Power Rankings, X factors, predictions
After a wild offseason that included multiple superstars joining or leaving the Calgary Flames, opening night of the 2022-23 NHL season is fast approaching.
ESPN will be your home for hockey, including a doubleheader Tuesday night, with Tampa Bay Lightning–New York Rangers at 7:30 ET, followed by Vegas Golden Knights–Los Angeles Kings at 10 ET.
We mentioned the Flames, but every team made changes this offseason. We’re here to help get you up to speed with intel on all 32 teams, including the key players who were added or subtracted, best- and worst-case scenarios, X factors and fantasy tips, plus bold predictions.
Our season preview is also the first edition of our ESPN power rankings for 2022-23, which provide the order in which these teams are presented. The rankings were formulated through votes from ESPN hockey broadcasters, analysts and reporters, and will appear weekly on ESPN.com.
How to watch the NHL on ESPN, ABC, ESPN+ and Hulu
Note: Thanks as always to CapFriendly for salary and contract data. Advanced stats are from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. Kristen Shilton profiled the teams in the Eastern Conference, while Ryan S. Clark handled the Western Conference clubs. Fantasy outlook for each team is courtesy of Victoria Matiash and Sean Allen. Stanley Cup odds are courtesy Caesars Sportsbook.
ANA | ARI | BOS | BUF
CGY | CAR | CHI | COL
CBJ | DAL | DET | EDM
FLA | LA | MIN | MTL
NSH | NJ | NYI | NYR
OTT | PHI | PIT | SJ
SEA | STL | TB | TOR
VAN | VGS | WSH | WPG
Last season: 56-19-7 (119 points), won Stanley Cup
Stanley Cup odds: +400
Key players added: D Brad Hunt, G Alexandar Georgiev, F Evan Rodrigues, F Lukas Sedlak
Key players lost: F Nicolas Aube-Kubel, F Andre Burakovsky, F Nazem Kadri, G Darcy Kuemper, D Jack Johnson, D Ryan Murray, F Nico Sturm
Most fascinating player: Alex Newhook. Finding a new second-line center is arguably the most notable question facing the defending Stanley Cup champions. The belief is Newhook could be the person who replaces Kadri. Newhook has more than just replacing Kadri to contend with if he does get the second-line center role. He must also play a key role in finding continuity with a second line that returns Valeri Nichushkin as its senior member with Burakovsky and Kadri playing elsewhere.
Best case: Winning a second straight Stanley Cup. It’s no secret the Avs are in win-now mode and have many of the needed pieces to capture what would be the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Worst case: They cannot fill one of their roster needs internally and have to mortgage future assets to do so. They have around $2.6 million in available cap space. They have four picks in the 2023 draft, and another four in the 2024 draft. Yes, the Avs have their first-round picks for 2023, 2024 and 2025. So they could use those as capital. But there will come a point when they need their prospects to start filling those gaps that cannot always be outsourced.
X factor: What could the Avs look like with a fully healthy Bowen Byram? The playoffs offered a glimpse of that, with Byram registering nine points in 20 games while averaging a little less than 20 minutes per contest. A healthy Byram alongside Samuel Girard, Cale Makar and Devon Toews could give the Avs one of the most treacherous top-four defensive groups.
Fantasy outlook: On the blue line, Makar is any fantasy team’s choice No. 1 defenseman, particularly in leagues that reward power-play points at a premium. Second only to Roman Josi in points accrued with the extra skater (34) in 2021-22, and average fantasy points/game in standard leagues (2.9), Makar stands nearly alone in a class of three blueliners as an indisputably legitimate first-round draft pick. His oft-underrated and overshadowed partner, Toews, holds sneaky appeal as a fantasy No. 3 or 4 defender.
Bold prediction: Returning goalkeeper Pavel Francouz will outplay Georgiev.
Last season: 54-20-8 (116 points), lost in second round
Stanley Cup odds: +1,000
Key players added: LW Max Pacioretty, D Brent Burns, RW Ondrej Kase, D Dylan Coghlan
Key players lost: D Tony DeAngelo, F Steven Lorentz, C Vincent Trocheck, C Max Domi, D Ian Cole, Brendan Smith
Most fascinating player: Dylan Coghlan. Las Vegas traded Coghlan — a 24-year-old right-shot defenseman — to Carolina along with Max Pacioretty over the summer for basically nothing in return (except salary-cap space). Bold move. Now Coghlan has a chance to break through on the Hurricanes’ back end. Coghlan has yet to play a full 82-game schedule in his career, capping out at 59 (and 13 points) a season ago. But he has turned heads already in the preseason and has seen some power-play time. Could it be a perfect match between player and team? Given Coghlan’s age and the coveted role he fills, this blueliner might blossom into a real difference-maker for Carolina.
Best case: The Hurricanes harness all the young talent they’ve been growing for years and take the league by storm. Carolina’s core — led by Sebastian Aho — crackles with offensive chemistry, while free agent additions Paul Stastny and Ondrej Kase help stabilize the bottom six. Brent Burns proves there’s plenty left in his tank to anchor a blue line bursting with players in their prime, and Jake Gardiner — now cleared to return — is a viable option once more. Frederik Andersen stays healthy, and Carolina steamrollers its way up the standings to win the division and set up a successful postseason.
Worst case: Carolina is loaded down by expectations entering the season and stumbles at the start. Coach Rod Brind’Amour struggles to find the right forward combinations, and that slows the team’s offense. Andersen’s past injury issues return, and the Hurricanes’ goaltending goes back into flux. Integrating too many new pieces on the back end takes time, and the absence of DeAngelo is felt even with Burns in place. That all puts the Hurricanes on their heels and in a season-long battle to recover just to stay in the playoff picture.
X factor: Reaching Carolina’s ultimate goal requires the best out of all its players. Is this finally the time for Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Martin Necas to reveal theirs? Kotkaniemi has been unpredictable in the past, and now he’s starting on an eight-year contract worth almost $5 million per season. He’ll have a chance to be Carolina’s second-line center, too; can the Hurricanes rely on him to perform there? And what of Necas, a player with great potential who has been up and down in Carolina for too long? Now on a two-year bridge deal, will Necas prove his doubters wrong with a breakout season?
Fantasy outlook: The Hurricanes have taken a good thing and sprinkled in some veteran spice. Aho and Andrei Svechnikov — even on separate lines — will give you 2.0 fantasy points per game or better, with Teuvo Teravainen not far behind. Pacioretty will be there, too, once he’s healthy for the final push.
Bold prediction: The Hurricanes will make the Stanley Cup Final.
Last season: 49-27-6 (104 points), lost in Western Conference finals
Stanley Cup odds: +1,300
Key players added: G Jack Campbell, F Mattias Janmark, D Ryan Murray
Key players lost: F Josh Archibald, G Mikko Koskinen, F Zack Kassian, D Duncan Keith
Most fascinating player: Jack Campbell. Relying on the ability to simply outscore teams can go only so far. That strategy took the Oilers to the Western Conference finals last season, but consistent goal-suppression was an issue. This is why the Oilers signed Campbell to a five-year contract worth $5 million annually. The front office believes this could be the move that sees the Oilers go from conference finalists to potentially something more.
Best case: At least returning to the Western Conference finals. Winning the West would further heighten what is demanded while also showing what the Oilers are doing could be sustainable over the long haul. Is it possible this could be the year Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid get the Oilers to the Cup final for the first time since the 2005-06 season?
Worst case: Their defensive structure and goaltending struggle to connect, and the Oilers are eliminated within the first two rounds. Last year saw the Oilers make a significant jump from a team that was eliminated in the opening round in their previous two postseason campaigns to reaching the conference finals. They return several players and have added Campbell with the hope he can take them further. But there are no guarantees.
X factor: This will be an important season for Evan Bouchard. His 12 goals and 43 points in 81 games was a sign the Oilers have a young blueliner who can be trusted to play a big role. The fact that he continued that into the postseason by scoring nine points in 16 games while averaging a little more than 18 minutes per game was also another sign of progress. Another strong campaign could see Bouchard, who is an RFA at season’s end, get rewarded going forward.
Fantasy outlook: If Jack Campbell could survive the blistering spotlight in Toronto’s suffocating hockey market and manage to not only survive but thrive, he can make it anywhere. Last year’s healthy version of the 30-year-old did just that. Some argue Campbell is no Mike Smith. Agreed. He isn’t. The Leafs’ former No. 1 is a top-10 fantasy netminder.
Bold prediction: The Oilers will make the Stanley Cup Final.
Last season: 58-18-6 (122 points), lost in second round
Stanley Cup odds: +1,500
Key players added: C Nick Cousins, D Marc Staal, F Matthew Tkachuk, C Colin White
Key players lost: D Ben Chiarot, C Claude Giroux, F Jonathan Huberdeau, LW Mason Marchment
Most fascinating player: Spencer Knight. The Panthers have high hopes for the goaltender they drafted 13th overall in 2019. Knight’s recent three-year, $13.5 million extension makes him one half of the NHL’s highest-paid goalie tandem (alongside Sergei Bobrovsky), a pair that eats up $14.5 million of Florida’s salary cap. Can Knight live up to that investment? After a sterling debut stretch for the Panthers in 2020-21 following the close of his sophomore season at Boston College, Knight struggled enough last season to be demoted to the AHL before rebounding with a resurgent finish with the big club (10-3-1, .921 SV%). Which Knight shows up to start this season? And can the Panthers rely on him to perform all the way through?
