As salary cap restrictions are loosened and teams find themselves armed with a bevy of cap space at their disposal, the NHL offseason – beginning with the annual Entry Draft – is often the most exciting time on the league calendar. The 2022 edition did not disappoint, with a meagre $1 million cap increase for 2022-23 forcing several teams to unload notable contracts for little to no return. As a result, the teams entering the offseason with clean books were poised to capitalize and capitalize they did, reminding everyone that cap space is the most valuable asset in the modern NHL.
Remember, this list only considers the talent difference between a team before and after the events of the offseason, not necessarily how they stack up to their competitors. With that, here are the five most-improved teams of the 2022 NHL offseason – let’s dig in.
Notable Additions: Alex DeBrincat, Cam Talbot, Claude Giroux, Jacob Larsson
Notable Subtractions: Matt Murray, Connor Brown, Filip Gustavsson, Colin White, Victor Mete, Chris Tierney
Has anyone enjoyed the 2022 offseason as much as Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion? First, he swung for the fences by acquiring sniper Alex DeBrincat from the now rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks in a draft-day deal with a package headlined by the seventh-overall pick. Although it’s not insignificant, a first-rounder outside the top-five in a weaker draft is a small price to pay for a two-time 40-goal scorer under the age of 25 who remains under team control next season.
The offseason could have been labelled a success if Ottawa stopped there, but they also managed to procure the services of Claude Giroux, a native of nearby Hearst, Ontario. Although he’s no longer at the peak of his powers, giving up nothing but cap space for a high-level playmaker who produced 73 points in 85 regular-season and playoff games is a win for the much-maligned Dorion. Furthermore, the Senators solidified their goaltending tandem for 2022-23 with the addition of Cam Talbot and sent Matt Murray to the Toronto Maple Leafs after several injury-riddled campaigns plagued by inconsistency.
Although DeBrincat has yet to sign long-term, he could be swayed by a rapidly accelerating project in Canada’s capital promising to take the Eastern Conference by storm. The hefty extensions recently awarded to Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Drake Batherson show the organization is willing to spend, suggesting a big payday could be in the winger’s future.
The Senators still lack depth, particularly on defence, but there is no question they are the most-improved team after a busy offseason. The playoffs remain uncertain due to an unforgiving Atlantic Division, but the pieces for a future Stanley Cup contender are slowly falling into place, which is welcome news for a long-tortured fanbase.
Notable Additions: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Shane Wright, Andre Burakovsky, Martin Jones, Michal Kempny, Justin Schultz
Notable Subtractions: Haydn Fleury, Daniel Sprong, Derrick Pouliot, Dennis Cholowski, Victor Rask, Riley Sheahan
Simply put, the Seattle Kraken’s attack was anemic during their inaugural campaign, as they scored a paltry 2.63 goals per game (29th in the NHL) and Jared McCann’s 50 points were the lowest team-leading total in the league last season. The motive for general manager Ron Francis was simple: bolster the team’s forward ranks. They seem to have done just that, jumping at the chance to acquire even-strength star Oliver Bjorkstrand from the cap-strapped Columbus Blue Jackets, and snapping up Andre Burakovsky from free agency, he of 61 points in the high-flying Avalanche system last season.
They also snagged top prospect Shane Wright fourth-overall in the 2022 Draft, solidifying a formidable one-two punch at center with Matty Beniers for the foreseeable future. He may not produce at an elite level offensively, but his mature two-way game should slot in nicely on a team which ranked eighth in 5v5 expected goals against per-60 (xGA/60) in 2021-22.
Adding Michal Kempny and Justin Schultz also gives the Kraken a pair of defenders to round out a stable group of blueliners including Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, Vince Dunn, and Carson Soucy. It’s not a collection of brand-name talents, but a capable crew somewhat maligned by atrocious goaltending from Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger (last in team save percentage).
With even league-average netminding and an uptick in scoring, the Kraken could capitalize on a weakened Western Conference after a summer defined by an exodus of star talent. A division title is likely out of reach, but a first-ever playoff berth is within the realm of possibility.
Los Angeles Kings
Notable Additions: Kevin Fiala
Notable Subtractions: Olli Maatta, Dustin Brown, Andreas Athanasiou, Troy Stecher
The Los Angeles Kings didn’t have the busiest of offseasons, but it featured one of the most significant power moves within the Western Conference. After friction between Kevin Fiala and the Minnesota Wild organization and cap concerns brought on by the twin buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter led to him hitting the trade block, the Kings pounced without hesitation.
