Though some serious players have changed sweaters in the past month or so, it’s fair to say the 2023 off-season has not had its Matthew Tkachuk moment just yet.
This weekend — July 22, to be specific — marks the one-year anniversary of the megaswap between the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers that altered the NHL’s power dynamic.
Tkachuk, of course, landed in Florida with MacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau going the other way. In Year 1 as a Panther, Tkachuk finished third in Hart Trophy voting and was the leading candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy after three playoff rounds. Even if the Stanley Cup Final ended in with broken hearts for Florida and a broken sternum for its star right winger, there’s no denying the impact Tkachuk had on South Florida in his debut season.
It’s hard to imagine any move we’ve seen so far this summer has the potential to alter a team’s fortunes the way Tkachuk’s move to Florida did. Then again, Pierre-Luc Dubois is going to be a monster addition to the Los Angeles Kings and the Dallas Stars basically had Matt Duchene fall into their lap on the first day of free agency after he was bought out by the Nashville Predators.
Both of those clubs are quality teams that envision making the kind of run Florida went on this past spring.
Of course, so are a host of others who no doubt like what they’ve done since the off-season began. Who is on the rise and who’s primed for a fall? Time for a mid-summer power ranking.
1. Colorado Avalanche The 2022 champs didn’t advance past Round 1 in 2023, but the Avs are poised to make noise again. Colorado knows captain Gabriel Landeskog is going to be on long-term injured all season, so it can stuff his $7-million salary there. Ryan Johansen and Ross Colton give a nice, new look to the centre crew and Jonathan Drouin is a fun bounce-back bet. Unlike last season, the Avs should be rested and hungry when the puck drops in October.
2. Vegas Golden Knights Recency bias? Maybe. But the Knights have largely kept the band together and Jack Eichel just had his coming out party in the 2023 playoffs. Mark Stone missed half the season last year and the Knights still managed to win the Pacific Division. This balanced squad is going to be right back challenging for the Cup.
3. Edmonton Oilers You just knew Connor Brown was going to end up on the wing of his old major junior pal, Connor McDavid. A full year of Mattias Ekholm helps the ‘D’ corps, so as long as Jack Campbell is better in Year 2 with Edmonton and Stuart Skinner builds on his rookie success in the crease, the Oilers should be right there.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs Remember Day 1 of free agency, when Leafs fans were ready to revolt? Well, Day 2 brought Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, who change the complexion of the top-six winger crew. It’s fair to question the blue-line mix, but don’t you just think 25-year-old Joseph Woll is going to seize an opening in goal and run with it?
5. New Jersey Devils Re-signing trade deadline acquisition Timo Meier was massive and snagging Tyler Toffoli from Calgary for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-rounder was a very tidy bit of business. Remember, the Devils could put two exciting rookies in the mix, too, in the form of Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. Last year’s breakout season was just the start.
6. Boston Bruins How much further down can you put a team that just set a record with 135 points? The B’s, of course, were upset by the Panthers in Round 1 of the playoffs and, frankly, the off-season hasn’t been much better. Sure, Milan Lucic coming home is an awesome story, but losing Bertuzzi — especially to a division rival — stings. Even if both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci return, it’s hard to imagine Boston steamrolling the league again the way it did this past year.
7. Carolina Hurricanes The Canes added Dmitry Orlov, the top defenceman in the UFA class, and Michael Bunting should be a good fit up front. Remember, Carolina lost top sniper Andrei Svechnikov to a knee injury in March and he could have been a huge difference-maker in the post-season. Still, you’d love to see Carolina find a way to land another offensive weapon.
8. Dallas Stars With the arrival of Duchene, Dallas’ top-nine forward group really can go toe-to-toe with any in the league. The back end is not as strong as you might like, but Miro Heiskanen is just becoming the Norris-calibre defenceman he figures to be for the next half-decade and Dallas has got some internal candidates to round out the ‘D’ crew.
9. Tampa Bay Lighting The bones of a strong team are still here and, let’s be honest, this team needed a nice, long off-season after three straight trips to the final.
10. Los Angeles Kings You could see the Kings being a top-five team on this list if it wasn’t for those pesky crease questions. Cam Talbot comes in on a one-year deal and while there’s some chance he and Pheonix Copley form a competent battery, it’s just hard to imagine that duo gets you to the Promised Land.
11. Florida Panthers The Cats certainly proved their worth in the post-season, but also came within a whisker of missing the playoff all together. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a solid, low-risk add for a team that knows it could use some support on the back end. The big question may be if Spencer Knight, who was at the Panthers’ development camp a couple weeks ago after a months-long stretch in the NHLPA player assistance program, can find his best form and become a true No. 1 goalie for this team.
12. New York Rangers Blake Wheeler still has some game left and will benefit the Rangers’ second line and power play unit. How much of a new-coach bump might the Blueshirts get with Peter Laviolette behind the bench and is there any chance Patrick Kane ends up back with this group once he’s fully recovered from hip surgery?
13. Seattle Kraken Okay, now the pressure is on. Seattle had a remarkable sophomore season, knocking off Colorado in seven games, then playing seven more before bowing to Dallas. Can Shane Wright be a meaningful player on the squad next year? If the Erik Karlsson saga drags, could Seattle re-enter the fray as a team looking to land him from San Jose?
14. Buffalo Sabres While it’s still a little unnerving to think the Sabres could enter next year with a wet-behind-the-ears battery of Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, maybe the kids are ready for prime time. (Of course, veteran Eric Comrie is there, too, but his first year in Buffalo was a tough one this past season.) The burgeoning talent up front really is something on this team and having Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin anchoring the top two pairs is a wonderful situation for the Sabres.