Best case: Florida is fueled by last season’s playoff disappointment to become an even better version than the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2022. Matthew Tkachuk injects the Panthers’ offense with a perfect complement of grit and skill, there is defensive buy-in across the board and Bobrovsky and Knight settle into a successful rhythm between the pipes. The Panthers emerge more balanced than last season’s offense-fueled squad, and when the playoffs arrive, they are well positioned to tackle challenges on both sides of the puck (not to mention special teams).
Worst case: It was too big a risk for GM Billy Zito to trade his team’s leading scorer, Jonathan Huberdeau, to Calgary for Tkachuk. Huberdeau’s absence is felt immediately and proves difficult to overcome as Florida redefines its offense under new coach Paul Maurice. The Panthers encounter more injury issues with top stars, including Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad, which slows down their progress. The Atlantic ramps up faster than expected and Florida has a hard time keeping pace into the spring.
X factor: The Panthers lost top-pairing defenseman Mackenzie Weegar in the Huberdeau/Tkachuk trade. What does that mean for his former partner, Ekblad, and Florida’s top-four alignment? Will Ekblad find quick chemistry on a new pairing, or will that take time to develop? The Panthers scored their way through issues in the 2021-22 regular season, but that came back to bite them in the playoffs. Establishing a strong defense that supports Bobrovsky and Knight will be key for Florida to reach its ceiling.
Fantasy outlook: There are countless combinations you can pencil in for the Panthers — a product of having two superstar players who are good enough to carry a line single-handedly (Barkov and Tkachuk) and a sophomore on a path to be able to do the same one day (Anton Lundell).
Bold prediction: The Panthers will drop at least 20 points in the standings.
Last season: 52-24-6 (110 points), lost in Eastern Conference finals
Stanley Cup odds: +1,500
Key players added: F Vincent Trocheck, C Ryan Carpenter, G Jaroslav Halak
Key players lost: C Ryan Strome, F Andrew Copp, F Frank Vatrano, F Kevin Rooney, D Justin Braun, D Patrik Nemeth, G Alexandar Georgiev
Most fascinating player: Kaapo Kakko. It was the healthy scratch heard round the hockey world when Rangers coach Gerard Gallant tapped Dryden Hunt over Kakko in a do-or-die Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay last spring. New York lost that game, and Kakko’s RFA status muddied the waters on his future. He has since signed a two-year deal, and New York has high hopes Kakko develops quickly into a top-six stalwart. Is that in his sights this season? The 21-year-old is undeniably talented; with added consistency, Kakko could fly high — and fast — in New York.
Best case: New York proves its run to the conference finals last spring was no fluke with a hot start to 2022-23. The Rangers’ key offseason signee, Trocheck, locks into a center spot beside Artemi Panarin, who gets on pace for another career season. The team’s young risers — including Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere — show added growth, and Igor Shesterkin is better than ever. New York dominates its way to the top of the standings and another long playoff run.
Worst case: The Rangers have a youthful blue line, and that inexperience bleeds through early on. Gallant cycles through different combinations up front to maximize his emerging stars, and the chemistry doesn’t come. New York’s frustrations mount, and even stellar play from Shesterkin can’t get them through. The Rangers make the playoffs but are ousted in the first round.
X factor: How will New York handle its imbalance of left and right wingers? Copp and Vatrano leaving in free agency left the Rangers with few options on the right compared to left. Kakko is a true righty, and Lafreniere could conceivably swap to his off side. Is that too much to ask of him? Can Vitali Kravtsov take advantage of New York’s need and push his way into the top-nine group? The preseason should give Gallant time to tinker positionally. What he finds in the process will be key for New York’s offense.
Fantasy outlook: The big fantasy question surrounds some youngsters with very high upside who just haven’t clicked in the NHL yet. It’s doubtful there is enough ice time for all three of Lafreniere, Kakko and Kravtsov to take a leap forward, but there is room for one of them on the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.
Bold prediction: The Rangers will trade for Patrick Kane.
Last season: 54-21-7 (115 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +1,000
Key players added: RW Nicolas Aube-Kubel, D Jordie Benn, C Calle Jarnkrok, D Victor Mete, G Matt Murray, G Ilya Samsonov
Key players lost: C Colin Blackwell, G Jack Campbell, RW Ondrej Kase, D Ilya Lyubushkin, RW Ilya Mikheyev, G Petr Mrazek
Most fascinating player: Matt Murray. GM Kyle Dubas let Jack Campbell walk in free agency to sign Murray, who underperformed for two years in Ottawa. Murray is a Stanley Cup champion, though, and was better in the second half last season with the Senators. What sort of performance can he offer a Leafs team desperate to take the next step? Murray will be under intense pressure out of the gate. How the veteran handles the heat, and gets Toronto off on the right foot, will prove whether Dubas was right — in his own contract year — to rely on Murray.
Best case: The Leafs ignite early on the offensive firepower of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Murray stays healthy and racks up a strong record alongside Ilya Samsonov, who enjoys a resurgent season of his own. Toronto remains healthy into the postseason, where it finally gets over the hump with a first-round victory.
Worst case: Preseason injuries to John Tavares and others along the blue line (Jake Muzzin, Timothy Liljegren) spell trouble for Toronto. Matthews gets off to a slow start, and the Leafs’ offense struggles accordingly, putting a dent in the team’s confidence. Murray is solid but can’t make up for the Leafs’ mounting deficiencies in front of him, and Detroit and Ottawa continue to rise around Toronto. They reach the playoffs as a wild-card team and lose again in the first round.
X factor: How will the Leafs’ top six shakeout? Matthews, Marner and Michael Bunting appear to be coach Sheldon Keefe’s choice as the club’s first line. Before Tavares’ training camp injury, he was anchoring the team’s second line with William Nylander and a rotating crop of wingers. Does Denis Malgin win that job? Will Alex Kerfoot end up on the wing again instead of center? What are newcomer Jarnkrok’s prospects there? Building chemistry will be key to Toronto’s long-term success offensively, and there still seems to be some moving parts Keefe and company will have to sift through.
Fantasy outlook: This season, Tavares and Nylander will be seeking a winger to complete their line. Candidates include Adam Gaudette, Jarnkrok, Malgin and Nicholas Robertson. In the end, expect one to emerge for your lineup.
Bold prediction: The Leafs will win a playoff round.
Last season: 51-23-8 (110 points), lost in Stanley Cup Final
Stanley Cup odds: +1,000
Key players added: D Ian Cole, C Vladislav Namestnikov
Key players lost: D Ryan McDonagh, LW Ondrej Palat, D Jan Rutta
Most fascinating player: Brandon Hagel. The Lightning didn’t get as much out of Hagel post-trade deadline last season as they might have expected (seven points in 22 games). Tampa needs that to change now that Anthony Cirelli is sidelined until December and Ondrej Palat is playing in New Jersey. Hagel can slot in at right or left wing and has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer. Where does that versatility take Tampa? Does it push Hagel to the Lightning top line and perhaps allow Steven Stamkos a return to center? If Hagel finds his footing, all of Tampa’s top six will benefit.
Best case: The Lightning push on from June’s Stanley Cup Final loss with an early-season surge. In the early absence of Cirelli, both Hagel and Nick Paul establish themselves in Tampa’s top-six rotation and coach Jon Cooper rolls his lines with ease. Mikhail Sergachev capably shoulders more blue-line responsibility to better complement Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy remains Vezina Trophy-worthy in net. Tampa high steps its way through the division to be playoff powerhouses again.
Worst case: GM Julien BriseBois didn’t make any major offseason additions to Tampa’s roster. Going without Cirelli early proves to be harder than anticipated, and all the hockey the Lightning have played the past three years starts catching up to them earlier in the regular season. Atlantic rivals in Florida, Detroit, Ottawa and even Toronto are bolstered by fresh faces (not to mention fresher legs). Tampa hits some injury setbacks to slip further behind the pack and can’t regain traction before the final playoff push.
X factor: How much will Tampa miss Palat and McDonagh? Both players were vital to the Lightning’s success. While Tampa has overcome the loss of other skaters in its past, has their luck run out in that respect? There is no clear-cut replacement for either player — it’ll either be by committee or require someone new to step up. It would be foolish to doubt Tampa’s ability to overcome those loses, but McDonagh and Palat were quite a presence on and off the ice for a long time.
Fantasy outlook: Victor Hedman can still push to be the top defenseman in the league, but Mikhail Sergachev is also primed to take a step forward. And, of course, Andrei Vasilevskiy is the ever-present linchpin that makes the whole machine function.
Bold prediction: Andrei Vasilevskiy, motivated by his countryman’s exploits with the Rangers, puts together another Vezina-winning season.
