NHL offseason priorities, key questions for every non-playoff team
If the Washington Capitals are committed to keeping a competitive team around Alex Ovechkin, they've got some work to do. Photo by Nick Wass/AP.

As the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway, the focus is already shifting to next year for half of the NHL.

Next month brings the NHL Draft lottery (known to some as the Connor Bedard sweepstakes). Then summertime offers the draft itself, followed closely by the free agency period.

Here’s an in-depth look at where things stand this offseason for all 16 teams that fell short of postseason play — plus a key question that each squad have to answer in the months ahead.

Calgary Flames

Record: 38-27-17

2023 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th

Free agents: Lucic (UFA), N. Ritchie (UFA), Lewis (UFA), Stecher (UFA), Stone (UFA), Phillips (UFA), Dansk (UFA), Duehr (RFA)

Key offseason question: Following a season of unrealized promise and missed opportunities, everything needs to be on the table in Calgary. The most pressing issue is the future of general manager Brad Treliving, who will see his contract expire on June 30. Whether or not he returns for a 10th season with the organization will go a long way toward determining the direction they take from here. Several players chafed under Darryl Sutter’s abrupt coaching style during a disappointing campaign, including last summer’s big acquisition Jonathan Huberdeau, so the status of the veteran head coach bears watching, too. The Flames need to find better alignment off the ice before they can go about addressing the holes on their roster. Calgary was not a very happy place during the 2022-23 campaign.

Nashville Predators

Record: 42-31-8

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (EDM), 2nd, 2nd (PIT), 3rd, 3rd (SJ), 3rd (TB), 4th, 4th (SJ), 4th (TOR), 5th, 5th (TB), 6th 

Free agents: Borowiecki (UFA), Sanford (UFA), McCarron (UFA), Sherwood (UFA), Glass (RFA), Asplund (RFA), Foote (RFA), Carriere (RFA), Livingstone (RFA)

Key offseason question: Barry Trotz moves into the GM’s chair after Nashville hosts the draft at Bridgestone Arena and can thank predecessor David Poile for doing some heavy lifting on his way out the door. He stuffed the cupboards with draft picks by unloading Mattias Ekholm, Tanner Jeannot, Nino Niederreiter and Markus Granlund at the trade deadline. But the Predators don’t have any designs on bottoming out with a core still built around Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg and Juuse Saros. So the biggest challenge facing Trotz is using his $17 million in available cap space — and perhaps some of that excess draft capital — to make offensive improvements to a group that finished 28th in goals per game this season (2.72).

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Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 40-31-11

2023 draft picks: 1st, 3rd (NJ), 5th, 6th, 7th (FLA), 7th (TOR)

Free agents: Zucker (UFA), Bonino (UFA), Heinen (UFA), Archibald (UFA), Dumoulin (UFA), Kulikov (UFA), Jarry (UFA), Tokarski (UFA), Poehling (RFA), Nylander (RFA), O’Connor (RFA), T. Smith (RFA)

Key offseason question: How do you maximize what’s left of the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Kris Letang era? That’s the fundamental question facing the next Penguins management group in the wake of Friday’s front office house cleaning. Former GM Ron Hextall left a mess — one that was made worse by an undistinguished trade deadline that robbed the organization of assets and saddled it with troublesome financial commitments that stretch into future seasons. This is a big job. The Penguins have a thin prospect pool and an aging roster. It may be that the competitive window on this group is already completely closed, but with Crosby under contract for two more seasons they’ve got to attempt a quick refresh this summer to see if it can briefly be cracked back open.

Buffalo Sabres

Record: 42-33-7

2023 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (PHI), 3rd (LA), 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

Free agents: Okposo (UFA), Girgensons (UFA), Hinostroza (UFA), Anderson (UFA), M. Subban (UFA), Jost (RFA), Clague (RFA), 

Key offseason question: The Sabres have aggressively and smartly locked up their young core pieces to long-term contracts, getting Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens and Mattias Samuelsson on good value deals. This summer they’ve got to try and do the same with Rasmus Dahlin. The 23-year-old defenceman is coming off a year where he announced himself as a Norris Trophy winner in the making, and he’s eligible to sign a contract extension as of July 1. There’s already reason for considerable optimism in Buffalo, but getting Dahlin to commit long term would help solidify what should be a long window where the Sabres can have legitimate Stanley Cup ambitions.