15. Washington Capitals Top centre Nick Backstrom missed the first half of the season — as did first-line winger Tom Wilson — and No. 1 D man John Carlson missed the second. Those were huge blows for the Caps. Washington may not be a true Cup contender, but a return to the playoffs is by no means out of the question.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins New GM Kyle Dubas made nice adds in the form of Reilly Smith and Lars Eller. And it’s tempting to say, if re-upped goalie Tristan Jarry is healthy, that the Pens will be in good shape. Remember, though, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both played 82 games last season and Pittsburgh still missed the playoffs. What are the odds of their top two veteran centres being healthy all season again?
17. Minnesota Wild We thought Filip Gustavsson’s new deal would be done by now, but nobody is fretting too much about that. Until Minny lands a No. 1 centre, there’s just a hard cap on where this squad can go.
18. New York Islanders It feels like you can basically lock the Isles into one of the wild-card berths or finishing one point out of the playoffs. Extending Ilya Sorokin means New York’s baseline is going to be that of a competitive team for a while; it’s just a question of where the ceiling is.
19. Ottawa Senators If new goalie Joonas Korpisalo is good, the Sens are going to push hard for the playoffs. It’s basically that simple. Losing Alex DeBrincat isn’t ideal, but there’s more than enough firepower up front to make up for that, especially if Josh Norris returns healthy and ready to pop 30 goals.
20. Nashville Predators The Preds obviously wanted to explode their culture, which is why they were willing to eat half of Ryan Johansen’s contract and buy out Matt Duchene. Fair enough. The fear here, though, is by bringing in Ryan O’Reilly and Luke Schenn Nashville missed a window to do a little reset and draft higher up the board for a couple years. Sure, they could sneak into the playoffs — especially with Juuse Saros in goal — but unless some key youngsters take huge steps, it feels as though they’re locked into the mushy middle for the foreseeable future.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets Is there a better bet than Columbus to make the biggest improvement on last year’s point total? The Jackets were decimated by injuries and played most of their 59-point season without No. 1 D-man Zach Werenski. Basically, you could say the blue line is adding Werenski, Ivan Provorov, Damon Severson and 2022 sixth-overall pick David Jiricek after his strong rookie showing in the American Hockey League. Up front, Adam Fantilli could have an immediate impact, Kent Johnson is poised for a second-year leap, Cole Sillinger is a strong bounce-back candidate and Johnny Gaudreau is surely going to feel more comfortable in Year 2 in Ohio. A 25-point leap is fully in play.
22. Detroit Red Wings Getting Alex DeBrincat at a discount is a clear coup for Detroit, which will be banking on 35 to 40 goals for the local guy. J.T. Compher was a nice add, too. There’s no question the Wings are moving in the right direction, it’s just a question of at what speed they’re doing it.
23. Calgary Flames Had the Flames been able to run everything back under a new coach, I think you could argue the vibes change alone might be enough to get them back in the playoffs. But Toffoli is gone and it’s just a question of who — Noah Hanifin? Elias Lindholm? — of the pending 2024 UFAs is next.
24. Winnipeg Jets It’s almost easy to forget Winnipeg made the post-season this past year because it struggled for so long down the stretch and got bounced in five games by Vegas. Clearly it’s time to turn over a new leaf in Manitoba and while GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did well in the Dubois deal, it’s still seems like some tough days are ahead for this club.
25. St. Louis Blues The Blues don’t plan to be down for long and they have some nice pieces coming. That said, it feels like another year outside the post-season in St. Louis.
26. Vancouver Canucks If nothing else, things figure to be at least a little quieter in Vancouver this year. Rick Tocchet gets a full season to see what he can do and Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will be great; what else are you banking on after that?
27. Montreal Canadiens With the exception of adding Alex Newhook, Montreal has had the fairly quiet off-season many predicted. This squad has been obliterated by injuries the past two years — hence, a training staff housecleaning this summer — so if they can keep their guys on the ice and get a realistic amount of growth from some young players, the Habs have the potential to be frisky.
28. Arizona Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong knew he had to bring in some reinforcements and while nothing he did is going to blow your hair back, Jason Zucker and Sean Durzi are nice adds for a team that was sneaky-respectable outside of a bad start and bad finish.
29. Anaheim Ducks This was actually the second straight summer the Ducks went out and inked some vets. A year ago it was Ryan Strome; this time out it was ring-wearing Alex Killorn and rugged D-man Radko Gudas. Jamie Drysdale returns after missing basically all of this past season, which will greatly help the back end. Ideally, Anaheim will get some resolution on the John Gibson situation and hand the net over to Lukas Dostal.
30. Chicago Blackhawks The thing about doing power rankings in the summer — when optimism abounds and nobody has had a debilitating training camp injury of seen a goalie they were counting on fall flat — is you go through a lot of teams before finally reaching the ones you can confidently (sort of) say won’t be good. We’ve arrived at that point.
Obviously Chicago is the biggest winner of all this off-season thanks to drafting Connor Bedard first overall. And, certainly, there’s lots of logic in GM Kyle Davidson’s move to acquire veteran help in Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno. The Hawks just aren’t there yet. Give it 12 months, though, and this squad will officially be one to watch.
31. San Jose Sharks The Sharks’ move to acquire MacKenzie Blackwood from New Jersey for a sixth-round pick has “best under the radar trade” written all over it. We know the Erik Karlsson return isn’t likely to blow anyone away given his hefty contract, but it will be interesting to see what package San Jose eventually settles on.
32. Philadelphia Flyers The Flyers are in Phase 1 of a complete teardown. Selecting Matvei Michkov was a wonderful way to start a new era of Flyers hockey and Philly figures to be drafting one heck of a player again next June.