Last season: 50-21-11 (111 points), lost in second round
Stanley Cup odds: +1,800
Key players added: F Jonathan Huberdeau, F Nazem Kadri, F Sonny Milano, F Kevin Rooney, D MacKenzie Weegar
Key players lost: F Johnny Gaudreau, D Erik Gudbranson, F Calle Jarnkrok, F Sean Monahan, F Matthew Tkachuk
Most fascinating player: Nazem Kadri. Operating as a top-six center who can be trusted on a first-team power-play unit is exactly how the Avs used Kadri in recent seasons, and it’s likely how he will be used with the Flames. The intrigue is in how he will produce. Kadri reached the 50-point mark three times in Toronto, while averaging 0.64 points in his first two seasons in Denver. Last season, he set a new career high with 87 points, which shattered his previous high by 26 points. Could he do the same with the Flames?
Best case: The Flames find cohesion with their new additions and get beyond the second round. It starts with Kadri and Huberdeau filling the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk. The goal for the Flames is that Huberdeau, Kadri and Weegar can be players who create chances for themselves and others. Having that all work out could potentially result in a longer playoff run than last season.
Worst case: The Flames don’t receive the same level of goal-scoring as 2021-22 and are battling for a playoff spot to the end of the regular season. The Flames were sixth in goals last season, with five of the NHL’s seven most prolific teams in the West. If their scoring diminishes, they could be overtaken by one of the conference’s risers.
X factor: Getting Weegar gave the Flames a few options. He offers them another puck-moving defenseman who could potentially run their first-team power-play unit. Weegar’s arrival also means the Flames might be able to tap into their blue line again for secondary scoring. The Flames had five defenseman who finished with more than 25 points last season. Weegar, who scored a career-high 44 points in 2021-22, hypothetically makes that group more formidable.
Fantasy outlook: Jacob Markstrom is a top-five fantasy goaltender, however you slice it. In 2021-22, he started 63 games, won 37 of them (lost only 15) and pitched a .922 SV% and 2.22 GAA. Only one person wrapped last season with more total fantasy points than Calgary’s No. 1, and that guy won the Vezina Trophy.
Bold prediction: Huberdeau will outscore Gaudreau and Tkachuk.
Last season: 53-22-7 (113 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +2,200
Key players added: G Filip Gustavsson, F Nic Petan, F Sam Steel, D Andrej Sustr
Key players lost: F Nick Bjugstad, D Dmitry Kulikov, F Kevin Fiala, G Cam Talbot
Most fascinating player: Marco Rossi. Kirill Kaprizov might be the easy answer here. But a debate could also be had as to whether it is Matt Dumba, Marc-Andre Fleury or Ryan Hartman, among others. Our pick is Rossi. He was drafted ninth overall in 2020 with the expectation he could someday give the Wild another homegrown top-six forward. Could this be the season Rossi starts tapping into that promise?
Best case: Hartman improves on his breakout 2021-22, and the Wild don’t have to trade for more scoring help. He was part of the Wild’s contingent of players who did more than set new career highs. They shattered their previous accomplishments, and Hartman was one of the strongest examples. Having another 30-goal and 60-plus-point season — or better — while earning $1.7 million this season with one more year left on his contract would prove massive for Wild GM Bill Guerin when it comes to cap management.
Worst case: The Wild can’t score enough after trading Kevin Fiala. If the group featuring Joel Eriksson Ek, Frederick Gaudreau, Marcus Foligno, Mats Zuccarello and Hartman cannot match what they did last season — and the rise of Kaprizov, Rossi and Matt Boldy doesn’t make up for it — they might face an early playoff exit again.
X factor: Fleury combined for 56 starts between the Blackhawks and Wild last season. He could be asked to do that again this season. But no matter Fleury’s workload, the Wild will need to see what they have in 24-year-old Filip Gustavsson. Several teams rely on tandems, and the Wild are no different. The contrast is that Fleury played in more games last season than Gustavsson has in his NHL career (27 appearances).
Fantasy outlook: Superstar Kaprizov earned his fresh $9 million annual salary in scoring 47 goals on 289 shots, while pitching in another 61 assists. Entering the second season of his five-year deal should produce similar results. Kaprizov’s a standout and should be drafted in the first round.
Bold prediction: The Wild will add an impact forward early in the season.
Last season: 49-22-11 (109 points), lost in second round
Stanley Cup odds: +2,500
Key players added: F Noel Acciari, G Thomas Greiss
Key players lost: F Tyler Bozak, G Ville Husso, F David Perron
Most fascinating player: Jordan Binnington. Husso is gone, and the belief is Greiss can play a role within the Blues’ tandem. Those factors, among the fact the Blues are Cup contenders, is what makes this such an alluring campaign for Binnington. He’s coming off back-to-back 18-win seasons, but the 2021-22 campaign saw him post a career-low 3.13 GAA and a .901 save percentage. Then, Binnington went 4-1 with a 1.72 GAA and a .949 save percentage in the postseason. Tapping into the consistency he showed in the playoffs could potentially be key toward him turning in the sort of performances that made him a 30-game winner a few years ago.
Best case: Binnington is sharp in the regular and postseason, and the Blues are a top contender. Winning the Cup amid the potential roster uncertainty could potentially soften the blow depending on what happens next summer. Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are both UFAs at the end of the season. The Blues are projected to have a little less than $16 million in available cap space next offseason. Granted, the Blues have already won a Cup with O’Reilly and Tarasenko. But those circumstances hypothetically heighten what is expected to be an important year for the franchise.
Worst case: The Blues have a quick playoff exit, then their big stars exit in the summer. It is possible this could be the last season O’Reilly and/or Tarasenko spend in St. Louis. Each stand to be among the most sought-after free agents should they hit the market. Plus, the Blues’ cap problems could become even more complicated if Ivan Barbashev, who will also be a UFA, has another strong season before needing a new deal.
X factor: Barbashev represents the chaos potentially facing Blues GM Doug Armstrong this season. O’Reilly and Tarasenko are legitimate top-six presences. O’Reilly is the two-way forward who can anchor a line, while a fully healthy Tarasenko is looking like one of the most dynamic wingers in the game again. Coming up with deals for them is one thing. Doing that for Barbashev is a harder one to predict. He had previously been a double-digit goal-scorer but burst through to score a career-high 26 goals and 60 points in 81 games in 2021-22. Another step up could lead to him requesting more than the $2.25 million he has made the past two seasons.
Fantasy outlook: Blossoming point-per-gamer Jordan Kyrou, who finished second only to Tarasenko in power-play production for St. Louis, is another forward to target before most fantasy drafts are through. On defense, Torey Krug brings it on the power play, Colton Parayko pitches in with the tougher heavy lifting (blocked shots), while Justin Faulk is appreciated as the full package.
Bold prediction: This is O’Reilly’s last season in St. Louis.
Last season: 46-25-11 (103 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +2,500
Key players added: F Ryan Poehling, F Josh Archibald, D Jeff Petry, D Jan Rutta, D Ty Smith
Key players lost: F Danton Heinen, D Mike Matheson, D John Marino
Most fascinating player: Rickard Rakell. The 29-year-old winger is an interesting study. Rakell was a rising star in Anaheim, posting back-to-back 30-goal seasons, until that production began to stall and the Ducks traded him to Pittsburgh last season. The Penguins signed Rakell to a six-year, $30 million extension. Now they need the veteran to be that offense-driving playmaker of his past. Coach Mike Sullivan can — and has — offered Rakell an opportunity to skate with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. The organization clearly believes Rakell has more to offer. Can he now deliver them another 30-goal campaign?
Best case: Pittsburgh got the band back together with new deals for Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, and any notion of an impending rebuild is swiftly silenced. The Penguins’ concerns up front are unfounded, as Rakell, Jeff Carter, Kasperi Kapanen and Bryan Rust all show promising signs early. Pittsburgh’s core carries the team to another successful regular season and, with some health luck, the Penguins win their first playoff round in four years.
Worst case: Injury problems that Pittsburgh deals with in the preseason leak into October and affect the Penguins’ overall team building. The decision to rely on an aging nucleus turns questionable over concerns that the group has lost a step. Chemistry is slow to come on the wings and as Pittsburgh’s offense sputters so, too, does its confidence. The Penguins head to another first-round playoff loss and pensive offseason about the club’s future direction.
X factor: Pittsburgh has dealt with an inconsistent power play since losing special teams staples Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel. Last season, the Penguins finished 19th overall (20.2%) with the extra man, a low landing spot given the talent Pittsburgh has to deploy. The man advantage didn’t look improved early in preseason either, when the Penguins went 0-for-9 against Detroit and Sullivan admitted the team hadn’t really worked on it much at practice. Will special teams struggles come back to haunt Pittsburgh in the regular season, too? And how might it affect their long-term prospects in a tightly contested division?
Fantasy outlook: The Penguins enter what is essentially their 15th season with the same C1, C2 and D1 core. In 2008-09, Crosby, Malkin and Letang shared the power-play minutes with the likes of Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan. Now, in 2022-23, they’ll be out there with Guentzel and Rust — which also feels like old hat.
Bold prediction: Rakell gets a Sidney Crosby glow-up, topping 69 points.