Ottawa Senators

Record: 39-35-8

2023 draft picks: 4th, 5th, 7th, 7th (NSH), 7th (NYR)

Free agents: Watson (UFA), P. Brown (UFA), Brassard (UFA), Hamonic (UFA), Holden (UFA), Talbot (UFA), DeBrincat (RFA), Gambrell (RFA), Pinto (RFA), Sokolov (RFA), Gauthier (RFA), Brannstrom (RFA), Bernard-Docker (RFA), 

Key offseason question: There’s uncertainty about what the hockey operations department will look like after the team’s sale process is completed, but in the meantime GM Pierre Dorion has work to do. The most tricky situation he needs to navigate is with winger Alex DeBrincat, who holds all of the leverage as he gets set to hit restricted free agency on July 1. The Senators owe him a $9-million qualifying offer, which would walk DeBrincat straight to unrestricted free agency next summer if he accepted it. Ottawa would obviously rather sign him to a longer-term extension instead, but will have to consider trading DeBrincat if the player isn’t inclined to make that kind of commitment.

DeBrincat (left) has scored 25-plus goals in five of his first six NHL seasons. Photo by Justin Tang/CP.

Vancouver Canucks

Record: 38-37-7

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 3%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 3rd, 3rd (TOR), 4th, 4th (DET), 4th (NYR), 6th

Free agents: Ferland (UFA), Burroughs (UFA), Delia (UFA), Hoglander (RFA), Kravtsov (RFA), Dermott (RFA), Bear (RFA), Hirose (RFA), Juulsen (RFA)

Key offseason question: After another tumultuous and disappointing campaign, the Canucks enter the offseason with absolutely no free cap space available to make upgrades. Incredibly, they’re actually already over next year’s projected ceiling of $83.5 million. Clearing out inefficient contractual commitments has to be the top priority here. Whether they accomplish that through trade or buyout, players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers aren’t delivering value equivalent to their cap hits. Brock Boeser would welcome a change of scenery, and the Canucks had discussions with other teams about moving J.T. Miller at the deadline. Conor Garland’s name surfaced in rumours, too. With 100-point man Elias Pettersson eligible to sign an extension as of July 1, Vancouver needs to find a way to start clearing the books ASAP.

St. Louis Blues

Record: 37-38-7

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 3.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (NYR), 1st (TOR), 3rd, 3rd (OTT), 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th

Free agents: Leivo (UFA), Pitlick (UFA), Greiss (UFA), L. Brown (RFA), Toropchenko (RFA), McGing (RFA), Tucker (RFA), Perunovich (RFA)

Key offseason question: What can Doug Armstrong turn his extra first-round picks into? The Blues became a seller ahead of the trade deadline — turning Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev and others into futures — but that wasn’t part of a draft-and-wait strategy. This is more of a retool on the fly, which Armstrong has done masterfully in the past. The two first-rounders he got from the O’Reilly and Tarasenko deals could net more immediate help if flipped at the draft. The Blues are hunting for early- to mid-career players who line up age-wise with their next wave of talent.

Detroit Red Wings

Record: 35-37-10

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (NYI), 2nd, 2nd (STL), 2nd (VAN), 3rd, 4th (MIN), 5th, 6th, 7th

Free agents: Suter (UFA), Erne (UFA), Chiasson (UFA), Oesterle (UFA), Hagg (UFA), Pysyk (UFA), Nedeljkovic (UFA), Hellberg (UFA), Veleno (RFA), Luff (RFA), Lindstrom (RFA)

Key offseason question: One of the most active teams in free agency last summer, the Red Wings are once again working with a boatload of cap space. How will GM Steve Yzerman spend it? He’s only got four NHL defencemen under contract for next season, and he’ll also be looking for another goaltender. We’re approaching the stage in Detroit where the team is expected to start pushing for playoff contention, so they need to maximize the value that comes with their spending power.

