While the opening of free agency brought about a collective Johnny Gaudreau-induced gasp, you could credibly make a case this NHL off-season actually started out as a bit of a clunker.
Sure, ‘Johnny Hockey’ shook up the sport by signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but two other spicy UFAs — Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg — kept their pens sheathed and still haven’t figured out their next move nearly two weeks into the market opening. Meanwhile, the teams that landed the shiniest new toys weren’t top-tier clubs moving all in, but rather bottom-third squads who are simply trying to get in the playoff conversation. It’s wonderful the Jackets and Ottawa Senators are suddenly more interesting teams, but — with the possible exception of the Carolina Hurricanes — no true contenders stood up and took a mighty swing.
That is until the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers and the Calgary Flames — owners of the Pacific Division’s best record — got together for an absolute mind-blower of a transaction. Any time two guys who both received Hart Trophy votes are involved in the same deal, it automatically becomes a true summer blockbuster.
Will the swap that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida from Calgary in exchange for (among other pieces) Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar dramatically alter either team’s fortunes? Tkachuk is probably worthy of the “unicorn” label, Huberdeau finished tied for second in the scoring race (with Gaudreau, naturally) and Weegar has been one of the more productive right-shot defenders in the league the past couple of seasons. Yeah, I think we can safely say this banger of a deal will be one both fanbases are talking about for years.
At the very least, the trade spiced up the summer power rankings. With a lot of business already completed — but still a few more shoes to drop — here’s how the NHL’s 32 teams stack up for 2022-23.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Every day Kadri does not sign with another team, the flicker of hope he’ll return to Denver blows a little stronger. Even if we assume he’s gone, though, Colorado did well to lock up three key members of the support staff — Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson — while taking a reasonable gamble on giving Alexandar Georgiev a shot to be the lead guy in the crease when it became clear retaining Darcy Kuemper wasn’t going to work cap-wise.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Vincent Trochek’s departure does raise some questions about the centre position behind Sebastian Aho, but if Max Pacioretty stays healthy he could snipe 35 to 40 goals playing on Carolina’s top line. Brent Burns, even at 37, brings a lot to the table and might find a perfect running mate in defensive whiz Jaccob Slavin.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
Inking Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak to eight-year extensions was a great development for the Lightning. Even with Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat being cap causalities, this team could very conceivably make a fourth consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
4. Florida Panthers
The Cats are obviously sick of losing to the Lightning — it’s been two years in a row — and nobody is going to question the decision to add a power forward like Tkachuk before his 25th birthday. Still, GM Bill Zito had to strip the team of a couple of huge parts to get this done, so it’s hard to say Florida will definitely be a better team next year right out of the gate.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs had significant turnover at the most important position. It could work out great. It could be a disaster. In all likelihood, one of Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov will be just fine and a loaded Toronto squad will have a great regular season and enter the playoffs with the same ol’ questions looming over them.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
It came down to the wire, but the Pens retained both Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. They are truly living for today, as you should with this core. Malkin, remember, missed half of last season so hopefully we see a lot more of him this coming year. Adding right-shot blue-liner Jeff Petry in a trade with Montreal was also a nice touch.
7. New York Rangers
Trochek comes in to be the new 2C, but it’s not like he’s a huge upgrade on outgoing second-line centre Ryan Strome. Is this the year for an Alexis Lafrenière leap? The Rangers might need it if they want to shed the reputation of being a team that needs stunning goaltending to compete with the big boys.
8. Edmonton Oilers
The crease should be in much better shape with Jack Campbell, while retaining Evander Kane and Brett Kulak were nice wins. The Oilers will be a steadier team than the one that went 16-5-0 to start last season followed by a 2-11-2 skid.
9. Calgary Flames
What an outrageous couple of weeks in Southern Alberta. If nothing else, you have to respect the courage of GM Brad Treliving to not take a knee in the form of accepting a futures package for Tkachuk and, instead, adding two players who can make a huge impact on the Flames right now. How much better will Calgary fans feel if even one of Weegar or Huberdeau — both UFA-eligible in 2023 — ink a monster extension before the season?
10. St. Louis Blues
Aside from Robert Thomas signing a handsome eight-year extension, the most exciting thing to happen in St. Louis this off-season was the handful of days when every Blues fan likely thought their team was going to land hometown boy Tkachuk.
11. Washington Capitals
Tom Wilson (knee) might not draw into the lineup until you’re thinking about your Christmas list and Nicklas Backstrom’s hip surgery, at best, is going to keep him on the sidelines well into the new year. Still, goaltending was a real sticking point for this squad last season and, after clearing house in the crease and signing Kuemper, their new No. 1 is a guy with the second-best save percentage (.922) in the league the past four seasons.
12. Los Angeles Kings
Clearly nobody in L.A. is satisfied with being a surprise playoff squad last year. Adding Kevin Fiala from Minnesota gives this team a legit first-line weapon on the wing. At one experience of the age spectrum, it will be interesting to see how Quinton Byfield fares in his first full season. At the other, Jonathan Quick is entering the final season of a 10-year contract. Remember those!