Last season: 46-30-6 (98 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +4,500
Key players added: D Will Butcher, F Mason Marchment, D Colin Miller
Key players lost: G Braden Holtby, D John Klingberg, F Vladislav Namestnikov, F Alexander Radulov
Most fascinating player: Roope Hintz. A 25-year-old, 6-foot-3 winger who can score, create for himself and others. He can operate on the power play while also proving he can be trusted on the penalty kill. Breaking through to score 37 goals and 72 points last season only adds to the intrigue of what the Stars have with Hintz. It also happens to work out that Hintz is a pending RFA who could make the case for a significant pay bump from the $3.15 million he annually earns.
Best case: Peter DeBoer’s system results in more scoring and a postseason run. DeBoer has had lengthy playoff runs in his first season in charge at previous stops. Another trait those teams had was they could score. The Devils were 11th in goals, while the Golden Knights and Sharks finished in the top four. Creating and scoring goals is key for any team, but the Stars struggled with that last season. They finished the regular season with the fewest goals of any team that made the postseason.
Worst case: A lack of scoring prevents a return to the playoffs. Just look at what the teams that finished above the Stars in the Central had last season. The Avs had seven 20-goal scorers and 11 who finished in double figures. The Blues had nine 20-goal scorers and 10 who had more than 10 goals, while the Wild had six 20-goal scorers but 10 players who amassed more than 10 goals. The Stars had only four 20-goal scorers and seven players who reached the 10-goal mark.
X factor: Marchment’s production will be critical. He scored a career-high 18 goals and 47 points in 54 games while playing in a Panthers setup that saw multiple players set new personal bests. Marchment has the potential to give the Stars another scoring layer.
Fantasy outlook: Top heavy in the fantasy department, only the club’s leading trio neared and/or cleared the 2.0 fantasy-point mark in ESPN standard leagues. With Jason Robertson and his 41 goals leading the way, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski duly served as precious assets in contributing regularly at even strength and with the man advantage.
Bold prediction: The DeBoer Effect will carry the Stars to the playoffs.
Last season: 44-26-12 (100 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +4,000
Key players added: F Connor Brown, C Dylan Strome, LW Henrik Borgstrom, D Erik Gustafsson, G Darcy Kuemper, G Charlie Lindgren
Key players lost: D Justin Schultz, G Ilya Samsonov, G Vitek Vanecek
Most fascinating player: Dylan Strome. The Capitals are without Nicklas Backstrom following his offseason hip surgery. In the meantime, newcomer Strome is expected to fill Backstrom’s role as Washington’s second-line center. It’s a high-profile spot for Strome, who made headlines in the summer as an RFA whom Chicago failed to qualify after a 22-goal season. Once the third overall pick by Arizona in 2015, Strome has struggled to reach the loftier expectations of his draft positioning. Now on a one-year, show-me deal with the Capitals, Strome has a chance to prove that, at 25 years old, his best years are still ahead.
Best case: Washington is in win-now mode, and it’s clear why when it bursts into an early-season point streak. Kuemper displays championship form in net that breeds confidence throughout the lineup, and the Capitals barely miss a beat without Backstrom and Tom Wilson. Alex Ovechkin stays on pace for another record-breaking scoring season, and Washington’s defensive depth stands tall as the club is once again playoff bound.
Worst case: The Capitals’ core shows its age with a slow start. Washington is too reliant on its top six to produce and doesn’t get similar contributions from lower down, making the team too one-dimensional to beat the better clubs around it. Kuemper is inconsistent playing behind an unfamiliar defense, and Washington starts missing the physical punch Wilson packed. The Capitals are a quick playoff out as their window for a Cup closes further.
X factor: Is Washington running out of championship opportunities? The Capitals are an older team in the Eastern Conference, stacked with players on expiring deals. There’s a now-or-never feel that creeps in. How will Washington handle that pressure to seize the moment when two of its most important players (for different reasons) are unavailable to start the year? Can Conor Sheary and Garnet Hathaway step up to fill the void? Will the Capitals get enough from their defense to make up for potentially less scoring up front? Washington is no stranger to high expectations; how it manages those in the face of adversity is the question mark.
Fantasy outlook: With no Backstrom and Wilson for quite some time, there are gaps open for Anthony Mantha and Strome to establish themselves as key parts of the offense with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Bold prediction: The playoff streak will end.
Last season: 51-26-5 (107 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +2,500
Key players added: F David Krejci, C Pavel Zacha
Key players lost: D Josh Brown, C Erik Haula, C Curtis Lazar
Most fascinating player: David Pastrnak. The scoring winger enters an all-important contract season right as Boston faces several key early-season injuries — Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will all miss at least a month following offseason surgeries. How well the Bruins weather their storm will depend in large part on Pastrnak. He was the club’s second-leading scorer last season (40 goals, 77 points), and while discussions are underway on a new deal, nothing has been signed yet. Can Pastrnak punch up his asking price with a savior-like season?
Best case: Boston reaches Thanksgiving in playoff position, and holds on to it from there as reinforcements return to the lineup. The Atlantic will be more competitive than ever with the potential emergence of Detroit, Ottawa and even Buffalo. Surviving the season’s first six weeks with a solid position in the standings will set Boston up for a smoother road to the postseason. Where, as we know, anything is possible.
Worst case: The Bruins struggle without their top scorer (Marchand) and defenseman (McAvoy) while getting acclimated to a new system under fresh bench boss Jim Montgomery. Aging stars Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have less in the tank than expected and Boston’s offense dwindles. By the time the Bruins get healthy and up to speed, they’ve lost crucial ground in the division, can’t catch up and fail to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2015-16.
X factor: How quickly will the Bruins take to Montgomery? He previously turned Dallas into more of a defense-first team, and Boston already has that framework after allowing the fewest even-strength shots against last season. Can Montgomery use that to Boston’s advantage if offense is harder to generate in October and November? How well the veteran coach can gain his team’s trust and find the right mix of personnel to cover for its deficiencies out of the gate will be critical.
Fantasy outlook: David Krejci returns from a season in Europe to center what will be a new top line featuring David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall, while Patrice Bergeron bides his time waiting for Brad Marchand to return to health. It means reduced expectations for Bergeron to start, but maybe we’ll get the best we’ve seen of Hall for some time.
Bold prediction: Jim Montgomery will be a Jack Adams finalist.
Last season: 43-31-8 (94 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +1,800
Key players added: G Adin Hill, F Phil Kessel
Key players lost: D Dylan Coghlan, F Evgenii Dadonov, F Mattias Janmark, F Max Pacioretty
Most fascinating player: Jack Eichel. Bruce Cassidy has maintained he will make adjustments during training camp. So far, he has kept Eichel on a line with Phil Kessel and Reilly Smith to create a combination that can score. Eichel is fully healthy. It also appears he could be playing with veteran wingers to form a trio that could be a constant threat.
Best case: The proposed approach of using Laurent Brossoit, Hill and Logan Thompson is one the Knights use en route to returning to the playoffs. Robin Lehner missing the 2022-23 season creates questions about whether the Golden Knights have enough in net. But those queries can eventually be quelled should Brossoit, Hill and Thompson provide the sort of performances that get the Knights back to the postseason.
Worst case: Not capitalizing on everything they have could result in another disappointing spring for the Golden Knights. They traded for Eichel last season to solidify their top six. They sneakily signed Kessel in free agency to add one more forward to a team that can already score in bunches. They hired a coach in Cassidy who knows how to get teams into the postseason. This is a team that carries expectations of not just making the playoffs, but going on the longest run possible.
X factor: Chandler Stephenson‘s production continues to rise with each season. Last year, it led to him having one of the more notable breakout campaigns of any player in the league. He went from 14 goals and 35 points over 51 games in 2020-21 to scoring 21 goals and 64 points in 79 games in 2022-23. That version of Stephenson is why Cassidy has him in a second-line role while pushing William Karlsson to the third line.
Fantasy outlook: As for that particular fresh fantasy forward pairing, prescient managers everywhere could be in for a real treat. Jack Eichel and Phil Kessel could combine for some jaw-dropping digits. While the former Sabres captain isn’t likely to survive many draft rounds unclaimed, his new ironman winger well might, in turn serving as one of this season’s more valuable sleepers.
Bold prediction: The goaltending is fine, and the Golden Knights return to the playoffs.
Last season: 45-30-7 (97 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +5,000
Key players added: F John Leonard, G Kevin Lankinen, D Ryan McDonagh, F Nino Niederreiter, F Zach Sanford
Key players lost: D Matt Benning, F Nick Cousins, F Luke Kunin, D Philippe Myers, G David Rittich
Most fascinating player: Matt Duchene. Never mind scoring a career high in goals and points that appeared to seemingly come out of nowhere given his prior seasons. Duchene scored more points last season (86) than he had in the previous three seasons combined (67). Another campaign like that, coupled with Ryan Johansen building on one of the strongest offensive seasons of his career, could make the Preds one of the NHL’s most intriguing teams.
Best case: Both Duchene and Johansen are able to build upon or maintain what they did in 2021-22. Having two top-six centers who can drive play would have big results for the Predators. The first being it gets them into the playoffs for an eighth straight season, with another being it advances them beyond the first round.