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Washington Capitals

Record: 35-37-10

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 6%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th

Free agents: C. Brown (UFA), Hagelin (UFA), C. Smith (UFA), Sheary (UFA), Irwin (UFA), Borgstrom (RFA), Alexeyev (RFA), Fehervary (RFA)

Key offseason question: The organization has pledged to ice the best team possible as long as Alex Ovechkin is still around chasing Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, so this is an important summer following an injury-ravaged season. Of particular interest is how GM Brian MacLellan patches the holes in his forward group, particularly with questions surrounding Nicklas Backstrom’s future following a difficult return from hip surgery. The Capitals need to find a little more strength down the middle of their lineup. MacLellan is also in the market for a new head coach after mutually parting ways with veteran Peter Laviolette on Friday.

Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 31-38-13

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 6.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 3rd, 3rd (FLA), 4th, 4th (EDM), 5th, 6th, 6th (OTT), 7th

Free agents: van Riemsdyk (UFA), Lemieux (UFA), Braun (UFA), Bellows (RFA), Cates (RFA), Frost (RFA), York (RFA), Zamula (RFA)

Key offseason question: The Flyers are in the NHL equivalent of no-man’s land because they never allowed themselves to take a step back in an effort to get ahead. That’s about to change under new GM Danny Briere. There are no true untouchables on Briere’s roster, but there also aren’t a plethora of tradeable contracts. Can he find a new home for some veterans sucking up a lot of oxygen and cap space? Some fresh air is definitely needed in Philly. What, if anything, Briere does with Carter Hart bears watching, too. The 24-year-goaltender has had a couple of tough seasons playing behind bad teams and is eligible to sign a contract extension as of July 1.

Arizona Coyotes

Record: 28-40-14

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 7.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (OTT), 2nd, 3rd, 3rd (OTT), 3rd (NYI), 3rd (WSH), 4th, 5th, 5th (VGK), 6th, 6th (CBJ)

Free agents: Dauphin (UFA), B. Ritchie (UFA), Mackey (UFA), Fischer (RFA), McBain (RFA), Maccelli (RFA), Jenik (RFA), Ingram (RFA), Prosvetov (RFA)

Key offseason question: The Coyotes are rebuilding the old-fashioned way, ruthlessly stockpiling draft picks in recent seasons with an eye toward harvesting a homegrown winner. That makes June 28 and 29 vital for them. Even more important is the result of a referendum due to wrap up in mid-May in the city of Tempe, which will determine whether the Coyotes' proposed arena development can move forward. Will that go in their favour? They absolutely need a new rink to survive long enough to see this rebuild through in the desert.

Montreal Canadiens

Record: 31-45-6

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 8.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (FLA), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th (PIT), 4th (VGK), 5th, 5th (CGY), 6th, 7th

Free agents: Monahan (UFA), Drouin (UFA), Byron (UFA), Belzile (UFA), Tierney (UFA), Caufield (RFA), Gurianov (RFA), Pezzetta (RFA), Harvey-Pinard (RFA), Teasdale (RFA) 

Key offseason question: It was interesting to hear GM Kent Hughes tell reporters at his end-of-year media session that he wants the team to be thinking about challenging for the playoffs next season. They’ve got a ton of ground to make up. How can Hughes jumpstart the process? He’s made several creative trades since taking the position and is about to gain a little more salary cap flexibility with some pricey expiring contracts. How he puts that space to use will go a long way toward determining if his team can reasonably make a 25-plus point jump in the standings. Hughes also needs to get sniper Cole Caufield’s signature on an extension this summer.

After drafting Juraj Slafkovsky No. 1 overall last year, the Canadiens have a chance to receive the top selection in the 2023 draft, too. Photo by Jay LaPrete/AP.