13. Minnesota Wild
You probably forgot Minnesota finished with the fifth-best record in the league last year, right? Fiala, its leading scorer, was dealt to the Kings and with Cam Talbot being traded to the Senators, the goaltending is now in the hands of Marc-Andre Fleury — a gem, to be sure, but a gem who turns 38 in October — and Filip Gustavsson, who has all of 27 games on his NHL resume. This team always seems to find a way and does boast a great prospect pipeline, but a step back next year seems inevitable.
14. Boston Bruins
It feels like the only suitable grade here is ‘incomplete.’ Until Patrice Bergeron — or old friend David Krejci — actually put pen to paper, there will be a cloud of uncertainty engulfing this club.
15. Nashville Predators
Eight more years of Filip Forsberg is music to the ears of all Predators fans. Trading for McDonagh bolsters the back end, but it’s still going to be tough for this club to claw into the playoffs.
16. Vegas Golden Knights
Losing Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan for nothing hurts. At this point, it’s not a slam dunk goalie Robin Lehner (shoulder) will be ready to open camp. Even though a full year of Jack Eichel will be a huge boon, there’s suddenly a lot of uncertainty swirling around this team. A trip to the final four or narrowly missing the playoffs again both seem in play.
17. Dallas Stars
Mason Marchment is a nice add, but Stars supporters are likely most curious to see how things are going to play out in the coming weeks with two young RFAs — scoring winger Jason Robertson and goalie Jake Oettinger — who are incredibly important figures on this squad.
18. Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller is still a Canuck and, while we still don’t know how things will work out long-term for the 2023 UFA, there’s no question that Vancouver is a way better team if he does, indeed, start the year there. Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko will help the middle six, but this year will be all about whether Elias Petersson and Brock Boeser can find peak form.
19. New York Islanders
The Isles don’t get a complete pass on last year’s lost season, but don’t forget they started the year with a 13-game roadie while their new building was being completed and then got decimated by COVID at a time when the league was loathe to cancel games. I fully expect the Islanders to be better, but it sure feels like there’s a big on-ice move to be made to pair with the firing of Barry Trotz and promotion of Lane Lambert to head coach.
20. Ottawa Senators
For real, when was the last time there was this much excitement about the Sens heading into the season? Preventing goals may still be a bit of an issue, but if Tim Stützle takes another leap in Year 3 within a top-six forward group that now includes Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, it’s going to be raining goals in Ottawa.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Gaudreau signing was huge on a number of fronts. The real tale of this team over the next couple of years, though, will be what centres Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson grow into. If the answer is a dynamite 1-2 punch, the Jackets will be in business.
22. Winnipeg Jets
There’s definite implosion potential just based on the degree to which nobody seems happy there right now. Still, for all the rumblings about who does or doesn’t want out, the Jets still have Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois up the middle, two all-world wingers in Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers and a guy in goal named Connor Hellebuyck who tends to be among the top candidates for the Vezina Trophy most years. It’s not like this is a bad team, it’s just that it feels as though everything could come apart fast.
23. New Jersey Devils
Palat was a nice pickup, even if Devils fans had their heart set on Gaudreau. Jack Hughes is going to go crazy this year and if MacKenzie Blackwood and newcomer Vitek Vanecek provide good goaltending, this team could jump past a lot of clubs on this list.
24. Buffalo Sabres
Goalie Eric Comrie will turn out to be one of the better low-key signings as the Sabres bank more on internal growth with the likes of Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs and 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power stepping into key roles.
25. Detroit Red Wings
Basically the Red Wings added a lot of steady hands in the form of Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot and David Perron. This team’s ability to move forward, though, will largely rest with newcomer Ville Husso in the crease.
26. Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Strome was a real nice add to the centre position. He can move up and down the lines as need be while sophomore Trevor Zegras and incoming rookie Mason McTavish fully take the reins as the top pivots on this squad that’s now in the post-Ryan Getzlaf world.
27. San Jose Sharks
The Mike Grier GM era is just getting started and you have to think there are still some lean years to come in San Jose. The team certainly won’t feel the same without Burns, but it’s nice to see cancer survivor Oskar Lindblom catch on and continue his remarkable story.
28. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens were predictably quiet in free agency, but did land an interesting player in Mike Matheson as part of the swap that sent Petry to Pittsburgh. We’ll see what Marty St. Louis can coax out of this group in a full year behind the bench. It’s obviously all about development for a while in Montreal.
29. Seattle Kraken
The Kraken became an off-season winner just by sitting on their hands and watching Shane Wright fall to them at No. 4 in the draft. Suddenly a 1-2 centre punch of Wright and Matty Beniers has Kraken fans dreaming of a nice decade to come. The good times won’t arrive this year, though.
30. Arizona Coyotes
Signing a veteran player like Nick Bjugstad is the perfect way to signal you want to lose, but lose with dignity.
31. Philadelphia Flyers
Admittedly, this is more of a statement placement; there’s certainly a path to Philly not being stuck this far down in the muck. Still, what a perplexing off-season this squad has had after finishing fourth from the bottom last year. If there’s a coherent plan to return this team to competitiveness, it has yet to reveal itself.
32. Chicago Blackhawks
This team is in the infant stages of a huge backward step. And if the Patrick Kane trade we all assume is coming before next year’s trade deadline happens before or early in the season, it’s going to be gruesome in the Windy City.