Worst case: A fifth straight opening-round playoff exit. The first round and the Predators are not exactly what one would consider “a good place.” They have won only five playoff games in the past four seasons and were swept in four by the eventual Cup-champion Avalanche last spring. Yet this is where it could all be philosophical: What is worse? Getting to the playoffs and losing in the first round or not making the postseason at all?
X factor: The Predators’ entire defensive setup. McDonagh’s arrival adds to a unit that already had Alexandre Carrier, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro and former Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi. It gives the Predators five defensemen who could be used interchangeably while providing another option who can offer assistance to Juuse Saros.
Fantasy outlook: Matt Duchene isn’t going to score 43 goals again this season. Not because last season’s shooting percentage of 18.9% will be too difficult to copycat (although it will be), or that there isn’t much to appreciate about a veteran finally finding his scoring groove in shrugging off the suffocating pall of unachievable expectation (because for sure there is), but because he has never even neared that mark before.
Bold prediction: Johansen will regress, Duchene will not.
Last season: 37-35-10 (84 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +2,500
Key players added: D Alexander Romanov
Key players lost: D Zdeno Chara, D Andy Greene
Most fascinating player: Noah Dobson. The Islanders’ got a breakout 51-point season from the right-handed defenseman in 2021-22. It earned the 22-year-old a three-year, $12 million contract with the club. At the same time, GM Lou Lamoriello publicly stated, “We have to see more with Noah,” and repeated the expectation for Dobson to show even more growth. What will that look like? Dobson’s trajectory could be toward superstardom on New York’s back end. But did Lamoriello’s hesitancy at going longer on a new deal hint that the organization has doubts about that happening? Watching how Dobson handles things from here will be fascinating.
Best case: The Islanders made almost zero changes to their roster from a season ago, and the familiarity pays off. New York has no building-related drama to halt its strong start, one that includes cementing a permanent top-line combination highlighted by Mathew Barzal. Dobson and Romanov prove to be a reliable second pairing to make life easier on Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov in net. Newbie coach Lane Lambert has no trouble transitioning to a head role, and the Islanders cruise into a postseason slot.
Worst case: New York comes out clumsy under Lambert’s eye. That lack of personnel turnover makes the Islanders’ attack predictable and stale. The club’s defensive buy-in is there, but without the offensive output to match, the Islanders can’t rack up enough wins to be a true contender through the season’s first half. New York doesn’t keep pace with other top teams in the Metro and eventually is too far behind to regain lost ground.
X factor: Lamoriello unseated a proven head coach in Barry Trotz to insert assistant Lambert behind the bench. It was a surprising move to say the least; how does it pay off for New York? Lambert has been in the organization and knows its players, yet the pressure will be on to pull the Islanders back into the postseason fight quickly. That will start with redefining — or reidentifying — who and what this team is at its core, and how the Islanders can wield that to success. It’s a tall task for any coach, especially one new to the role. How well Lambert does will in part dictate how far the Islanders can go.
Fantasy outlook: With Ryan Pulock established and Dobson emerging last season, it’s Romanov’s turn to translate his physical presence into fantasy points on this stalwart blue line. Meanwhile, Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield do enough defensively to have low-end value in deeper leagues.
Bold prediction: The Islanders will return to the playoffs.
Last season: 44-27-11 (99 points), lost in first round
Stanley Cup odds: +2,500
Key players added: F Kevin Fiala
Key players lost: F Andreas Athanasiou, F Dustin Brown, D Olli Maatta, D Troy Stecher
Most fascinating player: Kevin Fiala. Kings GM Rob Blake and the front office have used the build-from-within approach. They went into the free agent market in 2021 for Phillip Danault, and made a trade a year later to land Fiala. Danault’s first season saw him score 27 goals, which was more than what he had in the previous two seasons combined before coming to L.A. The belief with the Kings is that Fiala can follow suit by having the same sort of immediate impact Danault enjoyed in Year 1.
Best case: Drew Doughty continues what he was doing before getting injured last season, and the Kings take another step forward in the playoffs. Doughty had seven goals and 31 points over 39 games while logging more than 25 minutes per game. He was averaging 0.79 points and would have been on pace for a career-high 65 if he played a full 82-game schedule. A healthy Doughty adds another dimension to a rising franchise.
Worst case: The Kings don’t get what they need from their young players, and miss the playoffs. Being able to trust their young players was such a critical component of how the Kings returned to the postseason after a three-year hiatus. Mikey Anderson reached the 50-game mark for the second consecutive season. Tobias Bjornfot went from 33 games to 70, while Sean Durzi had 27 points in 64 games. Plus, Arthur Kaliyev had 14 goals and 27 points in 80 games for the club. The progression of those four along with Quinton Byfield and others could prove massive for the Kings’ short- and long-term plans.
X factor: Adrian Kempe went from a consistent double-digit scorer to suddenly scoring a career-high 35 goals and 54 points. Sure, the goals are what many will point toward when it comes to evaluating his importance. Don’t forget. Kempe logged another career high 115:06 in short-handed ice time last season. He offers the sort of versatility that gives the team a two-way winger who could be used in several scenarios.
Fantasy outlook: Fantasy fanatics are ready to fall for Fiala in L.A. After busting out for a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists this past campaign in Minnesota, Fiala is taking his speedy services to the West Coast. Alongside star center Anze Kopitar, the 26-year-old is capable of nearing, if not quite equaling, last season’s haul.
Bold prediction: The Kings will win a playoff round.
Last season: 33-42-7 (73 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +5,000
Key players added: LW Alex DeBrincat, C Claude Giroux, G Cam Talbot
Key players lost: RW Connor Brown, G Matt Murray
Most fascinating player: Jake Sanderson. Ottawa drafted the University of North Dakota product No. 5 overall in 2020, and Sanderson is finally graduating from the NCAA to NHL level. That could spell big things for a Senators blue line in desperate need of reinforcements. Sanderson had a great final season at North Dakota, scoring 26 points in 23 games, and has looked excellent in the NHL preseason. How soon will Sanderson be a top-four staple in Ottawa’s defense and start providing that group with some real stability?
Best case: Senators general manager Pierre Dorion added exciting talents in DeBrincat and Giroux to the roster this offseason. They immediately make Ottawa a higher-octane team that can challenge Atlantic Division rivals Toronto and Tampa Bay on the offensive end. Sanderson transitions successfully onto an improved backend anchored by Thomas Chabot. Talbot recovers fully from a rib injury in minimal time, and Anton Forsberg proves more than capable of carrying the load in his absence. If a few of those things go their way, the franchise could skate to its first playoff berth since 2016-17.
Worst case: Ottawa’s roster turnover proves complicated as new linemates aren’t clicking and coach D.J. Smith has to make heavy adjustments. Talbot’s absence looms large as Forsberg struggles to take command of the crease. That results in a slow start the Senators can’t find their way out of in the ultra-competitive Atlantic.
X factor: Ottawa didn’t get the goaltending it needed last season from Matt Murray — hence, the switch to Talbot. Only now, Talbot will miss up to seven weeks because of a fractured rib. Enter Forsberg. The 29-year-old outdueled Murray for Ottawa’s starter’s job last season, and earned a three-year, $8.25 million contract extension on the strength of his 22-17-4 record and .917 SV% in 2021-22. Can Forsberg keep Ottawa’s goaltending on the rails until Talbot returns? Or will it be the waiver claim Magnus Hellberg on whom the Sens are forced to rely?
Fantasy outlook: The Sens brought in sniper DeBrincat from the tanking Blackhawks and lured veteran captain Giroux from free agency to add to another rising star in Tim Stutzle for one helluva top six.
Bold prediction: Smith will be the first coach fired.
Last season: 40-30-12 (92 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +5,000
Key players added: F Andrei Kuzmenko, F Curtis Lazar, F Ilya Mikheyev
Key players lost: F Alex Chiasson, G Jaroslav Halak, D Brad Hunt, F Nicolas Petan, F Brandon Sutter
Most fascinating player: Bo Horvat. Nearly everyone else considered to be a long-term piece within the Canucks’ core has an extension. The 31 goals he scored last season were a personal best, while the 52 points were tied for the third most of his career. The Canucks are going to have $14.6 million in cap space but must also make decisions on other players in need of a deal.
Best case: Hiring Bruce Boudreau led to a turnaround. The Canucks had the NHL’s sixth-best record while Boudreau was on the bench. They allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL while having an attack that was above league average at 12th. To continue what Boudreau has established could result in the Canucks being in the discussion for at least a wild-card berth with the aim of returning to the postseason after missing the past two editions.
Worst case: Supplemental scoring is key, and not receiving that could significantly alter the Canucks’ postseason aspirations. They are hoping Mikheyev can either match or surpass the 21-goal season he had with the Leafs in 2021-22. Conor Garland broke through to have the best season of his career in the first year of his new contract. Tanner Pearson is another player who can score at least 15 goals a season. There is also the expectation that Nils Hoglander, Kuzmenko and Vasily Podkolzin must also be contributors.
X factor: Kuzmenko comes to the NHL after scoring 20 goals and 53 points in 45 games with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL last season. He’s on a one-year deal before becoming a UFA at the end of the season. Kuzmenko appears to give the Canucks another top-nine forward, with the realization a strong campaign could give the front office another item to think about in addition to the Horvat contract.