San Jose Sharks

Record: 22-44-16

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 9.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (NJ), 2nd, 3rd (CAR), 4th, 4th (SEA), 5th, 5th (CBJ), 6th, 7th, 7th (PIT), 7th (VAN)

Free agents: Johnsson (UFA), Viel (UFA), Nutivaara (UFA), Reimer (UFA), Dell (UFA), Gregor (RFA), Kaut (RFA), Peterson (RFA), Gadjovich (RFA), Zetterlund (RFA), E. Svechnikov (RFA) 

Key offseason question: The Sharks are still in the middle of a teardown and Erik Karlsson just completed a historic season at age 32. Will that create the proper conditions for the defenceman to be moved this offseason? Karlsson would like the chance to compete for a Cup, but we’ve never seen an eight-figure player dealt during the NHL’s salary cap era and he’s due to pull in $11.5 million through 2026-27. San Jose wasn’t willing to eat enough of that contract to get anyone seriously interested in a Karlsson trade ahead of the deadline. But major financial moves tend to be a little easier to pull off with the roster fluidity found in the summer.

Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 26-49-7

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 11.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (TB), 2nd, 2nd (NYR), 2nd (OTT), 2nd (TB), 3rd, 3rd (DAL), 4th, 5th, 7th

Free agents: Toews (UFA), Athanasiou (UFA), Khaira (UFA), Robinson (UFA), Englund (UFA), Khudobin (UFA), Stalock (UFA), Bjork (RFA), Wagner (RFA), Anderson (RFA), Kurashev (RFA), C. Jones (RFA), Mitchell (RFA), Soderblom (RFA)

Key offseason question: How do they fill the leadership vacuum left behind with the departures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews? You’re obviously not replacing what the two franchise icons did on the ice any time soon, but recreating a culture of excellence off of it will be an important part of the rebuilding process. The Blackhawks are on a similar path to the Coyotes with a boatload of draft picks and will need to add some trusted veterans to help bring the prospects and young players along.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 25-48-9

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 13.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 1st (LA), 2nd, 3rd, 3rd (CGY), 4th, 4th (WPG), 5th (BOS), 7th

Free agents: Luoto (UFA), J. Richards (UFA), Bayreuther (UFA), Gillies (UFA), Hutchinson (UFA), Olivier (RFA), Pederson (RFA), Berni (RFA)

Key offseason question: Can they find some answers down the middle? Can they get Elvis Merzlikins back on track? The issues are aplenty in Columbus, but those two needs stand out above the rest. Before the Blue Jackets can get back to respectability they’re going to have to make significant improvements at the centre position, which is no easy thing to do in a league where high-end players at that position are coveted to the extreme. In the shorter term they’ll need to work with Merzlikins, the goaltender who struggled mightily in the first year of a $5.4 million annual contract that stretches on for four more seasons. The Blue Jackets are looking for a new goalie coach in addition to a head coach after firing Brad Larsen on Saturday morning.

Anaheim Ducks

Record: 23-47-12

Odds of landing No. 1 pick: 25.5%

2023 draft picks: 1st, 2nd, 2nd (BOS), 2nd (COL), 3rd, 3rd (MIN), 4th, 5th, 6th

Free agents: Grant (UFA), Megna (UFA), Shattenkirk (UFA), Moore (UFA), Beaulieu (UFA), Harrington (UFA), Juolevi (UFA), Sustr (UFA), Stolarz (UFA), Comtois (RFA), Terry (RFA), Zegras (RFA), Benoit-Olivier (RFA), Drysdale (RFA), Benoit (RFA), Dostal (RFA)

Key offseason question: The Ducks are searching for a new head coach after parting ways with Dallas Eakins on Friday, but the biggest question here is whether they can get a good lottery bounce. They’ve never owned the No. 1 overall draft pick in 30 years of existence. Anaheim secured the best odds in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes by losing 13 straight games to finish out the season and could see a program already featuring some top-end young talent turn around quickly by adding a game breaker. The Ducks can fall no lower than third overall, but landing the No. 1 pick in this particular draft would make the long wait worthwhile.

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