The price was notable – prospect Brock Faber and a first-round pick – but the Kings’ bountiful youth pipeline offered the leeway to make a trade for the disgruntled, but supremely skilled Swiss forward. It’s tough to say they didn’t make out like gangbusters here, shedding assets from a position of strength to acquire a 26-year-old who scored 85 points last season and locked him up for under $8 million through his age-33 season. His neutral-zone prowess adds a different dimension to the Kings’ offence and affects the balance of power in the Pacific Division.
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Their departures include forward Dustin Brown, the longest-tenured player in franchise history, and depth pieces, the absence of which could be mitigated by continued development from their ensemble of promising talent. The Kings put on a good showing against the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the 2022 Playoffs, and it’s not unfeasible for them to win a round in 2023.
Detroit Red Wings
Notable Additions: Ben Chiarot, Andrew Copp, Ville Husso, Dominik Kubalik, David Perron, Olli Maatta, Mark Pysyk, Robert Hagg
Notable Subtractions: Thomas Greiss, Calvin Pickard, Marc Staal, Olli Juolevi
Although the questionable salary and length of some of the contracts handed out by Steve Yzerman this summer were concerning (Ben Chiarot and Andrew Copp), the Detroit Red Wings still upgraded at virtually every position. Chiarot, despite being miscast in a top-pair role, is at least an upgrade on the defensive corps trotted out last season, and Olli Maatta, Mark Pysyk, and Robert Hagg can be plugged in to play serviceable bottom-pair minutes.
Copp, Dominik Kubalik, and David Perron all boast histories of offensive production and can help insulate the Red Wings burgeoning skilled core. Copp and Perron in particular have flashed the ability to play within the top-six, and bring a wealth of playoff experience to an inexperienced club.
After betting on Alex Nedeljkovic after solid results in a small sample last summer, Detroit made a similar gamble on Ville Husso. The 27-year-old netminder only has 57 NHL games to his name, but performed well last season, posting a .919 save percentage (SV%) in 40 games while stealing the net from Jordan Binnington at times in the regular season.
The Atlantic still promises to be a bloodbath and the defence leaves something to be desired, but the Red Wings are well set up to play spoiler deep into the season. If their sophomore stars in Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond take a leap and Husso is a legitimate starter, there is a chance that the 2022-23 campaign could bear fruit by way of the playoffs. I still believe that bottoming out for another year would have been more beneficial for their progression given the calibre of the 2023 Draft, but there’s no turning back now.
Notable Additions: Brent Burns, Max Pacioretty, Dylan Coghlan, Ondrej Kase, Ryan Dzingel, William Lagesson
Notable Subtractions: Tony DeAngelo, Ian Cole, Max Domi, Brendan Smith, Vincent Trocheck, Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo, Nino Niederreiter
The Carolina Hurricanes observed a considerable amount of turnover this summer, waving goodbye to significant contributors in Tony DeAngelo, Vincent Trocheck, and Nino Niederreiter. That’s not to mention the departing depth cogs in both attack and defence, requiring replacements at every position.
Yet, the Eastern Conference semi-finalists added top-line talent at a minuscule acquisition cost. First was the addition of Brent Burns, a 37-year-old rearguard who offers a bit more at both ends than the outgoing DeAngelo, with the added bonus of nearly 100 postseason appearances. A pair featuring defensive standout Jaccob Slavin and an adventurous Burns promises a perfect stylistic fit, with the two accounting for the other’s deficiencies.
It hurts to lose Neiderreiter and Trocheck, but introducing one of the league’s top shot generators in Max Pacioretty (19 goals in 39 goals last season) and promising defender Dylan Coghlan for the scant cost of future considerations is an extraordinary move. Remember, it pays to have flexibility in a cap-defined landscape.
Elite talent is the most difficult commodity to acquire outside of the draft, but the Hurricanes did so without surrendering anything of consequence. For one of the league’s most successful regular-season teams of the past few years (fourth in points percentage since 2018-19), the next step is breaking through in the playoffs.
Will the Improvements Lead to a Stanley Cup?
Apart from the Hurricanes, none of the other four teams included on this list can realistically call themselves legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, even after impressive offseason moves. Fortunately, those teams have built strong youth-led foundations looking to take the next step in their development. With further growth and additional roster tweaks, challenging for a title is within the realm of possibility in the near future. Patience is a virtue, even if exercising it can be frustrating. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, it seemed to work out well for the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.