Fantasy outlook: Center Elias Pettersson and winger Brock Boeser (out until late October) merit targeting in middle (Pettersson) to later (Boeser) rounds in most fantasy drafts. Bo Horvat provides extra fantasy pop in leagues that reward faceoff success. KHL export Kuzmenko — projected to compete in Vancouver’s top six — has wild-card appeal after potting 20 goals and 33 assists in 45 games with St. Petersburg last season.
Bold prediction: Thatcher Demko will lead all NHL goalies in appearances.
Last season: 32-40-10 (74 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +5,000
Key players added: D Ben Chiarot, C Andrew Copp, G Ville Husso, LW Dominik Kubalik, LW David Perron, D Olli Maatta
Key players lost: G Thomas Greiss, G Calvin Pickard, D Marc Staal
Most fascinating player: Dominik Kubalik. The former 30-goal scorer coming off a down season (32 points in 78 games) wasn’t extended a qualifying offer from the rebuilding Blackhawks. But at 27, Kubalik could easily just be entering the prime of his career. Detroit will offer Kubalik more top-end linemate options to play with, and the impact he might have on the Red Wings’ offense could far exceed expectations — and make GM Steve Yzerman’s two-year, $5 million investment in Kubalik a real steal.
Best case: Yzerman made some noise in the offseason, acquiring the likes of Husso, Perron, Copp and Chiarot. Put them all together with Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, and the Red Wings are able to build on last season’s promise without slowing down in the second half. Instead, Detroit gets stronger down the stretch and pushes its way back into the playoff picture after a six-year absence and starts writing a new chapter of its storied history.
Worst case: Detroit’s many summertime changes included swapping longtime bench boss Jeff Blashill for first-time head coach Derek Lalonde. Managing all the Red Wings’ new faces would be tough for an incumbent who knows the team already; Lalonde has to get to know an entire team while implementing his inaugural NHL system. Chemistry takes time to build as the players figure out the new landscape, and Detroit stumbles hard early, hurting the team’s confidence in its ability to turn the corner.
X factor: The Red Wings’ defensive play ultimately failed them last season (even with the Calder Trophy-winning performance from Seider), and Detroit was last in the NHL in goals against (4.33) from late February onward. How much this group improves in that area, especially with a veteran addition like Chiarot around, will be a massive part of the Wings’ story this season. Assuming Seider avoids a sophomore slump, he’ll be the blue line’s top performer as Chiarot, Filip Hronek and Maatta provide stability. Oh, and those forwards will be challenged to step up their 200-foot games.
Fantasy outlook: Up front, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are locks, but it’s not a sure thing that Lucas Raymond can take a step forward in his sophomore season and join them at the elite threshold of 2.0 fantasy points per game.
Bold prediction: Moritz Seider will be a Norris Trophy finalist.
Last season: 39-32-11 (89 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +10,000
Key players added: D Kyle Capobianco, F Sam Gagner, G David Rittich
Key players lost: G Eric Comrie, F Zach Sanford, F Paul Stastny
Most fascinating player: Blake Wheeler. Rick Bowness’ decision to remove the captaincy from Wheeler has created a number of questions about what happens next. Namely, what does the leadership structure look like going forward? And is there a way for Wheeler to be involved even though it appears he might not wear a letter?
Best case: A somewhat chaotic preseason jolts the team back on track and into the playoff picture. All the talk about Wheeler, the team’s leadership dynamic, Pierre-Luc Dubois being a pending RFA and a new coach is a lot to start the season. But Bowness was hired to return the Jets to the postseason after they missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. A playoff berth would offer more confidence in the team’s vision going forward.
Worst case: None of what the front office has planned works. The Jets miss the playoffs for a second straight season. It could then lead to a discussion about where the franchise goes next, and whether there could be changes. A slew of players — including Connor Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele and Wheeler — could hit the open market after the 2023-24 season
X factor: Cole Perfetti had his first foray into the NHL cut short after sustaining a back injury that led to him missing the Jets’ final 34 games. Yet he still had two goals and seven points in 18 games. The 20-year-old has stood out on the international stage representing Canada while also making an impact in the AHL. Is it possible that a fully healthy Perfetti does the same in 2022-23 over a full, 82-game season?
Fantasy outlook: Top-15 fantasy forward Kyle Connor is a scoring machine and should be drafted as such in all goal-friendly leagues. Irrespective of linemates, the former Michigan Wolverine could tally 50 this season, plus 40 or so assists. As for who might line up next to Connor, rookie Cole Perfetti intrigues as a sleepy fantasy rookie with surging upside. The dynasty league gem will fall into a point-per-game pace at some point in his career, it’s only a matter of when.
Bold prediction: Rick Bowness vs. the Jets’ core is this season’s best drama.
Last season: 37-38-7 (81 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +6,000
Key players added: LW Johnny Gaudreau, D Erik Gudbranson, D David Jiricek, D Denton Mateychuk
Key players lost: None
Most fascinating player: Johnny Gaudreau. It was the free agent signing no one saw coming. Now all anyone wants to see is what Gaudreau can bring to Columbus. It’s easy to critique Gaudreau’s choice of landing spot given how many teams were (reportedly) interested in his services. And Gaudreau has said all the right things about why the Blue Jackets were ultimately the best fit for him off and on the ice. But the real talking gets done between the whistles, and Columbus adding a skater like Gaudreau should make them an immediate playoff contender. There’s a compelling first season (of a seven-year commitment) ahead here.
Best case: It’s a seamless transition for Gaudreau into Columbus, where he and Patrik Laine are perfectly paired on the team’s top line. Gudbranson brings punch the Blue Jackets have lacked in the past, and helps guide rookies like Nick Blankenberg to eventually do the same. A resurgent Elvis Merzlikins provides consistently strong netminding behind a team that’s dialed in on its defensive habits. The Blue Jackets ride the excitement of their turnaround back to the postseason.
Worst case: All the hype of Columbus’ offseason moves unexpectedly weighs on the team. Early bumps in the road lead to craters as Gaudreau and Laine struggle to find the right center on their line. Veterans Jakub Voracek and Gustav Nyquist have lost a step, and the Blue Jackets’ offense stalls. Columbus runs into injury issues on its blue line and in net to send GM Jarmo Kekäläinen reeling for replacements. Slowly, the regular season slips through the Blue Jackets’ fingers leading to another playoff absence.
X factor: Columbus was derailed in part last season by its defensive deficiencies. The Blue Jackets gave up the second-most shots against (35.2 per game) and allowed the fifth-most goals (3.62), which was hardly a winning combination. Kekäläinen has talked about being tougher — hence adding Gudbranson — but it’s also a mentality everyone must embrace. There was deserved excitement around Gaudreau making the team’s offense better. That won’t be the key to Columbus’ ultimate success, though, unless it’s coupled with improved play away from the puck, too.
Fantasy outlook: Who ends up securing the gig between Gaudreau and Laine? While it probably won’t impact either of them from a fantasy perspective, as they are good enough to be immune to the third member of the top line, this is a spot that could pay huge dividends for the pivot who plays there over the long term. Is it gritty Boone Jenner? Jack Roslovic, who has been play-tested but has underwhelmed so far? What about the youngsters Cole Sillinger or Kent Johnson?
Bold prediction: Cole Sillinger centers Gaudreau and Laine.
Last season: 27-46-9 (63 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +5,000
Key players added: G Vitek Vanecek, F Ondrej Palat, D John Marino, D Brendan Smith, D Simon Nemec
Key players lost: C Pavel Zacha, D Ty Smith, D P.K. Subban
Most fascinating player: Nico Hischier. The Devils’ captain — and 2019 first overall pick — has been on a bewitching NHL journey. The 23-year-old has struggled to find his footing, has dealt with injury issues and then last season burst through with a career-high 21 goals and 60 points in 70 games. It should have set Hischier up for a great start to this regular season — until he was sidelined by an undisclosed ailment in training camp. Will that hurt his progress? Or just be a blip on the radar in what turns out to be an even better campaign than his last one? Hischier needs to be an integral part of any success New Jersey has. What can he do for an encore in these coming months?
Best case: The Devils have been patiently building a foundation of young talent, and it’s ready to challenge the league. Led by the dazzling Jack Hughes, a healthy Hischier and the veteran skill of Palat, New Jersey’s offense ignites and pairs with a rejuvenated blue line anchored by a returning Dougie Hamilton. Mackenzie Blackwood meshes perfectly with new partner Vitek Vanecek, and the Devils challenge for a wild-card spot.
Worst case: New Jersey brims with youthful energy but can’t turn that into wins in the early season. Those continued growing pains last into the winter, and the Devils get left behind by their Metropolitan competition. Past injury problems return, and the team’s confidence wanes. New Jersey falls out of the playoff race by the trade deadline and faces another offseason of questions.
X factor: Goaltending has been a major issue for New Jersey. Blackwood has been inconsistent — and often injured — in recent years, and the Devils finished 31st in save percentage a year ago while cycling through six different starters. Vanecek was brought in to remedy that, but he was also let go for nothing by Washington in the offseason after posting a .908 SV% last season. Is this the fresh start Vanecek and Blackwood need? New Jersey’s potential for success hinges largely on getting goaltending it has been lacking for lately.
