Jordan Binnington meltdown every few weeks.
What's next: The Blues still have a decent core and are now in possession of three first-round picks this summer, so it'll be interesting to see what they do with them. There’s an opportunity to retool on the fly, but it’ll have to start with figuring out a new plan defensively and finding some goaltending insurance.
What went wrong: It feels like there's always something going wrong in Vancouver, right? After a disastrous start, things started going off the rails. The Canucks orchestrated an uncomfortably drawn-out ousting of Bruce Boudreau and brought in Rick Tocchet. They traded Bo Horvat, and it started looking like there was a chance Connor Bedard could end up playing for his hometown team. But then things started to click and the Canucks surged a bit in the second half, which has limited their chances in the Bedard sweepstakes. That can either be encouraging or discouraging, depending on where you believe this team is headed.
What we'll miss: Despite the organizational dysfunction, Vancouver had several players who stayed locked in and were worth watching almost every night. Horvat scoring 31 in 49 before the trade was pretty incredible. Elias Pettersson finally had his breakout-type season, clearing 100 points and finishing just shy of 40 goals. Quinn Hughes was almost a point-per-game player on the blue line. Andrei Kuzmenko was worth the wait.
What's next: Your guess is as good as mine. The Canucks went from playoff hopefuls to lottery hopefuls and back to playoff hopefuls within the same season. They just need some stabilization one way or another soon.
What went wrong: The Capitals fought hard to keep it together for most of the season despite an aging roster and some big injuries, and they did a decent job for a while. But then the bottom fell out and they basically had to punt on the season at the trade deadline because of how stacked the Eastern Conference was above them.
What we'll miss: No Sidney Crosby OR Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs? I’m officially old.
What's next: Washington certainly seems like a No Man’s Land candidate at this point. The Capitals are probably not going to give up and attempt a rebuild while Ovechkin is still chasing Wayne Gretzky's goals record in the final years of his career, but there are probably some changes on the horizon because they’re not good enough to truly contend right now. It’s possible they fire Peter Laviolette and look to finally pull the trigger on an Evgeny Kuznetsov trade, for starters.