Fantasy outlook: All the pieces are beginning to fall into place, and there might be enough here now to see some of the long-building stars truly shine. Jack Hughes is primed to put himself into the conversation as one of the league’s elite, with Hischier only a small step behind. Jesper Bratt‘s breakout will be allowed to continue with big minutes and key power-play time, while Palat is the veteran presence who can bring the whole offensive stew to a simmer.
Bold prediction: Hughes will play 80 games, eclipse 100 points
Last season: 31-37-14 (76 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +7,500
Key players added: D John Klingberg, D Dmitry Kulikov, F Ryan Strome, F Frank Vatrano
Key players lost: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Ryan Getzlaf, F Sonny Milano, F Sam Steel, D Andrej Sustr
Most fascinating player: John Klingberg. A number of hypotheticals are in play when it comes to Klingberg. He’s on a one-year deal, and that creates options. If he and the Ducks are aligned on their collective future, then maybe there is a conversation about a contract extension. If that is not the case and the Ducks are out of contention by the All-Star break, there is a chance there is a Cup hopeful willing to give up a first-rounder in trade to get Klingberg. That would give the Ducks another asset they can add to a future led by Jamie Drysdale, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras.
Best case: The Ducks can stay above .500 and potentially give the front office something to think about when it comes to their chances to claim a wild-card berth. Adam Henrique averaged a career high 0.72 points per game last season. They added a 20-goal scorer in Strome, along with a winger who can score 20 in Vatrano. Klingberg gives them a legitimate top-four puck-mover, in addition to what they already have on the blue line with Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk. And there are the potential gains Drysdale, Terry and Zegras could make in 2022-23 as well.
Worst case: Potentially losing Klingberg for nothing is one scenario. Another is they struggle to show progress beyond what they did last season. The Ducks entered February with a 23-16-9 record. It was the sixth-strongest mark in the Western Conference and created questions about whether the postseason was possible. Then, they lost five of their seven February games before losing 11 in a row in March. Figuring out how to avoid a similar fate could be one of the most notable challenges facing the Ducks this season.
X factor: The Ducks have something a lot of teams in the NHL covet — other than Drysdale, Terry and Zegras being on team-friendly contracts. The Ducks have a little more than $15.7 million in cap space. It’s the type of money that allows them to hold leverage in deals or offer cap-strapped teams some relief (with a pick or young player included for their trouble). But, this is also the kind of space they must use responsibly considering Drysdale, Terry and Zegras are all going to need new contracts next offseason. That said, the Ducks are projected to have a little more than $43 million in cap space next summer.
Fantasy outlook: Fantasy managers should be excited about what Trevor Zegras has in store for an encore. After potting 23 goals and 38 assists in his 75-game rookie campaign, and following the retirement of Ducks star Getzlaf, Zegras launches 2022-23 as the club’s top-line and power-play center. Competing consistently alongside last season’s points leader, Troy Terry, will translate in another jump in production.
Bold prediction: Zegras will cause a rule change.
Last season: 32-39-11 (75 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +7,500
Key players added: G Craig Anderson, G Eric Comrie, D Ilya Lyubushkin
Key players lost: D Colin Miller, D Mark Pysyk
Most fascinating player: Casey Mittelstadt. Healthy again after an injury-plagued 2021-22 season, where will he fit in Buffalo’s lineup? The versatile forward can play on the wing or at center, and coach Don Granato used training camp and preseason games to figure out where Mittelstadt will be at his best. The Sabres haven’t yet seen all that their former first-round pick (eighth overall in 2017) can offer. Or have they?
Best case: Buffalo explodes out of the gate with a consistent offense led by Jeff Skinner (coming off a 50-point season), Tage Thompson (fresh from a 38-goal campaign) and Alex Tuch (who had 30 goals last season). Comrie is the perfect complement in net to veteran Anderson, and the continued growth of Rasmus Dahlin stabilizes — and elevates — Buffalo’s blue line. The Sabres take advantage of their talent and end their pesky 11-year playoff drought.
Worst case: Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams didn’t take any big swings in the offseason in order to prioritize getting prospects, such as JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn, playing time. The lack of turnover and new additions slows the Sabres down early as they try to establish an identity. The ultracompetitive Atlantic heats up without them and, despite past evidence of successful late-season pushes, the Sabres see their postseason drought hit Year 12.
X factor: Where would Buffalo have landed last season with better goaltending? As it was, the Sabres averaged the eighth-most goals against with 3.50. Anderson was hurt through much of the first half, and the Sabres cycled through a half dozen other netminders looking for a reliable replacement. Buffalo has (on paper) an improved tandem with Anderson and Comrie. If the Sabres get in a rhythm and avoid injuries, that should have a significant impact on Buffalo’s chances — not to mention the team’s overall confidence.
Fantasy outlook: From a team full of lottery tickets, it’s probably worth purchasing a couple for your fantasy portfolio. Tage Thompson’s breakout campaign was legit, Jeff Skinner still has more in the tank and Alex Tuch will play a heavy role in the offense.
Bold prediction: Peyton Krebs becomes the new Tage Thompson.
Last season: 32-37-13 (77 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +8,000
Key players added: D Matt Benning, F Luke Kunin, F Oskar Lindblom, D Markus Nutivaara, F Nico Sturm
Key players lost: F Rudolf Balcers, D Brent Burns, F Jonathan Dahlen, G Adin Hill
Most fascinating player: Timo Meier. It has been reported the Sharks and Meier will talk about a new contract after the season. Meier is a pending RFA coming off a four-year deal that saw him earn $6 million annually. His 35 goals and 76 points last season were career highs, and it created the expectation he could have another big season.
Best case: Kevin Labanc is fully healthy, and returns to being the player who can reach double figures in goals. Rookies Thomas Bordeleau and William Eklund are able to make an impact at some point in the season. Meanwhile, free agent signings Kunin and Lindblom can help with the secondary scoring load. All of it adds up to the Sharks either staying in the wild-card race later than some might expect or improving upon what they did last season.
Worst case: Last season, they were 23 points out of the final playoff spot while having enough points to finish with a 3% chance at the first pick in the NHL draft only to have the 11th pick, which they later traded. It appears the Sharks could potentially be stuck again in that bizarre space between not being a playoff team while not being close to one that tries to rebuild with a top-three draft pick.
X factor: Say Erik Karlsson had played a full, 82-game schedule last season. He was averaging 0.70 points per game, which would have put him on pace for 57. That would have been the most points he has scored since joining the Sharks. Karlsson’s 10 goals last season were the most he scored since the 2016-17 season. His health and production will be a critical factor.
Fantasy outlook: Forwards Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture round out an otherwise limited corps of Sharks with fantasy panache — led by Meier, who finished third behind only Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin in shots with 326 this past campaign.
Bold prediction: Karlsson will have his best season as a Shark.
Last season: 27-49-6 (60 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +12,500
Key players added: F Oliver Bjorkstrand, F Andre Burakovsky, G Martin Jones, D Michal Kempny, D Justin Schultz
Key players lost: D Haydn Fleury, F Riley Sheahan, F Victor Rask
Most fascinating player: Matty Beniers. Leaving the University of Michigan to score nine points in 10 games is how Beniers announced himself to the NHL’s newest market. Now? It is about seeing what the former No. 2 pick can do in an 82-game season. Beniers projects as a two-way, top-six center who could anchor a line. It appears the expectation in Seattle is he could be asked to operate in that role for a franchise that is seeking to rebound from what was a challenging inaugural campaign.
Best case: Everything new Kraken goaltending coach Steve Briere does with Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones has results. The Kraken’s defensive structure is one that limits shots and forces teams to take those shots from distance. Yet, there was a disconnect with their goaltending. It led to the front office making a change and hiring Briere as the new goalie coach. Finding a way to get improvement from Grubauer, refine Jones and eventually reintroduce an injured Chris Driedger back into the fold is what lies ahead.
Worst case: None of the issues that plagued Grubauer last season get fixed. If that happens, it then raises more questions about the fact that the Kraken will have him under contract for four more years at $5.9 million per campaign. But the goaltending conversation goes beyond how Grubauer, Jones and eventually Driedger perform. The Kraken have committed $11.4 million toward goaltending, which accounts for nearly 14% of their cap.
X factor: Here is why signing Burakovsky and trading for Bjorkstrand were viewed as such critical moves. For one, the Kraken wanted to reinforce their top-six scoring options — and give themselves more choices. The Kraken finished last season with the fourth fewest goals in the league. They had five players who accounted for 45% of the goals. Getting Burakovsky and Bjorkstrand suddenly gives the Kraken two top-six wingers capable of scoring 20 goals, which in theory will lessen the scoring burden on the returning group.
Fantasy outlook: This time last year, there was concern about where the goals would come from in Seattle. In Year 2, that worry continues to linger. But there’s scoring hope on the approaching horizon, in the form of rookie center Beniers. In last spring’s brief taste of NHL competition, Beniers collected nine points in 10 games.
Bold prediction: Beniers will win the Calder Trophy.
Last season: 22-49-11 (55 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +12,500
Key players added: F Kirby Dach, F Evgenii Dadonov, D Mike Matheson, F Rem Pitlick, F Juraj Slafkovsky, F Mitchell Stephens
Key players lost: D Alexander Romanov, F Cedric Paquette, D Jeff Petry, F Tyler Pitlick, F Ryan Poehling
Most fascinating player: Juraj Slafkovsky. Montreal made the 6-foot-4 winger a surprising No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft. But will he also make the team’s roster out of training camp? There will be swirling curiosity around Slafkovsky’s transition to the NHL level on a Canadiens team deep with young forward talent desperate for growth opportunities. Montreal is still in rebuilding mode, so a nine-game stint to start the season isn’t out of the question for Slafkovsky.
Best case: The Canadiens use a strong camp and preseason to establish a top-nine mix of veteran performers and rising stars. New additions Dach and Dadonov add punch up front, top defenseman Joel Edmundson returns fully recovered from a lower-back injury to anchor the back end and Jake Allen improves on a 9-20-4 campaign. Martin St. Louis pushes the right buttons to help guide his club to a better-than-expected finish in the Eastern Conference.
Worst case: Montreal has had its share of injury troubles (with Edmundson and Nick Suzuki already) and if health continues to be an issue in 2022-23, that could snowball into some other issues. Working multiple 20-somethings into major lineup rolls is always difficult and if the team’s play suffers accordingly, a slow start could put the Canadiens on a bumpy path. If Montreal finds it’s lacking in veteran leadership and has trouble establishing an identity, a slide down the standings to another bottom-feeder finish could set their rebuild back.
X factor: Carey Price will start the season on long-term injured reserve and might not be able to dress at all in 2022-23. However, the veteran netminder is expected to stick around the dressing room as a sounding board for new captain Suzuki and the Canadiens’ other less-experienced players. How much of an impact can Price have as a purely off-ice presence? The Canadiens aren’t going to be contenders, but these years are crucial for laying the framework for what’s to come.
Fantasy outlook: The defense is so devoid of obvious offensive talent that youngsters like Justin Barron or Jordan Harris could find themselves quarterbacking a power play. But I don’t mind betting on David Savard either, as he’s a minute-munching veteran who has plugged power-play holes in the past.
Bold prediction: GM Kent Hughes will win the trade deadline.
Last season: 25-46-11 (61 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +12,500
Key players added: LW Nicolas Deslauriers, D Tony DeAngelo, D Justin Braun
Key players lost: G Martin Jones
Most fascinating player: Tony DeAngelo. Philadelphia traded for DeAngelo from Carolina in July, immediately signed him to a two-year deal and has since popped him next to Ivan Provorov on the team’s top pairing. It’s a critical role for DeAngelo to fill on a Flyers’ team that projects to struggle for offense this season. Winning those lower-scoring affairs will require reliable performances from the blue line. Can DeAngelo deliver on that? The Hurricanes opted not to keep the 26-year-old right-shot defender, despite their own needs on the back end. Will DeAngelo prove Philadelphia was correct to give him a lucrative new deal and a new heft of responsibility?
Best case: Incoming coach John Tortorella pulls off a 180-degree turn with the Flyers’ culture. His hard-nosed approach translates into Philadelphia’s play, and it’s competitive out of the gate. Cam Atkinson and Kevin Hayes provide some offensive prowess, and the Flyers actually have some fun. Philadelphia narrowly misses the playoffs but lays a foundation of confidence and internal respect to build off.
Worst case: The Flyers’ missing pieces — namely Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier — leave them vulnerable once more and unable to keep pace most nights through three periods. Tortorella’s bruising nature eventually grates on players who tune out his message. GM Chuck Fletcher has no choice but to trade any remaining assets at the deadline, and Philadelphia free falls to another bottom-place finish in the Metro.
X factor: Can Philadelphia actually get by on brotherly love? That sentiment has been a theme in the preseason, starting with Tortorella’s overhaul and translating into the “power of friendship” assistant coach Brad Shaw cited as a Flyers strength for the season. It’s hard to fathom Philadelphia being markedly better on the ice than last season, but what impact could enjoying the process of playing have on this group’s psyche?
Fantasy outlook: The defense is a bright spot, with Ivan Provorov able to achieve fantasy points through his defense and newcomer Tony DeAngelo expected to do the same through offense.
Bold prediction: Travis Konecny will be traded.
Last season: 25-50-7 (57 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +30,000
Key players added: D Josh Brown, F Nick Bjugstad, F Zack Kassian, D Patrik Nemeth, D Troy Stecher
Key players lost: D Kyle Capobianco, F Jay Beagle, F Phil Kessel, F Antoine Roussel, D Anton Stralman
Most fascinating player: Jakob Chychrun. Building toward what they believe can be a better future is the current plan for the Coyotes. An argument could be made that Chychrun is part of that plan, but one could also argue it makes more sense to trade him. He has three years left on his deal carrying a $4.6 million AAV and is a top-four defenseman who can operate in several roles. It’s the type of cap figure the Coyotes can appreciate, because it gives them a productive player on a team-friendly cap hit. But his contract is also a major reason contending teams (who are tight against the cap) are so intrigued.
Best case: Finishing 32nd and having the strongest odds to win the lottery. The Coyotes have never won the draft lottery. In fact, the closest they have come is by getting the No. 3 pick, which happened last season en route to them selecting Logan Cooley. Executives throughout the league have pointed toward teams like the Avalanche, Lightning and Rangers, among others, as those who built through the draft. Getting the chance to draft the presumed No. 1 in Connor Bedard could play a significant role in their future plans.
Worst case: The Yotes play better than expected, and land outside of the top five in the draft order. Believe it or not, the Coyotes have had only five top-five picks since relocating from Winnipeg in 1996. The franchise has attempted to use mid-round picks to take the next step. As of now, the Coyotes appear to have a plan for long-term success, and getting more high-end talent in the 2023 draft is the next step. The alternative would be a step back.
X factor: Mullett Arena and what it offers as a new venue could ultimately be the answer. There is also a case to be made for Lawson Crouse. He went from a forward who could score between 10 and 15 goals per season to having a 20-goal season and 34 points in 65 games in 2021-22. It led to Crouse, who went 11th in the 2015 draft, signing a five-year extension worth $4.3 million annually. How he continues to build upon last season could give the Coyotes more optimism about their future.
Fantasy outlook: At the ripe old age of 24, forward Clayton Keller could finally hit the 30-goal mark this season while racking up another 40 or so assists. Linemate Nick Schmaltz has a supporting fantasy role to fill in most scoring leagues. The same goes for offensive defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who amassed 51 points this past campaign, including 19 on the power play.
Bold prediction: The ASU experience turns the Coyotes into “faces.”
Last season: 28-42-12 (68 points), missed playoffs
Stanley Cup odds: +20,000
Key players added: F Andreas Athanasiou, F Colin Blackwell, F Max Domi, D Jack Johnson
Key players lost: F Alex Debrincat, F Kirby Dach, D Calvin De Haan, D Erik Gustafsson, F Dominik Kubalik, G Kevin Lankinen, F Dylan Strome
Most fascinating player: Patrick Kane. A number of scenarios could play out throughout this season when it comes to Kane and the Blackhawks. They are an organization going through a rebuild, and he’s a top-six forward who had one of the best individual campaigns of his career in 2021-22, with 96 points. Kane is also a 33-year-old who is in the final year of a $10.5 million AAV deal and will be a free agent next summer. Both Kane and Jonathan Toews are members of a pending UFA class who could either remain in Chicago or be moved in the event the front office wants to gain more assets for the future.
Best case: The Blackhawks maximize their resources to build toward their aforementioned future. They have nine picks in the 2023 draft. Two of them are first-round picks, while six are in the first three rounds. It is possible that moving on from some combination of Athanasiou, Domi, Kane and Toews could see them add to their haul for 2023 and/or future drafts. It is also possible at least one of those players re-signs with the team to give them one more player on the active roster who can aid in turning things around. And another best-case scenario is they win the 2023 draft lottery and the chance to select Connor Bedard.
Worst case: If they let any one of those pending UFAs leave without the Blackhawks getting assets back in a trade. So far, Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson has worked to get the type of pieces he feels can aid the organization in the future. Can he continue that trend throughout the 2022-23 season? And of course, another worst-case scenario is the Blackhawks finish at the bottom of the standings but don’t draw the No. 1 pick in the lottery.
X factor: What is this first season going to be like for Luke Richardson? He is a former assistant who is making the adjustment to head coach for the first time in his career. So, there’s that. He is also going to be coaching a team with a roster that appears to be in a state of flux given the Blackhawks are not expected to compete for a playoff spot. Furthermore, two of the best players in franchise history in Kane and Toews might or might not leave at some point in the regular season.
Fantasy outlook: Let’s look at Chicago’s blue line and Seth Jones, who averaged 2.2 fantasy points per game in ESPN’s standard scoring this past season. Then there’s the Hawks’ shot-blocking duo of Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe to consider in deeper leagues.
Bold prediction: The Blackhawks will win the NHL draft lottery.